Three things you can’t say in the mainstream press!


David Brooks moves beyond Carlin: According to George Carlin, there were seven naughty words you weren’t allowed to say on TV.

According to us, there are quite a few things you aren’t allowed to say in the mainstream press.

Our mainstream press corps is very scripted. To cite just three examples, major insider journalists know they mustn’t discuss these facts:
Three things you aren’t supposed to say:
Our health care spending is massive as compared to the rest of the world.
Our nation’s test scores are on the rise.
There has been a tremendous amount of cheating on our high-stakes educational tests.
For the record, our test scpores have risen on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, where no one has had an incentive or, it is widely assumed, an opportunity to cheat.

Back to those mandated no-nos:

The first statement offends the powerful interests involved in the health care looting. The second statement, which is completely verboten, may tend to undermine the drive for a certain mandated type of “educational reform.”

Ditto for the third statement. Major journalists know that they aren’t supposed to say these terrible things.

David Brooks flirted with all three topics in his most recent column. Of the three forbidden statements, he came closest to making the first:
BROOKS (9/14/12): For example, between 1960 and 2006, health care spending increased twice as fast as G.D.P., but there were no comparable gains in health outcomes. A study by the Institute of Medicine estimates that 30 cents of every $1 spent on health care is wasted—about $750 billion a year.
Brooks cited a recent study which claimed that 30 percent of our health spending is wasted. Last Tuesday, the New York Times editorial board discussed that same study.

Brooks is flirting with a forbidden statement. On the other hand, he fails to say that we spend two to three times as much on health care, per person, as other developed nations. By this measure, that daring study only located half of our excess spending.

When it came to excessive health care spending, Brooks flirted with the forbidden. When it came to our nation's rising test scores, he did a much better job toeing the mandated line:
BROOKS (continuing directly): Over the past 50 years, spending on K-12 education has also skyrocketed. In 1960, Americans spent roughly $2,800 per student, in today’s dollars. Now we spend roughly $11,000 per student. This spending binge has not produced comparable gains in student outcomes. Education productivity is down, too.
If you’re a very careful reader (with prior knowledge), you may have seen that Brooks at least did not deny the major rise in our test scores. He just says that any such gains have not kept pace with the rise in spending. Please note: In accord with mandated pundit thinking, Brooks is eager to cite the rise in spending, though he hides or omits the rise in test scores.

He cites the big spending but not the big score gains. This is mandated conduct.

Finally, how about the role of educational testing in evaluating our teachers? In this passage, Brooks recites the mandated line about this idea. In the process, he forgets to mention an obvious problem:
BROOKS: Though the final details are still uncertain, there will also be a serious teacher evaluation process [in the Chicago public schools]. The various elements of those evaluations will change for each teacher year by year, but, as teachers progress in their careers, student performance will become more and more important. That’s vital because various studies have shown that evaluations that rely in part on test scores really do identify the best teachers. Teachers who score well on these evaluations really do produce measurable improvements in their students’ performance for years to come. Rigorous teacher evaluations will give reformers a profound measuring tool.

Finally, principals will apparently be given discretion to hire who they want, and they will be held accountable for the performance of their schools. This, too, is a big win for Chicago’s children.
Reciting another mandated line, Brooks is sure that it's a “big win” when principals get that discretion. But uh-oh! He forgets to mention an obvious problem with the use of high-stakes tests to locate “the best teachers.”

Sometimes, teachers cheat on high-stakes tests! For ourselves, we have been writing about this problem since the late 1970s, when we incomparably started discussing the topic in the Baltimore Sun. In the last few years, the situation became so obvious that it even some major journalists noticed.

The topic broke through in a few major newspapers. On the national level, USA Today was the highest achiever.

By now, everyone knows about this problem. But insider journalists like Brooks know that it can't be discussed!

Until a solution to this problem is devised, it’s hard to know how we can find the best teachers from high-stakes testing. Brooks knows he mustn’t say this. But then, it’s amazing how many basic things you aren’t told—as a result of insider group silence on the part of the mainstream “press.”

The Washington Post and the New York Times have agreed that you mustn’t be told about all that cheating by teachers and principals on our high-stakes tests. The Post has been the chief offender, but the Times is keeping things close.

Tomorrow, we’ll see this mandated silence observed in today's New York Times editorial. The simultaneous publication of these letters about student cheating adds a tragicomical note.

Carlin couldn’t say certain words. The scripted folk in our “mainstream press corps” can't discuss whole topics!


  1. Arizona is very low on spending, so someone else must be dumping tons of money into schools.

    Someone else is:

  2. Hey Bob, stop talking about long-standing issues. To us internet liberals, that's called being "obsessed" and "living in the past". Haven't you heard about the latest thing Rush Limbaugh said?

  3. Brooks side stepped an answer to the question he posits about the notion of applying Economy I (tradable sector) methods to Economy II (sectors that do not face global competition). What's the data from those places where school vouchers have been implemented or public schools turned over to charter companies? Isn’t Brooks the guy that wrote not that long ago about A|B testing and government trying things done in the private sector (testing, modeling, sampling, agile development, etc.). Well, in fact that has been happening in education in some locales and the data's out there. Where's the beef?

    Regarding medical care costs, the Howler has for years been on top of the issue. I always come back to what Lewis Lapham wrote:

    'Any system that construes medical care as profit-bearing merchandise is by definition dysfunctional.'

    As written here:

  4. Brooks ignores the fact that the medical cost increases are relative to national GDP while the increases in K-12 costs are absolute, therefore devoid of any cost deflators associated with inflation. I suspect that K-12 costs relative to the national economy have decreased, not increased, as Brooks asserts. In fact, the price deflator statistics calculated by the St. Louis Fed Reserve Bank would show that the price deflator between 1960 and 2010 shows average prices have risen by 5.8X. That means an expenditure of $2800 in 1960 would have required $16240 in 2010 to be comparable. Since we're spending only $11000 per year per pupil, we're actually spending less now than in 1960. There is no cost increase. Brooks is either a liar or a fool and his past writings make it difficult to tell which is operative this time.

  5. Brooks is a liar and a Jester. I trust you recall who employs such. Nobody much tells the tale basic to even the No Child Left Behind total dysfunction to the last previous institutional makeover by the UN to institute Skinnerian psychology models to embed anti learning responses in students. And talking about costs in dollars is such a farce.

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