Who cares about the Atlanta schools!


Your tribe doesn’t care about black kids: Last Saturday morning, the Atlanta public schools topped the front page of the New York Times.

A raft of indictments had been handed down in a mammoth cheating scandal. Michael Winerip’s detailed report ran almost 2500 words.

Atlanta’s schools are full of black kids (see data below). The misuse of those kids was a massive story, except at the place we liberals go to stroke our tribal egos.

It isn’t like no one mentioned Atlanta on The One True Channel. On Monday evening, Al Sharpton offered this detailed report:
SHARPTON (4/1/13): We need to talk about a scandal rocking the Atlanta public school system. Thirty-five teachers, administrators and principals have been indicted for racketeering in a cheating scandal. A four-year investigation says they conspired to cheat on mandated standardized tests, erasing wrong answers and putting in correct answers. It proves scores and high bonuses.

Former Atlanta school superintendent Beverly Hall, it was said, led the scheme. She earned $500,000 in performance bonuses.

PAUL HOWARD, DISTRICT ATTORNEY (videotape): There is a single-minded purpose and that purpose is to cheat, to manipulate the grades.

SHARPTON: Now, this is despicable, if proven true, and it speaks to a bigger problem with our public schools. We cannot rely on standardized test scores for benchmarks. The time is now for real education reform. We will keep on this story.
That was Sharpton’s complete report. According to Nexis, Atlanta hasn’t been mentioned again on his nightly program. And the Atlanta schools haven’t been mentioned at all on these fiery programs:
Programs which haven’t mentioned Atlanta:
Hardball with Chris Matthews
The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell
The Rachel Maddow Show
Also according to Nexis, the Atlanta schools weren’t mentioned last Saturday or Sunday on Melissa Harris-Perry’s two-hour program.

For many years, we’ve tried to tell you: The millionaire leaders of your tribe simply don’t care about black kids. Some of them run promotional ads designed to make you think they care. But black kids haven’t been on your tribe’s play-list for a great many years.

That said, one program did discuss Atlanta—the new All In with Chris Hayes. On Monday evening, Hayes devoted two segments to the Atlanta schools.

He spoke with an almost totally worthless three-member pundit panel.

Do you live in a world with its gatekeepers down? We thought you ought to see some of the things Hayes’ three panelists said.

One of the three was Goldie Taylor, an Atlanta resident who showed no sign of knowing about her city’s schools. (There’s no reason why she should.) At one point, Taylor extended a serial howler the mainstream press has been pimping:
TAYLOR (4/1/13): You know, my kids attended Atlanta public schools. They graduated from Atlanta public schools. But when you look at the schools that were most impacted, they were the black and brown schools in Atlanta, There are 100 Atlanta public schools, 58 of them were impacted—they are largely black and brown.
On what planet does Taylor live when she isn’t in Atlanta? Repeating a standard pleasing line, she complained that the 58 schools “impacted” by the cheating scandal “are largely black and brown.”

That was a puzzling comment. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, this was the racial breakdown of Atlanta’s eighth-grade student population in 2011:
Eighth grade student population, Atlanta, 2011
Black students: 86 percent
Hispanic students: 5 percent
White students: 8 percent
Almost all Atlanta schools “are largely black and brown.” But as with the New York Times and Salon, the Hayes show played this silly card, in which we hear a type of complaint which often made sense in the ‘60s.

Truthfully, Taylor had nothing to offer this day. To be honest, neither did Derrell Bradford, the head of a Bloomberg-style “education reform” group, Better Education for Kids (for background, click here).

For whatever reason, All In viewers were never told that Bradford is a Bloomberg/hedge fund type. Along the way, he offered piffle like this:
BRADFORD: I think part of this is like generational. So, when I grew up, I took standardized assessments all the time, right? And so to me, it is like the—

HAYES: Look, statutorily, they were not linked to the amount of federal dollars that flowed in necessarily.

BRADFORD: So I was like, you know, four. So, they didn’t share that with me, right? But what I knew was that—

HAYES: Oh, I see what you’re saying, yes!

BRADFORD: What I knew was that I took them and at the time I did not feel like I was getting any, you know, less of a great education.

Here is what the benefit of assessments is. Assessments give us more information about where our kids are. And you can argue— Like, there are lots of views on NCLB, there are lots of views on Race to the Top, you know, there are lots of people who don’t normally agree on these things who actually do agree that there’s a benefit here, but they’re imperfect. We know so much more, particularly about our neediest kids, now than we did before No Child Left Behind, and that is absolutely about assessments and publishing assessment data.
Please. In part because of what happened in Atlanta (and in other jurisdictions), no serious person could trust the data which have emerged from the statewide tests mandated by No Child Left Behind. In truth, we don’t know much more about low-income kids because of those testing programs.

Hayes restated his own point—we can have a lot of assessments without having high-stakes assessments. But Bradford was wasting everyone’s time with standardized pro-“reform” cant, all without anyone being told that he is a pro-“reform” player!

That left Noguera, the NYU professor. In the course of this discussion, he made a truly remarkable claim, though no one else on this clueless panel showed any sign of knowing.

Early on, Noguera said the Atlanta schools have made score gains on the NAEP, and no one says there was cheating there. Eventually, though, he made this remarkable statement:
NOGUERA: When you put this kind of pressure on people, that is to say your salaries, your bonuses, your school is going to be determined and affected by how well students perform, then you create an incentive for some people who are unethical to cheat.

