Misconceptions to date: We’re off on a (one-day) mission of national import.
For today, let’s review some of the basics from our ongoing series:
In fairness to Gail Collins, she may not have known some basic facts when she wrote her unfortunate new book, As Texas Goes.
She may not have known that you have to be careful when you quote Diane Ravitch. She may not have known that the Texas public schools, on a statewide basis, were among the nation’s highest performers as of the mid-1990s.
She may not have known that the Texas schools are still among our highest performers.
We refer to the performance of the Texas schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the widely-praised “gold standard” of American educational testing—the program Collins has described as “the best national assessment we have.”
At the core of its program, the NAEP tests fourth-graders and eighth-graders in reading and math. Its most recent testing occurred last year—and here's the good news:
On last year’s tests, Texas students outscored the nation in all three major demographic groups in both subject areas tested. Examples below.
Collins may not have known that fact when she wrote her unfortunate book. Although she praises the NAEP, there’s no sign that she has ever looked through its voluminous data. That would include its data for the Texas schools of the 1990s or for the Texas schools of today.
To cite one example, she almost surely doesn’t know how well Texas eighth-graders scored on last year’s math test. As you can see, the state’s eighth-graders scored at the very top of the nation:
Texas students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEPHawaii and Montana have very few black and Hispanic students. On this test, Texas outscored all states with significant minority populations.
White kids: Third in the nation
Black kids: Second in the nation (behind Hawaii)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (behind Montana)
(White students in Texas trailed Massachusetts and New Jersey, in each case by less than one point.)
We’re selecting the subject, eighth-grade math, on which Texas students scored highest. But Texas students scored in the top ten among the fifty states in eight out of twelve demographic categories in the subjects we’re discussing.
That’s what happens when you “disaggregate” the data—when you compare Texas students to their demographic counterparts in the other states. But uh-oh:
As we’ll see later this week, Collins swears by disaggregation in her new book. She just doesn’t engage in the practice!
Most likely, Collins also doesn’t know that Texas students were at the top of the national charts all the way back in the mid-1990s. For example, here’s how they performed in fourth-grade math during that era. The NAEP doesn’t test every year:
Texas students, fourth-grade math, 2000 NAEPCollins may not have known that Texas students were scoring that high by that time. Had she known, she might not have including this misleading passage in her book:
White kids: Second in the nation (of 40 participating states)
Black kids: First in the nation (of 32 states)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (of 21 states)
Texas students, fourth grade math, 1996 NAEP
White kids: First in the nation (of 43 participating states)
Black kids: First in the nation (of 35 states)
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation (of 25 states)
COLLINS (page 78): During the last half of the 1990s, Texas schools did get better. It was very, very hard to figure exactly how much better, given the amount of conflicting data floating around, but some observers were wowed by how well the students were testing. (“I couldn’t believe it,” said David Grissmer, who wrote or co-wrote several important education studies on the state.) Some were just prepared to thank God for small favors. (Molly Ivins called it the “story on how our schools rocketed from abysmal to only slightly below average in a mere thirty years.”) The doubters would be empowered later, when reporters discovered that in some places the results had been, shall we say, rigged.Small favors? Slightly below average? And by the way: As far as anyone knows, no NAEP tests have ever been, “shall we say, rigged.” Outright cheating has occurred on the high-stakes tests the states themselves devise and conduct. No one has ever suggested that this has occurred on the federally-administered NAEP. (This is part of the reason why people like Collins call the NAEP the “gold standard.”)
Back to our original point: From reading that passage in Collins’ book, would anyone have any idea that Texas students led the nation on that 1996 math test? That they did so again in 2000, on the NAEP’s next math test?
Sorry, readers! According to our most reliable data, the Texas schools were not “below average” at this point in time. But you would never dream such a thing from reading Collins’ unfortunate book.
