Nothing has changed since the Mueller report!

FRIDAY, APRIL 19, 2019

In our view, the two basic questions:
In our view, nothing has changed in the wake of the Mueller report.

We still have two separate tribes telling two separate stories. Each tribe is talking to itself.

This is the way cable news and the Internet currently work. At this particular point in time, tribal division is big business as well as an ingrained trait.

Speaking from within the tribe which votes for Democrats, we'd say there are only two current questions:

Is Donald J. Trump mentally ill? Also, how can we talk to The Others?

Again and again, liberal reporters and pundits have agreed to avoid that first question. As a result, we're "shocked, shocked" every day concerning this reigning president.

It's Groundhog Day and Casablanca all rolled into one, minus the brilliant comic relief driving that second film.

Regarding that second question:

No, Trump can't sensibly be impeached, or removed from office, as long as so many of The Others see the world from his point of view. Nor is it clear that he can be defeated for re-election unless we learn how to persuade a bunch of The Others to see things in the admittedly brilliant way We so impressively do.

We tend to make zero effort to do this. We simply call The Others names, as members of our war-like species have always tended to do.

Mayor Pete tends to take a different approach to Those People, The Others.

Is Mayor Pete allowed to do that? Is he a deplorable too?

This guest editorial was written by Dr. [NAME WITHHELD], a member of Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM), the trademarked if disconsolate scholarly group which communicates through the nocturnal submissions the haters refer to as dreams.

THE LITTLE SCHOOL SYSTEM THAT COULD: Ninth percentile, here we come!

FRIDAY, APRIL 19, 2019

Life after Ian Watt:
Kevin Drum agrees with us about the absurdity of that closing anecdote in Saturday's New York Times.

He says it contains a "remarkable sentence." We reprint that sentence below, but first, consider this:

"Short of reporting the results in hexadecimal, I don’t think it would be possible to make it more difficult to figure out what this means," Drum wrote in yesterday's post. He referred to this striking sentence from a front-page report in the Times:
Nataylia Henry, a fourth grader, missed more than 50 days of school last year because she said she would rather sleep than face bullies at school. This year, her overall attendance rate is 80 percent.
You're right! That remarkable sentence is actually two! But at a remarkable time like this, who's keeping score?

In yesterday's report,
we described the peculiarity of the Times' remarkable closing passage. We said it was plainly constructed to convey a standard heart-warming impression at the end of the Times report.

That passage was designed to convey the impression that the fourth grade girl in question has really managed to get her attendance straightened out now that she gets to attend an exciting new school.

As we explained—as Drum explains—that impression is thoroughly bogus. If she's missing school twenty percent of the time, that's double the rate the state of Ohio, and everyone else, regards as "chronic absenteeism!"

That passage was sculpted to make you think that she has really pulled it together at her thrilling new school. That leaves us asking an obvious question:

Was some editor at the Times too dumb to see that this passage was thoroughly bogus? Or did some editor agree to run that ridiculous passage even though he or she knew it made no actual sense?

Dearest readers, let us explain! That paragraph, which comes from a longer passage, appeared in Saturday's Times for an obvious reason.

That passage appeared in the Times because the "news report" it concludes wasn't a news report at all. That news report was a novel!

It was a type of familiar old tale. We mention this fact for a reason:

In China, this is The Year of the Pig, the first such year since 2007. At this site, though, this is The Year of the Rational Animal. All year long, we'll be exploring the actual intellectual traits of this alleged creature—an animal which, like the unicorn, may not exist in the wild!

That front-page report in the New York Times speaks to this basic issue. Question:

Did the editors who waved that report into print understand that it was really a novel? We don't know how to answer that question! But we'll remind you of what Professor Harari has said about the rise of our warlike species, which took control of the world:

According to Professor Harari, we came to dominate the planet when we developed two capacities—the capacity for "gossip" and the capacity for "fiction." Well sir, that "news report" was a species of fiction—it was fiction all the way down.

When we say that news report was fiction, we don't mean to deny the fact that the I Promise School of Akron, Ohio actually does exist.

We don't mean to deny the fact that the school is being generously funded by NBA star LeBron James. We don't mean to deny the fact that the school is in its first year, serving third- and fourth-graders.

