The joy of liberal script: What sorts of things could the nation do to help black kids and/or low-income kids enjoy their years in public school?
What could we do to help such kids emerge from public school with better academic skills? To help them feel wanted in school? To help them feel they know why they're there? To help them feel that they want to go on to college?
In theory, those are important questions. (In practice, nobody cares.) We put our question about enjoyment first because public school is often a very unpleasant place for wonderful kids who come from low-literacy backgrounds—for kids who may be way "behind" on the first day of kindergarten.
It's important that they get to enjoy their time in school—that they not be bombarded with things they simply aren't ready to do.
What can we do in support of these kids? That's an important question. Often, though, we liberals pursue these questions in a way designed to be all about us and our sacred liberal scripts.
All too often, these topics are covered in ways which are designed to vouch for our racial good faith. We thought of that syndrome when we read Emily DeRuy's recent report at The Atlantic, for which her editor ought to be chastised.
DeRuy is youngish; she's also inexperienced. It doesn't occur to us white liberals that black kids' interests are getting shortchanged when very young people with little background are assigned the task of reporting about our low-income schools.
These young reporters will often showcase the aching purity of their own racial good faith. They will also display their inexperience and their lack of savvy, shortcomings which aren't their fault.
How did DeRuy display these flaws in the course of her report? Once again, here's how she summarized a new study—a new study which draws a very familiar conclusion.
The Atlantic's headlines included:
DERUY (4/1/16): White Teachers Expect Less Than Black Teachers From Black Students/According to DeRuy, this new study "suggests" a very familiar idea. White teachers have lower expectations for black students than black teachers do.
A new study suggests that low expectations from some teachers might engender low performance from students.
In yet another sign that the lack of teacher diversity is a pressing issue, a new study suggests that white teachers expect less academic success from black students than black teachers do from the same students.
The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University, found that when a white teacher and a black teacher consider the same black student, the white teacher is 30 percent less likely to think the student will graduate from a four-year college. White teachers, the researchers also found, are nearly 40 percent less likely to think their black students will graduate from high school.
“One of [the teachers] has to be wrong,” Nicholas Papageorge, a co-author and economist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement.
Indeed, it sounds like the white teachers in this study had much lower expectations for their black stusdents. According to DeRuy, the white teachers in this study were "nearly 40 percent less likely to think their black students w[ould] graduate from high school."
That sounds like a major difference. From it, DeRuy draws a standard conclusion. This finding constitutes "yet another sign that the lack of teacher diversity is a pressing issue," she instantly says.
Is the lack of teacher diversity really a pressing issue? That's certainly possible! In theory, this study was designed to test important questions like that.
That said, it seems to us that DeRuy has her inexperienced thumb on the scale in this matter. Let's consider a string of possible problems with her report and perhaps with the study which spawned it:
Perhaps a misleading statistic: According to DeRuy, the white teachers were "nearly 40 percent less likely to think" the black students in question would graduate from high school.
That sounds like a very big difference. The difference may look much smaller when you see the actual data concerning the teachers' predictions—data which don't appear in DeRuy's report or in the press release.
Warning! We aren't at all sure that the murky Hopkins press release accurately describes the study's findings. We also aren't sure that DeRuy's report accurately describes the study or the press release.
Kevin Drum provides this link to the study, but the format to which he links doesn't includes the study's Tables, where the bulk of the actual data are found. In turn, Drum's own post does a very poor job describing the basic data. The discussion of this study is largely a joke all around.
So it goes in the high-speed world of modern journalism! Still, these may be the specific predictions made by the two groups of teachers, or so it may seem from reading what DeRuy and the press release said:
Predictions made by two groups of teachersPlainly, those percentages are different. That said, the difference may not seem as large as DeRuy's prose may have suggested.
