Apparently we can’t have nice things!


Michael Winerip bails: Apparently, we can’t have nice things, just like Poundstone said.

For the past several years, Michael Winerip’s On Education column was one of the outposts of sanity in the mainstream press. (Unless you were part of the liberal world, in which case his topic doesn’t exist.)

Apparently, we can’t have nice things! Monday, at the end of his latest column, Winerip hit us with this:
WINERIP (6/11/12): This is my last education column. Again. The first time, in the early 1990s, politicians wanted to make our system more like Japan’s. (This was right before the Japanese economic collapse.)

A decade later, they devised a system to punish teachers if every child in America wasn’t academically proficient. Now they’re developing a standardized test to evaluate high school band teachers. And through it all, teachers have continued to educate children, and children have continued to learn.

Come fall, I will start a new assignment.
It’s disappointing that the column will go. But the analysts complained even more bitterly about those parting pronouncements.

We have no idea what the snark about Japan’s collapse was supposed to mean. But how about the shot which followed?

“Through it all, teachers have continued to educate children, and children have continued to learn?” Who would have doubted that?

The question has never been whether children are learning. The question has always been how much they are learning. Regarding that question, we had always dreamed that Winerip might be the person who would tackle a basic conundrum:

What should we think about the substantial rise in reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress? What does that steady rise mean?

Most Americans have never even heard that such a rise in test scores exists. The press corps refuses to tell them about it, even as they praise the NAEP as the "gold standard" in educational testing.

Such reporting would spoil a vastly preferred press corps tale, the one about the way nothing works in our pitiful schools. Everyone seems to like this tale. For conservatives, it lets them blame our hideous teachers, with their infernal teacher unions. For liberals, it lets us blame Bush.

But that rise in test scores does exist. What does the rise in test scores mean? We had always dreamed that Winerip might tackle the question, perhaps even speaking to experts at NAEP! Now he leaves us in the lurch, with a partisan-sounding closing shot.

That said, Winerip has done a ton of good work in his columns. Tomorrow, we’ll examine his closing piece, linking the debacle he describes to similar meltdowns in two major states—North Carolina and (gulp) New York.

Is any other topic so badly reported? Everyone says they care about schools. Plainly, no one does.


  1. From this:
    "For the past several years, Michael Winerip’s On Education column was one of the outposts of sanity in the mainstream press."

    To this:
    "This is my last education column.... Come fall, I will start a new assignment."

    It's not a bug, it's a feature.

    1. ...We have no idea what the snark[s] about...

      Is any other topic so badly reported?


      Has The sweet natured Somerby been replaced with his alter ego , or some other monstrous cash (or heavenly equivalent) printing machine ?

      Is the horror (adjective) speculation ? Or mystical resignation ?
      Doughty fans hitch up their analytic pins (virtual angelic dance halls, 3d or better) , profound yet modest , but never free from the spectre of...
      -squawk swee bpp zbzbzz , This is Danny Boy , come in Broadsword , come in ? yer breaking up , Squawk (etc)- ...

      ...............First is denial..............

      Could you hear a pin drop ?
      Despite the prominent perch , the syncronized collective gasps of Olympian natterers Friedman , Collins , and Dowd , oh my , homogenized ?

      The set , accoutered with the latest technology from HBO's "Game of Thrones" , neutralizing the effects of habits once dreamed of with the unionized agency of previously paralysis free martyrs themselves .
      They said it could not happen here ...

  2. I can explain the steady rise in test scores the schools stop teaching most subjects for months before standardized test time and train students to answer multiple choice questions about reading and math.

    While this is happening very little is learned by the students. The administrators and teachers do this since if the test scores don't improve, they might lose their jobs.

    In desperate circumstances some schools have resorted to cheating on the test, or making sure that weak s tudents are "sick" on the test days.

    This has vastly improved the students' knowledge!

  3. Anonymous, I beg to differ. Not that you don't make fair points, but bright young faces have continued to greet and be greeted by earnest and dedicated teachers for lo these 20 or 30 years of testing mania, and much more happens every day in classrooms than what you describe. So much more. Among other things, for instance, teachers really have been working on better ways of teaching math (and better notions of what mathematics-teaching should entail) to a variety of students (the same approaches don't work for all students). And they've had some success!

    The cynicism that leads to the corporatizing of education shouldn't be allowed to spread to others who have broader vision about education. I think Winerip was trying to say this with his comments about Japan (hey, I was born in 1950 and can remember the crisis du jour, "Why Johnny Can't Read" and Sputnik -- Japan was just the next manufactured crisis manufactured by comparison, the one Winerip is old/young enough to remember.)

  4. I further beg to differ.

    Anonymous of 9:43 PM *doesn't* actually make fair points.

    We're talking about the NAEP.

    For that test, there's not any evidence of the kind of cheating he alleges.

    So no, he doesn't "explain the steady rise in test scores."