While Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is unrelenting in his efforts to devalue my undergraduate degree, fortunately, another fellow alum, Democratic Texas state Representative Mark Strama is doing us proud regarding education (boldface mine):
Strama was surprised to learn that Texas kids scored in the top ten on the fourth grade NAEP science test. As a result, he did something smart people may sometimes do.
Good lord! He sought additional data! After that, he formulated a question:
STRAMA (continuing directly): So I went to the NAEP web site and found that, in the aggregate, the Texas student scores on the fourth grade science NAEP ranked 29th in the country. That’s not so great!
Now, how is it possible that when you disaggregate those three student cohorts and evaluate them against the rest of the country, each of the three cohorts is in the top ten in the country—and we all know that those three cohorts comprise over 95 percent of the student population. How is it possible that collectively they’re 29th?
Frankly, Strama was puzzled. In Texas, black kids had scored fourth best among the fifty states on the fourth-grade NAEP science test. The state’s white kids had scored eighth best. Hispanic kids scored sixth.
But overall, Texas kids had only scored 29th best on the test! As he continued his presentation, Strama explained this apparent paradox. We think the highlighted words were most instructive of all:
STRAMA (continuing directly): The answer, it turns out, and it wasn’t easy to figure this out, the answer is that African-American and Hispanic students in Texas and in the country significantly underperform Anglo students. And in Texas, African-American and Anglo (sic) students make up a significant larger share of the entire student population. So when your lower-performing categories of students are a larger percentage of your total student population, you can have all three student groups in the top ten in the country and still be 29th in the country when you combine them.
It begs the question, are our public schools doing a good job or are they mediocre?
Strama went on to give an intelligent, nuanced answer to the question he posed. But we were very much struck by that highlighted passage.
Rather plainly, Strama is bright; he even graduated from Brown!
While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that this is yet another massive failure of our adult educational system known as the political press corps (boldface mine):
“It wasn’t easy to figure this out,” Strama said. Translation: Even after he noted this paradox, he apparently had a hard time finding an explanation.
Again, we want to stress a key fact—Strama is plainly quite bright. In a rational world, it would be amazing to learn that he knew so little about such a basic matter….
Bottom line: We live in a world where major journalists never do what Strama did. They never go to the NAEP web site to gather the most basic facts.
(Merit pay would be awesome for journalists, wouldn’t it?)
What is so depressing about our national education discourse (if ‘discourse’ is the appropriate term for the howling and gibberings of bean sí) is that we don’t even ask the right questions. And if we can’t do that, then we don’t stand a chance of getting the right answers.
Which, depending on how cynical you are, might be the primary point of the exercise.