We don't mean to deny the fact that the school's student population was formed in a lottery—a lottery restricted to kids whose academic performance in second grade placed them in in the 10th to 25th percentiles, apparently on a nationwide basis.

We don't mean to deny those facts, although we're not entirely sure we understand that last fact. Here's the way that fact is presented in the 23rd paragraph of the New York Times report:
GREEN (4/13/19): I Promise students were among those identified by the district as performing in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments. They were then admitted through a lottery.
For the record, that contradicts what Erica Green wrote in the third paragraph of her front-page report. In that third paragraph, Times readers were pleasingly told that these third- and fourth-graders were Akron's "lowest performers."

In fact, kids who performed below the tenth percentile were apparently excluded from the lottery for this school. That may be a decent idea in a somewhat experimental new school. But readers were misinformed right in paragraph 3, though in a way which makes this feel-good story feel just that much better.

Green's instant misstatement made the story more heart-warming. That's the way our press corps' novelists work.

Beyond that, though, we don't understand why the fourth-graders in the new school were chosen on the basis of their second-grade performance. If that's really what happened, there may have been a good reason for that procedure. But in novels, such issues don't matter. Nothing matters in a press corps novel except the desired emotional result.

Logic and facts play little role. Let's examine that claim.

After noting the obscurity of Green's "remarkable" closing anecdote, Drum went on to reprint some of what she wrote about the "extraordinary results" those third and fourth graders allegedly posted on their first test scores at the I Promise School.

Drum said those results weren't all that great, and that there was something he didn't quite understand. Trust us! Absolutely no one else understood it either:
DRUM (4/18/19): [I]t’s not clear if the school’s performance is all that remarkable:

"...In reading, where both classes had scored in the lowest, or first, percentile, third graders moved to the ninth percentile, and fourth graders to the 16th. In math, third graders jumped from the lowest percentile to the 18th, while fourth graders moved from the second percentile to the 30th."

I don’t quite get this. The story says that students were initially in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments, but the classes as a whole were in the first percentile? I guess that’s possible, but it seems a little unlikely. And even at that, their progress suggests only that they went from functionally illiterate to . . . slightly literate.

That’s better than no progress, but still not a lot to hang this feel-good story on.
Easy to be hard! According to Drum, the jump from the first percentile to the ninth just isn't all that remarkable.

Beyond that, though, lies a point he doesn't quite understand. If those third-graders all scored between the 10th and the 25th percentiles last year, how could their class, as a whole, have been as low as the first percentile?

In saying he supposes that's possible, Drum shows he knows more about such statistical measures than the vast bulk of Times readers would. Indeed, many Times readers might think those third graders actually lost ground in reading this year! After all, they were all in the tenth percentile or higher last year, and this year they scored in the ninth!

This doesn't get explained by Green, perhaps for several reasons. First, there's a very good chance that neither Green, nor her editor, noticed this apparent contradiction, or would know how to explain it.

Second, this news report is really a novel, written for readers' enjoyment. Almost surely, few Times readers noticed these apparent contradictions. They were reading this novel for the happy ending we always get in "stories" of this type.

(The actual explanation: Presumably, those third-graders scored in the ninth percentile this year as a group, when compared to other public school grade groups nationwide. Last year, they all scored in the tenth percentile or higher as individuals, when compared to other individual students nationwide.)

(Back to Drum: If all the kids in a given school score from the 10th to the 25th percentile as individuals, could they possibly be in the first percentile as a group? As Drum and no one else understands, yes, they certainly could be. Presumably, very few schools would have all their kids scoring that low.)

Very few readers of this piece would understand this apparent statistical conundrum. On the bright aside, very few readers would even notice! In a novel, such matters don't count!

(A further conundrum: Presumably, those kids attended a wide assortment of Akron schools last year. In what way does it make sense to say that they were in the first percentile as a school last year, since they weren't together in any one school?)

(Probable answer: Presumably, a school which had all those kids, and no one else, would have ranked in the first percentile nationwide last year.)

We have other basic problems with those test scores; we'll put those problems off until another day. For today, we thought we'd list the other facts we didn't understand as we read Green's report.

Let's start with demographics. Here's how Green described the demographics of this new school:
GREEN: Unlike other schools connected to celebrities, I Promise is not a charter school run by a private operator but a public school operated by the district. Its population is 60 percent black, 15 percent English-language learners and 29 percent special education students. Three-quarters of its families meet the low-income threshold to receive help from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Just in terms of race and ethnicity, that's an oddly truncated description. How many of the kids are white or Hispanic? For whatever reason, we weren't told.

