Seen that "80 percent of New York high school graduates can't read" datapoint? It's enticing. And it is also wrong — though you have to read pretty carefully to see how. Not everyone did.
The headline at CBS New York started the ball rolling: "Officials: 80 Percent Of Recent NYC High School Graduates Cannot Read."
Since New York City — and especially its mayor Michael Bloomberg — are a favorite foil of political conservatives, it didn't take long before conservative blogs picked up the story and started running. Over at Breitbart, a story by Ben Shapiro — the same reporter who misread the Chuck Hagel "Friends of Hamas" joke — jumped in with both feet:
(Update, 11:21 a.m.: The Breitbart story has been updated with a new headline: "80% of NYC HS Grads Entering City College Don't Have Basic Skills".)
The implication, of course: Bloomberg and his liberal policies have failed. And it wasn't just Breitbart. The conservative Daily Caller also ran with the story; each was at one point featured on the sites' home pages.
Unfortunately for the failed-liberal-metropolis narrative, CBS' article is wildly misleading. The key point lies in this paragraph:
Officials told CBS 2′s Kramer that nearly 80 percent of those who graduate from city high schools arrived at City University’s community college system without having mastered the skills to do college-level work.
See the distinction? This isn't "80 Percent Of Recent NYC High School Graduates." It's 80 percent of recent high school graduates who then enrolled in community college.
From 2006 until 2010, enrollment at community colleges nationally grew rapidly. In the past decade, in fact, college enrollment overall has grown quickly.
Data from the Digest of Education Statistics.
This means more college students (and more student debt) — but it also means more young people entering higher education who might previously have been on the fence about doing so. It means more young people pushing themselves — and therefore more young people who aren't as prepared for the push.
In New York City, the increase is similar. The Department of Education collects data on graduates by the year they entered high school; the most recent data is for those who entered in 2007, ideally graduating in 2011. Between 2002 and 2010, 34.7 percent more black students, 12.4 percent more white students, and a staggering 84.8 precent more Latino students went on to college. Between 2002 and 2010, the number of New York City high school students who needed remedial coursework in the City University of New York system declined, according to the city's data, from 56 percent to 51 percent. Still high — but trending the right way, and very different that what CUNY now reports.
To its credit, the Daily Caller tempered its headline to clarify the 80 percent figure. Breitbart didn't. The prospect of a failed liberal metropolis was too tempting, actual data notwithstanding.
Update, 11:21 a.m.: Erin Hughes of the Department of Education broke down the data more completely for us. Between 2002 and 2012, remediation rates for new CUNY students — the number needing additional skills training — dropped 2.7 points to 13.2 percent for reading and fell 3.7 points to 15.8 percent for writing. In 2011, over 52,000 students graduated from New York City schools, about half of whom entered the CUNY system.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.