THE COLLINS RULES: An intriguing session!

TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 2012

Discussing the hordes to the south: After the holiday, we’ll be taking a detailed look at Gail Collins’ “fastly-written” new book (her term).

More specifically, we’ll look at the chapter in which Collins discusses No Child Left Behind and the Texas public schools.

Collins plays by some very strange (and unpleasant) rules at various points in this book. But in certain ways, we think her treatment of the Texas schools constitutes a portrait of the age.

What’s involved in the Collins rules? Next week, we’ll review that question in some detail. But if you’re intrigued by this high-ranking journalist, we’d recommend an interview which aired on C-Span last weekend.

To watch that session, just click here. Then click once again.

The session was part of the Chicago Tribune festival of books. Collins was interviewed by Mary Schmich, a Tribune columnist who asked some very good questions, all without offending the rules of professional courtesy.

Good grief! Somewhat pointedly, Schmich asked Collins if she has ever spent much time in Texas. (Answer: No.) She asked her why she jokes so much while Paul Krugman pretty much doesn’t. She asked her if her Catholic upbringing helps explain her work.

She asked her if she jokes around because she’s a woman. At one point, Schmich asked if Collins “worries about playing to stereotypes” in her (stereotype-laden) book.

We thought Schmich asked some very good questions. For today, we’ll note one part of what Collins said.

Early on, Schmich asked about the fact that Texas will soon be majority Hispanic. In response, Collins conflated “Texas” with white Texas, as she frequently does. She also offered a complaint about Hispanic children in Texas:
COLLINS: 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.
Texas is going to take us all down with it! (That's certainly possible, of course.) For whatever reason, that’s when Schmich asked if Collins is worried about playing to stereotypes.

Let’s discuss one stereotype which was lodged in that presentation.

Collins warned the Illinois crowd about the way the rubes in Texas are failing to educate young Hispanic kids. She played to a sense of regional grievance as she offered this plaint.

Here’s what her audience almost surely didn’t understand:

In almost all parts of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), Hispanic kids in Texas outscore their Illinois counterparts, often by fairly wide margins. (Collins recently cited the NAEP as our most reliable measure of educational achievement.)

Consider math in grades 4 and 8 on the 2011 NAEP. (Those are the grades that get tested.) Hispanic kids in Texas outscored their peers in Illinois, where Collins was stirring resentment. Here are the average “scale scores” for Hispanic kids in Texas and Illinois and in the nation as a whole:
Average scores, Hispanic kids, 2011 NAEP:
Grade 4 math:
Texas 235, Illinois 226
United States 229

Grade 8 math:
Texas 283, Illinois 272
United States 269
Ten points on the NAEP scale is often said to equal one academic year. In our view, that’s a very rough rule of thumb. But it gives you some rough sense of what we’re talking about.

Let’s be clear: Hispanic kids in Texas are not doing well enough. Their scores lag behind the scores of white kids in Texas. But by the way, white kids in Texas outscore their Illinois counterparts too. So do black kids in Texas. See the data below.

Does Collins ever know what she’s talking about? In this recent session, she warned Illinois residents that we’re all “going south” if the rubes in Texas can’t get their okra together regarding young Hispanics. Very few people in that Chicago audience would have guessed that Hispanic kids in Texas outscore their Illinois peers.

Is something “wrong” with those NAEP data? Are Texas kids really ahead of their peers in Illinois? We have no way of knowing. But thanks to the withered soul of our "press corps," our discussions never reach that point. Our discourse is driven by people like Collins, who rarely seem to have any idea what they’re talking about.

Our discourse is driven by preferred tribal narrative. Genteel regional bigots that we are, we enjoy the tales Gail Collins tells.

The other math scores: Here are the other math scores from the 2011 NAEP:

In fourth-grade math, black kids in Texas outscored their Illinois peers, 232-219. White kids in Texas outscored Illinois, 253-249.

In eighth grade math, black kids in Texas outscored Illinois, 277-260. White kids in Texas followed suit, 304-294.

What explains those scores? We don’t know. Thanks to “news orgs” like the Times, we never learn that these scores exist.

We all say we care about schools and minority kids. Plainly, no one does.


