In its issue of November 19, The New Yorker published a lengthy profile of my efforts to change national education policy: to halt the galloping privatization, the demonization of teachers and the misuse of testing to advance the two previously mentioned topics.
Let me begin by saying that I was immensely grateful that this distinguished and influential magazine gave attention to these important issues. As everyone who follows this blog knows, it is very rare to see a critique of the ruinous bipartisan policies in print or on television.
I was also thrilled that David Denby wrote the article. He is not a player in the debates and was able to approach the issues with a fresh and unbiased perspective. By now, everyone in education has chosen sides.
I had other reasons to be grateful that Denby was on the case. He is well educated and cares genuinely about education (in one of his books, he describes a year he spent as an adult auditing Columbia’s famous “great books” classes). In addition, he spent a lot of time immersing himself in the subject. In addition to reading widely and interviewing many people on all sides of the issues, he accompanied me to four events from mid-April in Atlantic City to the end of July in Detroit and interviewed at length.
I have enormous respect for him as a writer and a thinker. Also, I enjoyed the time I spent with him. He is funny, insightful, and smart. As he picked my brain about education, I tried to pick his about film and books.
And I am grateful to him for two surprising reasons. My conversations with him encouraged me to start this blog and to write a book during the summer.
However, there were two inaccuracies in the article that I feel compelled to correct because they go to the heart of my argument against the current wave of destructive policies.
Both NCLB and Race to the Top are based on the spurious claim that our public schools as a whole are failing. I argue that this narrative is false. The article refers to my criticism of this “exaggerated negative critique” but then cites statistics that are wrong.
According to the article, I allegedly said that “high school graduation rates are higher than ever” at 75.5%. That’s the four-year graduation rate, the number that Arne Duncan and Bill Gates use to claim that rates are flat and we have made no progress in 30 years.
But that is not the number I use. The graduation rate for people ages 18-24 is 90%. That includes August graduates, as well as those who earned their diploma in five or six years or got a GED.
So let me say that again: the high school graduation rate for people ages 18-24 is 90%, the highest in our history.
The same paragraph says, “She mentioned a slight increase, among all ethnic groups, in reading and math scores on national tests.” This was an especially galling inaccuracy, because the fact checker asked me about it and I said it was wrong. I sent the NAEP data and a copy of my AFT speech in Detroit to the fact checker to demonstrate what I did say: test scores are not slightly increased. They are at their highest point in history for all ethnic groups. The scores of black and Hispanic students have increased in reading steadily and significantly over the past 20 years. The scores of black and Hispanic students in mathematics have increased dramatically over the past 20 years.
Yet despite my protest that I did not say “slight increase,” and my documentation with both the NAEP data and my speech, the erroneous statement was left in the article.
One may argue that my interpretation is wrong, but one cannot argue that these statements can be attributed to me.
The New Yorker decided not to print my correction, which is why I am writing it here.