Supplemental: Addressing the gaps with Chris Hayes!

TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2014

His segments seemed shaky to us: Last evening, Chris Hayes devoted two segments to issues of racial balance in schools and our large achievement gaps.

In his second segment, he even interviewed Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The Atlantic’s 10,000-word report, Segregation Now...” He also interviewed Sheryll Cashin, a professor at Georgetown Law School who focuses on certain types of school issues.

We’d say both segments were very shaky. Here are some reasons why:

In his first segment, Hayes discussed a school in Park Slope, Brooklyn—Park Slope Collegiate—whose student enrollment is suddenly becoming more racially balanced. According to Hayes’ taped report, white parents from the school’s high-income neighborhood are suddenly sending their kids to this, their neighborhood school.

This was a feel-good segment. It was also quite poorly written. Hayes never even explained what grade levels Park Slope Collegiate serves. The amount of white student inflow was also poorly defined.

Why did white parents from the neighborhood decide to start sending their kids to Park Slope Collegiate? That basic part of the story was very poorly explained too.

Everybody got to feel good as they watched this feel-good segment. But the explanations and the reporting were extremely weak.

In the next segment, Hayes interviewed Hannah-Jones and Cashin. Here again, everybody got to feel good, but the information flow struck us as very shaky.

We were puzzled by Hayes’ account of the Brown decision. We were puzzled by Hannah-Jones’ response to Hayes, because it seemed to contradict the (accurate) account of Brown she gives in The Atlantic.

So the exchanges tended to go. Hannah-Jones seemed to contradict her own reporting from The Atlantic at several points in the discussion. On the bright side, viewers got to enjoy a sense of group agreement each time this occurred.

Below, you see the most important exchange of the night. This strikes us as very careless:
HAYES (6/23/14): Is there—what is the evidence about the benefits of desegregation, Sheryll?...Do we know from the research, are there tangible benefits that accrue to the kids who are attending desegregated schools, as opposed to desegregated ones?

CASHIN: Absolutely. There’s forty years of research that shows that low-income and disadvantaged kids do much better in integrated middle-class schools. Poor kids in high-poverty schools on average are two years behind poor kids in middle-class schools.

HAYES: Wow. Wow.

CASHIN: And meanwhile, more advantaged kids, middle-class kids, are not harmed by being exposed to poor kids, nor are they harmed—in fact, they benefit. There’s research that shows they benefit from being exposed to kids of all colors. So, diversity, well-resourced integrated schools work for all kids.
Personally, we favor well-resourced, integrated schools too, to the extent that they can be created. But we also favor accurate statements about important issues, like the needs and interests of black kids.

That highlighted statement by Cashin brought a pair of “Wows” from Hayes. He was soon emoting about “the solution that actually the literature tells us works quite well.”

Cable viewers got to feel good as these exchanges occurred. For ourselves, we got the feeling that Hayes may not actually know what “the research tells us” at all.

Let’s consider the statement by Cashin which brought forth his two “Wows.” Here it is again:

“There’s forty years of research that shows that low-income and disadvantaged kids do much better in integrated, middle-class schools. Poor kids in high-poverty schools on average are two years behind poor kids in middle-class schools.”

Do “poor kids” really perform two years better in integrated, middle-class schools? It doesn’t look that way to us. Here’s where the claim probably comes from:

In her new book, Place, Not Race, Cashin sources a similar claim to the 2007 NAEP math report. See endnote 57, page 137.

We can find no claim of that type in the 64-page report Cashin cites. But the following data can be extracted from the NAEP Data Explorer for last year’s Grade 8 math test.

Hang onto your hats! Below, you see the average scores for black students receiving free lunch, depending on the percentage of students in their schools who were eligible for the federal lunch program.

We'll explain that again, down below. These are the basic data:
Average scores, black students receiving free lunch
Grade 8 math, 2013 NAEP

75-99 percent eligible: 255.56
51-74 percent eligible: 257.71
35-50 percent eligible: 264.09
26-34 percent eligible: 264.36
11-25 percent eligible: 266.45
6-10 percent eligible: 265.66
Again, here’s what those data mean. Black eighth graders receiving free lunch averaged 255.56 if they attended schools in which 75-99 percent of the students were eligible for the federal lunch program. Their counterparts scored roughly nine points higher if they attended schools which were more middle-class.

(There are very few schools where fewer than ten percent of the students are eligible for the lunch program. Nationally, half of all students qualify.)

We’re assuming that Cashin’s claim comes from some such data. Hayes should explain on a future show. This would replace his reaction from last night’s show, which we’ll quote again:

“Wow. Wow.”

Last year, black free-lunchers scored nine points better in those middle-class schools. By standard rules of thumb, that isn’t a two-year difference. It also doesn’t mean that the typical student pulled from a lower-income school would necessarily do nine points better in a more middle-class school, even over time.

Here’s the reason:

All black kids receiving free lunch aren’t alike! The free lunch population in the middle-class schools may be less impoverished than the free lunch population in the low-income schools. These populations may be different in other ways too.

