The Washington Post takes us back to school!


The latest poisonous blast:
In theory, recovery from our thunderclap strike is proceeding apace.

Today, our cable provider's "dispatch team" is coming to get our cable team. Assuming that actually happens, connectivity to the Internet is next!

That said, Baltimore's children are walking back to school as we continue on hiatus. Despite the impressions you may get, this city is full of good, decent kids. Concerning the public schools they attend, you may sometimes be encouraged to gain misleading impressions.

Case in point: This remarkable back-to-school piece from yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section.

The piece was written by "education scholar" Shepard Barbash. It's full of poisonous claims and insinuations about American teachers and schools.

None of these claims is argued for, let alone established. We don't know if we've ever seen a journalistic offering which was less journalistic.

(On line, we note that the piece provides links which may produce evidence in support of some claims. At 35 cents per minute at Kinko's, we can't afford to click those links. The hard-copy version of the piece is argument- and evidence-free.)

What sorts of claims does Barbash advance in his enjoyable "pop quiz" format? He starts by asking these questions:
BARBASH (8/28/16): A new school year brings back all the old questions: What’s wrong with our schools? Why are they so hard to fix? Who is to blame for their failures? Take this test and find out. There are no wrong answers.
The implications are hard to miss. As he continues, Barbash poses questions like this:
BARBASH: 9. Why don't more educators do what works best?
A) They don't want to.
B) They don't have to.
C) They don't know how.
D) All of the above.
Because we've been told that "there are no wrong answers," those sweeping accusations are all presumed to be true.

To what extent is Barbash an "education scholar?" We don't know, and our current state of connectivity leaves us unable to perform a full search.

We will say this: In its identity line, the Post says that Barbash is "the author of five books, including Clear Teaching. We note that Clear Teaching seems to be his only book about education, and that it is a book of only 81 (81) pages which seems to advocate a certain teaching technique which has achieved a somewhat specialized, cultish following.

Is there some reason to believe that the teaching technique in question ought to be used more widely? The Post might have asked Barbash to write a column advancing that claim. Instead, the paper published the latest poisonous portrait of our allegedly hapless, ne'er do well, failing schools.

Are the nation's public schools an ungodly, failing mess? The claim is very popular among a class of "education reformers." The claim is also widely advanced within the mainstream press.

That said, we had occasion last week to review the latest NAEP scores. The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a federal testing program which dates to 1970. It is widely regarded as our most reliable domestic testing program, perhaps as our only reliable domestic testing program.

As we've noted a million times, NAEP data show rising test scores among all groups of American kids. As we had occasion to note last week, these are average scores in Grade 4 math for the years 2000 and 2015:
Average scores, Grade 4 math
NAEP, 2000 / 2015

Black students: 202.94 / 223.98
Hispanic students: 207.10 / 229.97
On their face, those are large score gains. We'll offer a very rough rule of thumb: ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year. We regard rhat as a very rough rule of thumb, but NAEP data suggest significant gains by all demographic groups over the past four decades.

All in all, NAEP data are hard to square with the poison which pours from the pens of people like Barbash. That said, newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times virtually never tell their readers about the score gains recorded by American kids.

Regarding the Barbash piece, we have no idea why the Post would publish a back-to-school piece which was so non-journalistic. And no, there was no competing piece painting a different picture of American schools and the good, decent kids within them.

We know of no area where so much data is so systematically withheld from the public. In great detail, we've presented these data again and again. Nothing will ever persuade our mainstream journalists, or our liberal activists, to insist that these data be reported and explored.

We know of no area where so much data is so systematically withheld from the public. Making this pattern more astonishing, the information which is being withheld looks like good, encouraging news.

As Baltimore's kids went back to school, the Washington Post chose to do it again. Supporters of "reform" exchange high fives, but who will inform the public about the rising scores achieved by our good, decent kids?


  1. Shepard Barbash has written three other books, all on Oaxacan Woodcarving.

    Here is part of his agenda:

    1. The source, American Renaissance, tells it all. A very high-pitched dog whistle.

  2. There needs to be a problem before you can offer a solution. Barbash is pushing Direct Istruction, a sort of back-to-basics approach combined with scripted instruction (so that teachers with expertise can be eliminated and replaced by script readers). Barbash thinks that this approach will eliminate racial disparities in schools, although there is little evidence for that claim. Proponents of this approach are True Believers. So, all the disparagement of current performance is in order to replace current methods with his wonderful new approach, the latest in a long series of educational fads.

    People disparage education in the name of reform which can be endlessly touted because there is no real "science" to education practice. Now that cognitive psychology is being applied to education that may change. It has hurt both fields that they have been separate disciplines for so long.

  3. Is Shepard Barbush related to Fred Barbush? It would explain why the essay was published.

  4. As a general rule, the media does not report good news. Many good things happen every day, but their format is - fires, accidents, deaths, shootings. Those are "news".

    I may have read a column by Raspberry talking about this decades ago in regard to the economy. If unemployment is up, that is bad news. If unemployment is down, that is bad news because the FED might raise interest rates.

    I noticed this with recent stories about gas prices. If gas prices go up, they do periodic stories "oh, gas is so expensive, everybody is feeling the squeeze" If gas prices go down, they do other stories "oh, states that depend on oil revenue are feeling the squeeze."

    Thus, if gas goes up - the news is bad
    if gas goes down - the news is bad.

    For the media the glass is always half empty.

    1. Just saw a story today about how, since gas prices are low, many more people are on the roads and traffic deaths are massively increasing.

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  7. Here's what Barbash has to say about education. Judge for yourself:

  8. With respect to Barbash piece, we have no clue why the Post would distribute a back-to-class piece which was so non-journalistic. There was no contending piece illustrating American schools and the great, conventional children inside them.

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