  1. "Fastly written" ugh

  2. Excoriating Collins for ignoring the NAEP data -- for spouting off the top of her head with no effort to understand the subject on which she is opining so authoritatively -- is fully justified. However, it should also be noted that there is a disconnect between that data and the state's below-average performance on the ACT and SAT. Those scores are heavily affected by the participation rate, and the state is low relative to participation rate on both college admissions tests. Illinois, for example, had a higher ACT average in 2011 for 100% of its high school students than Texas did for 36%. (Illinois had the highest ACT average for any of the eight states that require 100% ACT testing.) Many states with higher SAT participation rates nevertheless had higher SAT scores as well compared to Texas.

    NAEP testing, the best there is for elementary students as far as we know, involves sampling of schools and students. The ACT/SAT data, for all the complexities involved in evaluating their significance, raises a question whether there could be any political manipulation of the sample selection for the NAEP, in Texas or elsewhere. At any rate, the NAEP should not be assumed to be the final word.

  3. I would add that excoriating the major news organized for refusing to deal with any of this data is more than proper. It is, indeed, disgusting, and reflects very, very, very badly on the Arthur Sulzbergers, Bill Kellers, Katharine Weymouths, Marcus Brauchlis and Fred Hiatts of the world -- and their counterparts at AP, NBC, CBS et al.

    Do they give a crap any more than Collins does? I doubt it. They are kings of their world, and as long as the various genuine stories behind NAEP and PISA tests have been made obvious here and elsewhere -- stories that conflict with their preferred narratives -- they have not lifted a finger.

  4. "It has not integrated its Hispanic residents into its political and business power structure in the way you would expect by now."

    I don't know what Gail Collins expects, or the nature of the social structure of other cities in Texas, but this statement is not true of San Antonio.

    I have visited San Antonio dozens of times in the last 20 years, and Latinos there are very successful in politics and business.

    I suspect that is the case in many other places as well.

  5. FYI, Illinois is not a good comparison. Several years ago, 12,000 teachers were laid off across the state and class size is huge in the areas where Hispanic populations have settled. The Illinois schools (particularly in areas like Springfield) are a disgrace!

  6. Two points: you can't compare Hispanics from one state to another, without noting what percentage are native English speakers. Texas, for example, has a higher number of native English speakers of Hispanic origin than most, so better scores shouldn't be surprising.

    Second, this idea that some people don't care about poor or minority children and, by implication, others do, is an interesting one. So Bob cares more than Gail Collins? In what way, exactly, and what does Bob's concern accomplish for Hispanic kids in Texas or Illinois?

    Or are we just talking about mental attitudes for which we expect to be congratulated?

    1. It wouldn't be the relative *number* of Hispanics who are native speakers of English that would be important -- it would be the *percentage* of TX and IL Hispanic populations who are native English speakers.

      Do you have any source? I can't see any reason to just accept an assertion that TX is obviously, and significantly, higher than IL, to the point where the difference helps explain the test results.

      Re your second "point," couldn't find any plea for Somerby to be congratulated in this text. Where did you see that?

      Are you really saying that Somerby's being a lone voice pointing out Collins' garbage couldn't possibly be helpful?

      Or are you just talking nonsense for which you expect to be taken seriously?

    2. Anon 5:30

      Your statistical correction is either superfluous or incoherent -- my meaning was/is plain enough -- and you can consult the literature (see Pew Research studies, for example) for the commonly accepted distinction between states with "established" Hispanic populations, and "new" states. Both Illinois and Texas are regarded as "established", but Texas has a substantially longer history, for an obvious reason -- proximity to Mexico. I couldn't tell you whether the point difference in scores is reflected by that disparity in native speakers, but neither can Bob Somerby -- which was my point. Without knowing this statistic, comparing states is meaningless.

      As for not giving a damn about minority children, Somerby has, as you doubtless well know, repeated that charge many times about liberals generally -- evidently because the liberals who he chooses to cite here either don't give education the attention he demands, don't consult the "gold standard" in testing, or because they don't accept his prescriptions. This would seem a rather extreme assumption -- ignorance, incompetence or a difference of opinion with Bob Somerby isn't necessarily evidence of indifference to the plight of minority children. On the part of a guy who's activism is apparently limited to this blog, the charge is even more peculiar. Par for the course perhaps, in the blogosphere, and certainly for this blog, where those who don't meet Somerby's approval are idiots, but a little grating nonetheless.

      It's a talented man who can generate sympathy for Gail Collins, but I'd say our Bob succeeding.

    3. I couldn't tell you whether the point difference in scores is reflected by that disparity in native speakers...Without knowing this statistic, comparing states is meaningless.