Meanwhile, the statement about family income is completely opaque. "Three-quarters of its families meet the low-income threshold to receive help from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services?"

Presumably, that's supposed to make us think this school is very low-income. But how low-income is that threshold? How poor does a family have to be to receive that kind of help from the state of Ohio?

No one reading this "news report" had even the slightest idea! As such, this fact is just an apparent fact—a place-holder. It lets us imagine we're reading a news report when we're actually reading a novel.

(Note: Three-quarters of the students in the New York City Public Schools are designated as "low-income" using the standard public school measure—eligibility for the federal lunch program. Are the I Promise families more low-income than that? If not, the I Promise School would be an average Gotham school based on family income. No reader of this New York Times novel would understand that fact.)

Drum discussed another part of Green's report—her treatment of per pupil spending. We were somewhat puzzled by what she wrote:
GREEN: The school’s $2 million budget is funded by the district, roughly the same amount per pupil that it spends in other schools. But Mr. James’s foundation has provided about $600,000 in financial support for additional teaching staff to help reduce class sizes, and an additional hour of after-school programming and tutors.
A $2 million budget for 240 students? That works out to roughly $8300 per pupil—a sum James is generously enhancing.

We mention that because $8300 per pupil struck us as perhaps somewhat low. And indeed, at this official site, the Akron Public Schools says it spends roughly $14,600 per pupil.

(For the record, there are various ways to measure total school spending.)

Green mentioned the spending only to note that James is enhancing the sum. We mention this apparent disparity only to note that nothing matters is a novel like this except the basic heartwarming elements, in which somebody smiles at The Bad News Bears and their test scores and attendance records magically take off.

So it was in 1967, when Herbert Kohl wrote 36 Children. Kohl showed a bunch of Harlem sixth-graders that he didn't hate them and the kids began writing novels.

So it went when Michelle Rhee showed up at Baltimore's high-poverty Harlem Park Elementary School and decided to make the kids work hard just for once.

After three years, she proceeded to Harvard, claiming that her kids had produced phenomenal test scores—test scores which were fraudulent on their face. That said, the New York Times wasn't willing, or sufficiently skilled, to report that Rhee was running a con—she was smiled upon by Mayor Bloomberg, after all—and she ended up in D.C., presiding over a major cheating scandal.

Is this The Year of the Rational Animal? We submit Green's happy-talk novel as evidence that no such creature has ever existed. A word about this revolutionary anthropological claim:

Long ago and far away, Ian Watt wrote The Rise of The Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. As far as we know, it remains a classic text.

"This is the story of a most ingenious invention: the novel," Penguin currently says. "Heralded as a revelation when it first appeared, The Rise of The Novel remains one of the most widely read and enjoyable books of literary criticism ever written."

According to Penguin, Watt's volume "captur[es] precisely and satisfyingly what it is about the form that so enthralls us."

That said, the rise of this literary form didn't end with Fielding. It continues to spread in the New York Times, where we allegedly rational animals are still enthralled by its pleasures and, of course, by its standard deceptions and cons.

That fourth-grade girl is chronically absent. Except in the New York Times, where she's used as part of a feel-good tale, then thrown under a bus as part of a tired old con.

Still coming (perhaps): Various ruminations on those "extraordinary results"

Anonymous scoops, and apparent misstatements, right to the very end!


The Washington Post's front page:
We've spent the bulk of the day watching people read and interpret the Mueller report on television.

We haven't reviewed the report ourselves. Earlier, we did look at the Washington Post, whose hard-copy, top-of-the-front-page news report started like this:
ZAPOTOSKY, LEONNIG, HELDERMAN AND BARRETT (4/18/19): The Justice Department plans to release a lightly redacted version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s 400-page report Thursday, offering a granular look at the ways in which President Trump was suspected of having obstructed justice, people familiar with the matter said.

The report—the general outlines of which the Justice Department has briefed the White House on—will reveal that Mueller decided he could not come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction because it was difficult to determine Trump’s intent and because some of his actions could be interpreted innocently, these people said. But it will offer a detailed blow-by-blow of the president’s alleged conduct—analyzing tweets, private threats and other episodes at the center of Mueller’s inquiry, they added.
Right up to the very end, the Post was offering front-page scoops based on statements by unnamed people—statements by people said to be "familiar with the matter."

