THE STATE OF THE UNION IS: Heavily scripted!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 30, 2014

Interlude—Preschool’s one brief shining moment: Something unusual happened this morning.

For that reason, we’ll postpone, until our next post, the topic we had planned to discuss here.

Something unusual happened today! On the New York Times op-ed page, three different columns discussed the explosive, hot new trend toward preschool education.

Attention to a public school issue? This sort of thing just isn’t done! We thought we’d give you an overview.

Two of the pieces were written by regular columnists—Gail Collins and Nicholas Kristof. By way of contrast, the third column was written by Willingham and Grissmer, a pair of professors who seem to know what they’re talking about.

Does that mean that Collins and Kristof don’t know? These were our reactions as we perused today’s columns:

We started with Collins, who wasn’t writing about how funny Butch Otter’s name really is.

To our surprise, Collins made an important point. She also presented an interesting set of facts about preschool proposals for the state and city of New York:
COLLINS (1/30/14): Early education is one of the best tools for breaking the poverty-to-poverty trap. Unfortunately, it only works if it’s high quality, and high quality is expensive. Yet very little of this newfound enthusiasm comes with serious money attached.

[...]

[Governor] Cuomo’s estimate of how much it would cost to do preschool for the entire state is lower than [Mayor] de Blasio’s estimate for just New York City. Which is, on a per-pupil basis, much lower than the amount New Jersey spends on a much-praised prekindergarten program. (Cheers to New Jersey for your effort to provide quality early education to the state’s poorest children. We are so impressed that we will leap right over the fact that you only did it because a judge made you.)
In fairness, Collins managed to work in some snark about the great state of New Christie. That said:

In that first paragraph, Collins states an important (logical) point in the form of a truism: “Preschool only works if it’s high quality.”

However circular that may sound, we think it’s important to keep it in mind. Presumably, you could institute a form of early education which didn’t help low-income kids succeed in school and in later life.

For better or worse, Collins also suggests that early education “works” as long as it’s sufficiently expensive. Almost surely, she has no idea what she’s talking about at that point.

Across the page, down the left-hand margin, Kristof took a more earnest approach.

When Kristof discusses public school issues, he tends to take dictation from ruling “educational expert” elites. Given the weakness of those elites, he often wanders onto the shoals.

Today, for example, Kristof is still singing the praises of miraculous Shanghai, “one of the top-performing school systems in the world,” where “nearly all preschoolers participate in early education programs.”

Those lyrics are straight from the PISA hymn book. But uh-oh! As Tom Loveless recently seemed to show, Shanghai only looks like the world’s top system because a large percentage of its 15-year-old students aren’t allowed to attend its schools and take those PISA tests.

(The PISA bureaucracy, which increasingly looks politicized, hasn’t accepted Loveless’ work. Therefore, neither does Kristof.)

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that preschool is a bad thing. It’s just a warning about the things you may read in Kristof’s education columns.

As is his wont, Kristof is much more detailed today than Collins. That said, he begins with a standard bromide—an official current script:
KRISTOF (1/30/14): President Obama called again in his State of the Union address for Congress to support high-quality preschool for all, noting that 30 states are already moving ahead on this front (including New York).

“Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education,” Obama said. The House speaker, John Boehner, who sat stonily through most of Obama’s speech, applauded that line. Congress also unexpectedly increased financing this year for early education.

Aside from apple pie, preschool may also be the only issue on which voters agree. A poll last year found that 60 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats support expansion of prekindergarten. Republican-led states like Oklahoma have been leaders in early education for a simple reason: It works.
In that passage, Kristof flatly says it: “preschool works.” At present, this is a standard script. As evidence, he cites the Republican-led state of Oklahoma.

That’s another standard official point.

Has preschool “worked” in Oklahoma? As we noted the last time Kristof went there, Oklahoma has had expansive preschool for fifteen years—and its test scores on the NAEP are still extremely low. Kristof blows past such information because the educational experts don’t tell him to say things like that.

Collins lards her columns with jokes; Kristof favors scholarly cites. Helpfully, we’ll offer a warning about pundit claims of this type:
KRISTOF: [E]arly education has always had an impact not through cognitive gains but through long-term improvements in life outcomes. With Perry, Abecedarian and other programs, educational gains fade, yet, mysteriously, there are often long-term improvements on things that matter even more, such as arrest rates and high school graduation rates. The Head Start Impact Study couldn’t examine those outcomes.

