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THE SOCIAL BUCKWORK! The same day we saw The Social Network, we gazed upon Newsweek’s list: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2010

Continuing the Official Novel concerning the nation’s black kids: Wow! Trip Gabriel pens a remarkable news report in today’s New York Times. His report concerns a new study of black fourth-graders issued by the sometimes-clueless Council of the Great City Schools.

(For the Council’s press release on its forthcoming report, just click here.)

What is remarkable about Gabriel’s report? His report says nothing that’s really new about the performance of black fourth-graders—and Gabriel is a bit selective in what he chooses to discuss. Instead, his report is remarkable for what it says about the mainstream press corps—and about the “liberal world,” which pays so little attention to the interests of black and brown children.

Here’s how Gabriel starts his report. Academic Standing of Black Males is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected,” a gloomy, inept headline says:

GABRIEL (11/9/10): An achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented—a social divide extremely vexing to policy makers and the target of one blast of school reform after another.

But a new report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is even bleaker than generally known.

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

The data was distilled from highly respected national math and reading tests, known as the National Assessment for Educational Progress, which are given to students in fourth and eighth grades, most recently in 2009.

As he starts his report about black fourth-graders, Gabriel writes that “the picture is even bleaker than generally known.” He then cites data about proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP); these data have been publicly available, on-line, for a good long time. Meanwhile, an editor changed Gabriel’s meaning as he typed that gloomy headline. Is it true? Has the “academic standing of black males” now been “found to be far lower than expected?” Not really, except for people who pay no attention to such matters. That would include the bulk of the mainstream press—and almost the entire white “liberal” world.

As Gabriel continues, he stresses a point the forthcoming report describes as “jaw-dropping.” The new report “clearly shows…that black males who are not eligible for free and reduced-price lunch are doing no better than white males who are poor,” the Council’s director is quoted saying. According to Gabriel, “the group hopes that including so much of what it calls ‘jaw-dropping data’ in one place will spark a new sense of national urgency.”

Good luck with that! Fat f*cking chance!

It’s painful to hear that black fourth-grade boys who don’t “live in poverty” are scoring lower in math than white fourth-grade boys who do. For the record, the measure of poverty being used isn’t exactly a measure of poverty. As Gabriel notes, the measure used is eligibility for subsidized lunch (free or reduced price); this now includes almost half the nation’s student population. In the 2009 math testing, the status of 7 percent of the fourth-graders tested couldn’t be determined. Of the remaining students, 49 percent didn’t receive a subsidized lunch; 44 percent did.

Those data may seem surprising. If so, it’s because we, as a declining society, pay almost no attention to matters like this.

That said, should it be surprising to learn that black kids who don’t get subsidized lunch score below white kids who do? These data have always been available, through the “NAEP Data Explorer;” if these data seem surprising, it’s because our society—including our self-styled “liberal world”—pays so little attention to the lives of black kids. We pay little attention to black children’s interests—and when we do, our work tends to break down. Before long, Gabriel is typing this, making little apparent sense:

GABRIEL: The analysis of results on the national tests found that math scores in 2009 for black boys were not much different than those for black girls in Grades 4 and 8, but black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades.

The search for explanations has recently looked at causes besides poverty, and this report may further spur those efforts.

Say what? If math scores for black boys were “not much different than those for black girls,” why does the Council’s new report talk about black boys only? Such puzzles are frequent when we briefly pretend to examine the lives of black kids. We’ll only say this: As one can easily see from the NAEP data, black girls who didn’t get subsidized lunch scored below white girls who did—and there is only one point of difference between black boys and black girls on the NAEP scale. We have no idea why the Council has chosen to focus on black boys alone. Nor did Gabriel explain.

Meanwhile, Hispanic boys and girls came agonizingly close to failing the Council’s test too. In fourth-grade math, Hispanic girls who don’t “live in poverty” scored the same as white girls who do. Why the focus on black boys? We have no idea.

That said, should anybody be surprised by this new report’s “findings?” No one who has studied the data should be surprised, which isn’t meant as a criticism of the Council’s report. In this new report, the Council of Great City Schools is trying to steal a bit of attention from a society which takes little notice of deeply tedious matters like these. And let’s repeat what we’ve often said: No part of the culture pays less attention than our self-satisfied white liberal world, which parades around pimping its own racial greatness—while refusing to pay a lick of attention to the real lives of millions of kids.

Because sites like Salon refuse to care, organizations like the Council try to cadge a bit of attention with slightly peculiar reports of this type. But the (selective) information the Council reports has always been there, in plain sight.

That said, let’s recall another point we have often stressed. Let’s look again at one part of Gabriel’s piece, in which he applies a rough rule of thumb, producing a gloomy result:

GABRIEL: The analysis of results on the national tests found that math scores in 2009 for black boys were not much different than those for black girls in Grades 4 and 8, but black boys lagged behind Hispanics of both sexes, and they fell behind white boys by at least 30 points, a gap sometimes interpreted as three academic grades.

For the record, we don’t know why Gabriel says that “black boys…fell behind white boys by at least 30 points.” The term “at least” is puzzling here, and NAEP data don’t seem to show black fourth-grade boys, in any category, trailing white boys by such an amount. (Overall, white fourth-graders outscored black fourth-graders by 26 points in math. Among boys, the gap was 27 points.) That said, we again direct your attention to the use of that very rough rule of thumb, in which ten points on the NAEP scale is “sometimes interpreted” as one academic year.

“Sometimes!” Unintentional humor!