      So how do you explain the fact that white kids in Texas outperformed white kids in Illinois? Is the white population in Illinois also less "established" than that of Texas? Perhaps there are relatively fewer white "native English speakers" in Illinois too?

      As for not giving a damn about minority children, Somerby has, as you doubtless well know, repeated that charge many times about liberals generally -- evidently because the liberals who he chooses to cite here either don't give education the attention he demands, don't consult the "gold standard" in testing, or because they don't accept his prescriptions.

      Yes, it's quite disturbing that a blog primarily devoted to media criticism would be so critical of the media.

      Par for the course perhaps, in the blogosphere, and certainly for this blog, where those who don't meet Somerby's approval are idiots, but a little grating nonetheless.

      Yet here you are.

    4. "Yet here you are".

      Can't speak for that anonymous, but if "here you are" is intended as a reproach, it's a strange one, in an online culture where any given contributor or visitor may consult dozens of other blogs a day, commenting or not.

      If you're speaking for Bob, however, you might care to say so, if he seeks only admiring readers. Or if that's your own view, by all means let Somerby's readers know. It would put any disagreements in context.

      You might also care to ponder what it is that Bob Somerby could be doing, which provokes so much ill-will. I mean among people with no investment in Gail Collins, Rachel Maddow or whoever the chosen idiot of the day is.

      I realize such soul-searching is entirely foreign to this blog, but who knows, miracles never cease.

    5. "I mean among people with no investment in Gail Collins, Rachel Maddow or whoever the chosen idiot of the day is."

      Perhaps you should start with some soul-searching about THAT particular assertion.

    6. "Yes, it's quite disturbing that a blog primarily devoted to media criticism would be so critical of the media."

      What I find particular interesting about the crittics of how cable news is treated by Somerby is that when addressing the Right, these same critics argue that partisan cable television is low-rated and largely irrelevant to the public at large.

      However, when they address criticism of MSNBC from the Left, it's to argue that said critic is giving aid and comfort to a 24/hour right-wing propaganda machine that is systemically destroying the body politic.

      Best to always remember that you aren't dealing with idealists, wonks, or philosophers here. They are warriors, who amongst their own, brook no plowshares rather than weapons.

    7. Anonymous 6:55 p.m.

      The above average results in Texas are indeed puzzling. Texas is low tax/low service state with very high levels of social pathology -- violent crime, divorce, out of wedlock births, etc., none of which correlate with high childhood achievement. And after years of one-party Republican rule, school funding has gone nowhere but down. Similarly, the public higher education system is starved of money, so graduates of state schools --- teachers -- tend not to be among the most qualified in the nation.

      One might also note that Texas' state leadership -- GWB and Rick Perry, for two -- is not unfamiliar to the nation. If these kinds of elected officials know something about education that the rest of the nation doesn't -- highly doubtful, I can think we agree? -- they've been keeping it a secret. Absent that magic pill, it's very hard to believe that their administrations, which were/are bought and paid for by Texas elites and companies doing business in the state, have been unusually responsive to the needs of poor children or devoted to the public education system.

      Fraud, of course, is one possible explanation: Somerby himself has covered such instances, notably the remarkable career of Michelle Rhee. Also the Joel Klein/Michael Bloomberg fiasco in NY. There *are* those unexplained miserable SAT and other scores.

      As usual, our Bob concedes he doesn't know how to explain the scores either, but they've been cited many times in previous posts as a refutation to those who claimed Texas is doing a lousy job.

      In any event, absent some good reason to suppose that Texas, with so much against its educational system, is doing relatively well, this reader would like to know more, before concluding much of anything.

      Can we fault Gail Collins for failing to give the matter even rudimentary consideration? Absolutely. Whether she's wrong about Texas' schools is, however, another matter -- one there's no attempt to resolve here. But, by saying so, I guess that means I hate minority children.

  7. icantthinkofanythingJune 26, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    "Or are we just talking about mental attitudes for which we expect to be congratulated?"

    interestijng anonymous. bob somerby the cultural leftist, hmmmm? jibes woith my belief hes a trojan right winger. the whole cultural-left post 1970 is a weak beer substitute for the true economic left pre-1970 . . . effectively an arm of the right

    1. Sorry, lowercaseguy, I can't understand your beef today.

      Bob shouldn't point out Collins' fatuousness -- why, exactly?

      Because if Somerby says Collins obviously doesn't care because she can't be bothered to learn her material, that implies Somerby does care? That's the problem?

      Better just to leave the misleading, fraudster Collins alone?