Other researchers have, and their findings are almost unanimous. One rigorous study led by Eliana Garces, then of U.C.L.A., found that Head Start graduates were more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their peers. David Deming of Harvard found that children who attended Head Start were more likely to graduate from high school and less likely as young adults to be “idle”—out of a job and out of school.

Jens Ludwig of University of Chicago found that Head Start reduced child mortality in elementary years, apparently because of screening and treatment referrals.

Beyond Head Start, a series of randomized trials of other early education initiatives repeatedly found the same result: Long-term outcomes improve.
We don’t know the answers to the following questions, but we know we should ask them:

How much improvement is observed in those life outcomes? How much more likely are Head Start kids to graduate from high school?

By how much is child mortality reduced? How much do arrest rates decline?

We don’t know the answer to these questions; we don’t assume that Kristof does. For our money, it’s maddening when pundits blow past such obvious questions, as they routinely do in support of preferred conclusions.

Kristof also skips past this question: why doesn't preschool lead to later academic achievement? Why do early gains get lost? Why can’t this loss be challenged and defeated?

According to Kristof, preschool works, like Obama said. According to Collins, preschool works as long as it’s expensive.

This brings us to today’s third column, the column by the certified experts.

Uh-oh! The specialists don’t want to rush ahead into pundit world happy talk. Right in their opening paragraph, they challenge Obama’s statement:
WILLINGHAM AND GRISSMER (1/30/14): When New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, went to Albany earlier this week to talk about his program for universal preschool, the discussion reportedly focused on funding, not on whether or how preschool would actually help children. President Obama seemed equally confident when he introduced his plan for universal preschool last year, flatly stating, “We know this works.” But the state of research is actually much murkier...
Collins and Kristof brandished a bumper sticker. One of them even told us, again, about the greatness of Shanghai—and of Oklahoma, one of our lowest-performing states.

Hold on a minute, the specialists said. Even if Obama has said it, it isn’t clear that the happy talk du jour is actually correct.

The scholars go on to explain themselves in abundant detail. They make sensible-sounding proposals about where we should go from here.

Meanwhile, Collins and Kristof are largely repeating memorized scripts. This is the process through which we receive vast amounts of our “news” and our “knowledge.”

(Susan Rice said it wasn’t al Qaeda! Our public schools are in decline! Al Gore said he invented the Internet! The Social Security trust fund is just an accounting fiction!)

Friend, do you care about the interests of our low-income kids? If so, before you listen to Collins, we suggest you review her astounding mistakes about the Texas schools. Before you listen to Kristof, you ought to review Oklahoma’s test scores and Loveless’ work about Shanghai.

When he writes about education, Kristof tends to work from elite expert scripts—the ones which had Bill Keller proclaiming that we have experienced “decades of embarrassing decline in our K-12 schools.”

That statement by Keller was crazily wrong. But elite pundits endlessly push that script and well-intentioned people come to believe it.

“My fellow Americans, the state of the union is heavily scripted!” In fairness, you couldn’t expect Obama to say that the other night. Over the course of the past six years, he has voiced a wide array of standard nostrums himself.

It feels good to say it: “Preschool works!” If you care about low-income kids, you’ll insist on a fuller discussion. We might even ask our TV stars to talk about low-income kids!

It’s fun to talk about Governor Christie, and it’s a serious topic. But what about Jersey's low-income kids, about whom Collins has snarked?

43 comments:

  1. Fascinating discussion, I did not understand the conflict between Cuomo and de Blasio until now. Lots to think through here. Thanks, Bob.

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    1. This post had zero information on the Cuomo/deBlasio conflict, what were you reading?

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    2. From Collins op-ed:

      "[Governor] Cuomo’s estimate of how much it would cost to do preschool for the entire state is lower than [Mayor] de Blasio’s estimate for just New York City. Which is, on a per-pupil basis, much lower than the amount New Jersey spends on a much-praised prekindergarten program. (Cheers to New Jersey for your effort to provide quality early education to the state’s poorest children. We are so impressed that we will leap right over the fact that you only did it because a judge made you.)"

      Delete
    3. Perhaps, my dear Trollmes, you want to imply that Anonymous 10:01 is thanking Somerby for his or her understanding because of what Bob wrote. It is easy to see how you would make that error.

      But consider another theory. The columns reviewed do have a more thorough discussion of the Cuomo-deBlasio conflict than the brief blurb Somerby has excerted from Collins.

