Supplemental: Times reporter fails writing test!


Who the Sam Hill is Kate Taylor:
Who the Sam Hill is Kate Taylor?

The analysts came to us with that question very early this morning. They'd read Taylor's news report about public school students across the state of New York.

Taylor's report appears in today's New York Times.

Understandably, the analysts were offended by the report—offended and puzzled. "If not for bad explanations," one of the youngsters cried, "we'd have no explanations at all!"

Who the Hill is Taylor? Briskly, we gathered the data:

Taylor graduated from Harvard in 2001 with a BA in literature. By 2007, Slate was describing her as "the arts reporter at the New York Sun and the editor of an anthology of essays about anorexia, Going Hungry, which will be published next spring."

The anthology was published, then was reviewed in the Times. In 2010, Taylor spent six weeks at the Wall Street Journal before being stolen away by the Times in the course of a hiring war.

Five years later, Taylor is writing about public schools for our allegedly smartest newspaper. In her new report, she displays the chaos a Harvard degree can provide, aided by fourteen years of experience.

"If not for bad explanations, we'd have no explanations at all?" Is it possible that our disillusioned young analyst was right?

Let's take a look at the record!

In hard copy, Taylor's report appears on the first page of today's "New York" section. She begins in an entertaining way, as entertainment values require.

Taylor writes about statewide algebra scores. Hard-copy headlines included:
TAYLOR (12/1/15): Algebra Scores Spur Regents To Reconsider State Exam / Panel Studying if the Bar To Pass Was Set Too High

Here is the thorny math problem facing New York State education officials:
If the percentage of students passing the Algebra I exam falls to 63 percent from 72 percent, and the passing grade is scheduled to increase by 14 points in coming years, should the test be made easier?
Entertainingly, the Harvard grad spoofed the stereotypical algebra question! She also seemed to have cited a couple of facts:

Last year, 72 percent of students in New York State passed some sort of Algebra I exam. This year, only 63 percent passed.

Meanwhile, the passing grade on the exam "is scheduled to increase by 14 points in coming years." That said, it sounds like officials may decide to make the test "easier" in some unspecified way.

So far, no bones had been broken. New York Times readers might even have known that Taylor was writing about the Regents Exam, which high school students have to pass to attain their diplomas (or something).

So far, we'd been allowed to enjoy some good solid fun. The confusion began when the Harvard grad tried to offer a real explanation about the changing scores on the algebra test.

We read these next paragraphs quite a few times. Because they appeared in the New York Times, they were clear as mud:
TAYLOR (continuing directly): In 2013, concerned that high school graduates were not prepared for college, the State Board of Regents revamped the exams students must pass to graduate, starting with the English and Algebra I tests. The board decided that, where previously students needed a score of only 65 on a 100-point scale to pass, in coming years they would have to score at a “college- and career-ready” level, which this year was deemed to be a 79 in English, and a 74 in Algebra.

The result: On the 2015 Algebra I exam, which was supposed to align with the new Common Core curriculum, the percentage of students passing fell to 63 percent, down nine points from the old exam last year. And less than a quarter of students scored at the college-ready level.
In New York City, which has a concentration of poor and minority students, only 52 percent of students passed the 2015 exam, down from 65 percent the previous year on the old exam. Just 16 percent reached the “college-ready” level.
As the angry analysts watched, we read that passage again and again. Soon enough, we were fighting back tears!

After reading that passage several times, we struggled to answer some basic questions. Frankly, Taylor's work struck us as a mess:
Questions we struggled to answer
Was the 2015 Algebra I exam the same as the 2014 Algebra I exam? That is to say, were the questions the same? (It sounded like the questions had been changed, but we weren't thoroughly sure.)

What score did students need to pass the test this year? Was it the same as last year's passing score?

According to Taylor, fewer than a quarter of students "scored at the college-ready level" this year. It sounded like they needed a minimum score of 74.

