Supplemental: There’s some bad journalism going around!

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2014

The Washington Post pretends to report on Connecticut’s public schools:
Last week, we said the following:

At least in theory, Meredith Vieira started out as a journalist. Meanwhile, she has been paid more than $110 million over the past fifteen years.

At age 60, she could afford to perform some real journalism. And God knows, her struggling nation could use some!

What did we mean by that last statement? For one thing, consider what happened when the Washington Post tried to report on Connecticut’s public schools in yesterday's Sunday edition.

Reid Wilson did the report in the high-profile Outlook section. The headline said this:

“Best State in America: Connecticut, for its teachers”

Does Connecticut really have the nation’s best teachers? That wasn’t Wilson’s basic point, as you’ll see if you read his report.

Eventually, though, he did say this, as he ended his piece:
WILSON (9/7/14): Connecticut seems to be getting good returns on its investment. Its students perform better than the national average. The National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] reports that Connecticut students are more likely to be at or above proficient levels in math and reading in both fourth and eighth grade.

So, as other states strive to improve their schools, they should look to Connecticut at the head of the class.
Other states “should look to Connecticut at the head of the class?” Although we thought we already knew, we checked to see how well Connecticut actually did on the most recent NAEP tests.

First, a few caveats:

For starters, it’s hardly astounding if Connecticut’s students “perform better than the national average.” It’s in the nature of an average that some students (and some states) will exceed it.

Meanwhile, Connecticut is one of the wealthier states, as Wilson had already noted. Why would anyone be surprised if one of our wealthier states exceeds the national average?

Connecticut also has fewer black and Hispanic kids than the average state. (In 2011, its eighth-grade student population was 66 percent white, as opposed to 54 percent for the nation as a whole.) Given current realities, that too suggests that Connecticut should “perform better than the national average” in its overall scores.

The NAEP, to which Wilson referred, tests reading and math in Grades 4 and 8. Incomparably, we decided to see where Connecticut’s students ranked among the fifty states on last year’s math test.

We “disaggregated” the scores, comparing groups of kids in Connecticut to their peers in the other states. Does it look to you like other states “should look to Connecticut at the head of the class?”
Connecticut’s standing among the 50 states
Average scores, 2013 NAEP
Grade 4 math

White students: 10th among the 50 states
Black students: 39th
Hispanic students: 45th

Grade 8 math
White students: 9th among the 50 states
Black students: 25th
Hispanic students: 45th
To access those data, click here. From there, you’re on your own.

Test data don’t interpret themselves. Beyond that, relative success in math may reflect a state’s math curriculum, which its teachers don’t create.

Having said that, does it look like the other states should be trying to copy Connecticut?

At first glance, it looks like white kids scored pretty well in Connecticut, while black and Hispanic kids didn’t. But even that is quite misleading. Read on:

We looked again at the scores by Connecticut’s white students, this time adjusting for income. Uh-oh!

Among lower-income white students (students who are eligible for the federal lunch program), Connecticut ranked 28th in Grade 8 math. The state we all should emulate was outscored by these states:

Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Yes, you read that correctly. Among lower-income white kids, Connecticut was outscored by Mississippi—although, as Muffy might say, it was only be a smidge. Right next door, Massachusetts outscored Connecticut by roughly one full year.

Let’s be fair! Connecticut stacks up better in reading than it does in math. But Wilson’s cheerful, upbeat assessment makes absolutely no sense. Simply put, Wilson’s analysis was completely incompetent.

For the record, the assessment we’ve provided is extremely basic. If you can’t do this simple type of analysis, you don’t know how to report test scores at all.

And yet, this sort of work is completely typical at the education-happy Washington Post. The Washington Post routinely performs this type of incompetent work.

What does it mean when the Washington Post performs this kind of work? When it does so in its Sunday Outlook section, with its very high profile?

