Part 2—Deceptive snark about skools: In a rational world, it would be hard to believe the strange things Mark Strama said.
Strama is a Democratic member of the Texas legislature. He sits on the public education committee in the Texas House. He’s plainly very bright.
(For part 1 in this series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/27/12.)
And yet, when Strama spoke at last month’s Texas Book Festival, he made a set of surprising admissions. Until recently, Strama hadn’t known that Texas students score quite well on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the widely-praised “gold standard” of educational testing.
In fact, Texas students routinely score quite high on the NAEP, especially in math. They’ve been scoring quite high on these heralded measures since at least the mid-1990s.
You’d think that Texans (and other people) would be aware of these facts. But when he spoke at last month’s event, Strama said he was surprised when he recently learned this news.
If you lived in a rational world, these comments would seem quite surprising:
STRAMA (10/27/12): 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.As he continued, Strama described the way he gathered additional information about Texas test scores after being surprised by these facts. He described his additional puzzlement concerning a very basic aspect of these test scores.
And I thought, “That’s a pretty impressive record. That’s a little different than what I expected, actually.”
In a rational world, these statements by Strama would seem quite strange. It would be strange to think that a Texas legislator—a member of the education committee—didn’t know such basic facts about his state’s public schools.
It would be strange to think that Strama was surprised by those high test scores. It would be strange to think that he had a hard time solving that additional puzzle.
That’s the way Strama’s discussion would seem in a rational world. But you don’t live in any such world. You live in a world where major journalists enjoy reciting Standard Tales about the hapless children and teachers of the benighted and dumb red state, Texas.
Earlier this year, Gail Collins pimped this pleasing tribal tale in a disgracefully uninformed book. If you lived in a rational world, a “journalist” who wrote such a ludicrous book would have her keister kicked down the stairs, out the door, across the sidewalk and into the street.
But you don’t live in a rational world. To date, no one has said a single word about Collin’s stunning collection of disinformation. And sure enough! Concerning the public schools of Texas, the New York Times was spreading this tribal tale again in an op-ed column last week.
The column was written by Michael Brick, a former New York Times sports reporter who is now pimping himself as an expert on public schools. Brick has written a worthless new book about a high school in Austin, Texas—a book which largely focuses on the school’s basketball team.
Last Friday, the Times let Brick promote his book through a worthless, misleading op-ed column. Early on, the former sports maven typed the highlighted bricks:
BRICK (11/23/12): In his speech on the night of his re-election, President Obama promised to find common ground with opposition leaders in Congress. Yet when it comes to education reform, it’s the common ground between Democrats and Republicans that has been the problem.In this opening passage, Brick advanced several Standard Press Corps Tales about American public schools. But right there in his second paragraph, he offered some standard snark about Texas, pleasingly describing the state as “nobody’s model for educational excellence.”
For the past three decades, one administration after another has sought to fix America’s troubled schools by making them compete with one another. Mr. Obama has put up billions of dollars for his Race to the Top program, a federal sweepstakes where state educational systems are judged head-to-head largely on the basis of test scores. Even here in Texas, nobody’s model for educational excellence, the state has long used complex algorithms to assign grades of Exemplary, Recognized, Acceptable or Unacceptable to its schools.
So far, such competition has achieved little more than re-segregation, long charter school waiting lists and the same anemic international rankings in science, math and literacy we’ve had for years.
Messing with Texas provides great pleasure to the modern pseudo-liberal. Collins’ entire book was built around this theme.
Collins grossly misled her readers about Texas schools in the course of providing this tribal joy. Right at the start of Friday’s column, Brick played the same pleasing card, advancing the same tribal narrative.
You’re right! Brick’s snarky aside makes no specific assertion. Are the public schools in Texas a “model for educational excellence?”
Inevitably, that is a matter of judgment. But how many readers exposed to Brick’s snark would come away with the slightest idea that Texas students routinely outscore their national peers, often by rather large margins? That black kids in Texas routinely outscore their peers in other states in the way Strama described? That the same is true of the state’s white and Hispanic students?
