The mainstream press corps’ Standard Tales from Past Presidential Debates!


Anderson Cooper recites: Wednesday evening, the Obama-Romney debates begin.

For that reason, our pseudo-journalists are busy reciting their guild’s Standard Tales from Past Presidential Debates.

Last evening, Anderson Cooper read almost all the standard scripts. Along the way, he offered these nicely-twinned groaners
COOPER (9/28/12): Body language plays a part in the presidential debates. In 1992, George H. W. Bush deliberately looks at his watch and he pays for it when the audience and voters see it as disrespectful.

Body language makes a difference in the debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush as well. Gore sighs over and over again. And Bush, the underdog, surprises by winning the debate and, of course, the election.
Body language! At any rate:

As recited by Cooper, one of these scripted tales is foolish. The other tale is false.

Let’s start with false. According to Cooper, Candidate Gore sighed over and over again at his first debate with Candidate Bush. Apparently as a result, “Bush, the underdog, surprise[d] by winning the debate.”

Increasingly, that last claim is part of the script, but it’s just basically false. After that first Bush-Gore debate, five major news orgs conducted “overnight polls,” surveying people who watched the debate.

Gore was the winner in all five surveys. He won by an average margin of ten points.

Cooper works for CNN. Gore won CNN’s overnight poll, 56 percent to 42—unless you listen to Cooper today, in which case Gore of course lost.

By the way: Did Gore “sigh over and over again” at that debate? On balance, we’d have to say no. If you want to test this question yourself, you can watch that full 90-minute debate at C-Span.

We watched that tape about six months ago. You can hear a few sighs or intakes of breath—but in all honesty, we’d say that they’re few and far between. If you watch the full 90 minutes, you can decide for yourself.

Did George Bush win that first debate? Only after the press corps began playing videotaped loops of Gore’s troubling sighs (with the volume cranked, of course). And only after the press corps invented several new “lies” by Gore.

Today, the press corps tends to focus on the alleged sighs, not on the invented lies—but they largely invented both these themes. And just for the record: Before the propaganda took hold, Gore won all five overnight surveys of people who watched the debate.

The second part of that passage from Cooper is just foolish—monstrously so.

No guild member can review past debates without recalling the terrible time when Candidate Bush stole a look at his watch. This tale is profoundly foolish.

Can we talk? People look at their watches all the time. That’s pretty much why they buy them.

Beyond that, performers, or competitors in timed events, will often want to know how far along the event has gone. There’s nothing odd about a debater checking his watch—unless the “press corps” has a story it very much wants to tell.

In that campaign, the “press corps” wanted to say these words: “President Bush is out of touch.” Twenty years later, Bush’s disrespectful conduct is part of Official Guild Lore.

Today, candidates routinely remove their watches before they start their debates! They do so lest this gang of chimps tell a tale about their body language, a tale in which they too are ruined because of a glance at a watch.

There are perhaps a dozen Standard Tales about Past Presidential Debates. Each day as Wednesday night approaches, we’ll show you another press corps member reciting some silly/false tale.

Disagreeing (on balance) with Kevin Drum's drift!


GOP polling denial: Since returning from that federal bunker this Tuesday night, we have had our time grabbed away by a bit of a banking calamity.

For that reason, we haven’t been posting at normal volume. And we haven’t followed up on Wednesday’s post about Rachel Maddow and Elizabeth Warren.

See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/12. But first, let’s consider Kevin Drum’s post about GOP polling denial.

As Obama seems to gain in the polls, a conservative blogger named Dean Chambers has started saying the network polls are fixed. Drum says that idea is nuts—and he says a bit more:
DRUM (9/28/12): Chambers doesn't even pretend that his approach has any rigor. He adopted it, he told BuzzFeed, after seeing a poll that "just didn't look right." After a closer look, he decided that none of the others looked right either. And what does he think accounts for this widespread blundering among the nation's pollsters? Not simple incompetence, Chambers says. It's all quite deliberate. "Any poll that says NBC, CBS, or ABC is going to be skewed and invested in trying to get this President re-elected," he explained.

This is, to put it bluntly, nuts. And it suggests a fundamental difference between left and right, one that Chris Mooney wrote about earlier this year in The Republican Brain. Neither side has a monopoly on sloppy number crunching or wishful thinking, but liberals, faced with a reality they didn't like, ended up accepting reality and deciding to learn more about it. That's the Nate Silver approach. Conservatives, faced with a reality they didn't like, invented a conspiracy theory to explain it and then produced an alternate reality more to their liking. It's a crude and transparently glib reality, but that's apparently what the true believers want.
We agree that Silver is a different cat from Chambers. Having said that, we think there’s an air of liberal triumphalism here that ought to be handled with care.

We read Mooney’s book about six months back—and we were surprised by what we found. We were struck by the amount of “motivated reasoning” which seemed to drive his insistence that the other tribe is driven by “motivated reasoning.”

We thought it was a very weak book—a sloppy French kiss to us liberals, to our liberal vanity.

Silver’s a different cat from Chambers. But as the liberal world continues to grow, we liberals have shown a taste for the sorts of blinkered analyses which have been driving the pseudo-right since Rush took over the world.

For our money, Maddow’s reports about Warren this week were striking examples of that unfortunate liberal drift.

The true belief isn’t all “over there.” We still plan to review those reports when we get the time.

DISAGGREGATION NATION: No bogus analysis left behind!


Part 3—Gail Collins quotes Barbara Bush: If you want to judge how well a school or school district is doing, you pretty much have to “disaggregate” the relevant test scores.

If you just go by the overall scores, you will think that schools (or states) with lots of white kids are the best-performing schools (or states) in the nation. You will think that schools with lots of upper-income kids are performing better than schools with kids from low-income backgrounds.

You will think that the schools in Maine are performing better than those in Texas, even when “disaggregation” would show you results like these:
White students only, fourth-grade math, 1996 NAEP
Texas: First in the nation
Maine: Eleventh

White students only, fourth-grade reading, 1998 NAEP
Texas: Second in the nation
Maine: Twelfth

White students only, eighth-grade math, 2000 NAEP
Texas: Sixth in the nation
Maine: Eighteenth

White students only, fourth-grade math, 2000 NAEP
Texas: Second in the nation
Maine: Twenty-fifth
If you want to conduct a sane analysis, you have to disaggregate test scores! But alas! In her unfortunate book, As Texas Goes, Gail Collins praises the wonders of disaggregation, then utterly fails to employ the practice. This leads her to roll her eyes at the Texas schools—even though Texas students persistently outperform their peers around the nation on our most reliable tests, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Collins has explicitly said that NAEP data are the best we have. (Everybody agrees, for perfectly obvious reasons.) That said, how well did Texas schools perform in 2011, the last year for which we have data?

Thanks for asking! In 2011, Texas kids outscored their peers around the nation in both reading and math on the NAEP. But their performance in math was especially strong—and this is a phenomenon which dates to the mid-1990s:
Texas students, rank among the fifty states, fourth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
White students: Sixth in the nation
Black students: Fourth in the nation
Hispanic students: Eleventh in the nation

Texas students, rank among the fifty states, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
White students: Third in the nation
Black students: Second in the nation
Hispanic students: Second in the nation
One year later, Collins published her unfortunate book. Confronted with that type of success, Collins ginned up a different portrait.

Today, we include and highlight an unfortunate reference to 87-year-old Barbara Bush. That said, this entire passage is grotesquely misleading—an act of journalistic fraud:
COLLINS (page 91): You may be wondering how things are going, education-wise, in the state that deeded its reform plan to the nation. Paul Sadler, the Democrat who led the effort in the Texas house, complains that the state is “testing our kids to death.” (Under the state’s newest regimen, students take seventeen high-stakes tests between third and eighth grade, and up to a dozen more while they’re in high school.) A survey by the Texas State Teachers Association showed that 43 percent of its members were seriously thinking of looking for another line of work.

Sadler still believes that the leaps made in the 1990s are holding up. “I think most of our schools do a pretty good job,” he said. Other observers are, at a minimum, disillusioned. “The eighth grade reading scores were exactly the same in 2009 as 1998,” said Diane Ravitch, referring to the scores Texas received in the national NAEP test results. (I know we were trying to avoid them, but sometimes it's unavoidable.) “The whole country is now embarked on remedies that didn’t do anything for Texas.”

David Grissmer, the author of that glowing RAND study, says that since 2000, when the study came out, Texas students’ scores on national tests have begun to “flag.” Perhaps coincidentally, that was exactly the time when Bush stopped being governor and turned the state over to Perry, whose interest in K-12 education was minimal. When the state’s budget developed a monster hole in 2011, Perry refused to raise taxes—or even dip into state savings—to avoid enormous cuts in school aid. As the impact began to hit districts, schools began cutting back on programs that had been in place since the Perot commission, seeking waivers on class size and preschool requirements. Former first lady Barbara Bush wrote an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle protesting the lack of financial support for public schools. “We rank 36th in the nation in high school graduation rate,” she wrote. “An estimated 3.8 million Texans do not have a high school diploma. We rank 49th in verbal SAT scores, 47th in literacy and 46th in average SAT scores.”

It all sounded sort of familiar.
“It all sounded sort of familiar,” Collins wrote—having offered a parody of journalism, in which she extended a very familiar, but grossly misleading, bogus old portrait of Texas.

The statement by Ravitch is inexcusable, for reasons we will review again next week. The one-word quotation from Grissmer is hard to parse: What exactly does it mean to say that scores “have begun to flag?”

But Collins tops even herself when she includes those statements by Barbara Bush. There’s no sign that the former first lady has any idea what she’s talking about. And her data are basically worthless, if we’re trying to assess the performance of the Texas schools.

A bit of background:

Barbara Bush wrote her unfortunate column in February 2011. (To read her full piece, click here.) As she wrote, the Texas legislature was considering large cuts to statewide education funding. At the time, education cuts which were being imposed in many states, one reaction to the funding problems brought on by the nation’s economic collapse.

Barbara Bush argued against the funding cuts. She may have been on the side of the angels, but her portrait of the Texas schools was uninformed and grossly misleading. Two obvious problems:

Graduation rate: Does Texas really rank 36th in high school graduation rate? It’s certainly possible! Later in her book, Collins approvingly reprints other data which say the state ranks 43rd! Rather typically, Collins doesn’t seem to notice that she has presented two different figures.