But you also do something else. You really cheat children of a well-rounded education. We have very clear evidence right now that kids’ test scores are going up and they are still taking remedial courses in college, because what they’re good at now is taking a test. They still don’t write well, they still don’t know how to problem-solve.

And this is the whole problem with the way we’ve used assessment under No Child Left Behind. We have completely distorted learning, so that now kids are focused on preparing for a test, but they’re not really focused on how to be prepared for life, how to be prepared to think independently, and that’s what’s been compromised in all of this.
No one showed any sign of knowing. But it would be hard to overstate how radical that highlighted claim really is—which is not to say that it’s wrong.

Earlier, Noguera had noted that Atlanta’s scores have improved on the NAEP. (So have scores all over the country.) Now, he suggested that these score gains are an illusion—that these gains are only occurring because kids are better at taking tests.

Our black kids are just as dumb as ever, the fiery professor said.

Noguera was making a radical statement—although, of course, it could always be true. But one of the panelists didn’t belong there, and one of the panelists was mainly a hack. Meanwhile, Hayes, a “liberal intellectual,” simply doesn’t know very much about the public schools.

This is the kind of piddle you get when liberals do discuss public schools. Maybe we’re all better off when Lawrence clowns about Mr. O and interviews Hollywood types.

Let’s take a look at the record: To watch these segments, just click here. Despite the hubbub about this new TV show, you won’t be learning much.


  1. So, how did CNN and Fox cover this cheating scandal? Were they any better? Also, Noguera certainly did not say "our black kids are dumb as ever", that's you putting words in his mouth and mind-reading, something you often criticize others for doing. It seems to me that he's saying that the schools do these children a disservice by their emphasis on learning how to take tests.

  2. I speak fluent Somerby, so perhaps I can help. You've wrapped your comment in the cotton wool of an abstract metaphor: "schools do these children a disservice." as though the kids weren't getting enough attention from the clerks at Home Depot. Bob wants a sharper description. The kids in Atlanta's schools are overwhelmingly black and brown, and the testing regime and its apparatchiks have left them as unprepared as ever. Unprepared, that is, to compete in college or the workforce, where there's little operational difference between unprepared and dumb. And you don't care, either, you miserable bastard.

    Hope that helps.

    1. "The kids in Atlanta's schools are overwhelmingly black and brown, and the testing regime and its apparatchiks have left them as unprepared as ever."

      I thought that was Noguera's point. So why is Bob so incensed?

    2. Bob isn't incensed at Noguera's point, which as he notes may or may not be true, but if it's true, then it should be verifiable, and if it's verified, then it behooves us to have some important discussions on education policy. And pronto. But the "liberals" who show up to actually discuss Noguera's assertion, either to dispute it or confirm it, are unprepared hacks and ignoramuses who can do neither.

      And that pisses off Bob.

  3. "For many years, we’ve tried to tell you: The millionaire leaders of your tribe simply don’t care about black kids."

    Mr. Somerby plays a strange game when it comes to fashioning his audience. Who are "your tribe"? People who watch some of MSNBC with a degree of sympathy? A small number of people. Who actually rely on it for information or insight about perspectives to adopt? A VERY small number of people.

    And of whose tribe is he a member? Here (as often) it's Bob S vs. the rest of "us."

    I dunno. Mr S should watch more Stephen Colbert or read some Horace and Juvenal for lessons in how to construct an audience. On some level, at some point, the satirist has to care about and like the audience he calls into being by addressing them. Then they'll listen to his criticisms.

  4. You came here for an argument? I'm sorry but this is abuse. You want room 12A, just along the corridor.

    1. And you need to go back to your playpen. It's time for your nap.

    2. Clever retort, Anonymous at 9:13A.

      I take it you're not familiar with Monty Python, then?

    3. I like your edge, deadrat. Fine retorts to the usual haters.

    4. Thank you, Anonymous @ 6:59P, but it's not the hate; it's the stupidity. Here I make what I think is an apposite and witty reference to Monty Python as a meta-comment on TDH's style, and what do I get? A clunker of a reply from your brother @ 9:13A, with neither the wit to recognize the reference nor the sense to look it up. Sometimes I think I should give it all up to teach in inner-city schools like Bob used to do, so I can earn the pitching of my smug attitude like Bob does now. But then I think, "Sure, but if I do that, doesn't it mean that the terrorists win?"

  5. I guess this is Noguera's radical claim:

    "We have very clear evidence right now that kids’ test scores are going up and they are still taking remedial courses in college..."

    Seems too vague to be radical.

    1. Anonymous @ 8:30P, I'd say Noguera's claim is radical in two senses. First it challenges the accepted wisdom that we can measure the success of our schools with standardized tests. And secondly, it goes to the root of the problem -- high school graduates unprepared for more study or work.

  6. I wish these shows would actually have real public school teachers discussing education instead of sham intellectuals who have probably never stepped foot in a classroom. Sorry Chris Hayes, this is a poor excuse for presenting the facts. And Melissa Harris Perry who is a college professor did a little better this morning on her Sunday show. A long discussion with 2 principals and a few other so-called education hacks. Where are the teachers in these discussions?