Part 2—Enabled by writer at Vox: All too often, our high-ranking liberal professors say the darnedest things.
So it was when Professor Guinier discussed the public schools.
Professor Guinier was laboring through a three-hour stint on the C-Span program, In Depth. Midway through the marathon, a gloomy caller lamented the way we are “destroying another generation of African-American students.”
The caller sought the professor’s views on two proposals: 1) the use of vouchers to enable public school kids to attend private schools, and 2) relaxed licensing procedures for teachers, designed to let more capable people replace existing staff.
Vouchers can be great for the kids who get them. The reflexive denigration of our public school teachers is one of the great propaganda plays of modern times.
It’s a propaganda play from the corporate right. We liberals love to enable it.
Based upon her comments this day, Professor Guinier doesn’t seem to know a great deal about our public schools. For starters, she doesn’t seem to know that black kids in our public schools have been scoring much higher, in reading and math, over the past several decades.
In a rational world, that’s extremely hopeful news. Thanks to slackers like Guinier, the public never hears this fact!
Our view? If Austin Powers makes a new film, Professor Guinier could be cast as his sidekick. Her basic frameworks about our schools seem to come straight outta the 1960s.
As she started her response to the caller, she offered rambling thoughts about the need for kids to go to the library more. For the text of those initial remarks, see yesterday’s report.
Kids need to go to the library more! Plus, we need more teachers!
Those were among the professor’s first thoughts. At that point, she continued her ramble—and the analysts started to scream.
Even before her F-bomb was dropped, the analysts could see it coming. This is the way our ranking professor continued her discussion:
GUINIER (3/1/15): You go to a place, to other countries—Good God! In all honesty, Professor Guinier seems to know virtually nothing about our public schools. For additional evidence of this fact, see her responses to the last several questions in this recent interview at Salon.
Go to Finland, and the children there score so much better on some of these tests than in the United States. And it’s cold in Finland, right? But they manage to, to ensure that all of the children get a good education.
What I think is a big problem in the United States is that we basically have decided that the people who can afford to pay a lot more for education are the people who deserve to run the country and ultimately I think that then leads to lots of problems that are complicating the lives of many people. That is, you have mass incarceration, you have people who are trying to make a living selling illegal drugs, are all kinds of—many things are happening that wouldn’t happen if we would just invest more time, more energy and more money in the education of all of our children, not just those who are the children of middle and upper-middle class families.
Professor Guinier doesn’t seem to know much about the public schools. That’s what makes this next fact so sad:
Even she has memorized the standard script about Finland!
Do kids in Finland “score so much better on some of these tests than in the United States?” It all depends!
On the most recent TIMSS math tests, American kids matched Finland’s scores at both grade levels, Grade 4 and Grade 8. White kids in American schools blew Finland’s scores out the door.
For this reason, skillfully scripted American pundits almost never discuss the TIMSS/PIRLS, one of the two major international testing programs in which most developed nations take part. They only talk about the PISA, on which American kids tend to score less well.
Beyond that, they tend to avoid the obvious facts which make comparisons with Finland rather shaky. To wit:
Finland is a very small, middle-class, single-culture nation. It’s the Lake Wobegon of the western world. The country has very few immigrant kids. It has very little child poverty.
And not only that! To its credit, Finland didn’t spend several centuries trying to eliminate literacy from one whole segment of its population, the way our benighted ancestors did.
Our schools struggle with the aftermath of that brutal racial history. Finland’s schools do not.
To state the obvious, these aren’t criticisms of Finland. But they do represent major differences between the two countries in question.
Finland’s schools serve a population of middle-class, majority-culture kids. Our schools serve a vastly more complex student population.
For all these reasons, it makes little sense to compare Finnish and American test scores as a measure of the quality of the two nations’ schools. But our journalists have been doing just that for the past dozen years.
By now, even one of our ranking professors has memorized this script—a script which is grossly misleading.
Professor Guinier took the trip to Finland this day. When she did, the analysts screamed and writhed.
We understood their pain. Just two weeks before, they had encountered the same tired script in the pages of Vox, our self-admittedly extra-smart liberal news organization.
Ezra Klein created the site, saying it would be smarter than the rest. On February 18, liberal readers clicked to Vox and encountered this headline:
“9 reasons Finland's schools are so much better than America’s”
Good God! We even read that scripted twaddle at our own liberal sites!
That piece was written by Libby Nelson, a young education reporter. In fairness to Nelson, that headline slightly misrepresents the actual thrust of her report.
A careful reader will see that Nelson is actually listing nine possible reasons why Finland scores well on international tests.
Technically speaking, she doesn’t claim that those scores mean that Finland’s schools are “better.” Indeed, in several points on her list, she is suggesting that Finland’s schools score better because they’re full of middle-class kids.
Technically speaking, Nelson doesn’t explicitly say that Finland’s schools are “better.” Still, that’s what everyone will think she has written, from her headline writer on down.
How bad was Nelson’s work at our smartest new site? Gack! In a typical manifestation, she’s only discussing scores on the PISA, the international test on which Finland tends to do better. (You can see that from the dates she cites.) She is simply ignoring the TIMSS/PIRLS, the international test on which Finland does less well.
Even at our smart liberal orgs, our analyses start in this astonishing way, with journalists throwing away half the international data! The remaining data are used to drive a favored plutocrat theme:
Our public schools are no damn good! Our public school teachers are awful!
Might we share a secret? Based on international test scores, we see no obvious sign that Finland’s schools are “better” than American schools, let alone “so much better.”
We’ve presented the breakdowns a million times; those analyses sit in our archives. But nothing will stop our journalists from typing the Finland script—a script which is typically used to create derogatory, false impressions about our schools.
In even a slightly rational world, you would expect our ranking professors to challenge this sort of thing. Stumbling and flailing, Professor Guinier has helped us see the actual state of our world.
Are we destroying another generation of African-American students? Black kids have been scoring much better in reading and math over the past several decades. That’s an important fact which the public never hears.
Are schools in Finland “so much better?” American kids score amazingly well as compared to Finland’s middle-class student population.
Professor Guinier doesn’t know these things. But even she has learned the script about those great Finnish schools!
In our view, Guinier’s performance this day was the latest scripted groaner. Once again, one of our own high-ranking liberals failed to let the public know about the rising performance of black kids. She failed to speak in defense of American public school teachers.
The plutocrats were cheering wildly as the professor stumbled forward with her weirdly halting discussion. Luckily, we liberals have made it abundantly clear that we don’t care about any of this.
We don’t seem to care about black kids. We plainly don’t care about public schools.
We love the smell of script in the morning—tired old misleading script, drawn from a corporatist source.
Tomorrow: Professor Harris-Perry honors Dr. King
This afternoon: What we saw a few weeks back at the low-income school