Does Texas rank 36th in high school graduation? It’s possible—but Texas will rank rather low on many measures until you disaggregate data. The Texas schools have high proportions of students from low-income families. They have very high proportions of black and Hispanic kids.

As part of our continuing national tragedy, minority kids drop out of school at substantially higher rates than white kids. All things being equal, states with large proportions of low-income and minority kids will have higher drop-out rates than states with lots of white kids.

Where would Texas rank in graduation rate if we compared its student groups to their peers nationwide? For example, where would Texas rank in graduation rate for black kids? Trust us—Barbara Bush has no idea! Neither does Collins, who effusively praises disaggregation, then fails to employ the practice.

SAT scores: Even worse is Barbara Bush’s use of those SAT scores. Collins has said that the NAEP is our best source of educational data. If we’re trying to compare the performance of schools in the various states, the SATs may be our worst.

The SATs are not designed for this sort of comparison. In some states, every high school student is required to take the SATs. In other states, the SATs are taken by a narrow range of top students.

Comparisons between the average scores in such states are completely meaningless. And here we go again! In the case of Texas, large numbers of its high school students are black and Hispanic—and minority kids still score substantially lower on the SATs than their white peers.

What would those SAT scores look like if we were able to disaggregate the data? For example, if we could compare a representative sample of black high school kids in Texas to their peers nationwide?

Barbara Bush has no idea—and neither does Collins. But so what! Those SAT scores look very bad, and that of course is why Collins used them. But it’s impossible to say what those scores really mean. Meanwhile, you can look at those data from the NAEP, in which carefully selected samples of students are compared from one state to the next.

Texas students score very high on that measure—on a measure which is specifically designed to permit such state-to-state comparisons. Result? Collins ignores the best data, grotesquely clowns with the worst.

The full passage we have quoted above is pure journalistic porn. As our series continues, we’ll look at other spots in Collins’ book where she builds a grossly misleading picture of the performance of the Texas schools.

We think her work is deeply cruel and deeply unfeeling. Here’s why:

For the past fifteen years, Texas schools have been performing extremely well on NAEP math tests. In 2011, the state’s reading scores were good, often quite good. The math scores were exceptional.

On the eighth-grade level, black kids in Texas scored ahead of their peers in every state but Hawaii. The state’s Hispanic kids outscored their counterparts in all states except Montana. (White kids finished third among the fifty states.)

A decent person would wonder what might account for this. What have the Texas schools been doing to produce those high math scores?

But people like Collins don’t care about that. They exist to mock the red-state rubes, thus entertaining their pseudo-liberal audience. They exist to keep telling us a “sort of familiar,” very old story which makes pseudo-liberals feel good.

They don’t care about an important question: Why are black kids in Texas scoring so high in math?

Gail Collins doesn’t care about that. Black kids in Texas can hang in the yard as far as she is concerned.

As our series continues, we will continue to examine Collins’ clowning approach to these topics. But how little does Collins care about this? Enjoy this window into the way this “journalist” gathers her facts:
COLLINS (page 197): Acknowledgments

Normally, this is my favorite part of writing a book—when you get to thank all the people who helped you along the way. In the case of this particular book, however, I got guidance, advice, support and good information from so many incredibly smart and helpful people it’s a little embarrassing.

The idea for As Texas Goes came from Bob Weil…who was also, to my incredible good fortune, my editor at every step along the road. Although it’s certainly true that without him the book would never have been written, I’d rather point out that without him the book would have been unreadable.

At the beginning of this project, Abby Livingstone of Roll Call did me the favor of recommending a fellow Texan, [name withheld], as a researcher. Before she went off to pursue an advanced degree in architecture at Harvard, [name withheld] got me through all the initial chapters, as well as the education section.
Trust us—at its core, this horrible book is “unreadable.” That said, we direct your attention to that third paragraph.

We’ve withheld the name of that young Texan because this book’s Texas mess isn’t her fault. But note the way the journalist Collins undertakes her research:

Collins’ book has three chapters on educational topics—and she had the “research” done by an architecture student! The young woman whose name we have withheld may well be “incredibly smart and helpful.” But the evidence suggests she may have known little about educational data.

She may not have understood disaggregation, even as Collins was praising the practice. She may not have known that you can’t use SAT scores in the way Barbara Bush did.

She didn’t know what was wrong with that disgraceful statement by Ravitch. We'll assume she wasn't involved in that one-word "quotation" of Grissmer.

Just a guess: To this day, Collins’ architecture student has never seen Texas NAEP scores after you disaggregate the data. When she was conducting her research for Collins, she didn’t know that Texas kids have been kicking the nation’s keister for years, especially in math.

Twelve years ago, Molly Ivins implicitly praised the schools of Maine because they contained nothing but white kids. Twelve years later, this time inexcusably, Lady Collins has done the same thing in an ugly but typical book.

She tells a very familiar old story, one designed to amuse and mislead.

Pseudo-liberals have played this game for years. Why is this conduct accepted?

Monday—part 4: Additional misleading data—and some additional questions

Why not conduct your own research: The NAEP web sites provide tons of data, none of which Collins seemed to review.

To conduct your own state-by-state comparisons, click here, then click again on "State Comparisons." You will be doing the type of work Collins seems too lazy to do.

When liberals refuse to marry those people!


As it turns out, our sons and our daughters are not beyond our command: Yesterday, Kevin Drum ran an intriguing post about a possible trend.

At one time, people said they wouldn’t want their children to marry someone of some other race. Or of some other religion! So vile!

Today, the terms of blanket rejection have changed. Drum quoted Claude Fischer discussing a recent survey:
FISCHER (9/24/12): From the late 1970s through the late 2000s, Americans rated their own political party pretty consistently, at about an average of 70 on the scale. However, Americans rated the other party increasingly coolly, from about a 47 average four decades ago down to about a 35 average these days. This trend portrays a growing animosity toward the other side. Notably, the gulf in party temperatures is now wider than that between whites and blacks and that between Catholics and Protestants.

A pair of surveys asked Americans a more concrete question: in 1960, whether they would be “displeased” if their child married someone outside their political party, and, in 2010, would be “upset” if their child married someone of the other party. In 1960, about 5 percent of Americans expressed a negative reaction to party intermarriage; in 2010, about 40 percent did (Republicans about 50 percent, Democrats about 30 percent).
If that survey is reasonably accurate, 30 percent of Democrats said they would be upset if their child married a Republican. Among Republicans, the rejection rate for inter-marriage stood at 50 percent.

If accurate, that’s somewhat interesting. More interesting are the comments to Dum’s post. To wit:

People love to think tribally, typologically. Many commenters seemed to think that they were debating a different question: Would they be upset if their child married every Republican? Or the most repellent Republican?

They seemed to picture their children marrying the Ideal Form of Republicans. Plato of course was rather dumb. We haven’t advanced very far.

Would you be upset if your child married a Republican? We would think it might depend on who the Republican was! For many commenters, no such nuance could be imagined. In their minds, every one of “those people” is apparently just like every other, thus just like the very worst one.

In comments, the venting was extreme. It helped display an important aspect of the modern political world:

When we liberals emerged from the woods, it turned out we weren’t quite as smart as we’d always said we were. On average.

Molly Ivins made a mistake!


Part 2—Why Maine seemed so special: Friend, do you want to use test scores in reading and math to judge a school or school district? To judge an entire state’s schools?

To compare school performance in one state to school performance in another?

If you have reliable test scores to use, that’s a sensible thing to do. But if you want to evaluate schools that way, you have to “disaggregate” test scores.

You can’t compare the overall scores from some state to the overall scores from another. You have to break the test scores down to see how different groups of students in the two states did.

If one state has a high proportion of low-income kids, that state may have low overall scores, even though those low-income kids are outscoring their peers around the nation. And uh-oh! Because white kids currently outscore black and Hispanic kids, a state with a high proportion of white students has a built-in advantage.

If you want to rate the true performance of a state’s schools, you have to “disaggregate” its scores. In her unfortunate book, As Texas Goes, Gail Collins sings the praises of disaggregation—then fails to practice the technique as she rolls her eyes at the state of Texas for its low overall scores. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/12.)

That’s par for the course with a writer like Collins. But uh-oh! Twelve years ago, the late Molly Ivins made the same mistake in one of her syndicated columns.

Collins quotes that Ivins column in her massively bungled new book. For that reason, it may be worth taking a trip back in time to see what happens when journalists fail to practice “disaggregation.”

Twelve years ago, Molly Ivins made a substantial mistake.

Given the time frame, her mistake may have been understandable. It was a mistake all the same.

The episode started when the Rand Corporation released a major report on the performance of the various states’ public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The report appeared in July 2000. Rand heaped praise on the Texas schools for the high performance of its various students—after disaggregation.

Rand stressed the progress Texas schools had made on the NAEP between 1990 and 1996. Beyond that, it said that black and Hispanic kids in Texas were scoring right at the top of the nation as compared to black and Hispanic peers in the other states.

That sounded like good news for Texas. But at the time, a presidential campaign was under way, featuring the Republican governor of Texas. And sure enough! As Ivins described the Rand report, she stressed the idea that Governor Bush had nothing to do with the progress displayed by kids in the Texas schools.

That may or may not have been true. But in the process, Ivins made grossly misleading remarks about her state’s public schools.

The Texas schools were still “slightly below average,” the liberal columnist wrote. At one point, she used a statistic which made it sound like things might be somewhat worse:
IVINS (7/29/00): The study shows that Texas is improving fast. Our scores are still slightly below the national average (27th of the 44 states that use the national tests); but we're moving up—second in improvement on math scores, and our minority kids are outperforming others around the country.

So the governor stood up and took a bow. Excuse me.

The report was based on tests between 1990 and 1996. One thing we know about education reform is that it takes 10 to 20 years before we can see any results, before we can tell whether what we've tried is working.

The real story on how our schools rocketed from abysmal to only slightly below average in a mere 30 years starts in 1968, with a lawsuit...
Do we really know that education reform “takes 10 to 20 years before we can see any results?” Ivins may have stretching a bit, denying credit to Bush.