That said, 63 percent of students passed the test this year. What minimum score did they attain? Doesn't the article seem to say that they needed a 74?
Try as we might, we couldn't quite answer those questions. Did students across the state of New York know less algebra this year? Or were they simply taking a test with harder questions?

Is it possible that the algebra test was the same, but students were required to get a higher score? After struggling to comprehend, we still couldn't answer for sure.

Here at THE HOWLER, we're actually curious about such questions. At the New York Times, they typically seem to pretend. Did Mother and Father send Taylor to Harvard to churn out confusing dreck of this type? Does anyone care about public schools, or is it all just a sham?

Eventually, in paragraph 8, we may have received a hint about the state of play in New York. The highlighted passages seem to make one point clear:
TAYLOR: Passing the old algebra Regents was already a struggle for many students. An analysis by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School found that, among students who entered city high schools in 2010, three in 10 failed the exam on their first try. Students who failed the first time had to retake it an average of twice more to graduate. To help those students, schools had to devote more resources to teaching remedial algebra, rather than other, higher level math courses.

Before the new exam was given, the Regents had said they intended to set the grading so the same number of students passed as had before, but that did not happen.
Based upon those highlighted passages, it seems fairly clear that a new, amended algebra test has replaced the original test. And not only that! According to Taylor, state education officials had "intended to set the grading so the same number of students passed as had before."

As Taylor notes, that didn't happen. Here's the question that came to our heads when we read that passage:

What did state officials do as they tried to make the new exam equivalent to the old exam? (As they tried to make it match the old exam in its difficulty level?) Competent test developers can create equivalent tests through the pre-testing of test items. Our question:

Did the Regents engage in such skilled behavior? Or did the Regents just guess?

It didn't seem to occur to our Harvard grad to ask that basic question. As the fifty different states keep churning out different testing programs, competency questions ought to be very basic. But our Harvard grad doesn't seem to know squat about testing, and she seems to care less. Five years ago, the New York Times fought a hiring war for this journalistic star!

Who the Sam Hill is Kate Taylor? you ask. We're going to ask a different question.

Who the Sam Hill is Taylor's editor? Who permits such incompetent work to appear in our brainiest newspaper? Or is that newspaper just a fraud, devoted to bad explanation?

In fairness, Taylor's first paragraph did provide good solid fun. When it comes to public school topics, that—and the promotion of elite script—seems to be what the Times is there for.

Alas! Some students may have failed Algebra I, but Taylor failed her writing test! The difference is, they're high school kids—and the New York Times promotes itself as our brainiest big major very-smart newspaper.

STOPPED MAKING SENSE: Latest award-winning series postponed!


To resume tomorrow:
Our award-winning series, Stopped Making Sense, will resume tomorrow. For those who want to read ahead, we recommend McKay Coppins' featured report from the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post.

Coppins explains some of the ways The Other Tribe has stopped making sense. Until he starts taking about himself and about nothing else, his report seems important, valuable.

In what ways has our tribe possibly stopped making sense? Briefly, Coppins pretends to address that question. When we resume our award-winning series, we'll offer further suggestions.

"Moral equivalence," our tribe will cry. It's one of our three basic plays!

Coming this afternoon: The latest bad explanation

Supplemental: Race on campus, two reactions!


Professor versus journalist:
We were struck by Randall Kennedy's column in Friday's New York Times.

Kennedy is a professor at Harvard Law School. In a recent incident, pieces of black tape were affixed to his official portrait and to the portraits of other black professors at Harvard Law.

In his column, Kennedy offered his assessment of this situation. We thought the bulk of his reactions made sense, which virtually isn't allowed at this point in time.

He even typed a disallowed word. We join his column in progress:
KENNEDY (11/27/15): Last Thursday, on my way to teach contracts, I received an email from a student who alerted me to the defacement. I saw the taped photos, including my own, right before class. Since then I have been asked repeatedly how I feel about having been targeted by what some deem to be a racial hate crime. Questioners often seem to assume that I should feel deeply alarmed and hurt. I don’t.