      If Somerby *really* cared, he would just shut up?

      No wait, it's all a code hidden in your enigmatic final "sentence," right??? Getting things right about minority education is a "cultural-left" thing, which is weak beer. That's it!!

      God you are such a tosser. I don't care what your case manager says.

    2. i happened to see that interview over the weekend and i thought she hgandled herself quite well. im not interested enuf in the subject matter to read the book but in a battle of credibility with somerby my moneys on collins.

  8. First of all, the comparison came from Collins, the "expert" author on the dubject.

    Secondly, you say that the suggestion that some people care about such things more than others is an "interesting" implication, and then imply that Somberby's concern is just some useless conceit.

    Now the latter is the interesting formulation. Mr. Somerby has devoted a blog to disseminating this information. I haven't seen it anywhere else. The expert Gail Collins isn't talking about the whole story. The media is fixed on reporting gotcha crap to inflame rather than inform.

    Doesn't the effort to educate and ignite discussion count for something to you? Afterall, it's assumed that you're spending your time and effort here to be informed rather than to merely chide a blogger.

    1. No, they don't care about that.

      It's ridiculous the lengths to which the Somerby haters go. In this case, it is as if they feel compelled to demonstrate, by their own personal examples, that no, no one does care about schools and minority kids. It is more important to serve up the daily dose of hate for Bob.

      (Still, lowercaseguy can perhaps be congratulated, this one time, for not falling back on his shopworn Somerby-is-a-self-hating-Irish-American-Catholic schtick. Way to go, lowercaseguy!)

    2. istillcantthinkofanythingJune 26, 2012 at 5:54 PM

      'sommerby haters"? oh come on. i dont see hate coming from the somerby-dubious crowd, myself included. . . . somerby is the hater and you bobanistas follow suit. . . . although i have to admit hes been slackin off lately in that regard. u feelin alrioght bob?

    3. Anon 5:38pm, do understand that the whole accusation about some bias against Irish-Catholics is a bogus bit of nonsense that they don't even believe.

      The claim is just a blog troll ploy to ignite some sort of personal response from Somerby.

      How did that work out for you, boys?...

    4. "...that they don't even believe"

      forget your mindreading, juust google, irish catholic, and see for yourself.

  9. Collins will be in Dallas tomorrow to talk about her book:

  10. If Bob truly cared about kids himself, he wouldn't use them as another club to beat Gail Collins with.

    1. Why not? If life sentences and possibly even death sentences are OK to impose on kids who kill someone, I don't see anything wrong with using them as clubs to beat up fatuous elites parachuting in to declaim on subjects they don't really know anything about.

    2. "...declaim on subjects they don't really know anything about."

      didnt we all goto school? its not like were tallking about something exotic.

    3. Wouldn't it be rather difficult to criticize Collin's own book topic and her seriousness(as was cited here, in one interview Collins laughed off the fact that the journalist interviewing her was better informed on a particular aspect of the matter than was Collins, herself...)WITHOUT mentioning school kids?

    4. I see the point went right over your head, Cecelia, so allow me to educate you on a little Howler history.

      Once upon a time, Bob ran out of things to say about the 2000 election, so he tried to turn the Daily Howler into an education blog.

      Then he ran out of things to say about Michelle Rhee, so he went back to politics.

      Then he ran out of ways to say that George Bush didn't lie when he said that Saddam was trying to procure enriched uranium from Africa, so he turned it into the "Daily Critique of NYT and MSNBC."

      And any time he mentions education, its about something he saw in the NYT and MSNBC, and his stock post is that they don't care about children.

    5. Oh, I've been reading this blog for about five years now. I started reading the comment section only lately.

      About two years ago I even wrote Somerby a fan letter (no reply).

      So I've been around long enough to know that his "stock post" is that NO ONE really cares about education. (A not uncommon lament from teachers and former teachers)

      That he illustrates this pronouncement by referencing those media outlets and individuals who are considered to be progressive and particularly enlightened, is only logical.

  11. If only it were true that the only problem with Collins' work was that she fails to "meet Somerby's approval."

    If that were the size of it, her defenders could simply show how her work on education was actually important and thorough despite Bob's complaints.

    Any of you whiners up to that task?

    1. Actually, I don't hang on to every word Gail Collins writes like our host does. Why? Because I don't really care.

    2. Durr hurr, surely if we just ignore the most prominent voices in the press, they'll go away! Surely the former NYT editorial page top editor and current columnist there has no influence at all in the media!