But according to a wisecrack by Ivins, the Texas schools had “rocketed from abysmal to only slightly below average in a mere 30 years.” And she included a statistic which sounded gloomier till: She said Texas was still “27th of the 44 states that use the national tests.”

That statistic can be defended as technically accurate. But it was grossly misleading.

Let’s forget about credit and blame. Instead, let’s consider Ivins’ claims about the Texas schools.

Were Texas schools “below average” in 2000, when Ivins’ column appeared? Were they “below average” in 1996, the last year considered in the Rand report? In fact, once you “disaggregated” their scores, Texas students were outscoring their peers around the nation by very significant margins as of 1996.

Once again, here are some of the 1996 scores which led Rand to praise the Texas schools, followed by the corresponding scores from the year 2000, when Ivins wrote her column:
Texas students, fourth-grade math, 1996 NAEP
White kids: First in the nation (of 43 participating states)
Black kids: First in the nation (of 35 states)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (of 25 states)

Texas students, fourth-grade math, 2000 NAEP
White kids: Second in the nation (of 40 participating states)
Black kids: First in the nation (of 32 states)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (of 21 states)
On the basis of those 1996 scores, the Rand study heaped praise on the Texas schools. But Rand had disaggregated the data.

Misleadingly, Ivins did not.

To those who read the Rand report, the strong performance of Texas students wasn't a mystery. Rand stressed the high performance of Texas kids. Other journalists were able to see this.

Example: A few days before Ivins’ column appeared, Melanie Markey did a detailed report on the Rand study in the Houston Chronicle. With perfect accuracy, Markley described Rand’s findings about the high performance of the Texas schools.

Texas students “outperformed all other states when variations in demographics were taken into account,” Markley correctly reported:
MARKLEY (7/26/00): Texas a qualified No. 1 in U.S. education study

Texas students, building on reforms launched in the 1980s, outperformed peers with similar backgrounds on national tests measuring education progress, the California-based Rand research group reported Tuesday.

Smaller class sizes, well-funded preschool programs and adequate resources for teachers are key factors that separate top-ranked Texas from the likes of California, which came in last among 44 states participating in the three-year private study, Rand found.


Based on an analysis of the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests given from 1990 to 1996, the study ranks states by raw scores, scores that compare students with similar backgrounds and score improvements.

When comparing raw scores, Texas ranks below most other states. Maine, North Dakota, Iowa, New Hampshire and Montana are at the top, while Mississippi, Louisiana, California, Alabama and South Carolina are at the bottom.

Researchers said the states with high raw scores tend to have fewer minorities, higher family incomes and better-educated parents.

But Texas ranked second only to North Carolina in improved scores—about twice as great as the national average—and outperformed all other states when variations in demographics were taken into account.
Texas “outperformed all other states when variations in demographics were taken into account,” Markley wrote. That is to say, when test scores were disaggregated.

After disaggregation, Texas kids were outperforming their peers in all other states! This point was made a bit more clearly in Anjetta McQueen’s report for the Associated Press:
MCQUEEN (7/25/00): Researchers used specific categories to see how well each state is educating children regardless of background. For example, on the 1996 math test of fourth-graders, black students in Texas ranked first when compared with blacks in other states; Hispanic students in Texas ranked fifth. Meanwhile, California's black students ranked last; California's Hispanic students ranked fourth from the bottom.
McQueen seems to have erred on one point. According to official NAEP data, Hispanic kids in Texas scored second in the nation, behind only Maryland, in fourth-grade math in 1996. To give you a rough idea of their relative success, they outscored the national average for their peers by more than twelve points—and by a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often said to equal one academic year.

After disaggregation, how well were Texas students doing in 1996? Here’s where the three major demographic groups stood in fourth-grade math by the final year Rand studied:
Texas students, fourth-grade math, 1996 NAEP
White kids: Outscored white kids nationwide by 10.1 points
Black kids: Outscored black kids nationwide by 12.8 points
Hispanic kids: Outscored Hispanic kids nationwide by 12.4 points
On fourth-grade math, Texas kids were kicking the nation’s backside. How did Ivins end up saying that the state was still 27th, out of just 44 states?

Where did she get that gloomy statistic? Therein lies several tales.

Ivins’ statement can be defended as technically accurate. One lone graph in the lengthy Rand report compared the average scores the various states had achieved on all NAEP tests from 1990 through 1996. (For the Rand report, just click here. Scroll to page 14.)

In this one solitary graph, there was no attempt to “disaggregate” scores—to adjust for income, race or ethnicity. And sure enough! On this measure, Texas did finish 27th, out of 44 states. And surprise! These were the five top-scoring states, along with the percentage of their students who were white:
Top five states on Ivins’ preferred measure, with percentage of students who were white:
1. Maine (98)
2. North Dakota (96)
3. Iowa (93)
4. New Hampshire (97)
5. Montana (unavailable)


27. Texas (50)
Maine finished first on this ill-conceived measure—but then, 98 percent of Maine’s students were white! North Dakota finished second on this measure; its kids were 96 percent white. (The data for race come from 1992.)

Texas did finish 27th on this particular measure. The main reasons: The state had large numbers of low-income students. And its student population was only about 50 percent white.

Duh! As anybody could have guessed, success on this measure correlated strongly with the percentage of white kids in a gievn state’s schools. Presumably because it ranked Texas so low, Ivins pulled this statistic from a mammoth report which lavishly praised the Texas schools for outscoring all other states—after disaggregation.

Can we talk? In her column, Ivins dogged Texas for its rank on this single, ill-conceived measure. In essence, she was complaining that Texas had too many minority kids and too many kids with low incomes.

We’ll assume that Ivins didn’t fully understand that fact. But that was the nature of the statistic she pulled from that lengthy report—a lengthy report which explicitly stressed the high achievement of Texas kids if you compared such kids with their nationwide peers.

Final point: Was Maine really first in the nation, while Texas languished in 27th? Only because the state of Maine had so many white students! For more proof of Texas’ high performance, just consider this:

Was Maine really best in the nation? In fact, if you consider white kids only, Texas was generally outscoring Maine by the period under review! Here’s how white students from the two states ranked on a string of NAEP tests:
White students only, fourth-grade math, 1996 NAEP
Texas: First in the nation
Maine: Eleventh

White students only, fourth-grade reading, 1998 NAEP
Texas: Second in the nation
Maine: Twelfth

White students only, eighth-grade math, 2000 NAEP
Texas: Sixth in the nation
Maine: Eighteenth

White students only, fourth-grade math, 2000 NAEP
Texas: Second in the nation
Maine: Twenty-fifth
By 1996, Texas tended to outscore Maine, often by fairly large margins, even if you looked at white students only. Maine came in first on that overall ranking only because the state had almost no minority kids.

Texas finished 27th! In such ways, we get misled when we don’t “disaggregate” test scores. Ivins could have told the world about the relative success of all the kids in Texas. Instead, she cherry-picked a single statistic—a statistic which gave a grossly misleading picture of the performance of the Texas schools.

We will assume that Ivins may not have fully understood her topic that day. Twelve years later, in her unfortunate book, Collins praises the wonders of disaggregation—after which, she utterly fails to employ the praised technique.

Ivins’ column was greatly misleading, but she may not have understood. Twelve years later, what’s Collins’ excuse?

Why does this nonsense continue?

Tomorrow: Quoting Barbara Bush!

Maureen Dowd can’t bottle it up!


Typing like cats and dogs: For more than a decade, Maureen Dowd has built her weird political vision around a particular notion:

Democratic men are a big bunch of girls. Dem women act like men!

Dowd was fixed on this view by early in Campaign 2000. This was its most famous expression:
DOWD (6/16/99): Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct, he's practically lactating.
As the years rolled by, Democratic men kept acting like girls, Dem women kept seeming like men. And sure enough! In early 2008, Candidate Obama didn’t fail to comply. On two occasions, Dowd described him as “the diffident debutante.” Other such musings abounded.

After years of this addled crap, the hammer finally fell. In June 2008, public editor Clark Hoyt savaged Dowd for “the relentless nature of her gender-laden assault on [Hillary] Clinton,” while noting the way Dowd kept criticizing Obama for his “feminine” style.

See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/23/08.

Hoyt savaged Dowd, and she stopped all the crap. This morning, the silly is back:
DOWD (9/26/12): In a world of dogs, diplomatically speaking, Obama is a cat. Just as he suffered from his standoffish approach with Congress, donors and his base, our feline president can be oblivious to the neediness of other less Zen leaders.
This morning, Obama is “feline” again. That means he does things like a girl.

At this point, no—this doesn’t matter. But Maureen Dowd simply can’t bottle it up. She’s just a full-blown gender nut, as Hoyt correctly observed.

Reading Thomas L. Friedman today!


While thinking of Maddow from Monday: For our money, Thomas L. Friedman’s new column is quite intriguing.

He cites a wave of reaction in the Middle East—reaction against the recent rioting. “Backlash to the Backlash,” his headline says.

This is Friedman’s first example. All deletions by him:
FRIEDMAN (9/26/12): On Monday, the Middle East Media Research Institute, or Memri, which tracks the Arab/Muslim press, translated a searing critique written by Imad al-Din Hussein, a columnist for Al Shorouk, Cairo’s best daily newspaper: “We curse the West day and night, and criticize its [moral] disintegration and shamelessness, while relying on it for everything. ... We import, mostly from the West, cars, trains, planes ... refrigerators, and washing machines. ... We are a nation that contributes nothing to human civilization in the current era. ... We have become a burden on [other] nations. ... Had we truly implemented the essence of the directives of Islam and all [other] religions, we would have been at the forefront of the nations. The world will respect us when we return to being people who take part in human civilization, instead of [being] parasites who are spread out over the map of the advanced world, feeding off its production and later attacking it from morning until night. ... The West is not an oasis of idealism. It also contains exploitation in many areas. But at least it is not sunk in delusions, trivialities and external appearances, as we are. ... Therefore, supporting Islam and the prophet of the Muslims should be done through work, production, values, and culture, not by storming embassies and murdering diplomats.”
Throughout his column, Friedman quotes other voices in the backlash against the brouhaha. He even quotes an Egyptian man of the joke:
FRIEDMAN: The Egyptian comedian, Bassem Youssef, wrote in Al Shorouk, translated by Memri, on Sept. 23: “We demand that the world respect our feelings, yet we do not respect the feelings of others. We scream blue murder when they outlaw the niqab in some European country or prevent [Muslims] from building minarets in another [European] country—even though these countries continue to allow freedom of religion, as manifest in the building of mosques and in the preaching [activity] that takes place in their courtyards. Yet, in our countries, we do not allow others to publicly preach their beliefs. Maybe we should examine ourselves before [criticizing] others.”
We don’t know what these examples of backlash might mean. But might we make a confession?