The identity and motives of the person or people behind the taping have not been determined.
Perhaps the defacer is part of the law school community. But maybe not. Perhaps the defacer is white. But maybe not. Perhaps the taping is meant to convey anti-black contempt or hatred for the African-American professors. But maybe it was meant to protest the perceived marginalization of black professors, or was a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis, or was a rebuke to those who have recently been taping over the law school’s seal, which memorializes a family of slaveholders from colonial times. Some observers, bristling with certainty, insist that the message conveyed by the taping of the photographs is obvious. To me it is puzzling.

Assuming that it was a racist gesture, there is a need to calibrate carefully its significance.
On a campus containing thousands of students, faculty members and staff, one should not be surprised or unglued by an instance or even a number of instances of racism. The question is whether those episodes are characteristic or outliers.
Kennedy makes these points in that passage:

First, he says he doesn't "feel deeply alarmed and hurt" by the piece of tape which was placed on his portrait.

It isn't entirely clear why he says this. But he notes that the motive for the act hasn't yet been determined. It could even be a "hoax," he says, using a word whose obliteration has sometimes made us liberals seem dumb in recent years, when a fair number of these incidents have turned out to be hoaxes.

(Conservatives hear about the hoaxes. We liberals are kept in the dark. Did you ever see the resolution to the "Klan at Oberlin" story? No you didn't, but many conservatives did.)

Kennedy complains about those who "bristle with certainty" about what this gesture must surely mean. He says that, even if this does turn out to be "a racist gesture," it may not represent the outlook of anyone except the lone pilgrim who engaged in the act.

To us, these assessments make obvious sense. For a reaction which seems to make less sense, consider today's piece by Steven Petrow at the Atlantic concerning events at Duke.

According to his identity tag at the Atlantic, Petrow is a columnist for the Washington Post and USA Today. (According to the leading authority, he's "an American journalist and author who writes frequently on modern-day etiquette.") He's also a 58-year-old Duke grad who serves on the board of the Duke Alumni Association.

Petrow writes about a recent visit to Duke in connection with a series of racial incidents. On a journalistic and human basis, we think one part of this passage tilts toward the appalling:
PETROW (11/30/15): As an alumnus, and a member of the Duke Alumni Association board of directors, I’d been following the highly disturbing series of events on campus: In April, an undergraduate hung a noose from a tree near the student union; in October, a Black Lives Matter poster was defaced with the “N” word; students of Asian ancestry have been repeatedly ridiculed and stereotyped. Then, in November, while Jack Donahue slept in his dorm, he told me, an individual entered and scrawled on a corridor wall with a black sharpie: “Death to all fags @Jack.” Donahue is gay.
We can't evaluate each of those incidents. That said, we were struck by Petrow's treatment of the noose incident from last April. Here's why:

The noose was found in the tree on April 1. Petrow links to this report in the Duke Chronicle, a report which was published that very day, before anyone had any idea who had done this or why.

By April 2, the Duke administration knew who had hung the noose. On May 1, the administration announced the findings of its investigation into the incident. Here's the summary, as reported by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed:
JASCHIK (5/4/15): Duke University announced Friday that the student who left a noose on a tree in April, unsettling the campus, had done so out of "ignorance and bad judgment." While the student has received a sanction from the university, Duke will allow the student to return next semester.

The university also published an apology from the student (whose name has not been revealed). The apology has suggested to some on campus that the student is from outside the United States. Duke declined to comment on the background of the student. However, sources with knowledge of the situation said that the person in question was indeed an international student.
This report from Duke Today includes the student's letter of apology, with his full explanation.

Was the student in question a foreign student who didn't understand the symbolism of a noose in the American South? We can't tell you that, although that seems to be the judgment reached by the Duke administration and perhaps by law enforcement.

