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.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!
Isn't that a good thing?
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, NAEPIf 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.
2000 (accommodations permitted): 262.03
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 NAEPOn 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.
National average: 269.45
New York: 262.80
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 NAEPWhite kids in Massachusetts outscored their Texas peers, but they did so by less than one point. Therein lies a tale.
National average: 261.84
New York: 264.29
White students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEP
National average: 292.57
New York: 290.57
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 NAEPAs 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.
National average: 251.31
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.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.
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.
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.