(Students are eligible for free lunch if their family income is roughly 130 percent of poverty level. Presumably, there’s a fair range of family income even within the free lunch population.)

Where did Cashin get the claim about the two-year difference? We don’t know. We also don’t know why her 2014 book is citing a 2007 report in support of a current claim.

In our view, Hayes should find out and explain. Having said that, we’ll take a guess concerning Cashin’s claim:

If you don’t “disaggregate” the data—if you don’t break the data down by race—you may generate numbers which make it look like a larger difference exists between the low-income and the middle-class schools. At least in last year’s Grade 8 math, that would be an illusion.

At any rate, we’re showing you the actual differences from last year’s Grade 8 math tests. We’ll continue to look at the numbers, but Hayes should do more on this show than make viewers feel good about feel-good ideas by reflexively saying “Wow.”

We didn’t think much of what we saw on this program last night. We thought we saw a lot of “feel good.” We didn’t think we saw a lot of careful reporting.

Does Chris Hayes care about black kids? Or does his TV show exist to make liberal viewers feel good?

(To watch the first segment, just click here. For the interview segment, click this.)


  1. Interlude (KZ Wins BOB Mindreader of Week Award!)

    Anonymous June 23, 2014 at 9:55 PM

    Hope somebody is over on the sprawling campus checking on BOB.
    Chris Hayes not only had Nicole Hannah-Jones on the progam tonight,
    he showed footage of black middle schoolers and white parents clamoring to get their kids into school with them. No bodies were found at the foot of Thirty Rock. There may be some at the Golden Gate Bridge, Eiffel Tower, and/or busiest bridge in the world. We just don't know.

    This will obviously spark a renewal of GAP!, the series that wouldn't die!

    Good thing. Dowd and Hillary don't seem to be sparking much of a flame.


  2. Odd you found the Park Slope segment "feel good," when many of us watching found it depressing, gentrifying a school so to speak. And it was clear the school was a middle school as Hayes explained that once kids hit 5th grade in NY, they must apply to schools, including Park Slope Collegiate. And Hayes spoke to one of the white parents who was in the initial group to apply so some explanation was given as to why they applied.

    1. Different middle schools cover different grade levels.

    2. So the grade levels need to be stated, as Somerby noted, because saying middle school doesn't tell you what grades are included.

  3. Any parent who sends his kids to a public school that is a worse school than is available and affordable and does so out of some notion of "social responsibility" is a lousy parent and mentally unstable.

    1. Some people believe that what makes a school good is diversity because kids learn from social interactions not just from formal lessons.

    2. 7:34 is our resident parental expert. My guess is that 7:34 is single and childless.

  4. "black free-lunchers"

    "All black kids receiving free lunch aren’t alike! The free lunch population in the middle-class schools may be less impoverished than the free lunch population in the low-income schools."

    Wow. Wow.

    But let me add a key clarifying phrase, in caps, to one of Somerby's assertions about free lunch eligibility:

    "Students are eligible for free lunch if their family income is roughly 130 percent of poverty level" AND BELOW!

    Yes, Bob. There might be that "range of income" among the families of students eligible for free lunch. But let's not pretend that the "range of income" really means anything. Those families who are at 129 percent are still very low-income families.

    You would think that a guy who lectures others about caring for poor children would have a bit more compassion than to pretend that living at 130 percent of poverty would make any significant difference at all.

    1. Bob should also tune himself into the debate over whether the "official" poverty level is a measure of poverty or destitution.

      There are lots of studies out there if he cared to google them that a family needs to earn twice the poverty level just to meet basic expenses of housing, utilities, transportation, food, health care and clothing -- even if they receive government subsidies which the Republicans in Congress want to take a meat axe to -- and have.

    2. He's not saying that the kids at 130% of poverty are not struggling. He is saying there may be educational differences worth noting between those kids and the ones below the official poverty level.

    3. "You would thing that a guy who....."

      You would think that a guy who relies on the "Gold Standard Test" would quit using "rules of thumb" when the people who construct, administer, score, and analyze that test told him it is "wrong" to do so.

      Especially when they cited his work by name over two and a half years ago in determining such use of a "rule of thumb" is not accurate.

      Can we talk? Are black children...excuse us...are black "free lunchers" two years behind in math?

      We don't know. We know BOB is over two years behind in honest interpretation of NAEP data.


    4. Too bad he never gets around to saying what those "educational differences" might be for those kids approaching the rarified air of 130 percent of poverty.

      But always glad to have a BOBfan around to explain what Bob really, really, really means. As poorly as he writes and reasons, he needs all the help he can get.

    5. And KZ, did you notice how the once "very rough rule of thumb" has suddenly morphed into "standard rules of thumb"?

      You would think that it would one day dawn on even Bob's loyalest fans how he plays with words and statistics to lead them on.

      And this is what is truly sad. Somerby once railed against people who played such games.

    6. Is there such a thing as "loyalest" BOB fan? That would imply more than two. By standard rule of grammatical construction.

  5. I think we should look no further than Chris Hayes and MSNBC and that raise credibility issues.
    Dan Somerby


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