Truly ridiculous work: As you know, there are two major international testing programs for public school students—the Timss and the Pisa.
The United States participates in both programs. So do the Asian tigers. So does miraculous Finland. So does the vast bulk of the countries in the developed world.
Which program is more valuable—the Pisa or the Timss? We can't tell you that. In our view, the Pisa has developed a slightly cultish feel, but the developed nations seem to see value in both programs. Absent further discussion, we're disinclined to attribute more value to one than to the other.
Check what we just said! If you read the New York Times, it seems the Timss no longer exists. Did we say there are two major testing programs? In the Times, there may now be just one.
Within the past two weeks, each of these testing programs has released its most recent results, from 2015. (The Timss is administered every four years. The Pisa runs on a three-year cycle.)
But in its hard-copy editions, the Times hasn't even mentioned the Timss. Yesterday, it reported the Pisa through a ridiculous, long report by the increasingly cultish Amanda Ripley.
Ripley's 1400-word report is amazingly bad. To show you what cultish behavior looks like, this is the way she began:
RIPLEY (12/8/16): Every three years, half a million 15-year-olds in 69 countries take a two-hour test designed to gauge their ability to think. Unlike other exams, the PISA, as it is known, does not assess what teenagers have memorized. Instead, it asks them to solve problems they haven't seen before, to identify patterns that are not obvious and to make compelling written arguments. It tests the skills, in other words, that machines have not yet mastered.The snark you see represents the Timss being disappeared. Apparently, it "assesses what [students] have memorized."
That makes it unlike the magnificent Pisa, which is "designed to gauge their ability to think."
Does the Pisa somehow "gauge students' ability to think?" We don't know, and such high-blown claims tend to make us suspicious.
That said, the world's developed nations all find value in the Pisa. Of course, the same is true of the Timss, despite the shade Ripley instantly threw at the Timss without even stating its name.
Ripley played this same strange game in her widely-praised, largely ridiculous book, The Smartest Kids in the World. In its several hundred pages, she never mentioned the Timss by name, though she referred to it as "a major international math test" when she wanted to cherry-pick some Timss results to establish a favored point about the reason for alleged improvement in Minnesota's schools.
It's astounding that Ripley would write an entire book about the world's public schools without mentioning one of the two international testing programs in which the world's nations take part. Before telling us which nations had the best schools, she discarded exactly half the data, without explaining why she did so or acknowledging the fact that she had!
That was a strange way to write a book. Now, the New York Times seems to have adopted this same approach. They're even running Ripley's cultish report under their Upshot brand! That's their most brainiac work!
Ripley's report is horrible in many ways. For today, we'll suggest that you observe its wonderfully cultish shadings. In particular, note the fawning treatment extended to The Founder, Andreas Schleicher, in paragraphs 4-15, which constitutes almost half of Ripley's report.
In that lengthy chunk of her report, Ripley praises the ability of the Pisa staff to predict which countries will show improved test scores, based simply on the extent to which they've adopted certain favored policies. In this passage, Ripley steps aside and lets The Founder heap praise on himself:
RIPLEY: In the end, the PISA team had called virtually every country correctly. Colombia and Singapore had indeed improved. And France had done a bit worse in science and math while improving ever so slightly in reading. ''It's hard to surprise us when it comes to these things,'' Mr. Schleicher said.That's wonderful clownistry all by itself. Here's the problem:
Based on Ripley's reporting, it doesn't sound like the Pisa team called any country correctly, except to the extent that their predictions were clownishly broad.
Ripley puts her thumb on the scale to pretend that they called the U.S. correctly. Did they somehow call France correctly? According to Ripley, this was the ridiculous "prediction" the Pisa team had made:
"Nobody predicted France would be a star performer." Thus spake Schleicherthustra!
Ripley started out as a standard Time magazine blitherball type. Somehow, she transformed herself into an international "education expert." In the course of executing this move, she signed on to the almost unbearable greatness of the Pisa.
That said, her widely praised book seemed to be baldly dishonest is several remarkable ways. Yesterday's report in the Times was a peculiar gong show.
We'll offer more examples next week. Having said that, let us also say this: Bless their hearts, but the New York Times is just extremely strange.
According to Kevin Drum, lead exposure was very high in the not too distant past. We often think of this notable fact when we read the glorious Times, our nation's greatest newspaper.