As we read these examples of backlash, we thought of segments we saw on the Maddow show the last two nights. These segments dealt with Scott Brown’s ongoing complaints concerning Elizabeth Warren’s past (and apparently current) claims about her family’s ethnicity.

On Monday night, Maddow spoke with Melissa Harris-Perry about these complaints by Brown. As such, liberal viewers saw a former Rhodes Scholar speak with a ranking professor.

This fulfills the favorite (pipe) dream of us liberals: We are the very smart people! But are we really the very smart people? As we watched, we were struck by how many facts were being withheld from Maddow’s viewers. We had a similar reaction last night as Maddow declaimed about this matter on her own, first in a fairly lengthy tease, then in a stand-alone segment.

Due to our recent presence at a top-secret government training session, we haven’t had a chance to review the transcripts. We will do so tomorrow.

That said, is Warren really “Native American?” Maddow made this assertion each night. As she did, and as Harris-Perry lectured, we were struck by how many facts and points of view were being withheld from her liberal viewers.

This morning, we thought of those segments as we read those examples of backlash to the backlash. Should we liberals perhaps “examine ourselves?” That’s the advice that Egyptian comedian has now given to fellow Egyptians. Do we liberals practice the conduct we savage in others, the behavior that comic described?

More on Maddow’s segments tomorrow. That to the side, we recommend Friedman’s intriguing column. Is there a backlash to the backlash?

He reports, you can decide.

Why not treat yourself to a lecture: To watch Maddow’s main segment from Monday night, go ahead: Just click here.

To see Maddow preview this segment on Monday night, click this.

Gail Collins [HEART] disaggregation!


Part 1—What does that mean: Gail Collins [HEART] disaggregation!

Collins makes her feelings clear in her unfortunate new book, As Texas Goes. We reported on her book all last week. For a quick review of those posts, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/24/12.

That said, what is disaggregation? And why doesn’t Collins employ the practice she loves?

Those are excellent questions! In truth, you can’t begin to analyze public school test scores unless you understand “disaggregation,” the practice Collins admires.

How much does Collins [HEART] disaggregation? Let’s take a look at the record!

In the part of her book which deals with the Texas public schools and the No Child Left Behind program, Collins heaps praise on former Governor Bush for supporting “disaggregation.”

Throughout this chapter, Collins mocks Bush in ways designed to please liberal readers. But in the following passage, she explains what “disaggregation” is, and she briefly heaps big praise on the former governor, with a few snide remarks scattered in.

What the Sam Hill is disaggregation? Let’s let Collins explain it! In this passage, we’re back in the 1990s, when Bush was governor of Texas:
COLLINS (page 83): To explain how the legislation we now know as No Child Left Behind came into being, we have to begin with some serious praise for George W. Bush.

While some other states had gone into testing in a big way too, there was one part of the Texas school reforms that was unusual. It’s known as disaggregation. Basically, it means that a school’s score on the test is based not only on how well the students do overall, but also on how much the poor, black and Hispanic kids improve. “The argument was—and I think it was a compelling argument—that in the past some schools had let some sub-populations drop through the cracks and that wasn’t acceptable,” said [Texas pol] Bill Ratliff.

Disaggregation put tremendous pressure on schools to focus on bringing up their poor and minority students. Districts with large middle-class white populations hated it because their schools could wind up with a low rating even if the majority of their kids were doing well. It was a powerful club against all the subtle and not-so-subtle forces that have created unequal educational opportunity in the twenty-first century. And George Bush adored disaggregation. He loved saying the word. Disaggregation was what he meant when he talked about “the soft bigotry of low expectations” for poor and minority kids.
Did middle-class districts hate disaggregation? We have no idea. But disaggregation, a very big word, stands for a simple idea:

You can’t really judge a school or school district by its overall score on some test. You have to break down a district’s scores to see how well its low-income students did. You see how its black kids did. You have to review the performance of its Hispanic students.

This isn’t a complex idea. That’s why it’s so amazing to see Collins fail to employ this simple technique all through her deeply unfortunate book—to see her mock the Texas schools on the basis of overall scores, without checking to see how the scores look after disaggregation.

Texas, you see, has a very large percentage of low-income and/or minority kids. In every one of the fifty states, low-income kids score substantially lower than their more advantaged peers. Ditto for black kids and Hispanic kids.

We think you know the background:

Due to the ravages of our history, black kids have always scored lower, as a group, than their white counterparts. In the past twenty or thirty years, black kids and Hispanic kids have been scoring much better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the widely-lauded “gold standard” of American educational testing. One remarkable example: As of 2009, black fourth-graders were scoring higher on the NAEP math test than their white counterparts scored in 1992!

That represents astounding progress. But alas! As of 2009, white kids were scoring substantially higher in fourth-grade math too! For that reason, “achievement gaps” persist between the three major demographic groups, although the gaps have gotten smaller. And in all fifty states, low-income kids score substantially lower than their more advantaged peers.

Texas schools teach a large proportion of black and Hispanic kids. They also teach a large proportion of kids from low-income families. Kids are kids, but on these measures, the Texas student population differs markedly from those in other states.

The difference can be very large. This was the demographic breakdown for two famous states on one of last year’s NAEP tests:
Percentage of students tested by race/ethnicity and income, fourth-grade reading, 2011 NAEP
Massachusetts: 68 percent white, 9 percent black, 14 percent Hispanic
Texas: 31 percent white, 14 percent black, 51 percent Hispanic

Massachusetts: 33 percent low-income
Texas: 63 percent low-income
Kids are kids. But on last year’s fourth-grade reading test, Texas had almost twice as many kids from low-income families. Massachusetts had more than twice as many white kids—and in every one of the fifty states, white kids still score substantially higher (on average) than black and Hispanic kids.

Kids are kids, but on these measures, the Texas student population differs from those in other states. If you’re trying to determine how well the Texas schools are performing, you can’t simply look at overall scores, for the bone-simple reason Collins explains in her book.

You have to “disaggregate” the data. You have to see how well Texas and other states do with roughly comparable groups.

Collins praises this practice in her book, then utterly fails to employ it. In a similar way, Molly Ivins mocked the Texas schools in a July 2000 column, failing to note that Texas kids were outscoring their demographic counterparts all through the fifty states.

This is how Texas students wer scoring as Ivins mocked the state's schools:
Texas students, fourth-grade math, 2000 NAEP
White kids: Second in the nation (of 40 participating states)
Black kids: First in the nation (of 32 states)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (of 21 states)

Texas students, fourth-grade math, 1996 NAEP
White kids: First in the nation (of 43 participating states)
Black kids: First in the nation (of 35 states)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (of 25 states)
Texas kids were outscoring their peers all over the nation. But Ivins, in a grossly misleading column, said the state’s schools had “rocketed from abysmal to only slightly below average.”

“Our scores are still slightly below the national average,” she wrote—“27th of the 44 states that use the national tests.” That statement can be defended as technically accurate, but it was also grossly misleading. Details tomorrow.

Ivins failed to disaggregate! Twelve years later, in her new book, Collins quotes a wisecrack from Ivins’ column—and she fails to disaggregate too, even after making a point of praising the bone-simple practice!

Collins knows what disaggregation is. But twelve years after Ivins’ error, she’s still too lazy—or too partisan—to employ the practice she loves.

In a rational world, Collins would be disowned by journalists, savaged by liberals.

You don’t live in that world.

Tomorrow: Molly Ivins, twelve years back

Our journalists love their favorite tales!


Like Pepperidge Farm, Harwood remembers: We don’t expect to post tomorrow.

While we’re away, why not treat yourself to a review of John Harwood’s favorite stories?

In last Friday’s New York Times, Harwood connected Mitt Romney’s remarks about the 47 percent to Candidate Blunders of the past. This allowed the scribe to recall his favorite candidate stories.

Harwood lists his top ten candidate blunders, dating to the 1968 campaign. A few quick reactions:

Instant editing: We were struck by the way Harwood shortens some of the allegedly horrible candidate statements. In the case of Candidate Gore, Harwood shortens a 16-word statement down to just eight, instantly dumping some of the context. He does something similar with Candidate Kerry, whose laughable statement made perfect sense and involved no “flip-flop” at all.

Mondale never dies: As we’ve mentioned in the past, Candidate Mondale’s statement about taxes always makes these lists. In this way, journalists mock a candidate for making a straightforward, perfectly accurate statement about a major policy area. (For the record, President Reagan did go on to raise taxes, just as Mondale predicted. After that, so did Presidents Bush and Clinton.)

Dukakis never dies too: Needless to say, Candidate Dukakis makes the list, not because of what he said, but because he said it as part of an “emotionless response.” Translation: Dukakis was supposed to punch Bernie Shaw right in the nose for asking the most tasteless and inappropriate question in the history of presidential debates. When Dukakis didn’t punch Shaw in the nose, the mainstream press corps swung into action. They repeat the tale to this very day. It's one of their all-time favorites.

Two major omissions: Harwood includes a minor, pointless remark by President Bush in 1992. He omits one of the most significant statements in the history of modern presidential campaigning: “Read my lips. No new taxes!” In 1988, this highly disingenuous statement won the election for Candidate Bush. Four years later, it may have cost him re-election. Also omitted: Candidate Muskie’s alleged weeping in 1972, an astonishing incident in which the upper-end press corps seems to have invented a whole set of facts.

Journalists love these silly tales. They never stop repeating these tales, no matter how much they have to doctor, omit or spin in the process of the retelling.

However much you think it matters, Candidate Romney’s videotaped statement actually did involve major misstatements. Most of Harwood’s favorite candidate blunders are examples of something else.



