The empire crashes and burns: Over the past two weeks, we've been writing about two bungled reports in the New York Times concerning the nation's schools.
On December 3, this gloomy front-page report discussed newly-released scores from last year's Pisa, a major international testing program.
On December 6, this upbeat opinion column attempted to explain surprisingly good reading scores achieved by Mississippi's fourth graders on this years Naep reading tests.
The front-page report was driven by gloom. The opinion column was built around a sense of possibility and uplift.
As is the norm at the New York Times, each piece was technically incompetent. On Sunday, the letters appeared.
Yesterday, in its Sunday editions, the New York Times published nine letters about these recent reports. The letters appeared beneath a gloomy headline:
Why Education Reforms Aren’t WorkingSeven of yesterday's letters concerned the gloomy news report on the Pisa. Two letters concerned the upbeat opinion column about Mississippi's Naep scores.
In each of the first eight letters, the writer uncritically accepted the assessments offered in the two reports in the Times:
The first seven letters uncritically accepted the gloomy idea that the recent Pisa results point to the overall failure of American public schools. The eighth letter accepted the upbeat though implausible claim that Mississippi's fourth graders are scoring well in reading because they began receiving phonics instruction after 2013.
The first seven letters all accepted the Times' misleading assessment of those Pisa results. The eighth letter accepted the Times' limited presentation and bungled assessment of the Mississippi reading scores.
Then came the final letter of the nine! The ninth letter blew a very large hole in the side of the assessment concerning Mississippi's Naep scores.
(For a preexisting essay on this topic from The Hechinger Report, you can just click here. For more information, click this.)
We'll be returning to these topics after a Christmas break. For today, we'll offer this:
None of these letters defined the actual shape of our (very large) national problem—a problem which is very clear if you simply disaggregate the scores achieved by American kids on last year's Pisa tests. The shape of this problem was disappeared in the New York Times's Pisa report.
The Times failed to disaggregate the Pisa scores, thereby disappearing the actual shape of the world.
Those Times reports, and those first eight letters, help define the overall state of our failing national discourse. In our view, if this is the best a major nation can do in discussing major policy areas, that nation has a very good chance of ending up with a Trump.
Those first eight letters are an embarrassment. So were the two reports in the Times on which the letters were based.
We'll return to these topics after Christmas. In our view, those Times reports, and those first eight letters, define the actual shape of The Problem Which Is Taking Us Down.