And the ways of the white “liberal” world: Last Friday, we mentioned the oddness of Gail Collins’ remarks to Rachel Maddow about the Texas public schools. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/8/12.
Collins has written an alleged book about Texas. In a brief discussion with Maddow, she managed to author the highlighted claim:
COLLINS (6/4/12): On behalf of the rest of the country, I said, “OK, Texas, if you’re prepared to spend a bunch of money educating many, many, many, many of these babies really, really well, then maybe we have no reason to complain.” But they’re not.Did we mention the fact that Collins just wrote a book on this topic? We thought you ought to know the truth about those Texas test scores.
They’re cutting back on education. The school scores are terrible. The SAT scores are among the lowest in the country. That’s 10 percent of the future workforce of America because of the size of the state and the birthrate.
So stuff like that really matters to the rest of us. And if Texas, which is going to be a majority Hispanic state within the next decade or so, if Texas can’t get a grip on these problems, then it goes in places that it’s not good for us to be going as a country.
As Collins herself recently noted, the “gold standard” of American educational testing is the National Assessment of Educational Testing (the NAEP), a widely-praised federal program which has existed since 1970.
This program tests fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math. What did Texas scores look like in the most recent testing, which occurred in 2011?
Let’s consider eighth-grade math. Basically, Texas kicked the nation’s keister. The average score for all eighth-graders in Texas was 290, compared to the national average of 283.
Texas outscored the nation by seven points. How big a difference does that represent? A rough rule of thumb is often applied to scores from the NAEP, according to which ten points is roughly equal to one academic year.
In our view, this is a very rough rule of thumb. But this rule of thumb is routinely applied in the nation’s “press corps” when it produces gloomy judgments about the nation's schools. In this case, the rule of thumb would suggest that Texas eighth-graders outpaced their counterparts around the nation by almost one full year.
That would be a substantial difference. But the story only gets better for Texas when we “disaggregate” the scores—when we look at the achievement of the state’s many low-income and minority kids.
Texas has a much larger proportion of minority kids than the nation as a whole. Given the realities of American education, that makes it even more impressive when Texas outscores the nation straight-up, as it did in eighth-grade math.
But among low-income and minority kids, the Texas advantage only grows. Here’s the dope:
Among low-income white kids, Texas outscored the nation by twelve points (290-278). Among low-income black kids, the Texas advantage was 16 points (274-258). Among low-income Hispanic kids, Texas outscored the nation by 14 points (280-266).
Within the American context, those are impressive test scores. So why did Collins say what she did? For this fairly obvious reason: Despite having written an alleged book, she didn’t have the slightest idea what she was talking about. Indeed, something similar happened when she did a book interview with Salon this weekend.
At one point, the question of public schools arose. And d’oh! Collins did it again:
SALON: I know a reporter who goes up to public officials all the time and says, “Tell me what you think the percentages of Anglo kids in the Dallas school district and the Houston school district are,” and he says they always get it wrong.You sure did, abused-dog breath! As usual, Collins thought this whole thing was very funny. She (laughed) in reaction to her latest wildly bogus guess.
COLLINS: It’s what, like, 20 percent. It’s very low.
SALON: Oh, brace yourself: The percentage of Anglo kids in Dallas school districts is 4 percent; in Houston it’s 8 percent.
COLLINS: There you go.
SALON: That’s the future.
COLLINS: Sorry, I’m off. (laughs) I overestimated.
The irony here is gorgeous. In best liberal fashion, Salon’s Kyrie O'Connor intended to chuckle about how clueless those Texas officials allegedly are. As it turned out, Collins—promoting her important new book—was just as clueless, probably more so.
We have no idea why Collins would have thought that twenty percent of Dallas’s school kids are Anglo. Given the norms of urban school districts, we have no idea why she would have thought that twenty percent would be "very low." Well actually, we probably do. We think the answer is fairly obvious:
Collins doesn’t care about public schools. She doesn’t care about low-income kids, except to the extent that their lives can be used to extend her tribal themes—in this case, the idea that the rubes in Texas are running schools with horrible test scores.
In fact, Texas is a high-scoring state on the NAEP, which Collins recently cited as our most reliable testing program. But in the pseudo-liberal world, you can always make yourself popular by reciting claims like the one Collins made to Maddow. By the way, Collins doesn’t seem real high on minorities at all. This is the statement which led to Salon’s question about Texas schools:
COLLINS: [F]or a border state, I would argue that Texas is less lunatic on the subject of immigration issues than other places around it, like Arizona. They’re much more comfortable with their long-term identity as a place with a very large Hispanic population. That is not to say that they’re comfortable with the idea that this is soon going to be a majority Hispanic state in which Hispanic people, politicians and business leaders would be running things. I don’t know that the adults, at least, of Texas are ready for that one yet.Are the Hispanic adults of Texas “ready for that one?” How about the black adults? Or are only white people adults in Collins’ world? Gaze on the world of Gail Collins!
What might an anthropologist say about the world represented by Collins? About a “liberal” world which is willing to tolerate relentless nonsense like this? Rather plainly, this “liberal” world stop concerning itself with the interests of black kids a long time ago. But its members still like to praise their own well-known racial greatness.
What might an anthropologist say about a culture like that?
Two final points:
First, we haven’t read Collins book, but we’ll advise you to be careful about her comments on the teen birth rate in Texas, which seems to be a point of emphasis. Texas does have one of the nation’s highest teen-age birth rates. But its rate has been dropping fast, and here too, the overall data are tilted by the state’s demographic factors.
Final point: Collins knows nothing about public schools. By normal standards of assessment, she doesn’t care about minority kids—doesn’t care about them at all. She’s perfectly happy to spout bogus claims, then laugh it when she does. But here's what the icon Maddow said as their session closed:
MADDOW: Thank you, Gail. It’s the funniest political book of the year. Really smart.“Really smart,” the former Rhodes Scholar said, to a guest who had just managed to utter a cosmic howler as part of a very brief segment.
Collins doesn’t have the first freaking clue. But Maddow said she’s really smart. Liberal viewers felt all warm inside.
What might an anthropologist say about a culture like that?
The famous old link between Boston and Austin: Massachusetts is often praised as our highest-scoring state. Meanwhile, Collins rolls her eyes at those sad Texas scores. But in eighth-grade math, Texas outscored Massachusetts among all groups of low-income kids—black kids, white kids, Hispanics.
What might an anthropologist say about this? She might start by informing herself about test scores in Texas. To do so, she might use the NAEP Data Explorer.
From there, she’d click on MAIN NDE. After that, she’d be on her own.