Friday, February 20, 2015

The Howler Takes Randi to the Woodshed Over Her Comment on the number of children in poverty

Simply put, Weingarten’s claim is dumb....What we the liberals turned out to be like! -- Daily Howler

The Daily Howler taught way longer than Randi. Here is his take on the recent comment by Randi.
Starting in the 1980s, talk radio became a way for conservatives to show the world that they may not always be exceptionally sharp.

Alas! We liberals now make the same demonstration through our comment threads. And at our fiery liberal sites—and through the pronouncements of our liberal leaders.

Yesterday, the New York Times printed several letters about the merits and demerits of standardized testing. In her letter, Randi Weingarten, head of the AFT, actually offered this:
WEINGARTEN (2/17/15): Half of public school students live in poverty. More than 30 states fund public education below pre-recession levels. We need to level the playing field and ensure that all kids have equal access to things like computers, smaller class sizes, nurses and counselors—even when their communities can’t afford them.
“Half of public school students live in poverty?” According to the Census Bureau, the official number of children in poverty is more like twenty percent. Simply put, Weingarten’s claim is dumb. You can’t get there from here.

(Although we liberals are increasingly willing to try.)

At one time, the ginning up of silly statistics was a hallmark of the pseudo-right. In recent years, we the liberals have found ourselves walking that same silly road.

We’re building a set of silly statistics which 1) our intellectual leaders know to be bogus and 2) average people won’t be inclined to believe. But we seem to love to throw them around. Our sad songs make us feel good!

It’s depressing to see someone like Weingarten playing a game as foolish as this. For years, we liberals were asleep in the woods. More and more, it’s come to seem like those were the good old days.

Providing a second opinion: For an overview from The National Center for Children in Poverty (Columbia University), just click here.

Children and public school students are two different groups, or course. But here's their statement as of 2013:

“More than 16 million children in the United States—22% of all children—live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level.”

Twenty-two percent seems like a daunting number to us! What’s wrong with our pseudo-liberal souls that has us longing for the chance to say it’s fifty percent?


  1. The Daily Howler writer seems to need a math lesson, no? If 22% of all children live in poverty, it certainly stands to reason that MORE than 22% of public school students live in poverty. Because it is very likely that a higher portion of the 78% who aren't in poverty use private schools that cost money. Is it 50%? I doubt it, so that number is probably exaggerated. But I suspect that in urban centers, far more than 50% of public school students live in poverty.

    1. But that is not what Randi said. Howler is pointing out that someone in Randi's position cannot play the fuzzy math game.

  2. Well, we don't know if Randi is playing the fuzzy math game because the Daily Howler hasn't even bothered to tell us how many public school students live in poverty. All we know is that 22% of ALL children live in poverty, and since far more of the wealthy families can opt out of public schools, it's very likely that the % of public school students is much higher than 22%. So it's hard to call that a howler or an exaggeration without knowing how much higher that % is.

    If you expect people to agree with you that something is a Howler, you have to provide information as to how far off base the claim was. For all I know it IS 50% of students in PUBLIC schools. For all I know it's 40% or 45%, and while Randi's claim would then be an exaggeration, perhaps not quite at the level that the Howler implies. So I will reserve judgement and not use the "fuzzy math" in the Daily Howler post which told me nothing about how large that percentage of public school students living in poverty really is.

  3. After my last reply, I saw this on Diane Ravitch's blog:

    "Kevin G. Basmadjian, Dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, wrote a powerful article in the Hartford Courant in collaboration with other deans from across the state.

    He writes:

    “As a nation and a state, we have clearly failed to address the inequalities that disproportionally impact many urban school districts where kids are poor and segregated. Sadly, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students now come from low-income families."

    Apparently this Dean at the School of Education at Quinnipiac is making the same error as Randi. Or perhaps she didn't make an error at all. The Daily Howler's math skills might need some improving. Or maybe there is an argument to be made that "low-income" is different than "living in poverty". But if you are going to call something a howler, you should be specific about what makes it a howler.

    1. Well, you certainly seem to be spending a bit of time trying to defend Randi. You ask Howler for numbers. How about Randi using that high paid AFT research dept to do some research and present hard facts. And since you have some time take a crack at it yourself.
      Most suburban schools are white and not poverty. And with gentrification in the cities I'd bet they look somewhat less poor too. But no worries -- that old common core will solve all of this.

  4. Actually, I'm not "defending Randi" - I just happened upon your post and decided to read the original Daily Howler post. I used to read the Daily Howler back during its earliest days (far more than a decade ago!), and I was a big fan. But when I read the post you linked to, I couldn't believe how he was using a misunderstanding of math to prove his point. And I was surprised you didn't notice it yourself.

    Now that I see that the Quinnipiac University Dean used the same figures, I suspect that the 50% figure is probably true. But I don't know if that is the case. Still, the bottom line is that if you are going to claim something is a howler in your blog, you should actually know for a fact that it is a howler - right? I like a lot of what you post and you seem like an intelligent person and I figured that you would want to know so you could make the correction. You can't say that it's a "howler" to state that 50% of public school students live in poverty because you know for a fact that only 22% of all children live in poverty. Logic 101.

    Everyone makes mistakes -- at least everyone I know does, including me, very frequently. It's not a crime, it's part of the fallibility of being human. The only thing that mystifies me is why people can't just acknowledge they are wrong if it turns out they are. I'm all for sticking to your guns if you have the facts on your side. But if someone points out that your evidence is in error, why not make the correction?

    1. So I did a little googling and this is what I found: American Census Bureau: (NYC)PERCENTAGE OF FAMILIES AND PEOPLE WHOSE INCOME IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS IS BELOW THE POVERTY LEVEL: All people 20.3%, with related children 5yrs-17yrs 29.4%. .... That's more than 20 percentage points shy of Randi's "half". Now we wait for Randi to own up to her mistake. Roseanne McCosh

  5. Do you realize that there is a vast difference between the percentage of children in poverty and the % of public school children in poverty? If many affluent parents are opting out of public schools, the % of low-income students is going to much higher than their overall % in this country. And the NYC statistics are irrelevant anyway, since Randi was talking about all public schools. Why in the world do you want to pretend there are fewer poor students in public schools?


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