That said, the resolution of the case got little attention in the national press. Here's the amazing part:

In his piece in the Atlantic, there is no sign that Petrow is aware of the way the matter was resolved. It's stunning to think that he would link to the April 1 Duke Chronicle piece, written when no one knew squat about what had occurred, but not to this May 1 Duke Chronicle piece, which presented more information.

Petrow is a national journalist. He's also connected at Duke. Is it possible that he actually doesn't know how this matter was resolved?

We can't answer that question. But based upon his piece at Atlantic, it seems that some students at Duke are very upset by the incidents to which he refers. It's stunning to think that he wouldn't present full information about the incident which probably got the most national attention.

The noose incident wasn't a "hoax." Based upon the limited reporting its resolution attracted, it seems it may have involved a misunderstanding on the part of a foreign student, rather than an act of racial animus. (Would you understand the cultural meanings of various symbols in Korea or Japan?)

We went through many comments to Petrow's piece. None of the commenters seemed to know what the administration seems to have judged. At times like these, a certain preference for upset and bedlam may sometimes exist.

Professor Kennedy is urging calm reflection. Very few others are. We think the Atlantic should be embarrassed by the piece it chose to run. We've also thought this on several occasions:

Certain adults seem to enjoy seeing decent young people upset.

STOPPED MAKING SENSE: Einstein and the plastic giraffe!


Part 1—Days of non-explanation:
We heard some really bad "explanations" over the Thanksgiving break. For starters, consider what happened last Friday.

A young lady who's three years old was happily banging us on the head with a plastic giraffe. Challenged on her wayward conduct, she offered a shaky explanation:

She wasn't hitting Uncle Bob. Her toy giraffe was doing it!

Her 9-year-old sister quickly informed her that her "explanation" didn't make sense. But so what? Like a budding Candidate Trump, she doggedly stuck with her story!

The plastic giraffe was doing it? Now that was a bad explanation— although, we'll grant you, its author was only 3. What explains the bad explanation we'd already heard as we drove to her domicile?

It may have been the worst "explanation" in so-called human history! Last Wednesday, on NPR, Ari Shapiro was hosting All Things Considered. His interview with Professor Frank started off like this:
SHAPIRO (11/25/15): It was the discovery that changed the universe—or rather, our understanding of the universe. One hundred years ago today, Albert Einstein presented his theory of general relativity. So for the next few minutes, this is going to be a safe space for everyone who might think they have a vague understanding that maybe the theory of relativity is a really big deal, but maybe you don't really know exactly why or what that means.

Consider this a physics amnesty. Astrophysicists and NPR blogger Adam Frank promises not to judge as I ask some really ignorant questions right now. Hey, Adam!

FRANK: Hey, how's it going, Ari?

SHAPIRO: Let's start with the basics on this 100th anniversary. What exactly is the theory of general relativity?
"What exactly is the theory of general relativity?" the NPR host innocently asked. We'd have to say they were famous last words. The worst explanation of all time proceeded directly from there!

What does a non-explanation look like? If you're curious, we'll suggest you read the transcript of the Frank/Shapiro exchange, to which we'll return on Friday. For today, let's consider the larger meaning of the non-explanation NPR broadcast that day.

All across the country, people were traveling to holiday destinations. Upon arrival, they received inexpert explanations from people as young as 3.

Here's the problem:

Ari Shapiro is 37; Professor Frank is 53. Meanwhile, All Things Considered has been around since 1971. At least within our own liberal tribe, it's considered one of our brightest news programs.

In fairness, the segment in question concerned a matter of physics. It's the kind of segment certain news orgs broadcast to flatter consumers and to extend their own brand.

It doesn't matter if NPR listeners can't explain relativity. Still, what does it mean when our brightest news program can offer a segment like that?

In our view, the question is well worth considering.

Surely, we weren't the only ones who noticed the non-explanatory nature of Wednesday's segment. Surely, people in other cars must have wondered about what they heard.