It means that a lot of the “journalism” you see is “journalism” in name and appearance only. Way back in 1988, Meredith Vieira’s husband explained the culture:

They “believe you lower the common denominator, frame everything in entertainment terms, make it pablum,” he said. “The currency of the realm ceases to be journalism.”

A final gruesome point:

At 11 A.M., we watched the first segment of Vieira’s new show. We don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone degrade herself in quite the way Vieira did in that blatantly phony segment.

(Her husband was there to play along with the hook about the furniture coming from their family room. He said he wants his chair back!)

Is this what daytime TV is now like? Is Vieira simply the world’s biggest fraud? Did everyone already know that but us?

All through The Precincts of Journalist County, you can be thoroughly sure of one thing. Uninquiring minds are working hard not to know.

60 comments:

  1. Connecticut also has fewer black and Hispanic kids than the average state. (In 2011, its eighth-grade student population was 66 percent white, as opposed to 54 percent for the nation as a whole.)

    I think it would be a better to look at the percentage of (Whites+Asians), since Asians also tend to do well in school. In any event, Bob's second sentence above doesn't prove his first sentence, because the complement of the set of (Blacks and Hispanics) is not the set of Whites.

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  2. Comparison of states drive me batty because the states are hardly uniform. Most of our states have at least one urban center and sparsely populated rural areas. I would guess that in Connecticut there is quite a difference between scolastic achievement in Greenwich and in Middlebury with Middlebury having a much lower income level.
    I guess a fair reading of the data presented is that Connecticut does a good job educating the upper and upper middle class kids and is deep in the middle of the also-rans for the others.

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    1. Yes, I agree. Then you have to ask why newspapers run articles like this comparing certain states with others. And what does it say when major newspapers ignore the performance of minority students and make generalizations that are only true for the affluent white kids?

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  3. OMB (Rough Thumbing Noses at Truth with the OTB)

    "Right next door, Massachusetts outscored Connecticut by roughly one full year."

    Right in that sentence Bob proves once again he thinks you, his readers, are dumb rubes who pay no attention to the truth.

    As we have noted many times, the NAEP itself commissioned a study to determine if one could conclude how far ahead or behind a group of students were comapred to others based on average NAEP scores. BOB himself was cited in the report. Their conclusion was you could not. Especially using math scores.

    Why does BOB keep trying to perpetrate this hoax, which is as false as "Al Gore said he invented the Internet?" Are screws involved in your answer? Are they loose?

    Do you imagine BOB creaming when he compares state by state results against some poor piece of journalism?

    At least in theory, Bob started out as a teacher.

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    1. Did you miss the word "roughly" again?

      Did you miss the entire point -- that MA students have scores much higher than CT (and who cares if it is precisely a year higher or less than that or more than that -- obviously the scores are higher). The technical criticism you reference is for people using the numbers for other purposes than Somerby's, such as assigning funding to schools or placing children.

      Then there is your tone, which is so disgustingly deranged that you clearly shouldn't be conversing with others.

      Just go away KZ.

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    2. "The technical criticism you reference is for people using the numbers for other purposes than Somerby's, such as assigning funding to schools or placing children."

      You, 3:36, are an idiot.

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    3. Anonymous @5:12P,
      Could you please explain why 3:36P is the idiot, and you're not.
      Thanks in advance.

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    4. Because you're lonely and David in Cal is the only one who'll pay any attention to you, deadrat?

      No thanks in advance.

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    5. @7:05, Deadrat has more friends here than you do.

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    6. No one uses NAEP for placing children or funding schools deadrat. Nobody. Never have. Never will. The data is not collected for individual students or indivdual schools. That is why 3:36 is an idiot.

      Given as many times as you weigh in with your two centavos worth defending Somerby's work on educational statistics, the fact you had to ask puts you pretty close to 3:36 territory.

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    7. Nobody uses NAEP as a precise measure of which states have the best teachers, as KZ suggested. His quoting of a technical paper makes him the first idiot in this discussion.