As we have often said, this very rough rule of thumb is only applied by the mainstream press when it leads to a gloomy result. Once again, we see our wisdom confirmed in this gloomy passage by Gabriel. To judge from what Gabriel writes, black fourth-grade boys seem to be trailing white boys in math by at least three academic grades. This notion is absurd on its face, but our own rule of thumb is confirmed once again:

Journalists only apply this rule of thumb when it leads to a gloomy conclusion.

Are black fourth-grade boys at least three academic grades behind white boys in math? The notion is absurd on its face; in part, this construct explains why we constantly warn you that Gabriel is herein applying a very rough rule of thumb. Think what such a conclusion would mean! Roughly speaking, it would mean that the average white fourth-grader is working on fourth-grade level in math while the average black fourth-grader is on first-grade level—or that the average white fourth-grader is on fifth-grade level while the average black fourth-grader is on second-grade level. Can we talk? Neither possibility would seem to make sense.

(By the way: If the average white fifth-grader is working one year above grade level, why have we been wringing our hands about the gruesome failure of our schools, as various high-ranking hacks have been doing so loudly this fall?)

Sorry. Few things ever make much sense when we stoop to talk about low-income schools. That said, let’s note the information Gabriel omits from his piece, restricting ourselves to fourth-grade math:

Is ten points on the NAEP scale “sometimes interpreted as one academic grade?” If so, then black fourth-graders have made remarkable progress in math in the past thirteen years! In the 1996 testing, black fourth-graders averaged 198 on the NAEP math test; by 2009, that average score had risen to 222. That represents a gain of 24 points in just thirteen years—a gain of 2.4 academic years, if we apply the rule of thumb Gabriel has dragged out here.

A gain of 2.4 academic years! That would be extremely good news! But you don’t read any such news in Gabriel’s piece, balancing off its mountains of gloom; nor have you ever read such news in the New York Times. You see, the plutocrats who own your world have certain themes they’re currently pimping when it comes to the lives of minority children. Organizations like the Council will tend to stick to those hackworthy themes—and big newspapers like the Times are too dumb, or too compliant, to note the contradictions involved in the novelized news you thereby get served.

There’s good news and bad news in those NAEP data, if we choose to apply that very rough rule of thumb. But as we’ve told you in the past: That rough rule of thumb is only applied when it leads to a gloomy result! Only the bad news need apply, when the cretins who run your novelized world talk their trash about low-income schools—the better to trash the teachers with, the better to trash their unions.

Tomorrow, we’ll offer a few more thoughts about Gabriel’s report. In the meantime, ranking white “liberals” will sit, suck their thumbs and just stare. White liberals enjoy announcing their own moral greatness when it comes to matters of race. When the lives of real black kids are involved, isn’t it plain? We liberals just flat-out don’t care!

To access mountains of data: For mountains of data from the 2009 NAEP math test, you know what to do: Just click here.

THE SOCIAL BUCKWORK (permalink): Yesterday, we finally saw The Social Network. We also saw Newsweek’s listing of the annual earnings of the “Power 50”—allegedly, the biggest earners in the pundit world.

Allegedly, here are some of their hauls in the past year. (These are not the highest-earning thirteen.) For the full list of the fifty, spend a dime—just click here:

Annual hauls by selected talkers:
Rush Limbaugh $58.7 million
Glenn Beck $33 million
Sean Hannity $22 million
Bill O’Reilly $20 million
Jon Stewart $15 million
Don Imus $11 million
Keith Olbermann $7.5 million
Laura Ingraham $7 million
Stephen Colbert $5 million
Arianna Huffington $5 million
Chris Matthews $4.5 million
Rachel Maddow $2 million
Jon Meacham $2 million

Newsweek did not include anchors in its list. To quote the magazine’s quaint explanation: “News anchors such as Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Jim Lehrer earn more than enough money to appear in the top 50, but they serve mostly as conduits for information, not merchants of ideas.”

Go ahead—laugh very loud.

We think Newsweek has done a great service listing the incomes of the 50. The magazine would perform an even greater service if it listed the incomes of those anchors—and of people like David Gregory, who was apparently making $2 million per year before he became the host of Meet the Press.

People will do a lot of things to hang onto jobs like that.

Why do we run these topics together? As a matter of history, we have no idea how “accurate” The Social Network is. Over at The Daily Beast, David Kirkpatrick offered a detailed rundown of the film’s alleged hits and misses (click here). But viewed as a piece of historical fiction, the film offers a convincing look at the things amoral people will do in the pursuit of money, fame, hustle and pop. If you think a similar culture doesn’t suffuse the current “news” world, you may have just flown in from Neptune.

For ourselves, we’re more interested in Olbermann and Maddow than in other current figures. (Chris Matthews’ influence peaked long ago, though he drove the Clinton-Gore years.) That said, people will do a lot of things for major money, hustle and fame. In the case of these two “liberal” icons, we’d say they already have.

From the shortened list we’ve provided, we very much like Jon Stewart’s work—although those skits and that speech at that recent rally constitute extremely thin gruel at the price tag found on this list. That said, we don’t admire Maddow’s work; we think she’s one of the most incompetent hustlers who ever came down the pike. In our view, her clueless, self-confident political posing continued apace on last night’s program; in our view, she knows almost nothing about domestic politics, but talks a very good game. In our view, Maddow is a massive hustler—one of the greatest self-salesmen ever.

People will do a lot for the money, for the fame, for the hustle and pop. They’ll even make liberals extremely dumb, producing real harm in the world.