Monday, November 16, 2015

New York Times story on Long Beach schools get facts wrong

The New York Times just published a column praising the school system in Long Beach, California, but the piece gets at least three facts wrong.

First, author David L. Kirp, a public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, describes Long Beach as a "predominantly immigrant city."

"Predominately" means "mostly" or "majority of." So Long Beach is made up mostly of immigrants?

No, it's not. Census data shows that 26% of Long Beach's population is foreign-born, pretty much the same as state average (27%).

Second, the article says that in Long Beach "a third of the children under age 17 live in poverty." This is not true, either. The actually share, according to the Census, is 28%.  Sure, this is not a great difference from 33%, but if you're rounding things off, it would be more accurate to say that "a quarter" of children under 17 live in poverty.

What's particular troubling about these two mistakes is that they're very easy to check. I found the answers to both on the Census website in about a minute each. Doesn't anyone at the NYT check facts?

The third mistake is Kirp's statement that in Long Beach "all fourth and fifth graders, together with their parents, tour the local college campuses."  It's the "with the parents" part that's untrue. I have two children in Long Beach public schools, and they did tour colleges, but parents didn't come along.

Are there other mistakes in the article? Maybe. I didn't check every fact, and in some cases it's pretty much impossible to. The author, for example, states that "two-thirds" of new U.S. college students "arrive on campus unprepared for college rigor."  What does that mean? He doesn't explain, and like most other assertions in the piece, he doesn't cite a source. 


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