Misconceptions to date: We’re off on a (one-day) mission of national import.

For today, let’s review some of the basics from our ongoing series:

In fairness to Gail Collins, she may not have known some basic facts when she wrote her unfortunate new book, As Texas Goes.

She may not have known that you have to be careful when you quote Diane Ravitch. She may not have known that the Texas public schools, on a statewide basis, were among the nation’s highest performers as of the mid-1990s.

She may not have known that the Texas schools are still among our highest performers.

We refer to the performance of the Texas schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the widely-praised “gold standard” of American educational testing—the program Collins has described as “the best national assessment we have.”

At the core of its program, the NAEP tests fourth-graders and eighth-graders in reading and math. Its most recent testing occurred last year—and here's the good news:

On last year’s tests, Texas students outscored the nation in all three major demographic groups in both subject areas tested. Examples below.

Collins may not have known that fact when she wrote her unfortunate book. Although she praises the NAEP, there’s no sign that she has ever looked through its voluminous data. That would include its data for the Texas schools of the 1990s or for the Texas schools of today.

To cite one example, she almost surely doesn’t know how well Texas eighth-graders scored on last year’s math test. As you can see, the state’s eighth-graders scored at the very top of the nation:
Texas students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
White kids: Third in the nation
Black kids: Second in the nation (behind Hawaii)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (behind Montana)
Hawaii and Montana have very few black and Hispanic students. On this test, Texas outscored all states with significant minority populations.

(White students in Texas trailed Massachusetts and New Jersey, in each case by less than one point.)

We’re selecting the subject, eighth-grade math, on which Texas students scored highest. But Texas students scored in the top ten among the fifty states in eight out of twelve demographic categories in the subjects we’re discussing.

That’s what happens when you “disaggregate” the data—when you compare Texas students to their demographic counterparts in the other states. But uh-oh:

As we’ll see later this week, Collins swears by disaggregation in her new book. She just doesn’t engage in the practice!

Most likely, Collins also doesn’t know that Texas students were at the top of the national charts all the way back in the mid-1990s. For example, here’s how they performed in fourth-grade math during that era. The NAEP doesn’t test every year:
Texas students, fourth-grade math, 2000 NAEP
White kids: Second in the nation (of 40 participating states)
Black kids: First in the nation (of 32 states)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (of 21 states)

Texas students, fourth grade math, 1996 NAEP
White kids: First in the nation (of 43 participating states)
Black kids: First in the nation (of 35 states)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (of 25 states)
Collins may not have known that Texas students were scoring that high by that time. Had she known, she might not have including this misleading passage in her book:
COLLINS (page 78): During the last half of the 1990s, Texas schools did get better. It was very, very hard to figure exactly how much better, given the amount of conflicting data floating around, but some observers were wowed by how well the students were testing. (“I couldn’t believe it,” said David Grissmer, who wrote or co-wrote several important education studies on the state.) Some were just prepared to thank God for small favors. (Molly Ivins called it the “story on how our schools rocketed from abysmal to only slightly below average in a mere thirty years.”) The doubters would be empowered later, when reporters discovered that in some places the results had been, shall we say, rigged.
Small favors? Slightly below average? And by the way: As far as anyone knows, no NAEP tests have ever been, “shall we say, rigged.” Outright cheating has occurred on the high-stakes tests the states themselves devise and conduct. No one has ever suggested that this has occurred on the federally-administered NAEP. (This is part of the reason why people like Collins call the NAEP the “gold standard.”)

Back to our original point: From reading that passage in Collins’ book, would anyone have any idea that Texas students led the nation on that 1996 math test? That they did so again in 2000, on the NAEP’s next math test?

Sorry, readers! According to our most reliable data, the Texas schools were not “below average” at this point in time. But you would never dream such a thing from reading Collins’ unfortunate book.

As early as 1996, Texas students were scoring quite high on our most reliable tests. Molly Ivins may not have understood this when she wrote the July 2000 column from which Collins excerpted that wisecrack—a column in which Ivins made grossly misleading factual claims about the Texas schools. (More to come later this week.)

Ivins may not have understood the true state of the NAEP data. But twelve years after that misleading column, we will guess that Collins still doesn’t know the basic facts about the performance of students in Texas. We’ll guess she doesn’t know about those data from 2011, or she wouldn’t have written the following gloomy passage in 2012.

For now, we’re omitting a fourth, very gloomy paragraph:
COLLINS (page 91): You may be wondering how things are going, education-wise, in the state that deeded its reform plan to the nation. Paul Sadler, the Democrat who led the effort in the Texas house, complains that the state is “testing our kids to death.” (Under the state’s newest regimen, students take seventeen high-stakes tests between third and eighth grade, and up to a dozen more while they’re in high school.) A survey by the Texas State Teachers Association showed that 43 percent of its members were seriously thinking of looking for another line of work.

Sadler still believes that the leaps made in the 1990s are holding up. “I think most of our schools do a pretty good job,” he said. Other observers are, at a minimum, disillusioned. “The eighth grade reading scores were exactly the same in 2009 as 1998,” said Diane Ravitch, referring to the scores Texas received in the national NAEP test results. (I know we were trying to avoid them, but sometimes it’s impossible.) “The whole country is now embarked on remedies that didn’t do anything for Texas.”

David Grissmer, the author of that glowing RAND study, says that since 2000, when the study came out, Texas students’ scores on national tests have begun to “flag.”
We’re still withholding the final part of this passage from Collins’ book (see below). But consider:

Ravitch’s statement is wrong and/or grossly misleading in various ways, as we noted last week. We’ll guess that Grissmer’s outlook and meaning may have poorly conveyed in that one-word “quotation.”

But one year after Texas students led the nation in eighth-grade math, the optimist in this gloomy bunch could only manage to say that the most Texas schools “do a pretty good job.” In the process, an utterly bogus impression was advanced—the impression that test scores in Texas have shown no progress since 1998.

That impression is grossly inaccurate. False.

We’re still withholding the final part of that passage from Collins’ book. In that passage, Collins quotes 87-year-old Barbara Bush sounding off about how bad the Texas schools are. However well-meaning Mrs. Bush may be, she isn’t a reliable source on that topic—and she proved it in the things she said. But because her comments made schools in Texas sound very bad, Collins happily typed them on up!

More on Bush’s comments later this week. For today, ponder this question:

From the passage we’ve shown you, would anyone dream that Texas students, just last year, topped the nation in fourth-grade math? That they persistently outscored their peers from around the nation in both reading and math?

Texas students scored quite high in the 2011 NAEP—and Collins has said that these are the nation’s most reliable data. A reader of her inexcusable book would have no idea that any such thing occurred.

Therein lies a set of tales about modern “journalistic” culture. These tales involve the workings of modern pseudo-journalism—and the conduct of the modern pseudo-liberal world.

Today and tomorrow, we will be in a top-secret location in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, conducting a top-secret workshop for a group of federal managers.

We don’t expect to post tomorrow. We’ll resume this series on Wednesday, and we’ll keep asking these questions:

Does anyone care about public schools? Or do minority children exist to fuel the wisecracks of slackers like Collins? To help them tell preferred partisan stories? (The state of Texas totally sucks! Those rednecks are no damn good!)

Once again, here are some scores from last year’s NAEP:
Texas students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
White kids: Third in the nation
Black kids: Second in the nation
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation
Reading Collins, would anyone dream that such test scores exist?

More questions: Why did Collins write such a book? In this information age, why are we being misled and misinformed in such relentless ways?

Starting Wednesday: The disaggregation monologues

For seekers of actual information: To compare Texas students to those of other states, just click here. Then click on “State Comparisons.”

At that point, you’re on your own.

Harold Meyerson gets it right!


And then, he gets it wrong: In yesterday’s Washington Post, Harold Meyerson wrote a decent column about the Chicago teachers strike.

As he started, he described the mandated point of view which drives the mainstream press:
MEYERSON (9/20/12): Here’s a bit of advice to America’s teachers: If you want the nation’s opinion leaders and CEOs to like you, don’t congregate in groups. Everyone, it seems, loves teachers individually. But when they get together, they become a menace to civilization.

That’s one of the clearest take-aways from the just-concluded teachers strike in Chicago. Editorial boards from the right-wing Wall Street Journal to the liberal New York Times were nearly unanimous in condemning the seven-day strike. The Chicago Teachers Union was depriving the city’s children of their right to an education not just during the strike, editorialists argued, but also every day—by refusing to bow down to standardized tests. In the eyes of our elites, such tests have emerged as the linchpin of pedagogy and the best way to measure teacher, not just student, performance.

The unrelenting attack on teachers unions has some measurable consequences...
Meyerson is certainly right. Within establishment press corps circles, all knees jerk in mandated ways with regard to public school issues.

Having said that, we’ll pick a nit. Why would Meyerson think this:
MEYERSON: Given what we know about the cost of private schools and the demographics of Chicago’s public schools (87 percent of students come from households below the poverty threshold), it’s safe to say that the school reform movement hasn’t converted many outside the upper middle class. I suspect that a number of parents with kids in the city schools may have a more direct understanding of the challenges, both in school and out, that their children confront, as well as a clearer perception of the lack of resources that bedevil the schools.
Meyerson refers to “what we know about about...the demographics of Chicago’s public schools.” Immediately, he misstates something he thinks we know about those demographics.

No, Virginia! In Chicago’s public schools, 87 percent of students don’t come from poverty households. That’s the percentage of Chicago students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

You don’t have to be below the poverty line to qualify for subsidized lunch. If memory serves, the cut-off point is roughly twice the poverty level.

Two points:

How well do we progressives understand our cities if we think that 87 percent of Chicago students are living below the poverty line? Why do we think such a thing?

How well do we understand American politics if we find ourselves rushing to advance that (politically dangerous) image? Why would we want to say that?

Did the 60s ever end? Black and Hispanic kids aren't making any progress in school! And not only that! They're all living in poverty!

These are the notions our agents advance. What makes us want to do that?

Our Friday soda pop quiz: What percentage of American public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch?

Answer: According to federal statistics, 52 percent of fourth-graders so qualified in 2011.

Fifty-two percent is more than half! That isn’t a measure of poverty.

