Discussing the hordes to the south: After the holiday, we’ll be taking a detailed look at Gail Collins’ “fastly-written” new book (her term).
More specifically, we’ll look at the chapter in which Collins discusses No Child Left Behind and the Texas public schools.
Collins plays by some very strange (and unpleasant) rules at various points in this book. But in certain ways, we think her treatment of the Texas schools constitutes a portrait of the age.
What’s involved in the Collins rules? Next week, we’ll review that question in some detail. But if you’re intrigued by this high-ranking journalist, we’d recommend an interview which aired on C-Span last weekend.
To watch that session, just click here. Then click once again.
The session was part of the Chicago Tribune festival of books. Collins was interviewed by Mary Schmich, a Tribune columnist who asked some very good questions, all without offending the rules of professional courtesy.
Good grief! Somewhat pointedly, Schmich asked Collins if she has ever spent much time in Texas. (Answer: No.) She asked her why she jokes so much while Paul Krugman pretty much doesn’t. She asked her if her Catholic upbringing helps explain her work.
She asked her if she jokes around because she’s a woman. At one point, Schmich asked if Collins “worries about playing to stereotypes” in her (stereotype-laden) book.
We thought Schmich asked some very good questions. For today, we’ll note one part of what Collins said.
Early on, Schmich asked about the fact that Texas will soon be majority Hispanic. In response, Collins conflated “Texas” with white Texas, as she frequently does. She also offered a complaint about Hispanic children in Texas:
COLLINS: Texas is more sane when it comes to Hispanic integration than many parts at least of the border part of this country. But what it’s not done is to integrate—two things, what it’s not done.Texas is going to take us all down with it! (That's certainly possible, of course.) For whatever reason, that’s when Schmich asked if Collins is worried about playing to stereotypes.
It has not integrated its Hispanic residents into its political and business power structure in the way you would expect by now. And two, it’s not doing the job of educating young Hispanic children that it needs to do if they’re going to become critical skilled workers for the next generation.
Right now, Texas imports college graduates. It imports as many as it creates on its own. So when you are paying to help make the universities in Illinois top-tier universities, you are paying to help staff businesses in Texas because a lot of your graduates are going to wind up down there.
Now, unless Texas antes up and really, really, really steps up to the education plate—
In the future, ten percent of the work force of America is going to be Texas born, bred and educated. And unless they do a better job than they’re doing now, that’s when we all go south.
Let’s discuss one stereotype which was lodged in that presentation.
Collins warned the Illinois crowd about the way the rubes in Texas are failing to educate young Hispanic kids. She played to a sense of regional grievance as she offered this plaint.
Here’s what her audience almost surely didn’t understand:
In almost all parts of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), Hispanic kids in Texas outscore their Illinois counterparts, often by fairly wide margins. (Collins recently cited the NAEP as our most reliable measure of educational achievement.)
Consider math in grades 4 and 8 on the 2011 NAEP. (Those are the grades that get tested.) Hispanic kids in Texas outscored their peers in Illinois, where Collins was stirring resentment. Here are the average “scale scores” for Hispanic kids in Texas and Illinois and in the nation as a whole:
Average scores, Hispanic kids, 2011 NAEP:Ten points on the NAEP scale is often said to equal one academic year. In our view, that’s a very rough rule of thumb. But it gives you some rough sense of what we’re talking about.
Grade 4 math:
Texas 235, Illinois 226
United States 229
Grade 8 math:
Texas 283, Illinois 272
United States 269
Let’s be clear: Hispanic kids in Texas are not doing well enough. Their scores lag behind the scores of white kids in Texas. But by the way, white kids in Texas outscore their Illinois counterparts too. So do black kids in Texas. See the data below.
Does Collins ever know what she’s talking about? In this recent session, she warned Illinois residents that we’re all “going south” if the rubes in Texas can’t get their okra together regarding young Hispanics. Very few people in that Chicago audience would have guessed that Hispanic kids in Texas outscore their Illinois peers.
Is something “wrong” with those NAEP data? Are Texas kids really ahead of their peers in Illinois? We have no way of knowing. But thanks to the withered soul of our "press corps," our discussions never reach that point. Our discourse is driven by people like Collins, who rarely seem to have any idea what they’re talking about.
Our discourse is driven by preferred tribal narrative. Genteel regional bigots that we are, we enjoy the tales Gail Collins tells.
The other math scores: Here are the other math scores from the 2011 NAEP:
In fourth-grade math, black kids in Texas outscored their Illinois peers, 232-219. White kids in Texas outscored Illinois, 253-249.
In eighth grade math, black kids in Texas outscored Illinois, 277-260. White kids in Texas followed suit, 304-294.
What explains those scores? We don’t know. Thanks to “news orgs” like the Times, we never learn that these scores exist.
We all say we care about schools and minority kids. Plainly, no one does.