Terrible state of the public schools watch!


Paul Krugman messes with Texas: Yesterday, the New York Times ran a news report about funding cuts to the Texas schools. Click here.

On his blog, Paul Krugman praised the Times report, then messed with Texas—bad:
KRUGMAN (4/9/12): A good article in the Times about the terrible state of Texas schools—followed by a truly awful comment thread, in which many readers rush to blame, you guessed it, teachers’ unions.

Folks, this isn’t an article about New York, where three-quarters of public-sector workers are unionized. It’s about Texas, where only one in five public workers belongs to a union. Blaming unions for the problems of Texas is like, well, blaming Jews for the problems of Japan: there aren’t enough of them to matter.

At THE HOWLER, we sighed too!

First, a matter of opinion: That was not a “good article.” It was journalistically weak in many ways. In our view, it was massively underfed work.

(Earth to the Times: That high school kid walking a mile to school was not an impressive focus.)

Having said that, let us also say this: Few comments in the Times comment thread “rushed to blame, you guessed it, teachers’ unions.” (At least as far as we could stand reading.) Many of the comments were uninformed, as comments about poublic schools always are. But what comments was Krugman reading?

We have no idea.

That said, the most significant comment in Krugman’s post would be his instant, extremely vague jibe about “the terrible state of Texas schools.”

Liberals enjoy reading such things about Texas, as can be seen from some of Krugman’s commenters. But how terrible are the Texas schools? A commenter, writing from London, reacted to Krugman’s post exactly as we had:
COMMENTER: As bad as Texas schools may be, it's interesting to note that white students in Texas outperform white students in Wisconsin on standardized tests, black students in Texas outperform black students in Wisconsin, and Hispanic students in Texas outperform Hispanic students in Wisconsin. Overall Texas comes out lower because it has many more Hispanic students, who perform worse for whatever reasons (language?).
“As bad as Texas schools may be?” Judging from years of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Texas schools don’t seem to be “bad” at all.

Last year, we discussed this topic in some detail. To see NAEP scores from Texas compared with those from a half dozen other states, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/25/11. For a simpler assessment of this general point, see Matt Yglesias’ short but accurate post in yesterday’s Slate.

In the Texas public schools, all three major demographic groups have tended to outscore their peers from around the nation. It may be that funding cuts will harm this statewide performance. But in recent years, there have been large funding cuts to public schools in other states too. In our view, the failure to compare the size of the Texas cuts to those in other states was one of the obvious, groaning flaws with yesterday’s news report.

Bottom line: Conservatives do enjoy blaming the unions. Liberals like to mess with Texas.

We live in highly tribal times. Such times may tend to lower comprehension among even the brightest players.

Final question, for extra credit: Do the lives of American children matter? Or are school children useful props for enjoyable upper-class war games?


  1. There was a commercial during the Masters Golf coverage that did essentially the same thing. It claimed the U.S. was 26th in math and science across the world. It did not break out white, asian, hispanic or African American. It was incredibly misleading giving one the impression that our schools are utter failures.

  2. IMHO a problem with both Krugman's blog and the Times news aritcle is the unstated assumption that Spending = Quality. We know that this assumption isn't valid in other fields. If it were, Chris Matthews would be infinitely more accurate than Bob Somerby, which is hardly the case.

    One comment to the Times news article vividly made this point:

    Big deal, I teach 8 classes a day and my salary is about 1/2 of what is was when I was teaching at a public school. I have no problem helping the custodians with taking the trash out and keeping my room clean. I also used to walk to school my self. It is good exercise. Maybe if the superintendent would cut his salary in half then he could use that savings to hire 3 more teachers. More money isn't always needed just a re-advocating of priorities.

    1. Oh, I find it interesting how quickly that any story about "failing public schools" can be turned into an argument to further de-fund them.

    2. If only those darn teacher's unions didn't force teachers to drive their cars, all of America's teachers could walk to work, for their health.

      And it helps on health care costs, down the road, too!

      I think David in Cal should reconsider using anecdotes from anonymous internet denizens to prove a point.

    3. What? Teachers can afford cars? We're obviously overpaying them.

  3. Interesting, Bob. You knock Krugman for cherry-picking through a combox, then you do the same thing in the post immediately below this one.

  4. Thanks for the post, Bob. As a twenty year veteran of teaching in public schools in Texas, it nearly always amuses me when someone blames what problems we do have on those darned teacher unions. We don’t have any teacher unions at all. It’s actually a violation of the Texas Constitution for teachers to collectively bargain. We do have professional associations, but they are powerless. Also, too, think about this: if education’s problems were the fault of unions, then Texas should have the best public schools in the nation.

  5. Sometimes it seems that the only issue that liberals really care about these days is their intellectual, moral and spiritual superiority to those awful wing-nuts.

    1. Yeah. We never, ever hear "conservatives" claim intellectual, moral and especially spiritual superiority.

  6. Regarding the last little fillip, Bob, does the life of Trayvon Martin matter, or is it mostly an occasion for picking fights with second-rate media personalities?

    1. A "useful prop," one might say.

    2. Your question is rhetorical since the record of what Somerby really considers important about the Trayvon Martin case is apparent for all to see.