Public school watch: The way to prove that black kids don't count!


The joy of liberal script:
What sorts of things could the nation do to help black kids and/or low-income kids enjoy their years in public school?

What could we do to help such kids emerge from public school with better academic skills? To help them feel wanted in school? To help them feel they know why they're there? To help them feel that they want to go on to college?

In theory, those are important questions. (In practice, nobody cares.) We put our question about enjoyment first because public school is often a very unpleasant place for wonderful kids who come from low-literacy backgrounds—for kids who may be way "behind" on the first day of kindergarten.

It's important that they get to enjoy their time in school—that they not be bombarded with things they simply aren't ready to do.

What can we do in support of these kids? That's an important question. Often, though, we liberals pursue these questions in a way designed to be all about us and our sacred liberal scripts.

All too often, these topics are covered in ways which are designed to vouch for our racial good faith. We thought of that syndrome when we read Emily DeRuy's recent report at The Atlantic, for which her editor ought to be chastised.

DeRuy is youngish; she's also inexperienced. It doesn't occur to us white liberals that black kids' interests are getting shortchanged when very young people with little background are assigned the task of reporting about our low-income schools.

These young reporters will often showcase the aching purity of their own racial good faith. They will also display their inexperience and their lack of savvy, shortcomings which aren't their fault.

How did DeRuy display these flaws in the course of her report? Once again, here's how she summarized a new study—a new study which draws a very familiar conclusion.

The Atlantic's headlines included:
DERUY (4/1/16): White Teachers Expect Less Than Black Teachers From Black Students/
A new study suggests that low expectations from some teachers might engender low performance from students.

In yet another sign that the lack of teacher diversity is a pressing issue, a new study suggests that white teachers expect less academic success from black students than black teachers do from the same students.

The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University, found that when a white teacher and a black teacher consider the same black student, the white teacher is 30 percent less likely to think the student will graduate from a four-year college. White teachers, the researchers also found, are nearly 40 percent less likely to think their black students will graduate from high school.

“One of [the teachers] has to be wrong,” Nicholas Papageorge, a co-author and economist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement.
According to DeRuy, this new study "suggests" a very familiar idea. White teachers have lower expectations for black students than black teachers do.

Indeed, it sounds like the white teachers in this study had much lower expectations for their black stusdents. According to DeRuy, the white teachers in this study were "nearly 40 percent less likely to think their black students w[ould] graduate from high school."

That sounds like a major difference. From it, DeRuy draws a standard conclusion. This finding constitutes "yet another sign that the lack of teacher diversity is a pressing issue," she instantly says.

Is the lack of teacher diversity really a pressing issue? That's certainly possible! In theory, this study was designed to test important questions like that.

That said, it seems to us that DeRuy has her inexperienced thumb on the scale in this matter. Let's consider a string of possible problems with her report and perhaps with the study which spawned it:

Perhaps a misleading statistic: According to DeRuy, the white teachers were "nearly 40 percent less likely to think" the black students in question would graduate from high school.

That sounds like a very big difference. The difference may look much smaller when you see the actual data concerning the teachers' predictions—data which don't appear in DeRuy's report or in the press release.

Warning! We aren't at all sure that the murky Hopkins press release accurately describes the study's findings. We also aren't sure that DeRuy's report accurately describes the study or the press release.

Kevin Drum provides this link to the study, but the format to which he links doesn't includes the study's Tables, where the bulk of the actual data are found. In turn, Drum's own post does a very poor job describing the basic data. The discussion of this study is largely a joke all around.

So it goes in the high-speed world of modern journalism! Still, these may be the specific predictions made by the two groups of teachers, or so it may seem from reading what DeRuy and the press release said:
Predictions made by two groups of teachers
Black teachers: 82 percent of the black students will graduate from high school
White teachers: 70 percent of the black students will graduate from high school
Plainly, those percentages are different. That said, the difference may not seem as large as DeRuy's prose may have suggested.

If those statistics are correct, where did DeRuy get her nugget claim, in which white teachers were "nearly 40 percent less likely to think their black students would graduate from high school?" If our statistics are correct, she got that rather large percentage from this, the flip side of those sets of predictions:
Predictions made by two groups of teachers
Black teachers: 18 percent of the black students won't graduate from high school
White teachers: 30 percent of the black students won't graduate from high school
Eighteen percent is indeed "forty percent less" than 30 percent! Meanwhile, the murky press release also says this:

"White and other non-black teachers were 12 percentage points more likely than black teachers to predict black students wouldn’t finish high school."