Snark like this actually matters. Snark like Brick’s is so widespread that even a smart, involved person like Strama seems to have had no earthly idea that Texas students have been outperforming their peers for years.
Meanwhile, here was the utterly loathsome Collins last June, lecturing readers in Chicago about the brown peril found to the south (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/1/12):
COLLINS (6/10/12): [Texas] has not integrated its Hispanic residents into its political and business power structure in the way you would expect by now. And two, it’s not doing the job of educating young Hispanic children that it needs to do if they’re going to become critical skilled workers for the next generation.Collins warned Chicago readers about the hordes of Hispanic dumb-asses being produced in the south. Those Collins fans had no way of knowing the truth: Hispanic students in their own state of Illinois are vastly outscored, year after year, by their peers in Texas!
Right now, Texas imports college graduates. It imports as many as it creates on its own. So when you are paying to help make the universities in Illinois top-tier universities, you are paying to help staff businesses in Texas because a lot of your graduates are going to wind up down there.
Now, unless Texas antes up and really, really, really steps up to the education plate—
In the future, ten percent of the work force of America is going to be Texas born, bred and educated. And unless they do a better job than they’re doing now, that’s when we all go south.
Tribal pleasure was being dispensed! In the process, Collins’ readers were being made much dumber.
A similar process took place last week when the New York Times invited Brick to snark about Texas schools. We were especially struck by Brick’s instant snark because we had recently seen him in a public forumon C-Span.
Where had we seen this very bad person—this tool of pseudo-liberal derision? Of course! Brick was one of the authors who sat on the panel Strama conducted at the Texas Book Festival! The aptly-named scribe was sitting right there as Strama explained what he’d learned.
Presumably, Brick heard every word Strama said. Just a guess—given the power of tribal lore, Strama’s words clanged off Brick’s forehead:
STRAMA (10/27/12): 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.If Brick possessed an ounce of intellectual integrity, he might have explored the surprising facts Strama described that day. Had he done so, he might have thought twice about dishing that snark about the children and teachers of Texas.
And I thought, “That’s a pretty impressive record. That’s a little different than what I expected, actually.”
Among other things, Brick could have learned that black students in Texas scored second among the fifty states in last year’s eighth-grade NAEP math test. He could have learned that Hispanic students in Texas also scored second among the fifty states—and that white students in Texas scored third among their national peers.
Does that mean that the Texas schools should be “somebody’s model for educational excellence?”
Not necessarily, no.
It does mean that the Texas schools could perhaps serve as a model for 48 other states. In a rational world, it would mean that the time has come for players like Collins and Brick to stop their stupid snarking.
Collins’ conduct in writing and selling that book was simply inexcusable. In a rational would, she would no longer be able to work as a journalist.
But in large part, Collins, like Brick, was simply playing a tribal game—a game in which the desire for tribal pleasure is placed ahead of the need for actual knowledge about the public schools.
Collins is a terrible person. Terrible also are the “journalists” who wink and nod at the disinformation she spewed in her pitiful, misinformed book.
That said, where does this horrible process end—the process by which pseudo-journalists keep spewing these pleasing tribal tales?
For the third time, let’s quote Strama. This is where the process ends when these deeply terrible people engage in these tribal games:
STRAMA (10/27/12): And I thought, “That’s a pretty impressive record. That’s a little different than what I expected, actually.”Plainly, Strama is a very bright person. But even Strama didn’t know the basic facts about his state's public schools! So it goes when hacks like Collins gambol and play—when the New York Times invites hacks like Brick to spread the snark even further.
In a discourse conducted by people like these, the public is constantly being misled. Tomorrow, we’ll continue to see where this process leads.
Visit our incomparable archives: Starting in late September, we examined Collins’ gruesome book in our award-winning series, Disaggregation Nation.
For part one in that series, just click here. You’ll have to maneuver from there.
To date, no journalist has said a single word about Collins’ mountain of disinformation. When it comes to the public schools, misinformation is the expected norm.
Tribal snark is assumed.