That said, Shapiro showed no sign of knowing that he'd offered listeners a non-explanation—and Professor Frank didn't seem to realize either! Indeed, when their short segment was done, they closed things out like this:
SHAPIRO: That's Adam Frank, who teaches astrophysics at the University of Rochester. Thanks for the explainer!

FRANK: Oh, it was great. Thank you.
Riding along in the car, we were fairly sure that the explainer hadn't been great. Three nights later, we checked the transcript—and it turned out we were right! Indeed, we're not sure we've ever seen so perfect a non-explanation. It was handed to us by a professor who does know physics, on one of our brightest news programs.

Did NPR listeners actually know that this "explainer" didn't make sense? And if we the people can't spot a problem like that, how many other non-explanations might we be willing to swallow, ingest and accept?

It's easy to spot the non-explanations when they come from the other tribe. Increasingly, we're struck by the profusion of non-explanations which come to us from authority figures within our own liberal/progressive tents.

Many of those bad explanations concern matters of gender and race. We pondered that fact as we reread Ta-Nehisi Coates' widely-praised new book during Thanksgiving break.

We're going to start a lengthy review of that fascinating book at the start of next week. In the meantime, let's review a few of the non-explanations which seem to surround us at this time. Some of them come from the other tribe. A fair number come from us.

On this morning's Morning Joe, the pundits were explaining why our discourse seems to have stopped making sense. In a highly unusual departure, much of what they said was correct.

That said, it seemed to us they could spot the shortcomings in everyone but themselves! Their guild has dished tremendous bunk in the past thirty years. They failed to mention this fact.

Why has everyone else stopped making sense? On that, their views were fairly strong. Tomorrow, let's review what the savants said. Also, let's visit Chuck Todd.

Tomorrow: The question not asked

THREE DAYS OF THE TURKEY: Christopher Matthews does it again!


Our own leading turkey takes flight:
With the gatekeepers gone, we're learning what we the people have presumably always been like.

When the major political parties were in the hands of elite gatekeepers, potential candidates like Candidate Trump weren't allowed into the mix.

Now, we pick our candidates almost wholly through primaries. With media gatekeepers gone as well, we're learning that there's a pretty good market for a hopeful like Trump.

Over here in our liberal tents, we can see the many misstatements of a person like Trump. We can't see the way we love our own brand of dissembling, most of which currently turns on matters of gender and race.

Over in the conservative tents, they can see this about us. They're told about it every day. Much of what they're being told is, alas, perfectly accurate.

There's something else we liberals can't see. We can't see how dumb we liberals have been for all these countless years.

We can see that The Others are dumb. We can't spot the trait in ourselves.

How dumb have we been for all these years? Last Friday night, the biggest turkey of them all took wing and flew again.

Chris Matthews was hosting a panel which included Eliana Johnson, Washington editor for the National Review. A bit of background on Johnson:

She graduated from Yale in 2006; she joined the National Review in 2012. In the interim, she spent three years as a segment producer for Sean Hannity at Fox.

Three years producing segments for Sean? Journalistically, that's a horrible background. Having offered that word of warning, let's return to last Friday's Hardball.

At one point, Matthews asked Johnson why so many conservatives say that Obama's a Muslim. The turkey was soon in the air.

As any Hannity droog would do, Johnson quickly recited the standard canard concerning Candidate Clinton. And good God! Matthews quickly affirmed and embellished Johnson's claim. He then tossed in an older canard concerning Candidate Gore!

With apologies, we haven't been able to compare the transcript of Friday's Hardball program to videotape. The tape of the horrible segment in question doesn't appear at the Hardball site.

That said, the transcript seems to provide a reasonably faithful version of the exchange, which we watched several times at the end of last week. What are we the people actually like? The exchange offers a taste of the journalistic inventions of the past twenty years.

We start with the canard about Candidate Clinton. Here's what happened when Matthews asked why Republican voters keep saying Obama's a Muslim:
MATTHEWS (11/20/15): Why do people keep saying that, Eliana? They do they keep telling pollsters that?