      Why didn't Somerby exlore that conflict? Because those two are pols talking policy, not journalists demonstrating our broken culture! It may be because the blogger needed to conserve on bandwidth to make room for a retelling of his criticisms in the past of Collins and Kristof. We don't know.

      I think the commenter is thanking Bob for the excellent links. Most of us who pay attention around here no by now we should not read the op-eds in the New York Times. So we must wait for Bob to tell us
      something is there which might merit a look.

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    4. Trollmes is just kicking Bob in the shins again. Please ban these trolls.

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    5. Thanks for demonstrating the discerning intellect with which non-troll TDH commenters have become known
      for.

      Delete
    6. If this were all any of us posted, you would have a point. Unlike trolls, those complaining about them usually post real comments too.

      Delete
  2. Bob cheers the professors!: "They make sensible-sounding proposals about where we should go from here."

    If you call denying pre-K to random individuals "sensible-sounding," then yes. All in the name of better data....maybe they should improve their statistical capabilities instead, no?

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    1. One of the major obstacles to enacting funding for pre-school programs has been the conservative insistence that Head Start has not worked. Part of the difficulty demonstrating the effectiveness of Head Start has been failure to plan ahead and conduct studies that will show the benefits of such programs. That is why these two professors discuss the need for conducting effectiveness studies right from the beginning.

      These professors themselves decry the problems with selecting some kids for inclusion and others not, in the name of research. That's why they themselves suggest instead that phased implementation be accompanied by research so that children can be studied without denying them inclusion. So, yes, the professors are sensible sounding because they are addressing the very same problem you are concerned about, and suggesting a solution to it.

      You can solve some difficulties with statistical work-arounds but designing studies better in the first place is preferable to trying to use statistics to estimate differences after the fact. It is fun to take pot-shots at professors but suggesting they don't know their stats is just silly.

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    2. Fine explanation.

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    3. First of all, conservatives do not care if Head Start works or not. Its relative merits are merely rhetorical talking points for the vast majority of movement conservatives.

      As far as claiming that delaying pre-K doesn't amount to denying pre-K...well that argument depends on some sort of time travel for tots to work.

      Lastly, my comments are hardly the most cavalier "pot-shots at professors" seen in this blog space.

      Summary: Bob says there were three op-eds on pre-K. He likes the one that favors the least action because, you know, the results of public education are "murky."

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    4. No one is talking about delaying pre-K. They are talking about phased implementation. That means some kids will not get pre-K because they will be older and already in K by the time pre-K becomes available to kids in their area. But you probably know that and are just being trollish in your obtuseness.

      Bob seems like the one that deals with the actual complexities of the issue. Implementing ineffective pre-K is worse than no pre-K because when a program is tried and seen to fail it is that much harder to get it enacted again with improvements. So a botched job ruins the opportunity for future programs. It IS important to learn what really works and to do it right during this window of opportunity.

      Those who don't care as much about kids learning and they about being seen to do something positive for kids, whether it works or not, will not care about these complexities. Sort of like giving out polio shots without caring whether the vaccine works or not.

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    5. Typo -- worry. "Bob seems like..." should be "Bob seems to like..."

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    6. "That means some kids will not get pre-K because they will be older and already in K by the time pre-K becomes available to kids in their area."

      This is why I brought up the "time travel for tots" plan. By using time travel phased (delayed) implementation will not deny those children pre-K. Without the time travel option, it appears some children will be denied the benefits of pre-K.

      Delete
    7. Go away. You have nothing to contribute to this conversation except noise. Your only intent here is to attack Somerby and you do not care at all about children, pre-school or anything discussed here.

      Delete
  3. "[Governor] Cuomo’s estimate of how much it would cost to do preschool for the entire state is lower than [Mayor] de Blasio’s estimate for just New York City."

    This tells me what was puzzling about the dispute between de Blasio and Cuomo on preschool funding. Again, I am grateful, Bob.

    Bob Somerby is a gem of an analyst and all the trolls do is tell me how lacking in principles and corrupt self-styled Democrats or liberals who troll this terrific blog are. Of course, other prominent and real liberal or Democratic writers have noticed the same.

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  4. Bob, all it would take is making an example of a single troll by banning the troll to stop cold the vicious attacks.

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    1. Perhaps you should suggest your candidate? I am sure your friend Bob would give it due consideration if you would just name names.

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    2. the american you call lower caseJanuary 30, 2014 at 12:34 PM

      Bob, all it would take is making an example of a single troll by banning the troll to stop cold the vicious attacks.