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    8. Anonymous @5:12P and apparently again @7:05P,

      It was a rhetorical request, but thanks for making my point by responding to it. I may or may not be lonely, but as far as I can tell, DAinCA pays attention only to the narrative in his head. He may respond to my comments, but he's certainly never heeded a one of them.

      Anonymous @9:12P,

      Certainly NAEP data is not collected for individual students or schools. The data is discussed all the time in the context of overall school funding. 3:36 may be wrong about NAEP data, but that just means he's mistaken. If he took KZ seriously, then you'd have cause to call him an idiot.

      I can't remember the last time I spent dos centavos or dos palabras defending TDH's entries on educational statistics. You've apparently kept track. Please remind me of the last occasion.

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    9. THERE'S SOME BAD MEMORY GOING AROUND

      "deadrat June 20, 2014 at 2:08 PM

      Google finds 5400 hits for "Ten point rule of thumb NAEP"; Fifty of them from TDH.

      Here's the full quote from 11/19/13:

      Where can he find this rule of thumb being used? Offhand, we can’t give specific citations, and it isn’t easy to search for. But education reporters and education “experts” will often apply this ten-point rule when they discuss achievement gaps on the NAEP.

      Whatever TDH meant by his inability to cite the phrase "being used," he clearly wasn't including it's use by "education reporters and education 'experts.'"

      There may be something more recent, but given the appearance of the rough rule of thumb in this piece, it is certainly relevant as well as illustrative of your memory lapse.

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    10. As I recall, Deadrat was correcting someone else's statement (probably KZ) that Somerby was the only one using the rule of thumb. That isn't defending Somerby's use of education statistics.

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    11. deadrat December 8, 2013 at 2:17 AM

      "Yes, there's a gap between good students and bad students. By definition. This unsurprising gap tells us nothing, however, also by definition.
      ______


      Yes, the very wide gap is a presumed one because DAinCA didn't check on the numbers. Because he never checks. TDH tells us that in grade-8 math in 2011, higher-income white students outscore lower-income black students by 299 to 258, a gap of 41 points. The NAEP reports that the 25th percentile on this test is 260 and the 75th percentile is 309, a gap of 49 points. Larger than the gap based on race and income, but not much larger.

      (The NAEP gives only quartile scores, not quintile.)"

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    12. So, by referring to the numbers quoted in Somerby's post, deadrat is defending Somerby's use of statistics? That is a huge stretch. You cannot tell the difference between the numbers and the use of those numbers to make a point (or their analysis).

      KZ, you are cognitively impaired. I am truly sorry for that, but please stop wasting everyone's time with this crap.

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    13. Given as many times as you weigh in with your two centavos worth defending Somerby's work on educational statistics ....

      And how many times have you been able to cite? One from 6/20/14 in an exchange with KZ about how frequently the "rough ten-point rule" is used. This was the usual in which I eventually told KZ he was boring me and that he should go back to commenting as "siva," and he told me I was stupid.

      Another from 9/8/13 in an exchange with DAinCA in which I ridiculed his amazing discovery that the real gap is between students who scored well on the tests and those that didn't.

      Is that two cents worth of comments on TDH's use of statistics? I suppose it depends: are we counting fractions of a cent?

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    14. "I can't remember the last time I spent dos centavos or dos palabras defending TDH's entries on educational statistics. Please remind me of the last occasion," asked deadrat.

      So we did. And his response is "how many times have you been able to cite?" Que pendejo.

      You only asked for the most recent one, deadrat. I gave you what you asked for. I didn't give you the second one.
      I would never know how to classify a response between you and David in Cal.

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    15. Er, Sparky? The quote you gave was about one of KZ's schizophrenic ramblings about how often people used the so-called ten-point rule. It wasn't about defending TDH's "work on educational statistics."

      You haven't been able to count to one yet. Care to try again, or would you just like to leave the rhetorical question unanswered?

      Up to you. And is that the royal first person plural you're using or did you have help coming up with wrong answer?

