What is Bill Keller talking about!


Persistently, the New York Times simply defies belief: Bill Keller’s column didn’t appear in today’s hard-copy New York Times. For that reason, we hadn’t seen it until we saw Paul Krugman’s link.

We clicked the link and started reading. In paragraph 5, we hit this:
KELLER (8/19/13): [The Common Core] is an ambitious undertaking, and there is plenty of room for debate about precisely how these standards are translated into classrooms. But the Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable. Come together it did—for a while.
“After decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education?” Which decades is Keller talking about?

There is, of course, no perfect way to measure educational attainment. But it’s astounding to see a person like Keller making a statement like that without any apparent sense that it needs explaining.

Every journalist at Keller’s paper—and he was in charge of the paper through 2011—cites the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP) as the “gold standard” of educational testing. But the NAEP shows very large gains in reading and math over the last several decades. As a general matter, American students have shown similar progress on international tests, although the NAEP goes back farther. (It dates to 1971.)

We’ve often said this about the NAEP: Everybody praises the NAEP, and no one ever reports what the NAEP data show. Meanwhile, every hack and his low-IQ uncle has spent the last X numbers of years moaning about the alleged decline in our public schools—even though NAEP data, which everyone swears by, seem to show precisely the opposite.

Bill Keller was executive editor of the Times until September 2011! Concerning this basic part of American life, he seems to have no idea what he’s talking about.

There’s nothing especially new about that. This is a persistent general fact about your “press corps.”

To Keller’s credit, his headline rhymes. War on the Core, his headline skillfully says.


  1. I was appalled when I read Krugman and then Keller. They just do not know the data.

  2. All of TDH's criticism of Keller is on target. Even so, that's the best column Keller's ever written.

  3. I took a look at the standards for probability and statistics. If high school students can really grasp that stuff, it will be terrific. There are some subtle and important things on that curriculum.

    I think it will be a challenge to get teachers able to teach that stuff effectively and for students to really understand it. I taught some of that material to adult students who were going to night school at Fairly Dickenson University to get a Masters degree in Computer Science. Many of them were able to do the problems mechanically, but didn't really understand it.

    I don't know why a novel approach should be introduced countrywide. It would be safer to try it in a few locations. If it works well, other locations can switch to it. If it doesn't work or if it needs to be modified, then only those few locations would be messed up.

  4. Ourfailingschools has become one word because it is repeated so often by the corporate run media, the privatizers and all the billionaires who want to dismantle our public school system because, well, they hate public schools, they hate the whole idea of a commons and a common good funded by tax dollars. Though most of this anti public school crap was hatched by right wing libertarians, both parties are on board for the CC, charter schools and school vouchers. Obama's Race to the Top is an abomination just as bad as Bush's NCLB. Cory Booker is just as bad as Chris Christie when it comes to public education. Both political parties are beholden to the money of the billionaires like Gates, Broad, Dell, Tudor, DeVos, Bezos, Icann, the Waltons, etc.

  5. Whoops, I meant to say (Carl Celian) Icahn, not Icann, my bad.

  6. Poo Poo Platter (What are Bill AND BOB Talking About?)

    Yep, that is quite an error Keller made statistically based on the NAEP analysts at sprawling TDH U. (which is not to be confused with Fairly Dickinson (sp.... We all not it is Fairly Dickensian U.,David in Cal).

    Unfortunately, whilst whittling down the trees as Bob sees 'em, he missed the damned forest again. Neither Keller or Somerby mention the real reason Common Core was adopted, which had nothing to do with the measurement of acheivement on standardized testing at the grade levels sampled by NAEP.

    And of course, in his effort to point out Keller's stupidity, Somerby overlooks the larger issue of stupidity which is what Keller's column focuses upon.

    I am sure someone will complain I am nitpicking the head nitpicker again.

    1. What was the real reason Common Core was adopted?


    2. It is hard to do justice to your question and be brief. This will be oversimplified, but I hope responsive.

      The decentralized education system of the United States was not producing enough high school graduates and those it was producing were not adequately prepared with the skill sets needed for future employment or success in higher education. In essence the American education system was not responding to the changes in the economy. If you look at all the documents used in the organizations that developed the Common Core you will find little reference to our "declining" education system based on testing at elementary or early secondary levels. Instead there was a desire to have a uniform curriculum that generated a measurable level of competence in pursuit of a goal of having universal high school graduation with a degree that qualified you to succeed in college or find a meaningul job with opportunties to advance.