Someone else needs to work harder: For the most part, our pundit class adores the idea that school kids should be forced to work harder.
So should their lazy teachers, of course. Within the precincts of the high press, these demands are a family tradition!
For ourselves, we’re often struck by the lazy work performed by these very high pundits! Consider the featured editorial in Sunday’s New York Times.
The editors were feigning interest in the lives of New Orleans’ school kids. Glorying in the pride of their strength, they kicked things off like this:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (10/16/11): Lessons From New OrleansHas the progress in New Orleans been stunning? Duncan says yes—but he’s the same box of rocks who has Obama praising schools with abysmal achievement rates. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/13/11.
Before Hurricane Katrina, more than 60 percent of children in New Orleans attended a failing school. Now, only about 18 percent do.
Five years ago, less than a quarter of the children in a special district set up by the state to manage the lowest performing schools scored at or above the “basic” level on state tests. Now, nearly half do.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the progress made by New Orleans’s school reform effort in the six years since Hurricane Katrina has been “stunning.” And there are many reasons for optimism about a system that is overwhelmingly made up of poor and minority students—just the sort of place where optimism is in short supply.
In part for that reason, let’s back up and ask a simpler question: Has there been any progress in New Orleans' schools at all?
We don’t know the answer to that question. In part, that’s because we read the New York Times. Just look at the evidence the editors marshal in their latest burlesque of concern.
In their first two paragraphs, they build their claim that things are better around recent test scores on Louisiana’s state tests. But as every sentient being knows, a string of scandals have emerged from these types of state testing programs—especially in striving districts which are trying to make a point about their vast progress. Atlanta claimed it was making great progress—and its impressive performance on statewide tests blew up in a major cheating scandal.
DC was making the same kinds of claims. It’s involved in a big scandal too.
Everybody knows about this problem—except the New York Times’ editors! Serving their therapeutic function, they keep telling you that things are better, betraying not the slightest sense that people who care about low-income kids will be wary of such statewide test scores.
Could it be that these people don’t care?
For ourselves, we have no idea if things are better in these schools. But that’s because we read the kind of lazy work churned by our lords at the Times.
One more point:
Last summer, the New York state education department copped to a multi-year testing scandal. To their credit, state officials threw out years of statewide test scores, acknowledging that the tests had gotten easier over the years. This made it seem that progress was occurring when it really wasn’t.
From that day to this, the editors have struggled to hide the nature of this disclosure. The news reflects badly on their own past work, which was typically hapless—and on the brilliance of their high lord, their exalted billionaire mayor!
The editors live high up in Versailles—and they’re very bad, uncaring people.
The editors don’t seem to know squat about squadoodle: Why has the Big Easy’s progress been so stunning? At one point, the editors tell us:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: The city has put in place a system for steadily ratcheting up school performance requirements. It has also been helped by state education reforms passed in recent years. Louisiana, which has historically ranked near the bottom nationally in student performance, mandated teacher evaluations that take student achievement into account. It also created an innovative system that evaluates teacher preparation programs based on how their graduates go on to improve students’ work in important areas, including reading, math and science.Have those “state education reforms” been helpful? Like the editors, we have no idea. We did check Louisiana’s most recent NAEP scores, comparing statewide results on this federally-run “gold standard” testing program from 2005 to 2009.
Louisiana’s scores dropped in fourth grade reading and math, even as the nation made progress. The state showed score gains in eighth grade, but the nation’s gains were somewhat larger. Somebody else can do the full check, but we’ll guess that Louisiana was near the bottom of the nation in progress over that period on these gold-standard tests.
By the way: New Orleans has never agreed to take part in the urban schools component of the NAEP. For cities like Atlanta, New York and DC, the NAEP has provided an external check on apparent gains on statewide tests.
New Orleans doesn’t take part. There is no external check on its gains on those statewide tests.