Black teachers: 82 percent of the black students will graduate from high school
White teachers: 70 percent of the black students will graduate from high school
If those statistics are correct, where did DeRuy get her nugget claim, in which white teachers were "nearly 40 percent less likely to think their black students would graduate from high school?" If our statistics are correct, she got that rather large percentage from this, the flip side of those sets of predictions:
Predictions made by two groups of teachersEighteen percent is indeed "forty percent less" than 30 percent! Meanwhile, the murky press release also says this:
Black teachers: 18 percent of the black students won't graduate from high school
White teachers: 30 percent of the black students won't graduate from high school
"White and other non-black teachers were 12 percentage points more likely than black teachers to predict black students wouldn’t finish high school."
Thirty percent is indeed "12 percentage points more" than eighteen percent! At this point, we can imagine that our data may be correct.
We have no confidence that the press release or DeRuy are reporting this study in an accurate way. For reasons we'll explain tomorrow, we also don't claim that our statistics are correct, although they may be.
That said, our numbers seem to satisfy those two claims. Our numbers may be correct, or at least close to correct.
If our numbers are correct, the white teachers were more pessimistic in their predictions. That said, the gap between the predictions of the two groups of teachers isn't all that vast. and we're just starting to encounter the problems with DeRuy's report.
Uh-oh! An obvious question begs to be asked.
Whose predictions were more correct: A person could almost learn to hate professors based on DeRuy's report. Based on DeRuy's report, something like this occurred:
A bunch of teachers were asked to make predictions about the academic prospects of their tenth-grade black students. When these teachers complied with this request, the predictions by white teachers were somewhat more pessimistic.
Instantly, DeRuy seems to assume that this means that the white teachers had inappropriately low "expectations" for these black students. She never asks a fairly obvious question:
Whose predictions were more nearly correct?
DeRuy quotes an enigmatic statement by one of the professors. In the case of two different predictions, “One of [the teachers] has to be wrong,” he enigmatically says.
That's true, but only in situations where two teachers differ about some individual student. When groups of teachers have made predictions about groups of students, both groups of teachers will likely be wrong in their predictions, at least to some extent.
You can probably see where this takes us. In this case, let's suppose that, as it turned out, 24 percent of the black students actually didn't graduate. That would mean that both groups of teachers, white and black, turned out to be wrong in their predictions by six percentage points.
Let's imagine an outcome that's worse. Let's suppose that 30 percent of the black kids in question ended up failing to graduate. In that case, the predictions by the white teachers would have turned out to be right on the money. In the world of achingly pure pseudo-liberal reporting, would the "expectations" of those teachers still have been too low?
A fact DeRuy didn't mention: There's a factoid in that press release which DeRuy didn't mention. Here it is. Prepare to be very upset:
JUMBLED JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS RELEASE: Black female teachers are significantly more optimistic about the ability of black boys to complete high school than teachers of any other demographic group. They were 20 percent less likely than white teachers to predict their student wouldn’t graduate high school, and 30 percent less likely to say that then [sic] black male teachers.Black boys and young black men are an especially endangered species in our public schools. These kids deserve all the help they can get—and according to this factoid, it seems that black male teachers were more pessimistic in their predictions about these kids than even the white teachers were!
Black male teacher made the most pessimistic predictions! Somehow, DeRuy blew right past that fact, which doesn't fit our horrible tribe's fully approved liberal scripts.
By the way—is it possible that those pessimistic predictions turned out to be correct? Could it be the black male teachers were most accurate in their predictions? It didn't occur to DeRuy to ask—or, for that matter, to care. Reports like these are about liberal script, not about the actual lives of our actual children and teens.
That press release is a jumbled mess. DeRuy's report is extremely poor in execution, though achingly pure in intent. We have no idea what Drum's talking about in his jumbled, chaotic post. But everyone affirmed the script from which Drum worked in crafting this remarkable headline:
"White Teachers Think Pretty Poorly of Their Black Students"
Based upon the evidence from this study, that's an ugly, unfounded claim. It comes from a person who doesn't seem to care a great deal, except about sacred script.
Can we talk? Except at journals which don't really care, Emily DeRuy is too inexperienced to be writing about the actual interests of actual black kids in actual schools. Tomorrow, we'll show you how bad it gets when cynical journals like The Atlantic cynically assign their young white inexperienced scribes to this sort of heavily scripted task.
Tomorrow: We're ugly and stupid and nobody like us! At long last, the explanation for this state of affairs