Michael Gerson’s excellent column!


We’ll extend his concerns: Michael Gerson was a major speech-writer for George W. Bush.

In this morning’s Washington Post, he joins conservatives who are rejecting the vision which emerged from Candidate Romney’s trip to Club 47.

Joan Baez wasn’t at the club that night; in absentia, Ayn Rand was giving a reading. After a deeply sympathetic portrait of America’s modern working class, Gerson joins those conservatives walking away from the things Romney said:
GERSON (9/21/12): [A] Republican ideology pitting the “makers” against the “takers” offers nothing. No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change. This approach involves a relentless reductionism. Human worth is reduced to economic production. Social problems are reduced to personal vices. Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class.

A few libertarians have wanted this fight ever since they read “Atlas Shrugged” as pimply adolescents. Given Romney’s background, record and faith, I don’t believe that he holds this view. I do believe that Republicans often parrot it, because they lack familiarity with other forms of conservatism that include a conception of the common good.

But there really is no excuse. Republican politicians could turn to Burkean conservatism, with its emphasis on the “little platoons” of civil society. They could reflect on the Catholic tradition of subsidiarity, and solidarity with the poor. They could draw inspiration from Tory evangelical social reformers such as William Wilberforce or Lord Shaftesbury. Or they could just read Abraham Lincoln, who stood for “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

Instead they mouth libertarian nonsense, unable to even describe some of the largest challenges of our time.
"Nonsense" is a strong word, especially so in the ninth month of a presidential year.

On balance, we tend to agree with Gerson’s guess; we’ll guess that Romney was mainly pretending that night, aping the rough unfeeling talk he has heard from the base. But as Gerson says, there’s no excuse. His remarks were impossibly foolish. And he was encouraging others at the club to whistle those same foolish tunes.

We strongly recommend Gerson’s column. We especially recommend his portrait of the challenges facing many members of our collapsing working class.

Gerson smacks his own team around. What the heck! We’ll extend a similar challenge!

Gerson pummels his fellow conservatives for their lack of social concern. In a similar vein, what can we say for a tribe which walks away from the lives of low-income kids, the way we liberals have done?

Please don’t say we haven’t done that. It’s abundantly clear that we have. We walked away from black kids decades ago. As a group, we've never come back.

Go ahead—read our ongoing series about Gail Collins’ inexcusable book. Gerson asks why his fellow conservatives can’t sympathize with young people in working class Ohio—young people who face deeply challenging stations in life.

We will second that emotion. We liberals quit on black kids long ago, as Collins’ ridiculous conduct in her book makes clear all over again.

In many ways, Collins is pandering to the tribe, as Romney probably was. She’s throwing us our comfort food, responding to our desire to laugh at those stupid red state people.

In the process, she makes it clear that low-income and minority children are there to serve as our toys. Their accomplishments must be disappeared so we can all laugh at George Bush.

So we can laugh at (white) Texans who assault their girl friends with frozen armadillos! We want to laugh at shit like that. In deference to that liberal desire, those children in Texas can hang.

Collins may not know she's doing that. But the rank stupidity of that book stands at the end of three decades of liberal disinterest. That book is a disgrace to “liberal” moral and intellectual values.

We’ll ask the same questions Gerson asks:

What has made our team so uncaring? How do we get ourselves back?

Rapid Robert shows us the way: Randall Jarrell said this poem was hard. We have no idea.

Who are the 47 percent!


Do we know the best way to explain it: Forty-seven percent of households pay no federal income tax.

Absent careful explanation, that’s a politically dangerous fact.

Who are the 47 percent? Why don’t they pay federal income tax? There are quite a few bad or dangerous ways to answer that question.

One bad way to answer that question is to say things which are false. Eliot Spitzer took that approach at Slate:
SPITZER (9/20/12): But as I have been saying for some time now, the 47 percent figure, while technically accurate as it relates to federal income taxes, doesn't include what people do pay through the payroll tax, sales taxes, excise taxes, and all sorts of other levies. So here is a partial breakdown of how those other burdens fall on the population, courtesy of the Tax Policy Center and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy:

28.3 percent pay payroll taxes, which cover Social Security and Medicare.

10.3 percent pay no federal income tax because they are retired or elderly, and Social Security payments are not taxed. I can't imagine that Romney objects to this category.

It turns out that just 6.9 percent of people who are non-elderly don't pay income tax. That is a far cry from 47 percent. We are not, in fact, a nation of moochers, as Romney seems to suggest.
Spitzer’s breakdown is fuzzy from the start. The highlighted statement is massively wrong, as you can see from the very clear presentation to which he links.

Another bad way to answer that question is to get lost in the weeds. Explainers should be especially careful if they’re on TV, where people can’t reread their statements.

On the NewsHour, Roberton Williams and Gwen Ifill were quickly off in some very high grass. Williams lost us right after hello, and things went downhill from there.

Ifill provided no help:
IFILL (9/18/12): So who do we think these people really are? We saw how Judy broke down some of it. But beyond that, are these people who honestly are not paying anything in taxes, or they’re just not paying in income taxes?

WILLIAMS: The story is half-true. It’s true about the income tax, but it doesn`t address the other taxes people might pay.

Of these people, 40 percent–I’m sorry, 60 percent of them pay payroll taxes because they’re working. They pay the taxes that support Social Security and Medicare. They’re likely to pay state sales taxes, local taxes and federal excise taxes. So they’re not paying nothing at all. They’re just not paying income tax.

IFILL: And when the candidate makes the comment about dependency and he’s talking about people who are relying on government, are we talking, is that— Are they talking about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, tax credits, mortgage interest deductions? I don’t—you know—

WILLIAMS: It’s really hard to tell exactly what he was speaking to. He was talking about dependency. Do you mean that when we grow old and we start collecting Social Security and Medicare, is that what we’re talking about? Are we talking about TANF, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families? Are we talking about food stamps?

We have a whole panoply of programs that help people when they need the help. If we look at the way the tax system works, we have some people, about half the people who pay no tax, just because they’re plain poor. Their incomes are so low that the standard deduction, personal exemptions zero out their taxable incomes. They would pay nothing if there were no special preferences at all.

The other half of people benefit from special preferences built into the tax system, tax credits for children. Low-income workers get the Earned Income Tax Credit. High-income people benefit greatly from low tax rates on capital gains and dividends. So, everybody throughout the income distribution benefits from the tax provisions. It's just, if you’re low- income or moderate-income, you may well be zeroed out and pushed off the tax rolls entirely.
Williams was fuzzy right out of the gate. If you already understand the facts, you can decipher what he meant in that fuzzy and fumbled first response.

For viewers who didn’t know the facts, Williams did a poor job articulating his key points. Before long, he was lost in the weeds. He seemed to make inaccurate statements. This included some fuzzy or inaccurate statements which are politically dangerous:

“If we look at the way the tax system works, we have some people, about half the people who pay no tax, just because they’re plain poor?”

At best, it’s hard to know what that means. At worst, it sounds like something that’s factually wrong—and politically dangerous.

“The other half of people benefit from special preferences built into the tax system?”

Sorry, we were lost by this point. Half the people are plain poor? The other half benefit too?

Williams stumbled out of the gate, quickly went to the weeds. Along the way, he was soon talking about food stamps and people who are poor, making it sound like tons of people “pay no tax, just because they’re plain poor.”

Or something. It was hard to know what he meant, and Ifill made no attempt to clarify. Our reaction: This exchange came close to what conservatives hope budget experts will say on TV. They want to hear poor-poor-poor. (To watch the tape, just click here.)

Forty-seven percent of households pay no federal income tax. That’s a politically dangerous fact.

Do we know how to discuss and explain that fact? More on this topic to come.

This just in from your lizard: Your lizard brain may be getting angry. But they’re on our side, your lizard may say.

Our reaction to that: So what? Please learn to handle your lizard!

MISUSE THE CHILDREN WELL: Hispanic children in Texas!


Part 4—The data behind the fraud: An odd thing happened when Gail Collins went on tour for her book about Texas.

At one point, the author was interviewed by William McKenzie of the Dallas Morning News. Far away from the gang of defectives who constitute the upper-end “press corps,” Collins spoke to someone who knew real things about the real Texas schools. (We can’t find a link to this interview.)

The following question would never be asked inside Gotham or DC. In his question, McKenzie referred to the very large test score gains by Hispanic students in Texas:
MCKENZIE (7/22/12): You sharply question the Texas model of school accountability, which shaped No Child Left Behind, the purpose of which was to put poor students in failing schools on an equal playing field. But scores for low-income and minority students largely have risen in Texas since school accountability took root in the early 1990s and was extended under No Child in 2002. Over the last 20 years, for example, eighth-grade math scores for Latinos have shown a gain of almost 3.5 grade levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.

Isn't that a good thing?
Astonishing! McKenzie has been at the Morning News since at least 1992—and he knows some basic facts about the Texas schools. He even referred to some actual facts in his question to Collins!

In Gotham, that just isn’t done.

Why did McKenzie say that Hispanic kids in Texas “have shown a gain of almost 3.5 grade levels” in eighth-grade math? It’s possible he has actually looked at the NAEP data from Texas, as Collins so plainly has not.

In the course of such an excursion, McKenzie would have seen the following “average scale scores.” (We’re omitting intermediate years.) After that, he could have applied a very rough rule of thumb:
Eighth-grade math, Hispanic students in Texas, NAEP
1990: 244.79
2000: 264.79
2000 (accommodations permitted): 262.03
2011: 283.21
If anything, McKenzie may have understated a tad. According to a common but very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is the equivalent of one academic year.

Using that very rough rule of thumb, Hispanic eighth-graders in Texas gained two academic years in math from 1990 to 2000. They proceeded to gain another two years from 2000 to 2011.

(The double score for the year 2000 corresponds to a minor change in NAEP procedures. From 2000 on, the NAEP “permits accommodations” for kids with certain disabilities; this allows more students to be tested, but tends to reduce average scores. Under the old protocol, Texas kids averaged 264.79 in 2000; with the additional students factored in, the average score for that year dropped to 262.03. The average score for 2011 reflects the new procedure.)

