Part 1—Nobody cares about kids: Last week, the federal government released a major report about academic achievement within the nation’s schools.
News flash: High-minded claims to the side, nobody actually cares about children! Perhaps for that reason, Brian Williams was the only network anchor who mentioned this major report.
But alas! Because nobody actually cares about children, Williams devoted just 68 words to the subject in Thursday evening’s report.
Nobody actually cares about kids—but people do care about public schools, sometimes for unfortunate reasons. To cite one example, NBC News has long had an obvious agenda—a bit of a jones—concerning the public schools.
Perhaps for that reason, Williams offered the standard large dosage of gloom when he skimmed the new report. The government’s new report is “grim,” he handsomely said, with straight face:
WILLIAMS (6/27/13): A grim report card out tonight on our nation’s high school seniors. It’s from the government. The headline is this: They’re leaving high school no better in reading or math than students in the 1970s, decades ago. Certain subgroups, like younger students, blacks and Hispanics, have upped their grades. But apparently, more lower-performing kids are staying in school now, and that brings down the overall graduation grade average.In fairness, almost every word can be defended as technically accurate. But Williams’ report was heavily tilted. And in certain basic ways, his report didn’t make much sense.
First, let’s consider its brevity:
In fairness to Williams, he was the only network anchor to mention this new report, which came from the National Center for Education Statistics. If we might borrow from Joyce, the disinterest was general over America.
The new report wasn’t mentioned on the CBS Evening News or on ABC’s World News. It wasn’t mentioned on the PBS NewsHour.
Despite the endless hours they fill, the morning news programs skipped it completely. Using Nexis, we find no sign that the report was mentioned on cable news channels.
Only Williams cited the new report. Giving it 68 words, he described it as “a grim report card...on our nation’s high school seniors.”
Williams was gloomy in his report, almost all of which can be defended as “technically accurate.” Having said that, let’s briefly consider the contradictions in his report. Let’s briefly consider the three million elements he decided to skip.
According to Williams, the nation’s high school seniors are “leaving high school no better in reading or math than students in the 1970s.” But as he continued, he made two fleeting remarks which introduced an element of confusion.
Certain subgroups “have upped their grades,” Williams said, specifically mentioning “younger students, blacks and Hispanics.”
Did we hear that (ambiguous) statement correctly? Despite the grim nature of the report, it sounded like a lot of groups have actually improved their performance! (We'll run through the endless list of such groups as the week proceeds.)
Then, Williams seemed to explain the alleged lack of progress among high school seniors. “Apparently, more lower-performing kids are staying in school now and that brings down the overall graduation grade average,” he said.
We’ll translate that statement for Williams, who could only spare 68 words for this topic:
More lower-performing kids are staying in school? That brings down the overall graduation grade average? Translating, that means that the drop-out rate is lower now than it was in the past. That implies that high school seniors are in fact doing better if you adjust for that fact.
Suddenly, that new report from the government may not seem quite so “grim!” As the week proceeds, we’ll show you how misleading Williams’ basic assessment was.
Almost every word he said was technically accurate, but Brian Williams’ fleeting report gave a grossly misleading picture. But then, NBC has devoted itself to promoting doom about public schools for a good many years now.
Did the government issue a grim report card on our nation’s high school seniors? In our view, no, it did not. We’ll be exploring that question all week. But for today, please consider a second treatment of that grim new report.
How selective was Williams’ presentation? The very next day, the Washington Post presented a detailed news report about that same government report. And how strange!
This is the way the Washington Post reported the “grim” new story:
LAYTON (6/28/13): The nation's 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds are posting better scores in math and reading tests than their counterparts did 40 years ago, and the achievement gap between white students and those of color still persists but is narrowing, according to new federal government data released Thursday.According to the Washington Post, the new report painted a picture of steady achievement. It contradicted the popular notion that student achievement has stalled.
The scores—collected regularly since the 1970s from federal tests administered to public and private school students age 9, 13 and 17—paint a picture of steady student achievement that contradicts the popular notion that U.S. educational progress has stalled.
"When you break out the data over the long term and ask who is improving, the answer is...everyone," said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to close the achievement gap between poor and privileged children. “And the good news, given where they started, is that black and Latino children have racked up some of the biggest gains of all.”
Everybody is improving, the Washington Post seemed to say! The night before, Williams had told the nation, in 68 words, that the report was “grim.”
(For our previous treatment of that Post report, click here.)
Who was more right last week, NBC News or the Washington Post? We will be examining that basic question all week. But as we close this first report, let’s get clear on Brian Williams’ priorities:
Last Thursday night, he devoted 68 words to this grim new report. But how odd!
Just before he did that, he devoted 95 words to the nation’s weather. Included was this essential news: “Here in the East, a lot of weather rolling through the East Coast, transportation corridor especially, a weather front firing off thunderstorms and a lot of rain after a hot and dank day along the eastern seaboard.” That was 37 words right there!
Willams’ brief report about public schools was found within a string of brief reports. Finally, though, he got to the topic which really mattered:
James Gandolfini had been buried that day. Williams gave that mighty topic 132 words:
WILLIAMS (6/27/13): And a sad gathering here in New York this morning. It took the death of James Gandolfini to bring the old gang back together. Virtually all of the cast members of The Sopranos were there, among the crowd of fifteen hundred mourners for the funeral of the actor forever identified with the tough guy role of Tony Soprano.As we’ve long told you, nobody actually gives a fig about the nation’s children. But for reasons we can’t explain, Williams still cares about pimping the grim concerning our public schools.
In his eulogy, Sopranos creator David Chase spoke directly to his late friend Jimmy saying, quote, "I saw you as a boy—as a sad boy, amazed and confused and loving and that was all in your eyes. And that`s why, I think, you were a great actor because of that boy who was inside." End of quote.
James Gandolfini died of a heart attack in Rome last week. He was fifty-one years old.
Tomorrow: Was that really a grim report? Or is everybody improving?
For extra reading: Warning: There's tons of information! But to examine the government's grim new report, you can click here, then keep clicking.