As early as 1996, Texas students were scoring quite high on our most reliable tests. Molly Ivins may not have understood this when she wrote the July 2000 column from which Collins excerpted that wisecrack—a column in which Ivins made grossly misleading factual claims about the Texas schools. (More to come later this week.)
Ivins may not have understood the true state of the NAEP data. But twelve years after that misleading column, we will guess that Collins still doesn’t know the basic facts about the performance of students in Texas. We’ll guess she doesn’t know about those data from 2011, or she wouldn’t have written the following gloomy passage in 2012.
For now, we’re omitting a fourth, very gloomy paragraph:
COLLINS (page 91): You may be wondering how things are going, education-wise, in the state that deeded its reform plan to the nation. Paul Sadler, the Democrat who led the effort in the Texas house, complains that the state is “testing our kids to death.” (Under the state’s newest regimen, students take seventeen high-stakes tests between third and eighth grade, and up to a dozen more while they’re in high school.) A survey by the Texas State Teachers Association showed that 43 percent of its members were seriously thinking of looking for another line of work.We’re still withholding the final part of this passage from Collins’ book (see below). But consider:
Sadler still believes that the leaps made in the 1990s are holding up. “I think most of our schools do a pretty good job,” he said. Other observers are, at a minimum, disillusioned. “The eighth grade reading scores were exactly the same in 2009 as 1998,” said Diane Ravitch, referring to the scores Texas received in the national NAEP test results. (I know we were trying to avoid them, but sometimes it’s impossible.) “The whole country is now embarked on remedies that didn’t do anything for Texas.”
David Grissmer, the author of that glowing RAND study, says that since 2000, when the study came out, Texas students’ scores on national tests have begun to “flag.”
Ravitch’s statement is wrong and/or grossly misleading in various ways, as we noted last week. We’ll guess that Grissmer’s outlook and meaning may have poorly conveyed in that one-word “quotation.”
But one year after Texas students led the nation in eighth-grade math, the optimist in this gloomy bunch could only manage to say that the most Texas schools “do a pretty good job.” In the process, an utterly bogus impression was advanced—the impression that test scores in Texas have shown no progress since 1998.
That impression is grossly inaccurate. False.
We’re still withholding the final part of that passage from Collins’ book. In that passage, Collins quotes 87-year-old Barbara Bush sounding off about how bad the Texas schools are. However well-meaning Mrs. Bush may be, she isn’t a reliable source on that topic—and she proved it in the things she said. But because her comments made schools in Texas sound very bad, Collins happily typed them on up!
More on Bush’s comments later this week. For today, ponder this question:
From the passage we’ve shown you, would anyone dream that Texas students, just last year, topped the nation in fourth-grade math? That they persistently outscored their peers from around the nation in both reading and math?
Texas students scored quite high in the 2011 NAEP—and Collins has said that these are the nation’s most reliable data. A reader of her inexcusable book would have no idea that any such thing occurred.
Therein lies a set of tales about modern “journalistic” culture. These tales involve the workings of modern pseudo-journalism—and the conduct of the modern pseudo-liberal world.
Today and tomorrow, we will be in a top-secret location in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, conducting a top-secret workshop for a group of federal managers.
We don’t expect to post tomorrow. We’ll resume this series on Wednesday, and we’ll keep asking these questions:
Does anyone care about public schools? Or do minority children exist to fuel the wisecracks of slackers like Collins? To help them tell preferred partisan stories? (The state of Texas totally sucks! Those rednecks are no damn good!)
Once again, here are some scores from last year’s NAEP:
Texas students, eighth-grade math, 2011 NAEPReading Collins, would anyone dream that such test scores exist?
White kids: Third in the nation
Black kids: Second in the nation
Hispanic kids: Second in the nation
More questions: Why did Collins write such a book? In this information age, why are we being misled and misinformed in such relentless ways?
Starting Wednesday: The disaggregation monologues
For seekers of actual information: To compare Texas students to those of other states, just click here. Then click on “State Comparisons.” http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/about/naeptools.asp
At that point, you’re on your own.