Back to our scheduled broadcast:

Amazing! Collins was speaking to a journalist who knew something about Texas schools! At no point in her new book does she show the slightest sign of having any such knowledge herself. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/20/12.)

According to Collins’ book, Texas test scores started to “flag” after 2000. If you believe what she quotes Diane Ravitch saying, you may think that test scores and progress froze in the Texas schools after 1998.

Readers who thought that were badly misled—badly misled by Collins.

Let’s talk about eighth-grade math. Have Hispanic students in Texas really “shown a gain of almost 3.5 grade levels” on the NAEP, as McKenzie said? We would be extremely careful about drawing such a precise conclusion. In our view, that rough rule of thumb for interpreting NAEP scores is a very rough rule of thumb.

That said, score gains in Texas have been very large in the past twenty years. This includes the past ten years, when Collins wants you to think that test scores have frozen in place in this benighted (red) state.

Just so you’ll know the things Collins doesn’t, here’s how those Texas kids compared to their peers around the nation on last year’s eighth-grade math test:
Hispanic students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
National average: 269.45
Texas: 283.21
Massachusetts: 272.88
New York: 262.80
Connecticut: 262.48
On a nationwide basis, those Texas kids outscored their peers by a walloping 14 points. They outscored their peers in the widely-lauded Massachusetts public schools by more than ten points.

Collins lives in Manhattan, weekends in Connecticut. Those Texas kids vastly outscored their peers in both of this high lady’s states.

Just so you’ll know, black kids in Texas outscored their peers on last year's math test too. So did the state's white kids:
Black students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
National average: 261.84
Texas: 276.91
New York: 264.29
Connecticut: 262.04
Massachusetts: 275.07

White students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
National average: 292.57
Texas: 303.55
New York: 290.57
Connecticut: 296.79
Massachusetts: 304.29
White kids in Massachusetts outscored their Texas peers, but they did so by less than one point. Therein lies a tale.

All through her discussion, Collins gives the impression that progress has stopped in the Texas schools—and that these schools are at best below average. Elsewhere, Massachusetts is frequently treated as our nation’s answer to incomparable Finland—as the state whose high-flying schools produce the very best test scores.

But in the data presented above, you see students in both these states—Massachusetts and Texas—outscoring their nationwide peers. You can even see Texas kids outscoring their peers in the Bay State!

Meanwhile, here are some data for eighth-grade reading, the area where the nation’s schools have shown the least progress on the NAEP. After the decades of score gains McKenzie cited, you see Hispanic kids in Texas outscoring their national peers. They also outscore Massachusetts:
Hispanic students, eighth-grade reading, 2011 NAEP
National average: 251.31
Texas: 254.18
Massachusetts: 247.91
As McKenzie knew but Collins did not, Hispanic kids in Texas have produced remarkable score gains in the last twenty years. By now, these kids routinely outscore their nationwide peers—even in states which are praised as educational models.

Could it be that something is “wrong” with these striking NAEP data? Are these data misleading in some major way?

That’s always possible. There can always be something wrong, even with data which are widely praised as the nation’s “gold standard.” But a reader of Collin’s fraudulent book would never get the slightest idea that these data exist—or that Texas students routinely outscore their peers around the nation.

(On the 2011 eighth-grade reading test, Texas’ white kids also exceeded the national average. So did the state’s black kids. Collins’ readers would never guess that any such thing had occurred.)

The truth is, Collins herself seems to have no idea that these things have happened. It’s abundantly clear, all through her book, that she has never deigned to review the NAEP’s voluminous data—the very data she has called the nation’s most reliable.

Almost surely, she doesn’t know about the score gains being recorded by students in Texas. She doesn’t know about the scores recorded by the state’s Hispanic kids.

Simply put, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about—and yet, she talks and talks and grossly misleads, entertaining us rubes with her “breezy, wisecracking polemical style” and her “many jokey asides.”

Instead of reviewed the actual data, she quotes old jokes by Molly Ivins. She hands us grossly misleading statements by Ravitch, one of our greatest dissemblers.

Collins’ book is an act of journalistic fraud. In even a slightly rational world, its author would have her wisecracking keister fired for mis- and malfeasance. But you don’t live in such a world, as we will continue to see as our series continues next week.

There is much more to say about the nonsense Collins presents in her book. There is also much more to say about the actual NAEP scores in Texas.

What accounts for the large score gains coming out of the Texas schools? We can’t tell you that. But reading Collins’ fraudulent book, a citizen has no way of knowing that these score gains have even occurred.

Coming: Let’s quote Barbara Bush!

Collins replies to McKenzie: Below, you see Collins’ answer to McKenzie’s question. Like an evasive politician, she simply repeats her standard take on the Texas schools, repeating theories for which she has exactly zero evidence.

As she wraps, she says her ideas are a "guess."

We find no sign that Collins had any idea that Hispanic students in Texas have produced the gains to which McKenzie referred—score gains which continued in last year’s NAEP:
COLLINS (continuing directly from above): I did try to go out of my way in the book to give Texas—and George W. Bush—credit for really focusing on the progress of poor and minority kids back when very few people were interested in tackling that issue.

But here's my outside-Texas view of the No Child experience: Texas had terrible schools. Then, in the 1980s, with the help of Gov. Mark White, Ross Perot and other leaders, a big lift took place. Taxes were raised to pay for things like better teacher salaries, smaller class size and preschool programs. Then the schools got better. In the 1990s, under Ann Richards, you had a big court-ordered equalization program that produced more money for everybody, and a lot more for the poorest districts.

So, way more resources. Also, the tests, which were aimed at assuring the business community that there would be accountability. That was the mix that got transferred to Washington in the form of Bush's No Child Left Behind law. But as time went on, both in Washington and in Texas, money got tight and politicians decided it was really the tests, not the additional funds, that mattered.

My guess is that in Texas, it was actually the resources, not the tests, that made the difference. Now school budgets have been slashed, and even many of the improvements from the 1980s are being cut back. And for a state that has such a terrible high school graduation record and such a large population of at-risk kids, that's disastrous.
Collins admits she’s advancing a “guess” about what produced the score gains in Texas—score gains she seems to deny in her fraudulent book.

Guessing is good solid fun, of course. Had Collins deigned to review the NAEP test scores, she would at least be able to cite some actual data.

Kristof nails it at Club 47!


In the process, he offers false balance: For our money, Nicholas Kristof does a very good job today explaining the 47 percent.

That doesn’t mean there are no errors, or perhaps apparent errors, in his well rendered column. One example:

Would that kindergarten teacher really be part of Club 47?
KRISTOF (9/20/12): As I watched a video of Mitt Romney scolding moochers suffering from a culture of dependency, I thought of American soldiers I’ve met in Afghanistan and Iraq. They don’t pay federal income tax while they’re in combat zones, and they rely on government benefits when they come back.

Even if they return unscathed, most will never pay lofty sums in federal income taxes. No, all they offer our nation is their lives, while receiving government benefits—such as a $100,000 “death gratuity” to their wives or husbands when killed.

Maybe I’m being unfair, for I’m sure that when Romney complained in that video about freeloaders, he didn’t mean soldiers. But the 47 percent (more accurately, 46 percent) of American families whom he scorned because they don’t pay federal income taxes includes many other modestly paid workers or retirees who have contributed far more meaningfully to America than some who can shell out $50,000 to attend a fund-raiser like the one where Romney spoke in May.

What about the underpaid kindergarten teacher in an inner-city school? What about young police officers and firefighters? What about social workers struggling to help abused children?
Would that kindergarten teacher be paid so little that she would owe no federal income tax? We don’t know the answer to that. But unless she has a couple of kids, it sounds like a bit of a stretch. (We could be wrong.)

On balance, we thought Kristof’s column was very well composed—except for the way he bowed to that one key Pundit Mandate. At two points, we thought he stretched extremely hard to be fair and (falsely) balanced.

It all starts in Kristof’s youth:
KRISTOF: When I was growing up in Oregon, it was Democrats who were typically the crazies. Gov. George Wallace (“segregation forever”) tapped into populist resentments in his presidential campaigns. Lyndon Larouche was a cult leader seeking the Democratic nomination.
How long was Kristof’s youth? Wallace made that unfortunate statement in 1963. Larouche first campaigned as a Democrat in 1980.

It’s certainly true that southern segregationists were once all Democrats. That said, we thought Kristof was stretching a bit in that passage.

We reacted the same way here:
KRISTOF: For me, the saddest polls are those about facts. A Dartmouth poll this year found that Republicans believe, by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, that “Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.”

The same poll found that Republicans believe, almost by a 3-to-1 ratio, that President Obama was born in another country. Democrats also suffer from self-deception (such as a reluctance to credit improvements under a Republican president), but today’s Republicans seem disproportionately untethered to reality.
Geez. That highlighted point is a major stretch. At present, many Republicans believe many crazy facts. This includes that fact about Obama. It includes those wayward beliefs about the 47 percent.

This is deeply unfortunate. It’s very bad for the nation.

We think some liberals are behaving badly too, principally in the need to find racists under every possible bed (except our own). We would have been happy to see Kristof make some sensible statement about unconstructive liberal/Democratic tendencies.

But that “reluctance to credit improvements under a Republican president” is really a piece of false balance, as compared to the widespread idea that Obama was born in Kenya.

In our view, Kristof explains the 47 percent extremely well. But good lord! The need for false balance never goes away! As Governor Wallace might have said:

False balance now, false balance tomorrow, false balance forever!

As we've noted from the performance stages of the world's major capitals: Obama was actually born in Hawaii. No other president was born that far from Kenya!



Part 3—Gail Collins types what she's told: All through her work on the Texas schools, Gail Collins displays a tremendous tolerance for not knowing what she is talking about.

The breezy style stays firmly in place. The facts and the logic are fuzzy:
COLLINS (page 75): When the Reagan White House started ringing the warning bell about international competition in the 1980s, Texas was still close to the bottom of the barrel when it came to the quality of education. Beginning public school teachers were paid $4,100 per year. Administrative costs were high, in part because Texas had 1,031 independent school districts, nearly 400 of which had fewer than 500 students...Funding was wildly inequitable. The wealthiest district in the state had more than $14 million in assessed property value to tax for each child in the local public schools, while the poorest district had $20,000.