Thirty percent is indeed "12 percentage points more" than eighteen percent! At this point, we can imagine that our data may be correct.

We have no confidence that the press release or DeRuy are reporting this study in an accurate way. For reasons we'll explain tomorrow, we also don't claim that our statistics are correct, although they may be.

That said, our numbers seem to satisfy those two claims. Our numbers may be correct, or at least close to correct.

If our numbers are correct, the white teachers were more pessimistic in their predictions. That said, the gap between the predictions of the two groups of teachers isn't all that vast. and we're just starting to encounter the problems with DeRuy's report.

Uh-oh! An obvious question begs to be asked.

Whose predictions were more correct: A person could almost learn to hate professors based on DeRuy's report. Based on DeRuy's report, something like this occurred:

A bunch of teachers were asked to make predictions about the academic prospects of their tenth-grade black students. When these teachers complied with this request, the predictions by white teachers were somewhat more pessimistic.

Instantly, DeRuy seems to assume that this means that the white teachers had inappropriately low "expectations" for these black students. She never asks a fairly obvious question:

Whose predictions were more nearly correct?

DeRuy quotes an enigmatic statement by one of the professors. In the case of two different predictions, “One of [the teachers] has to be wrong,” he enigmatically says.

That's true, but only in situations where two teachers differ about some individual student. When groups of teachers have made predictions about groups of students, both groups of teachers will likely be wrong in their predictions, at least to some extent.

You can probably see where this takes us. In this case, let's suppose that, as it turned out, 24 percent of the black students actually didn't graduate. That would mean that both groups of teachers, white and black, turned out to be wrong in their predictions by six percentage points.

Let's imagine an outcome that's worse. Let's suppose that 30 percent of the black kids in question ended up failing to graduate. In that case, the predictions by the white teachers would have turned out to be right on the money. In the world of achingly pure pseudo-liberal reporting, would the "expectations" of those teachers still have been too low?

A fact DeRuy didn't mention: There's a factoid in that press release which DeRuy didn't mention. Here it is. Prepare to be very upset:
JUMBLED JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS RELEASE: Black female teachers are significantly more optimistic about the ability of black boys to complete high school than teachers of any other demographic group. They were 20 percent less likely than white teachers to predict their student wouldn’t graduate high school, and 30 percent less likely to say that then [sic] black male teachers.
Black boys and young black men are an especially endangered species in our public schools. These kids deserve all the help they can get—and according to this factoid, it seems that black male teachers were more pessimistic in their predictions about these kids than even the white teachers were!

Black male teacher made the most pessimistic predictions! Somehow, DeRuy blew right past that fact, which doesn't fit our horrible tribe's fully approved liberal scripts.

By the way—is it possible that those pessimistic predictions turned out to be correct? Could it be the black male teachers were most accurate in their predictions? It didn't occur to DeRuy to ask—or, for that matter, to care. Reports like these are about liberal script, not about the actual lives of our actual children and teens.

In summary:

That press release is a jumbled mess. DeRuy's report is extremely poor in execution, though achingly pure in intent. We have no idea what Drum's talking about in his jumbled, chaotic post. But everyone affirmed the script from which Drum worked in crafting this remarkable headline:

"White Teachers Think Pretty Poorly of Their Black Students"

Based upon the evidence from this study, that's an ugly, unfounded claim. It comes from a person who doesn't seem to care a great deal, except about sacred script.

Can we talk? Except at journals which don't really care, Emily DeRuy is too inexperienced to be writing about the actual interests of actual black kids in actual schools. Tomorrow, we'll show you how bad it gets when cynical journals like The Atlantic cynically assign their young white inexperienced scribes to this sort of heavily scripted task.

Tomorrow: We're ugly and stupid and nobody like us! At long last, the explanation for this state of affairs


  1. Bob Somerby admits he has no idea about some things while professing to know things he cannot. His report is achingly male in intellectual conceit and appallingly white in its condescension.

    Tomorrow: We're ugly and stupid and nobody like us! At long last, an explanation for why Somerby has written this phrase several dozen times?

    1. Tomorrow, we'll show you how bad it gets when cynical school districts like Baltimore cynically assign their young white inexperienced draft evaders to these low income school teaching tasks.


  2. Why not read the study itself? Are your assumptions about the DeRuy's motives so intensly gratifying that you just can't quit them?