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  4. How does TDH rank among lower income white vanity blogs?

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    1. Do you think that's as important a question as "how are our schools doing?"

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    2. No. It is just more likely you can get an answer to my question here at TDH than you can get an answer to yours.

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    3. Perhaps that's true for you, if you are math-challenged and do not understand the simple statistics Somerby has presented.

      Your question is meaningless. If you don't like this blog, go away. If you do like it, what does it matter where it stands among other blogs? Read it and be happy.

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    4. Considering TDH does not even have pictures, much less video links, I would guess he is at least 15 years behind most other sites, by a very rough rule of thumb.

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    5. Pictures are for people who can't read.

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    6. Then why did Bob link to all those pictures of Viera's house?
      Why does he have to link to the video of television reports which are central to his posts.

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    7. 722 & 1143: oh yeah? Well, Al Gore is fat and practically lactating.

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    8. That explains why he thinks it is getting warmer.

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  5. He doesn't say that white is the complement of blacks/hispanics. He doesn't compare whites with blacks or hispanics either. He compares whites with other whites nationwide, blacks with blacks and Hispanics with hispanics. He also notes that the percentages of these groups vary across states. Your concern about Asians would make more sense if there were high percentages of Asians in Connecticut, but there are not.

    Please do not lump Asians into a single stereotype as super-achievers. That is considered bigoted. There are huge differences in academic performance within the category of Asian people (who come from a variety of culturally different countries ranging from India to Indonesia to the Philippines to China, Japan and Vietnam). Recency of immigration (ranging from several hundred years ago to this year), use of English in the home, poverty and education level of parents all mediate kids performance and these vary considerably even within the same group. For example, Vietnamese "boat people" were poor compared to those who emigrated after the fall of Saigon. So it makes little sense to stereotype all Asians as oriented toward doing well academically or higher performing. They are not.

    Somerby leaves them out because they are a much smaller percentage of the population. Lumping Asians with whites would muddy these comparisons by introducing variability into the white group, leading to greater estimation error.

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    1. Sorry, I meant to tack this onto David is CA's comment.

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  6. AnonymousSeptember 8, 2014 at 3:28 PM - I think that in the segment I quoted, Bob intended the sentence in parentheses to prove the sentence before it. In that way, I believe Bob did imply that white is the complement of blacks/hispanics.

    I agree with your point about not lumping Asians into a single stereotype as super-achievers. That's why I wrote, "Asians tend to do well in school."

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    1. You just told me you understood what I said about not stereotyping, and then repeated the stereotype. Putting the phrase "tend to" in front of a statement does not make it less of a stereotype. STOP thinking about diverse groups of people as if they were all alike!

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  7. Anon -- would you not agree that Asians, on average, do well in school? That's what I meant by saying Asians tend to do well. Sorry if my wording wasn't precise enough.

    Bob has repeated admonished that school results should be looked at separately by ethnic group. That's because he sees that there are differences in test results on average, and he believes these differences are not a result of better or worse schools.

    IMHO the (positive) prejudice, is pretty much unavoidable. When I was teaching and saw an Asian student, I expected that student to be diligent and to do well. Most of the time that expectation was realized.

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    1. An average is a number that describes a group of measurements, not any single person in that group.

      I do not agree that you should expect an Asian student to do well by virtue of being Asian. You should decide whether that person is a good student based on his or her performance. That the students you've encountered seem to do well is most likely the result of expectation and confirmatory bias (all in your head). The reason you should not make positive assumptions about a group is that it can be a burden to always have to live up to them. This is the way younger siblings feel when following in the footsteps of an older brother or sister who was an honor student, while they themselves are average or struggling. It makes life harder for the many individuals who will not conform to the stereotype. So stop doing this. It isn't nice. It is bigoted and not a good way to interact with others. I am assuming you are the kind of person who would not knowingly hurt others. You need to change this.