The first serious effort to change things came in the mid-1980s from Governor Mark White, a Democrat who was once described by an opponent as “one of the first nerds in Texas.” White wanted to improve education as a tribute to his mother, an overworked teacher. “I’ve got pictures of her classroom in the first grade with thirty-four kids in it,” he told reporters. To figure out what to do, he append the inevitable blue-ribbon commission, with Ross Perot as chairman.
In the 1980s, was Texas “close to the bottom of the barrel when it came to the quality of education?” It’s certainly possible, but none of the data provided by Collins actually answer that question.

Teachers may have been underpaid as compared to other states. (Or not: Collins provides no basis for comparison, and she doesn’t discuss the cost of living in Texas.) But that can’t tell you how well their students were learning to read and write.

We chuckled a bit at the story about White’s overworked mother. In September 1970, we started our first full year as a Baltimore teacher. In our fifth grade class, we had forty-one kids on the roll; we had at least thirty-eight all through the school year.

In the 1950s, our own first grade in a Boston suburb had thirty kids in the class.

Whatever! As we've noted, Collins is all about narrative. In her “breezy, wisecracking polemical” account, the Texas schools were very bad, then got somewhat better thanks to two reforms efforts, neither of which involved George W. Bush. She rarely seems to worry about the lack of evidence for her various claims. When actual evidence does exist, she rarely seems aware of this fact.

As we noted yesterday, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) began assembling data for the Texas schools in 1990. Those data show Texas children making remarkable progress between 1990 and 2000.

Collins doesn’t seem to know that these data exist, even though she has said that the NAEP provides the nation’s most reliable educational data. According to Collins, it’s “very, very hard to figure” how much better the Texas schools got during this period. She then quotes a wisecrack from a 2000 column by Molly Ivins in which the Texas schools were said to have “rocketed from abysmal to only slightly below average in a mere thirty years.”

By the time of Ivins’ wisecrack, black and Hispanic kids in Texas schools were outperforming their peers from around the nation on the NAEP. Presumably, Ivins didn’t know that fact. Twelve years later, the clueless, irresponsible Collins still doesn’t seem to have checked.

Despite her many “jokey asides,” Collins rarely seems to know what she’s talking about. Nor does she really seem to care about the truth of her claims. That said, her presentation becomes an act of outright fraud in the passage which follows, where she pretends to assess the present state of the Texas schools.

Please note the breezy style with which she presents her howlers. The “reform plan” to which she refers is No Child Left Behind:
COLLINS (page 91): You may be wondering how things are going, education-wise, in the state that deeded its reform plan to the nation. Paul Sadler, the Democrat who led the effort in the Texas house, complains that the state is “testing our kids to death.” (Under the state’s newest regimen, students take seventeen high-stakes tests between third and eighth grade, and up to a dozen more while they’re in high school.) A survey by the Texas State Teachers Association showed that 43 percent of its members were seriously thinking of looking for another line of work.

Sadler still believes that the leaps made in the 1990s are holding up. “I think most of our schools do a pretty good job,” he said. Other observers are, at a minimum, disillusioned. “The eighth grade reading scores were exactly the same in 2009 as 1998,” said Diane Ravitch, referring to the scores Texas received in the national NAEP test results. (I know we were trying to avoid them, but sometimes it’s impossible.) “The whole country is now embarked on remedies that didn’t do anything for Texas.”

David Grissmer, the author of that glowing RAND study, says that since 2000, when the study came out, Texas students’ scores on national tests have begun to “flag.” Perhaps coincidentally, that was exactly the time when Bush stopped being governor and turned the state over to Perry, whose interest in K-12 education was minimal. When the state’s budget developed a monster hole in 2011, Perry refused to raise taxes—or even dip into state savings—to avoid enormous cuts in school aid. As the impact began to hit districts, schools began cutting back on programs that had been in place since the Perot commission, seeking waivers on class size and preschool requirements.
To state the obvious, Perry's decision in 2011 can't explain the alleged stagnation of the previous decade. But whatever! This whole passage flows!

There’s more to that third paragraph; Collins' performance gets much worse, as we will see tomorrow. But in the paragraphs we have posted, Collins quotes Grissmer saying that Texas test scores have started to "flag" in the past decade.

If we’re talking about the NAEP, that statement is false—wildly so.

Ravitch is more specific. Collins quotes her making a statement which can be said to be technically accurate. But her statement is also grossly misleading, as Collins would know if she ever bothered to check those “national NAEP test results.”

Where to begin? Texas scores have soared on the NAEP during the years in question! For one example, let’s talk about eighth-grade math, where we must start in the years 2000.

(Quick background: Principally, the NAEP tests fourth- and eighth-graders in reading and math. There were no math tests in 1998.)

Have test scores in Texas started to flag in eighth-grade math? Here are the “average scale scores” for all Texas students during the period under review. Please note: As a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP is often said to equal one academic year:
Eighth-grade math, all students in Texas, NAEP
2000: 273.4
2009: 286.7
2011: 290.4
On its face, that represents a phenomenal rise in eighth-grade math scores. And the score gains only become more impressive when we “disaggregate” the data, looking at different parts of the student population. Good God! The scores of black eighth-graders in Texas have gone through the roof during this period:
Eighth-grade math, black students in Texas, NAEP
2000: 249.9
2009: 272.3
2011: 276.9
Those scores have gone through the roof. In the process, black eighth-graders in Texas have left their national peers far behind. In 2011, the national average for black eighth-graders was 261.8 in math. Black kids in Texas were beating their peers by more than 15 points.

(The state’s Hispanic eighth-graders produced similar score gains during this period. From 2000 through 2011, the average score jumped from 262.0 up to 283.2. That 2011 score was 14 points above the national average for Hispanic eighth-graders. White kids gained 17 points.)

Why would Grissmer say that Texas scores have started to flag since the year 2000? We have no idea. Why would Collins repeat such a claim? Presumably, because she never took the time to review the NAEP data, which she has described as the nation’s most reliable educational data. (For fairly obvious reasons, everyone says the same thing.)

At any rate, similar patterns obtain all over the NAEP results—except in eighth-grade reading, where Ravitch composed a narrow claim which can thus be called technically accurate.

“The eighth grade reading scores were exactly the same in 2009 as 1998,” Collins quotes Ravitch saying. In the second quotation from Ravitch, her words give the impression that Texas test scores have been floundering in all tested areas.

That impression is utterly false. Ravitch’s narrow first statement is technically accurate, but even it is misleading.

A bit of background: Eighth-grade reading is the area in which the nation’s students have shown the least improvement on the NAEP. For that reason, Ravitch constantly uses this measure to characterize the Texas schools, ignoring the other three areas where score gains have been stronger, both in Texas and across the nation.

In other words, Ravitch cherry-picks eighth-grade reading to give the worst possible impression of the Texas schools. And at that point, she cherry-picks further. In the statement quoted by Collins, she refers to the average score in eighth-grade reading achieved by all Texas students—no disaggregation allowed.

In truth, her narrow statement is accurate. Here are the relevant scores:
Eighth-grade reading, all students in Texas, NAEP
1998: 261.2
2009: 260.4
2011: 261.4
From 1998 to 2009, the average score even ticked down a tad. On the national level, the average score in eighth-grade reading ticked up by just 1.6 points during that same period.

When it comes to eighth-grade reading, Ravitch’s narrow statement is accurate—a tiny bit generous, even. But if you disaggregate the data, a different picture emerges. For example, here are the scores of low-income black kids in Texas during these same years:
Eighth-grade reading, low-income black students in Texas, NAEP
1998: 239.7
2009: 244.3
2011: 247.8
If we apply that very rough rule of thumb, low-income black kids in Texas gained almost a year in eighth-grade reading during that 13-year period. In 2011, they outscored their peers nationwide by four points. (A similar pattern obtains in the case of low-income Hispanic kids.)

Back in the day, Ravitch would cherry-pick data on behalf of No Child Left Behind. Today, she cherry-picks data to attack the program—and people like Collins are happy to repeat her misleading claims. Even in eighth-grade reading, minority kids in Texas have been improving their test scores during this period. In math and fourth-grade reading, the score gains have been very large.

Ravitch’s conduct should be beneath our contempt. Collins’ intellectual sloth may be even worse.

Tomorrow, we will look in more detail at the score gains made by Hispanic kids in Texas over the past dozen years. Today, though, a word about the cruelty of Diane Ravitch’s conduct.

Let’s talk about eighth-grade reading: If black kids are doing better in Texas, and Hispanic kids are doing better in Texas, why did the overall score in Texas pretty much stay the same? Ravitch knows the answer, of course. But she won’t tell you.

Here's the answer: Each year, the Texas student population has a larger percentage of black, Hispanic and low-income kids. And at this point in our nation’s benighted history, black, Hispanic and low-income kids don’t score as well on educational tests as white kids and middle-class kids.

That’s true in every state in the union. It’s also true in Texas.

Even on eighth-grade reading, black and Hispanic kids are scoring better in Texas. In this one area, the overall score for the state has flagged because there is an increasing number of minority and low-income kids.

Perhaos you can see what this means: When Ravitch complains about that stagnating score, she is actually complaining about the increasing number of minority and low-income kids. It’s a cruel and ugly thing to do. It’s also deeply misleading.

It’s ugly because it keeps us from knowing about the very substantial gains which have been recorded by those minority kids. It gets uglier when that one (misleading) score is used to make us think that test scores in Texas have been stagnant as a general matter.

That impression is baldly untrue.

Go back and look at those eighth-grade math scores to see how dishonest this game is. As noted, Ravitch used to play these game of behalf of No Child Left Behind. In these matters, she now plays the bumptious Oliver Hardy to Collins’ hapless but trusting Stan Laurel.

Ravitch pushes the misleading pap; Stan Laurel rushes to type it on up. But Collins is supposed to be the top-shelf journalist here.

What kind of a nation lets a person like Collins wisecrack her way to fame and success on the backs of deserving kids all over the state of Texas? On the backs of their public school teachers? Tomorrow, we’ll look at more NAEP scores from the Lone Star State.

In the process, we’ll see what a massive act of fraud Gail Collins’ new book really is.

Tomorrow: Collins and the southern brown peril! Also, a boatload of data