JOHNSON: Well, I have to say, I do think it's amusing that it's Hillary Clinton, it's the Clintons who first put this out there about Obama being a Muslim.

MATTHEWS: Why did she do it?

JOHNSON: I think because it's a pretty effective way, when you start to question whether somebody is American in their origin.


MATTHEWS: Do you think that's an American thing to do?

JOHNSON: No, I don't. I think it's an abominable campaign tactic. But I do think it's worth it to remember that it was, in 2007, the Clintons who did this.

MATTHEWS: I know. It's their original sin.

JOHNSON: The dirtiest campaign in the country.
We hate to spoil the party, but Clinton didn't "first put out there about Obama being a Muslim." By way of contrast, Candidate Trump spent several years broadcasting versions of this canard in every possible forum.

Despite this minor problem, Matthews didn't simply agree with Johnson's mandated canard. He actually added to her claim, calling this action-which-didn't-occur the Clintons' "original sin."

The Clintons' conduct was un-American, our number-one turkey intoned.

Surely, that would have been awful enough. But this particular corporate gobbler wasn't finished yet:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Jeanne, if you name it on this— I know it was Al Gore who used the Willie Horton—



MATTHEWS: We know that history.


MATTHEWS: Why is that funny? It's terrible.
Good God! After playing the old Clinton-called-Obama-a-Muslim card, Matthews even reached all the way back. He repeated the pitiful RNC claim that it was really Candidate Gore who invented the ugly, racialized mess concerning Willie Horton.

(In real time, no one pimped that line more than Hannity, though this was before Johnson's time. Last Friday, Chris helped the horrible Johnson out, reciting this old canard for her.)

Can we talk? In the realm of "cable news," Matthews is the original Trump. He was Trump before Donald Trump was a gleam in cable's eye.

At the time, Matthews was being made extremely rich by his corporate owner, conservative zillionaire Jack Welch. He played the Trump role for many years with his crazy Clinton/Gore-hating misstatements.

The liberal world just sat there and took it. E.J. Dionne? Lawrence O'Donnell? They both agreed not to notice. Today, they're on MSNBC!

At this point, we the liberals can actually see that Trump is making crazy, inaccurate, harmful misstatements. Because he's in the GOP, we're able to see it and say it.

We were too dumb and ineffective to ever react to Matthews. We still can't bring ourselves to understand the way our favorite liberal media stars have covered for his appalling conduct every step of the way.

Today, we watch Chris on our own One True Channel; we see our darling Rachel fawn about how much she loves and admires the man she calls her dear friend. He still says things like the ones shown above. We're too hopeless and soft to react.

Why does our tribe favor Matthews today? Because he gives us the R-bombs we deeply love—the R-bombs we seem to love more than life itself. We're inclined to ask nothing more from our "intellectual leaders."

Those R-bombs are our own tribe's version of Donald Trump's Syrian/Muslim slanders. They convince us that The Very Bad People can all be found Over There. In all of human history, tribal groups have rarely asked for much more.

("Moral equivalence," we liberals will cry. Like people who swallow Hannity-Johnson's guff, we liberals know three or four plays.)

We can see what They are doing. It's harder for us to see the truth about the multimillionaire corporate turkeys who have been assigned to Us down through these many destructive and deeply ridiculous years.

He knows from un-American: Matthews knows all about un-American.

In the wake of 9/11, he shared these thoughts about ex-candidate Gore with Don Imus, who was extremely influential at the time:

"He doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even."

Yes, he actually said it! He said it on Imus' radio show, which was still being simulcast on MSNBC at that time.

We liberals just sat there and took it. For the record, Christopher Matthews was still Donald Trump at that point in time.

Imus was in rare form that morning (November 2, 2001). For a fuller account of his thoughtful remarks, just click here, then scroll to The Daily Update.

We've accepted this crap every step of the way. Who in the name of creation are we to mock the gullible average voters in the other tribe?