His segments seemed shaky to us: Last evening, Chris Hayes devoted two segments to issues of racial balance in schools and our large achievement gaps.
In his second segment, he even interviewed Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The Atlantic’s 10,000-word report, Segregation Now...” He also interviewed Sheryll Cashin, a professor at Georgetown Law School who focuses on certain types of school issues.
We’d say both segments were very shaky. Here are some reasons why:
In his first segment, Hayes discussed a school in Park Slope, Brooklyn—Park Slope Collegiate—whose student enrollment is suddenly becoming more racially balanced. According to Hayes’ taped report, white parents from the school’s high-income neighborhood are suddenly sending their kids to this, their neighborhood school.
This was a feel-good segment. It was also quite poorly written. Hayes never even explained what grade levels Park Slope Collegiate serves. The amount of white student inflow was also poorly defined.
Why did white parents from the neighborhood decide to start sending their kids to Park Slope Collegiate? That basic part of the story was very poorly explained too.
Everybody got to feel good as they watched this feel-good segment. But the explanations and the reporting were extremely weak.
In the next segment, Hayes interviewed Hannah-Jones and Cashin. Here again, everybody got to feel good, but the information flow struck us as very shaky.
We were puzzled by Hayes’ account of the Brown decision. We were puzzled by Hannah-Jones’ response to Hayes, because it seemed to contradict the (accurate) account of Brown she gives in The Atlantic.
So the exchanges tended to go. Hannah-Jones seemed to contradict her own reporting from The Atlantic at several points in the discussion. On the bright side, viewers got to enjoy a sense of group agreement each time this occurred.
Below, you see the most important exchange of the night. This strikes us as very careless:
HAYES (6/23/14): Is there—what is the evidence about the benefits of desegregation, Sheryll?...Do we know from the research, are there tangible benefits that accrue to the kids who are attending desegregated schools, as opposed to desegregated ones?Personally, we favor well-resourced, integrated schools too, to the extent that they can be created. But we also favor accurate statements about important issues, like the needs and interests of black kids.
CASHIN: Absolutely. There’s forty years of research that shows that low-income and disadvantaged kids do much better in integrated middle-class schools. Poor kids in high-poverty schools on average are two years behind poor kids in middle-class schools.
HAYES: Wow. Wow.
CASHIN: And meanwhile, more advantaged kids, middle-class kids, are not harmed by being exposed to poor kids, nor are they harmed—in fact, they benefit. There’s research that shows they benefit from being exposed to kids of all colors. So, diversity, well-resourced integrated schools work for all kids.
That highlighted statement by Cashin brought a pair of “Wows” from Hayes. He was soon emoting about “the solution that actually the literature tells us works quite well.”
Cable viewers got to feel good as these exchanges occurred. For ourselves, we got the feeling that Hayes may not actually know what “the research tells us” at all.
Let’s consider the statement by Cashin which brought forth his two “Wows.” Here it is again:
“There’s forty years of research that shows that low-income and disadvantaged kids do much better in integrated, middle-class schools. Poor kids in high-poverty schools on average are two years behind poor kids in middle-class schools.”
Do “poor kids” really perform two years better in integrated, middle-class schools? It doesn’t look that way to us. Here’s where the claim probably comes from:
In her new book, Place, Not Race, Cashin sources a similar claim to the 2007 NAEP math report. See endnote 57, page 137.
We can find no claim of that type in the 64-page report Cashin cites. But the following data can be extracted from the NAEP Data Explorer for last year’s Grade 8 math test.
Hang onto your hats! Below, you see the average scores for black students receiving free lunch, depending on the percentage of students in their schools who were eligible for the federal lunch program.
We'll explain that again, down below. These are the basic data:
Average scores, black students receiving free lunchAgain, here’s what those data mean. Black eighth graders receiving free lunch averaged 255.56 if they attended schools in which 75-99 percent of the students were eligible for the federal lunch program. Their counterparts scored roughly nine points higher if they attended schools which were more middle-class.
Grade 8 math, 2013 NAEP
75-99 percent eligible: 255.56
51-74 percent eligible: 257.71
35-50 percent eligible: 264.09
26-34 percent eligible: 264.36
11-25 percent eligible: 266.45
6-10 percent eligible: 265.66
(There are very few schools where fewer than ten percent of the students are eligible for the lunch program. Nationally, half of all students qualify.)
We’re assuming that Cashin’s claim comes from some such data. Hayes should explain on a future show. This would replace his reaction from last night’s show, which we’ll quote again:
Last year, black free-lunchers scored nine points better in those middle-class schools. By standard rules of thumb, that isn’t a two-year difference. It also doesn’t mean that the typical student pulled from a lower-income school would necessarily do nine points better in a more middle-class school, even over time.
Here’s the reason:
All black kids receiving free lunch aren’t alike! The free lunch population in the middle-class schools may be less impoverished than the free lunch population in the low-income schools. These populations may be different in other ways too.
(Students are eligible for free lunch if their family income is roughly 130 percent of poverty level. Presumably, there’s a fair range of family income even within the free lunch population.)
Where did Cashin get the claim about the two-year difference? We don’t know. We also don’t know why her 2014 book is citing a 2007 report in support of a current claim.
In our view, Hayes should find out and explain. Having said that, we’ll take a guess concerning Cashin’s claim:
If you don’t “disaggregate” the data—if you don’t break the data down by race—you may generate numbers which make it look like a larger difference exists between the low-income and the middle-class schools. At least in last year’s Grade 8 math, that would be an illusion.
At any rate, we’re showing you the actual differences from last year’s Grade 8 math tests. We’ll continue to look at the numbers, but Hayes should do more on this show than make viewers feel good about feel-good ideas by reflexively saying “Wow.”
We didn’t think much of what we saw on this program last night. We thought we saw a lot of “feel good.” We didn’t think we saw a lot of careful reporting.
Does Chris Hayes care about black kids? Or does his TV show exist to make liberal viewers feel good?
(To watch the first segment, just click here. For the interview segment, click this.)