Speaking to a group of CEOs in the White House on Tuesday, President Trump said this:
If you look at so many elements of education, and it’s so sad to see what’s coming – what’s happening in the country. Even the numbers, as good – you say we’re doing better, but the numbers in New York the numbers in Chicago are very rough. The numbers in Los Angeles – the cities – it’s very rough situation.
It’s hard to say exactly what numbers the president was referring to. But given the occasion and the audience – plus the fact that he was responding to a statement about New York schools – we assume he is talking about achievement.
We recently called out Morning Joe for reporting false high school graduation rates in Los Angeles. We don’t know how the president scales “rough” so, unlike with the MSNBC talk show, we can’t say definitively that he’s wrong. However, we can provide some context for readers for making their own judgments about where to place these cities’ performance on the “rough spectrum.”
First, reading and math achievement. According to the 2015 NAEP, Chicago and New York City performed near or at the national average for large cities. Eighth-graders in these cities did the same in mathematics. While Los Angeles performed below the national average, it has made sizable gains since 2003. In 2015, LA 4th graders scored 13 points higher than their 2003 peers in reading, and 8th graders improved by 18 points in math. In comparison, large cities improved an average 12 points in both subjects. Chicago was near the top in gains: a whopping 20 points in reading and math.
As we reported to Morning Joe, graduation rates in Los Angeles had risen an incredible 10 percentage points in five years, from 62 to 72 percent in 2016. In fact, all three cities reported higher grad rates. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of Chicago’s class of 2016 earned diplomas. In New York City the rate was 70 percent. When including NYC summer school students in the calculation, the rate rose to 73 percent.
To be sure, on all of these indicators, the three city systems still lag behind the overall national average. The national grad rate is an historically high 82 percent. The national overall average on NAEP is 6-7 points higher than that for large cities. Perhaps this is what the president means by rough. But what cannot be denied is that performance in these systems is moving in the right direction, and in many cases, outpaces the overall national average. The accomplishment is all the more remarkable given the challenges these cities face, not least school poverty rates at or above 30 percent. If we continue on this path, we will finally see the gap between urban schools and their wealthier counterparts close. That doesn’t seem so rough to me.