Speaking of right-wing social science...

Abigail Thernstrom is among a legion of right-wing scholars who have made their careers downplaying the role of race in American society.

She's authored four anti-affirmative action books including, Whose Votes Count: Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights, a work that made her a darling of the right.

According to Sourcewatch, Thernstrom is also a "highly partisan" member of the US Civil Rights Commission who "vigorously challenged allegations of systematic bias against minorities in the 2000 Florida presidential elections."

Anyway, I offer that by way of introduction for those not familiar with her work.

Today, on the Wall Street Journal's Opinionjournal.com, she attacked Jonathan Kozol's The Shame of The Nation, a book (which I have not read) on the racial divide in education that Thernstrom denies exists.

I'm not going to get into the debate over education in a blog post, but I wanted to draw your attention to her op-ed as a fine example of just how shoddy what passes for a factual argument can be.

It's one of those columns - and these always fascinate me - where a conservative makes an argument, and then includes data that directly refutes the argument they're making. In the column itself. It's just maddening.

Thernstrom spends most of the piece accusing the liberal Kozol of analysis-by-assertion:
To be sure, Mr. Kozol has a seductive formula: Ignore most social scientists, listen to the children themselves and react with deep moral outrage to the tales of deprivation they tell. The most reliable evidence as to what actually goes on in schools, he writes, does not come from experts but from children, who are "pure witnesses." […]
One hates to argue with religious conviction, but Mr. Kozol's faith-based writing has little grounding in actual evidence. The words "segregation" and "apartheid" run like a mantra through the book, as if repetition will somehow make them true.
Thernstrom says, "In fact, American schools are not segregated; their racial composition reflects the nation's changing demographics."

Here's her evidence - the only data points in the whole op-ed:
Typically about 30% of the classmates of both blacks and Hispanics are white, but in big-city school districts whites are in short supply. The Los Angeles Unified School District, for instance, is 71% Latino, while a mere 10% of its students are white. Whites constitute only 15% of students in New York City, 10% in Chicago and Houston, and so forth.
Way to prove Kozol's point!

15% of students in the NYC public schools are white, but 45% of New Yorkers are; 10% of Los Angeles Unified students are white, but 47% of Los Angelinos are; and it's the same with Chicago and Houston where 10% of students are white in cities that are 42% and 49% white, respectively (all those numbers are from U.S. census data).

Obviously American public schools are at least somewhat segregated, in that their racial composition in no way, shape or form even approximates their "changing demographics." Clearly, lots of white folks are sending their kids to private schools in the cities she mentions. (And, no, it can't be explained by higher birthrates among non-whites, because these are three-, four- and five-fold differences.)

But here's the part I find troubling: hundreds of thousands of Wall Street Journal readers are going to browse through that article and come away thinking, 'she sure told that liberal guy what's what.'


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