Part 4—A grossly misleading book tour: Friend, do you want to use test scores to compare the performance of two different school districts? Do you want to compare the performance of the schools in two different states?

If you want to make that kind of comparison, you have to “disaggregate” those scores! You have to make a good faith effort to compare similar student populations from one district or state to the next.

Some districts are full of high-income kids; other districts struggle with the challenges of poverty and/or with the backwash of our racial history. It makes no sense to compare test scores unless you try to compare results among roughly comparable groups of kids.

Persistently, Gail Collins fails to perform this basic task in her new, unfortunate book, As Texas Goes.

In her book, Collins devotes a great deal of attention to the Texas schools. But there is no sign that she knows a key fact about those schools:

Texas schools are consistent high-achievers—if we disaggregate test scores!

Minority kids in Texas schools persistently outperform their peers around the nation. Especially in math, they tend do so by wide margins. (White kids in Texas routinely outscore their peers in other states too.) But there is no sign that Collins knows these things, even though she devotes three chapters in her book to the Texas schools.

Despite praising the wonders of disaggregation, Collins persistently fails to engage in the practice! As a result, she creates a gross misimpression about the performance of Texas schools.

And uh-oh! She continued to spread this misimpression as she conducted her book tour.

Good lord! On June 10, Collins appeared at the Chicago Tribune book festival, where she was interviewed by columnist Mary Schmich. At one point, Collins warned her Chicago audience about the terrible job Texas is doing with its Hispanic kids.

Collins’ comments created a gross misimpression about the performance of kids in the Texas schools. In these comments, Collins is addressing the Illinois residents who came to see her speak.

To watch the full session, click here:
COLLINS (6/10/12): 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:

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.
Using some unfortunate language, Collins warned that “we all go south” unless Texas starts educating its Hispanic kids more successfully. She seemed to suggest that Illinois residents were getting ripped off by Texas under current arrangements.

According to Collins, Illinois residents have been paying good money to make their universities top-tier. But those Texans! They’ve been stealing the state’s university grads—and Texas hasn’t been “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.”

Collins told this pleasing tale to a northern liberal audience. We’ll guess that she had never examined the test scores from last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the federal program she herself has described as the best testing program we have. (Everyone else says that too, for perfectly obvious reasons.)

How well are Hispanic students in Texas performing as compared to their peers in Illinois? Here are some data from last year’s NAEP (fuller data below). We also include the state of New York, for a reason we’ll lay out below:
Hispanic students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
Texas: Second in the nation (of 46 eligible states)
Illinois: Twentieth in the nation
New York: Thirty-ninth in the nation

Texas: 283.21 average score
Illinois: 271.67
New York: 262.80
(National average for Hispanics: 269.45)
By a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often said to equal one academic year. By that very rough measure, Hispanic eighth-graders in Texas scored more than a year ahead of their Illinois counterparts on this “gold standard” test.

By that very rough rule of thumb, they scored two years ahead of New York!

(Question: Which of those states’ “young Hispanic children” seem to have the best shot at “becoming critical skilled workers for the next generation?” We’ll let you decide.)

Just a guess: As she warned her fans in Illinois about the brown peril to the south, Collins had never laid eyes on those comparative test scores. We’ll guess that she had no idea that Hispanic children in Texas schools score near the top of the nation when compared to their peers—that they typically score well ahead of their peers in Illinois and New York.

Can we talk? On this, the gold standard of educational testing, Texas schools are high-achievers—and they’ve been so for at least the last fifteen years! But we’ll guess that Collins didn’t know that when she wrote her unfortunate book. There is no sign that she has ever dirtied her mitts “disaggregating” those test scores.

We mentioned New York because Collins did, near the end of her book.

In the closing pages of As Texas Goes, Collins repeats a bunch of her favorite statistics—statistics which give a misleading picture of the performance of Texas students and schools.

None of her data have been disaggregated! After misleading her readers again, she offers what follows. This is her book’s closing paragraph:
COLLINS (page 192): The modern battle for the soul of Texas began with Ross Perot and his [education] commission, and it was fought over the question of whether all the state’s children would be seriously, rigorously, and perhaps even expensively, educated, or whether those privileges would be reserved for a wealthier, mostly Anglo minority while the masses of Texas young people just learned to be literate enough for manual labor and the low-end side of the service economy. Right now, Texas seems to need a leader who’s ready to draw the line and dare the people to step over. Victory or death.
Texas needs a leader, Collins says—but so does the New York Times. It’s an embarrassment to see a high-ranking journalist publish material like this—material which is, at its heart, pure journalistic porn.

In that closing paragraph, Collins talks a pleasing game about the way those mossbacks in Texas are keeping “the masses of Texas young people just...literate enough for manual labor and the low-end side of the service economy.” As she typed those insulting words about all those Texas kids, we’ll guess she had no idea that those non-Anglo Texas kids tend to outscore their peers in the various (northern) states.

People like Collins have done this for centuries. (They have always had their counterparts in the south.) A few pages later, she offers this grossly misleading tract as she ends her book’s Epilogue:
COLLINS (page 195): So here we are. Texas can use its great advantages—the space, the cheap housing, the exploding population—to create a model of possibilities for the twenty-first century. It can prepare its young people so well that in a generation they’ll be taking off to fill jobs all around the country, the way places like New York and Illinois are sending their college graduates to Texas now. Or it can just demonstrate how easy it is to create a two-tiered economy in which the failing underclass looks resentfully at the happy sliver on the top.

The rest of the country can’t do all that much to dictate where Texas goes, what with states’ rights, states’ rights, states’ rights. But if Texas goes south, it’s taking us along.
If only! If only Texas could “take Collins along”—and dump her off south of the border!

