SKOOL DAZE: Perpetually, stunningly uninformed!


Part 1—Smart Texan describes Texas schools: Mark Strama is a Democratic member of the Texas legislature.

He represents a district in Austin. He’s a member of the public education committee in the Texas House.

Strama is youngish and bright, as a recent appearance on C-Span showed. To watch that appearance, click this.

Why was Strama appearing on C-Span? He hosted a panel on public schools at last month’s Texas Book Festival. As he started his presentation, he described a surprising discovery concerning his state’s public schools.

Who knew? Texas kids are scoring quite high on the famous “gold standard of educational testing!” To his credit, Strama was willing to voice his surprise at this fact:
STRAMA (10/27/12): My name is Mark Strama, I’m a state representative from Austin and a member of the public education committee in the Texas House. And I want to start this discussion just briefly with a little bit of educational context about this state’s challenges.

I got a press release from the Texas education agency a couple of months ago that said that, on the fourth grade science NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Texas African-American students performed fourth best of all African-American students in the country, comparing ours to every other African-American cohort in every other state in the country. Our Hispanic students were the sixth best on the fourth grade science NAEP. Our Anglo students were the eighth best of all the Anglo students in the country.

And I thought, “That’s a pretty impressive record. That’s a little different than what I expected, actually.”
Strama was surprised to learn that Texas kids scored in the top ten on the fourth grade NAEP science test. As a result, he did something smart people may sometimes do.

Good lord! He sought additional data! After that, he formulated a question:
STRAMA (continuing directly): So I went to the NAEP web site and found that, in the aggregate, the Texas student scores on the fourth grade science NAEP ranked 29th in the country. That’s not so great!

Now, how is it possible that when you disaggregate those three student cohorts and evaluate them against the rest of the country, each of the three cohorts is in the top ten in the country—and we all know that those three cohorts comprise over 95 percent of the student population. How is it possible that collectively they’re 29th?
Frankly, Strama was puzzled. In Texas, black kids had scored fourth best among the fifty states on the fourth-grade NAEP science test. The state’s white kids had scored eighth best. Hispanic kids scored sixth.

But overall, Texas kids had only scored 29th best on the test! As he continued his presentation, Strama explained this apparent paradox. We think the highlighted words were most instructive of all:
STRAMA (continuing directly): The answer, it turns out, and it wasn’t easy to figure this out, the answer is that African-American and Hispanic students in Texas and in the country significantly underperform Anglo students. And in Texas, African-American and Anglo (sic) students make up a significant larger share of the entire student population. So when your lower-performing categories of students are a larger percentage of your total student population, you can have all three student groups in the top ten in the country and still be 29th in the country when you combine them.

It begs the question, are our public schools doing a good job or are they mediocre?
Strama went on to give an intelligent, nuanced answer to the question he posed. But we were very much struck by that highlighted passage.

Rather plainly, Strama is bright; he even graduated from Brown! And sure enough! Confronted with puzzling information, he did what American journalists never do:

Incredibly, Strama went to the NAEP web site and gathered additional information! Then, he tried to solve the puzzle his efforts had created!

In that final passage, Strama explained how Texas fourth-graders could score 29th best on the test in question if each of the state’s major student groups were scoring in the top ten. But we were struck by that highlighted phrase:

Even for a smart person like Strama, this basic matter had been quite opaque. “It wasn’t easy to figure this out,” Strama quite credibly said.

Why was it hard for a person like Strama to solve such a basic problem? In large part, because of his nation’s “press corps.” But first, let’s return to the basic things Strama said.

Many parts of his presentation were striking, amazing even. We’ll offer three examples:

Strama is plainly bright, and he serves the public education committee in the Texas House. But, until a few months ago, he didn’t know that Texas kids score that high on the NAEP!

When Strama learned that different groups of Texas kids score that high, he still didn’t know how it could be that their overall score was so low.

“It wasn’t easy to figure this out,” Strama said. Translation: Even after he noted this paradox, he apparently had a hard time finding an explanation.

Again, we want to stress a key fact—Strama is plainly quite bright. In a rational world, it would be amazing to learn that he knew so little about such a basic matter.

But you don’t live in a rational world. You live in a world where a major journalist, the high Lady Collins, wrote a book this very year which completely misrepresented this aspect of the Texas schools. She then paraded around the country, extending the misinformation.

Question: Have you seen a single review or article which noted this groaning behavior by Collins? Obvious answer: Of course you haven’t! This ridiculous lady is a high-ranking noble. Such things simply aren’t done!

Bottom line: We live in a world where major journalists never do what Strama did. They never go to the NAEP web site to gather the most basic facts.

Strama is plainly bright, but our upper-end press corps is full of baboons. Example: One of the authors on Strama’s panel was the egregious young Michael Brick, who wrote this op-ed in last Friday’s New York Times.

Brick’s op-ed extended the pleasing practice of misleading the public about the Texas schools. You might call it “creeping Gail Collinsism,” although other names could be used.

Alas! We live in a world in which we’re told that we have an active, practicing press corps. But in fact, our press corps isn’t like that. It isn’t like that at all.

Over the next week or so, we will discuss the state of upper-end journalism concerning the public schools. Your press corps would die and go to hell before it would offer real reporting about those schools—about the children and teachers within them.

Why do our “journalists” behave in such ways? We’ll puzzle that out as we go.

Tomorrow: An aptly named former Times journalist

Visit our incomparable archives: How horrible was Collins' work? For one of our several discussions, click here.

Collins is a very high-ranking journalist. We take this to prove our basic point: Your nation has no press corps. In most matters, your nation is flying blind, with no public discourse at all.


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