      Delete
    3. the american you call lower caseJanuary 30, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      ill try that again...

      "Bob, all it would take is making an example of a single troll by banning the troll to stop cold the vicious attacks."

      >>> until just a while ago, i would watch for 30 minutes a day a youtube fiction-based channel which was a total waste of time, but i was curious about what nionsense would go on next and i couldn't stop myself for long from checking it out. well the copyright holder apparently got youtube to ban them and im relieved.

      in that spirit, i bravely put head down upon the somerby guillotine and offer myself up.

      ready...

      Delete
    4. Yes, start here.

      Delete
    5. the american you call lower caseJanuary 30, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      On Terra in this fateful hour
      I place all Heaven with its power.
      The sun with its brightness,
      the snow with its whiteness,
      the fire with all the strength it hath,
      the lightning with its rapid wrath,
      the winds with their swiftness along their path,
      the sea with its deepness,
      the rocks with their steepness,
      the earth with it starkness.
      All these I place
      with God's almighty help and grace
      between myself and the powers of darkness.

      Delete
    6. Please just go away.

      Delete
    7. Truth be told, I suspect Someday is a shit stirrer who enjoys rattling the cages of the so-called "trolls". He certainly knows how to get them all worked up into a lather with a trademark phrase or well chosen word or two.

      Delete
    8. the american you call lower caseJanuary 30, 2014 at 2:02 PM

      anon 1:26,

      dont u understand? i cant do it on my own. im weak.

      to show im serious, i will use all caps, god help me. (who do these 'upper' case letters think they are anyway?):

      MR. SOMERBY,

      PLEASE, BAN ME BEFORE I COMMENT AGAIN.

      SINCERELY,

      TAYCLC

      Delete
  5. OMB (The State of the OTB is OBVIOUS)

    Thanks BOB for this short (for BOB) excellent post demonstrating your greatness. We'll be exploring it throughout the day as it demonstrates
    the best qualities we have come to admire. We'll try to do it justice in your own inimitable style!

    Next: Part 1 Professor Types Always Prop Us Up

    KZ

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    Replies
    1. To spend a few seconds, this is the sort of crazed hate filled trolling that should be stopped. I know of no other blogger who would allow such hatefulness but trolls cannot understand that they could post decently here so they attempt destruction.

      Me, I only learn anew how much I despise such trolls when I think of them at all. Try such trolling with any other liberal blogger and you will be gone in a day, of course.

      As for Bob, Bob is wonderful and trolls ignorantly take advantage of this ceaselessly.

      Delete
    2. I agree. If the issue is time, perhaps someone might volunteer to help with moderating this blog's comments.

      Delete
    3. I saw nothing but praise in that comment. What was hateful? You are the one using the words "crazed" and "despise."

      Delete
    4. Do you think people do not recognize sarcasm?

      Delete
  6. OMB (The State of BOB is Obvious)

    Part 1) Disaggregating the Professors on Meme Based Testing

    Over the course of the past few years BOB has put up posts o'plenty about professors, Mostly negative nostrums. Just type "Professor" in his own search engine and you will get eight pages of examples to review for yourself. You won't be disappointed. Although you'll find the professors almost always disappoint BOB.

    Except when they agree with the meme o' wheat he is serving on his sprawling campus ( please don't label the students eating it for reduced prizes as being "in poverty").

    Today we get served up Professors Willingham and Grissmer, You, and probably 99.978% of the human forms on your planet have never heard of them. BOB has never mentioned them before, but today they become:

    "a pair of professors who seem to know what they’re talking about."

    These two are "the certified experts." Why? You might ask, but we don't know. BOB hasn't told us.

    What do they say? Something is quoted which allows BOB to launch into his recent meme that Obama is a misleader (Two bits -four bits-seventy seven cents on the dollar). Then we get this:

    "The scholars go on to explain themselves in abundant detail. They make sensible-sounding proposals about where we should go from here."

    There you have it. Certified experts who seem to know what they are talking about in abundant detail. Too bad none of the detail is here.

    Why? We just don't know. But we have a theory which hasn't been journalistically disproven. If you want a hint, look at the scholar BOB called an expert on wage gap funding yesterday. Or how a University of California professor was cited for saying he couldn't say what Port Authority traffic counters were doing wasn't a study.

    We'll now perspiringly promote Part 2.

