Robert Robb gets it a little right, a lot wrong, on education’s “demographic challenge”


by David Safier

I'll start by giving Robert Robb, a conservative columnist at the Republic, a bit of credit. He said it's unfair to simply say Arizona public schools are doing a bad job because our students come out at the low end of the national NAEP test scores, that all we have to do is improve our schools and our standing would climb.

Reality is far murkier than that and politically more difficult to discuss and deal with. An awful lot of the differences between states in educational performance is driven by demography.

Kudos to Robb for acknowledging that demography is a huge determiner of student achievement in school. But things goes downhill from there. The demography he's referring to is the large number of Latino students in the state. See, Latinos score lower than Anglos on standardized tests, he says, and that brings down the state average. Don't bother looking for words like "poverty," "income" or "economy" in his column. They don't exist. This isn't a socioeconomic discussion. There's no mention of the income of Latinos in Arizona, no comparison of the test scores of Latinos and Anglos at similar income levels.

Today, poverty is a stronger determiner of student scores on standardized tests than ethnicity. But Robb isn't interested in writing about that. It might lead people to the conclusion that Arizona's scores would improve if we improved the economic conditions of our low income population no matter what their skin color or country of origin. That's not part of Robb's world view. The impression he wants to leave is, the white folk here are doing just fine in school. If only we can get rid of some of those other folks, we can make our schools look better.