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    2. Anon, you've reminded me of something that happened to my best friend, Ron, in junior high school. Ron was a good student, but his older sister had been outstanding. One teacher gave Ron a grade of Unsatisfactory for effort, and told him that if Ellen's brother wasn't outstanding, he must not have been putting in enough effort. BTW Ron had a successful education and a successful career as an early Data Processing executive.

      You may be correct that I ought not have prior expectations based on someone's ethnicity. However, I admit that I do have such expectations. Of course, I modify them once I actually see the person's performance.

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    3. If you had more contact with a wide variety of Asian students your expectations might be modified by the disconfirmatory experiences but when students are members of a minority group there is less chance for that to happen. That's why we all must work to examine and set aside such stereotypes, not simply shrug. Teachers owe it to their students to try hard to be fair. When engaging in subjective assessments, like grading essays, your preconceptions can become self-fulfilling.

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  8. "At 11 A.M., we watched the first segment of Vieira’s new show. We don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone degrade herself in quite the way Vieira did in that blatantly phony segment."

    Why the bug up the butt about Vieira, Somerby? What exactly is your point, and what did she ever do to you to to deserve your scorn, as pathetic as it is.

    And what happened to all the lectures about King, Mandela and Malala, you contemptible hypocrite.

    It's just so, so much fun to say mean, high school gossipy, things about people you don't even know and will never meet.

    And all from the comfort and safety of your Baltimore digs.

    What a coward you are, Somerby. A pseuco-intellectual, hypocritical, coward who probably has few friends in real life who haven't gotten tired of your, "Gee, look at me and how smart I am" stupidity.


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    1. Tell us how you really feel, why don't you? Hate Somerby much?

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    2. Yes, that's must be it. The only reason to call out Somerby for the cowardly, unwarranted viciousness he has sunk to on a daily basis is because there is something wrong with THEM, not him.

      Remember that the next time he mentions Malala.

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    3. You think the way to complain about someone being cowardly and vicious is to be cowardly and vicious yourself?

      There is also something odd about your idea that someone who is a flawed individual cannot have role models who are better than themselves. It seems to me the most cowardly and vicious NEED to look to people like Malala as ideals if they are going to mend their ways -- not admitting for a minute your characterization of Somerby, which I think is way off base.

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    4. "There is also something odd about your idea that someone who is a flawed individual cannot have role models who are better than themselves."

      Agreed. That doesn't apply to the blogger, but only to his desire that everybody else adhere to the example of Malala since he obviously doesn't follow that example himself.

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    5. How can you possibly know what Somerby would be like without Malala's example?

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  9. "Does Connecticut really have the nation’s best teachers? That wasn’t Wilson’s basic point" Bob Somerby

    That's right. Not only was it not the basic point it wasn't even a minor point. He never made that point at all. And Bob Somerby never bothered to tell you what his point was, making this another deceptive post. Wilson gets a blog post of Somerby criticism longer than his entire article, all aimed at one sentence which is, in no uncertain terms, totally true.

    And some people find this kind of critcism enlightening about either education or journalism? Why?

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    1. And some people find this kind of critcism [sic] enlightening about either education or journalism? Why?

      Because they can read.

      Here's an article with a headline that touts Connecticut as the best state because of its teachers. Reporters aren't always responsible for their headlines, which in this case overstates things. As TDH notes. The report was about how well paid Connecticut's teachers are. The reporter does claim that teachers' high salaries are worth it because of great test scores obtained by their students.

      And that's what's deceptive.

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    2. Good heavens, varmint named, is there no length you, a close reader, will not go to defend this blogger?

      Somerby himself concedes Wilson's point is not the state with the best teachers. The headline says it is the best state "for its teachers" and the text clearly indicates that, considering the factors it examines, Connecticut is the best state for teachers. And what do you find, but not mention as the small headline above, indicating what will follow: "Opinion". Either someone who proclaims he can read missed that or failed to include it. That, I both note and state, was not included by either you or the blogger.