    Part 2: Collins Cracks Christie and Bashes Black Kids

    KZ




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    1. The two professors are of psychology and education at University of Virginia. It has one of the top psychology programs in the country. Don't know about its education department. Bob says they seem to know what they are talking about. That is obviously based on his own wide reading and technical knowledge.

      There is plenty of detail in the article itself. You can go read it, just as many of us have now done. But we all understand that you are too busy trolling to do so.

      KZ would be a good troll to start with, should Somerby decide to moderate these comments. He has some sort of gripe but spends his time trying to parody posts instead of commenting on them. There is no way to constructively engage him in order to figure out what is bothering him about what is written. So, it is just noise and animosity without focus.

      Delete
    2. Ah, my dear, we read all three. WeI follow BOB's links.

      That is why I know, for example, that BOB
      is usually pretty good at educational test score statistics, but, when meme comes to shove, he fudges data or even makes statistical categories up.

      You have contructively engaged me here with your comment. If my style made it hard for you to see my point, perhapos you have not taken offense at the constant "professor" bashing BOB engages in, as I have. Perhaps you haven't noticed, that when they serve his purpose, BOB will trot out professors and other experts without any statement of their credentials, as he has done in this case, then use them to belittle others with whom he has demonstrated he has a long time grudge. In most cases such grudges can be traced back to Al Gore.
      That seems to be the primary purpose of these two professors today.

      KZ

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    3. Just as there are competent and incompetent journalists there are competent and incompetent professors.

      Delete
  7. I spend a lot of time with teenage parents in my work, and if you haven't seen the effects of preschool in action, you should.
    I make no claims on "college and career ready" but the children of children really benefit from an orderly, safe place where there are reliable adults attempting to teach them something on a consistent basis.
    The only thing that scares me about preschool expansion is that ed reformers dominate elite policy and think tank circles right now and they're grim, data-driven zealots.
    I'd hold off until there's more diversity of thought and fewer people who measure their entire worth by their SAT score. There's no joy in them, and these childrens' lives are hard enough as it is without saddling them with that crowd's rather narrow value system.

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    1. Your anecdotal evidence on pre-K is much the same as mine--but Bob thinks that we should put only some of the kids in an "orderly, safe place where there are reliable adults attempting to teach them something." Some of the kids will have to serve as a control group...otherwise conservatives will advocate for smaller government... or something.

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    2. You stupid ugly troll. Bob said nothing of the sort. The professors in the article he referred to said it. They said it because you cannot get these programs funded without demonstrating that they work. You then decided that some kids would be denied inclusion. The actual professors stated that phased implementation would provide the control groups. Phased implementation usually occurs because not funding agency has the means (resources) to implement a program for all kids at the same time.

      I have now said this multiple times. So go away you stupid ugly troll. You post here with no other purpose than to attack Somerby. He doesn't deserve this and we don't deserve to read your garbage.

      Delete
    3. Anecdotally, my two kids come from a stable, two-parent, middle-class home. Both went to Early Childhood Education at age 3 and 4.

      Both kids entered kindergarten reading. As did their classmates.

      Delete
    4. Sock 1:55,

      The old sock-puppet is touchy today. Bob didn't say it, but he implied it...I hear that's close enough these days. Bob certainly didn't disagree with it; he spent a blog post promoting using some preschoolers as control groups.

      Just for giggles, what do you think Somerby deserves?

      Delete
  8. OMB (The State of BOB is Obvious)

    Wherein BOB's Distate for Collins Allows Him to Demonstrate Many Fine Qualities He Constantly Deplores

    AXE GRINDING:

    "We started with Collins, who wasn’t writing about how funny Butch Otter’s name really is."

    No she didn't. So why start with it?

    FACT CREATION:

    "In fairness, Collins managed to work in some snark about the great state of New Christie." Plus, for your added enjoyment "It’s fun to talk about Governor Christie, and it’s a serious topic. But what about Jersey's low-income kids, about whom Collins has snarked?"

    Well, since Collins didn't mention Otter BOB did. And since she didn't mention Christie, BOB thrrew him in twice, implying she did.
    She also said nothing snarky about low income kids but that leads us to:

    FACT DISAPPEARANCE PLUS MEME

    BOB was inventing a snarky remark about New jersey's low income kids at the same time he was reinserting his favorite meme, that the liberal elite ignore our low income children. (See second quote above)
    He disappeared the following statement from Collins:

    A quarter of the youngest Americans are poor. We need to get to them quickly, and do the job right, well before they’re 4'

    The State of BOB is Strong!

    KZ

    ReplyDelete