    1. He was clearly prepared("he seemed to prefer"?) to do this post without access to the study. Drum screwed the pooch for him by linking to the study he said could not be freely accessed. Bob says Drums link doesn't take you to the Study's Tables. Is it possible Bob could not get there? Anything is, but I sure got the Tables with the study.

      In summary, both these posts are jumbled messes.

    2. Dave the Guitar PlayerApril 8, 2016 at 1:47 PM

      So, you have seen the tables. Is Bob correct? Is the "40%" difference really about 82% vs 70%? Did the black males have even lower expectations? Does the study know what the actual graduation rate turned out to be? I don't see the point of saying that Bob did not explain the study well when it is the *job* of journalists to explain it.

  3. This study had an agenda imho. The bad reporting that Bob criticizes fulfilled the intent of the researchers. The researchers' tricky presentation of percents of percents shows that their goal was to find significant racism.

    It's quite strange to ask teachers to say student-by-student which ones will graduate and which ones won't. Each one is a guess. No doubt many of the guesses will turn out to be wrong, even if the percentage by race turns out to be right. And, it's not something a teacher thinks about when teaching a student. I mean, a teacher doesn't say to herself, "I don't think this student will graduate, so I won't bother teaching her this subject."

    1. Bob's west coast alter ego weighs in.

      I am happy he know what people he has never met say to themselves. This ability is quite a welcom addition to a vanity blog whose author who knows what strangers didn't ask and knows what they care about.

  4. Something Bob did not mention today. Someone else is crazy like a Bluenose Ahab.

    "Gov. Bentley has become a costly distraction. He must resign.

    The Birmingham News

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerApril 8, 2016 at 1:50 PM

      Not exactly relevant to this post. It snowed here yesterday and I'm visiting my niece this weekend. Do you have any other irrelevant stuff you want to post?

  5. Just a guess, I bet that same paper's editorial board urged the impeachment and conviction of then President Clinton. The spirit of Kenneth Starr lives on!

    1. Well, since Starr was investigating the Speaker of the House and Clinton fired him and it turned out Clinton was having "phone reelations" with that woman who was his chief staff adviser but was being paid by political and lobby doantions instead of tax dollars, yeah, the spirit lives on.

      Oh, did you not understand there was more than sex involved here? Are you perhaps one of those Somerby Straw Man fans who reads no links?

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  7. Today the Huffington Post has an article about the response to Sanders attack on Clinton's qualifications. It has a photo of Clinton in sunglasses, reading her email. Unsubtle. The headline says "Qualify This!" Very ugly.

    1. They're also calling Bill Clinton a racist again.

    2. Uh-oh! An obvious question begs to be asked.
      You can probably see where this takes us.
      Let's imagine an outcome that's worse, in the world of achingly pure pseudo-liberal reporting.

    3. From the HuffPo article on Bill Clinton:

      "A group of protesters interrupted the former president during a campaign appearance for his wife in Philadelphia. One person held up a sign that read, “Hillary is a murderer,” while another yelled that she should be tried for “crimes against humanity.”

      The person who yelled about "crimes against humanity" is an excessive disrupter, reminding me of the people who cost Democrats votes by making such charges against Bush/Cheney, or who are driving more honest, angry people today to support Trump.

      However, the person who merely held up the sign saying “Hillary is a murderer” is merely exercising free speech, much like Bob Somerby when he says "People are dead all over the world because of...Kevin Drum, Scott Pelley, Chris Matthews, E. J. Dionne, Dana Milbank, liberals, and journalists."

    4. Dave the Guitar PlayerApril 8, 2016 at 1:53 PM

      I guess there is *lots* of irrelevant stuff that needs to get posted. I'd prefer pictures of kittens.

  8. Bob has done a good job of finding: first the apparent exaggeration and then the error inducing missing information. (I couldn’t help but wonder: What is this, something teachers are supposed to be accurate about?) That said, I couldn’t help but wonder what’s bad about having “too low” expectations? Is it possible that too high of expectations is also bad? Sure, if too low expectations means the teacher gives up on certain kids, then that is bad. But if it means she works twice as hard to make sure they all make it, couldn’t that be good? On the other hand, if you think that all the low income kids are ready to go, couldn’t that teacher leave out the extra help they sometimes need? More importantly, don’t teachers try to consider individual student’s needs? Everyone knows that Asian kids are great at math, so, do teachers just stare off into space when an Asian kid fails a math test? I don't think so.

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