      You throw in a gratuitous phrase in the form of a sentence into your comment. "As TDH notes." What is TDH noting,
      my good rodent, that the headline wasn't written by the reporter? I don't see that anywhere. Was he noting that the report was about teacher compensation in Connecticut? I missed that as well.

      Wilson does not, as you assert, "claim Connecticut has "great test scores." He says its students "perform better than the national average" and "are more likely to be at or above proficient levels in math and reading in both fourth and eighth grade."

      This whole post is about deception in journalism. But, like so much of Somerby's work, it is itself a better example of that than the works cited.

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    3. OMB (DEADRAT preaches the Gospel of the OTB)

      The above exchange made us flash on a frequent phrase found in the Gospels of BOB. Rat. As in ratty.

      Ratty teachers. Ratty teachers and their ratty unions. Ratty students who the One True Channel would rather jump off the Eiffel Tower than discuss. Ratty schools.

      Often the phrase "ratty teachers" is used when BOB is chiding an author or reporter for failure to praise students for progress on the One True Test, NAEP. Here a reporter tries to say something positive about teachers and students in one state, and what sayeth the BOB?

      "Test data don’t interpret themselves. Beyond that, relative success in math may reflect a state’s math curriculum, which its teachers don’t create."

      So don't fault or praise teachers. It may be the curriculum. At least in math!

      Reading is a product of talking with baby. And using lots of words. We know this because one study in one city that involved six black welfare families told us so in 1995! In 30 million words or less.

      So we wonder. Why would a blogger and a faithful commenter focus on "rat" as a key word? Was it something momma said? Or something baby saw? We don't know. More research, please! Put it right next to the cheese.

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    4. KZ, Somerby uses the phrase "ratty teachers" ironically because these scores are so often used to attack teachers and teachers unions. You need to look beyond the literal. He is talking about the way critics of public education use test scores to justify their own reforms. Read this in the context of a battle over the shape of public education.

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    5. Anonymous @9:36A,

      I'll have to admit that I read the headline as "Come to Connecticut for its teachers," like "Come to Casablanca for its waters." I was as misinformed as Rick, but in my defense it was 5:30A and I was drunk. Most of the piece is about teacher salaries, so "Teachers, the best place to go is Connecticut" is more apt.

      But also in my defense, none of that matters. TDH's point is author's blithe claim that the higher salaries are worth it given the results as seen in Connecticut's test scores. You're right that "great test scores" doesn't appear in the article. But its concluding sentence reads "So, as other states strive to improve their schools, they should look to Connecticut at the head of the class."

      I consider myself excused. Connecticut may not be sitting in the corner wearing a dunce cap, but it's not at the head of the class either. TDH rails against the kind of reporting that leads readers to believe the latter position instead of the former. I don't think he's wrong to do so and if that constitutes going to any length to defend him, then I'm gonna have to find a way to live with that.

      Anyway, we'll always have Paris, won't we?

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    6. KZ,

      What's wrong with "ratty"? I'm tired on the constant rodentism. It's always the Black Death this and 1984 that. Fercrayanoutloud, it's been 650 years, and they should blame the fleas. And Winston Smith is a fictional character.

      Sorry. I got distracted halfway through your comment. When are you going to go back to writing about spells to save marriages? I could follow that.

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    7. Of course you can follow the spell casting, deadrat. So many of your tiny parts are integral ingredients in our many potions.

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  10. "Is this what daytime TV is now like?"

    Now? When was it any different, Bob? Are you really this ignorant, or are you just faking it to advance your preferred story about the newly discovered awfulness of Meredith Vieira?

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    1. So then, you are defending daytime TV? There is no point in criticizing how useless and deceptive it is, since it has always been so? We should all sit quietly by and watch the show? It is not about Bob, is it. It is really about how much you are offended that he does not like your favorite TV offerings.

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  11. I think it was not as bad when Jane Pauley was on.

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    1. It has gone downhill since J. Fred Muggs retired.

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