From that condescending passage, would anyone dream that those “young people” in Texas routinely outscore their counterparts in the two northern states Collins praises? That they blow those states away in math, largely outscore them in reading? That the “underclass” in New York State’s public schools are vastly outscored by those Texas kids?

Collins talks a good game in that passage. There’s no sign she has any idea what she’s talking about.

Collins sneers at Texas schools and students throughout. In this, her Epilogue’s closing passage, she once again paints those northern states as victims of Texas’ unreconstructed ways. Poor New York and Illinois! They’re sending their college grads to Texas! While Texas allows a barely literate underclass to form!

As one quickly sees from exploring NAEP data, that Texas “underclass” scores way ahead of its counterparts in Illinois and New York! There is no sign in Collins’ book that she actually knows this.

To state the obvious, every one of the fifty states needs to do a better job educating its low-income kids and its kids who are black or Hispanic. (On the NAEP, scores have been rising for all three groups over the past twenty years.) But what a ridiculous thing it is—to see a slacker like Collins lecture hard-working teachers in Texas about their state’s “underclass!”

Tomorrow, we’ll review one more place in her book where Collins seems to go out of her way to mislead readers about the performance of Texas schools. But how sad! That a well-known, high-profile “journalist” is too lazy, too uncaring, too locked into scripts to bother performing even the most basic journalistic tasks.

Texas needs a leader, Collins says. But then again, so does the Times. What kind of newspaper tolerates journalistic malfeasance like this?

Tomorrow: The contents of Collins’ appendix!

Further comparative data: The NAEP makes it amazingly easy to compare student performance in the fifty states. But as we’ve told you many times, the modern “journalist” avoids information as Dracula shrinks from the light.

It can’t be done! You can’t make information so accessible that these slackers will ever consult it! They work from their scripts, nothing more.

To make state-by-state comparisons of your own, just click here. Then click on “State Comparisons.” (For access to more detailed comparisons, make your second click on “Main NAEP.” After that, you’re on your own.)

But uh-oh! After you disaggregate the data, you will see that Texas students outscored their peers in Illinois and New York in almost every department last year.

Here are the national rankings for the three states in both grades tested, in both reading and math. Especially in math, Texas students tend to score right at the top of the nation.

We’d love to know why that is happening. Collins shows no sign of knowing that these data exist:
Students in Texas, Illinois and New York: Rankings among the fifty states, 2011 NAEP
Grade 4 reading:
White kids: Texas 10, New York 12, Illinois 14
Black kids: Texas 7, New York 13, Illinois 36
Hispanic kids: Texas 14, New York 19, Illinois 31

Grade 4 math:
White kids: Texas 6, Illinois 23, New York 39
Black kids: Texas 4, New York 29, Illinois 33
Hispanic kids: Texas 11, Illinois 36, New York 39

Grade 8 reading:
White kids: New York 6, Illinois 11, Texas 13
Black kids: Texas 10, New York 12, Illinois 17
Hispanic kids: Illinois 14, Texas 23, New York 33

Grade 8 math:
White kids: Texas 3, Illinois 21, New York 30
Black kids: Texas 2, New York 18, Illinois 27
Hispanic kids: Texas 2, Illinois 20, New York 39
Eighth-grade reading was a wash. Otherwise, it was all Texas—and just look at eighth-grade math!

But from reading Collins’ awful book, would anyone even dream that any such rankings exist? Why is work like this OK with the New York Times? Second question:

Why is horrible work of this type OK with the liberal world? What keeps Collins in business?


  1. "Why is horrible work of this type OK with the liberal world? What keeps Collins in business?"

    You know that's no mystery.

    Everyone likes comfort food. Even if it's no damn good for you, as it sometimes isn't.

    We don't know everything about Collin's view of Texas from your series -- but we have learned something about how seriously she treats the issue of education -- she treats it as a joke.

    One of the "most helpful" reviews at Amazon says this about the book: "Collins does a great job of debunking the Texas miracle... If you keep people uneducated and oppressed and you act like China with your environment, you too will prosper."

    That reviewer takes what Collin's says quite seriously and only docks a star from the review (giving the book a 4 out of 5) because the thesis of TX great influence on the nation may be overstated, even though Collins' facts are unimpeachable.

    Many reviewers who have given the book poor ratings decry the text as an example of liberal elitism, partisan and "snarky." Several of these reviews draw defensive comments, in which one will often find the sentiment that Texas has horrible public education.

    Why is this horrible work OK?

    Because it sits so well with our system - we find it easy to digest these "ideas" because they are in fact pre-digested.

    We've already swallowed this nonsense whole many times.

    Collins simply regurgitates it for us to swallow again.

    Yummy stuff, but you apparently have to have a taste for it to begin with!

  2. "Yummy stuff, but you apparently have to have a taste for it to begin with!" Well-put.
    Maybe I am one of those hopelessly stupid Texas people Collins goes on about, but I just don't see her point here. Collins says:
    "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."
    Um, okay. Texas is so ridiculously dumb that college graduates are coming here? Truthfully, whose fault is that? Shouldn't Illinois and New York be chided for not trying to keep its own graduates?
    As I understand it, it's really about the wages, and frankly, Texas DOES like to keep them down; that could be the reason Texas attracts businesses. (Attracting individuals, however, is an entirely different matter.) However, wages and a low standard of living (another Texas plus) are economic issues.
    What the supposed "low standard" of Texas education has to do with actually getting OTHER people to settle down here, though, is beyond me. Ditto Collins' idea that it is desirable "that in a generation [Texans will] be taking off to fill jobs all around the country." What's so good about that? Some people leave their home state for adventure and opportunity. But mostly, people stay when life is good. Why should a contented Texan be expected to leave?

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    1. I'd love to, but I don't like curry.

  4. You make a good point, studyguideindia!