This produced an exciting moment, but was that highlighted statement accurate? Pared down, here's what that statement says:

"The report...will reveal that Mueller decided he could not come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction because it was difficult to determine Trump’s intent and because some of his actions could be interpreted innocently."

Interesting! But is that why Mueller decided he couldn't come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction? Watching MSNBC over the past several hours, we've received a very different impression of Mueller's stated reason.

There it was, sitting atop this morning's front page. Readers of the Washington Post were getting treated to an anonymous scoop.

But was that anonymous statement accurate? We haven't seen the Mueller report ourselves, but that doesn't seem to be what we've been hearing on our TV machine.

So it goes, so it has gone, with the culture of the anonymous scoop, not to mention with the culture of round-the-clock speculation. These cultures are very good for business, but how often do these rampant cultures actually "get it right?"

Full disclosure: We're so old that we can remember when Donald Trump Junior was going to get indicted by Mueller, perhaps even frog-marched away.

We heard it said again and again. Then we heard it some more!

We'll guess it was very good for business. But was it actually right?

THE LITTLE SCHOOL SYSTEM THAT COULD: Fourth-grade girl attends school most days!


The Times [HEART] absenteeism:
Has Akron's new I Promise School produced some sort of instant success?

It makes little sense to ask. The school has been open less than a year. Its first year of operation isn't yet completed.

As Erica Green noted in last Saturday's front-page report in the New York Times, this new school's students haven't yet taken the state of Ohio's annual statewide tests. Here's Green, speaking of this new school's students:

"[T]ime will they stack up against rigorous state standardized tests at the end of the year."

In short, there's very little on which we can judge the performance of this new school at this time. Beyond that, it makes little sense—in truth, it makes no sense at all—to expect instant educational miracles during a school's initial year, especially when the school enrolls low-performing students.

It makes no sense to expect some type of instant success! Beyond that, it makes no sense to evaluate a brand-new school before its students have even taken their first batch of actual tests.

That said, the nation's journalists love to tell a certain familiar old story—and it's a familiar old heart-warming story. They love to write the familiar tale about The Little School System That Could.

Sometimes, the Little School System in question is just a Little School. Sometimes, it's just a Little Classroom within a school. Sometimes, The Little School System That Could is a large school system.

Whatever! Journalists love to make readers believe that The Bad News Bears Have Knocked It Out of the Park in some school, school system or classroom. It's a heart-warming, happy-talk story which has been used, for the past fifty years, to throw the interests of the nation's black kids under a smoke-belching little bus.

Last Saturday, on the Times front page, Green penned the latest version of this familiar old tale. Below, you see the double headline which appears atop her report on line, along with the text of a photo caption from the hard-copy report:
DOUBLE HEADLINE: LeBron James Opened a School That Was Considered an Experiment. It’s Showing Promise.
The inaugural class of third and fourth graders at the school has posted extraordinary results on its first set of test scores.

PHOTO CAPTION: I Promise students waited for a free breakfast. The school's students, identified as the worst performers in the Akron, Ohio public schools, were admitted by a lottery.
In fact, this new school's students were not identified as "the worst performers" in Akron. According to Green's report, the lowest ten percent of performers were excluded from the lottery which brought these kids to this school.

The photo caption misstates that fact in search of a "better story." (Green misstates this fact herself right in her third paragraph.) Meanwhile, to what extent have these third- and fourth-graders "posted extraordinary results" on the school's first set of test scores?

We'll consider that question tomorrow. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

For today, we want to show you how far a newspaper like the Times will go to make its readers believe that they're reading a heartwarming story of instant success. In doing so, we hope to help you consider an anthropological question:

To what extent are we humans really "the rational animal?" Putting the question a different way, to what extent are upper-end American journalists inclined to be "rational" at all?

Tomorrow, we'll review this school's first test scores, to the extent that such test scores exist. For today, let's consider the heartwarming passage which comes at the end of Green's lengthy front-page report.

Below, you see the three paragraphs which end Green's report. Rather plainly, this passage is meant as a familiar type of "before-and-after" narration:
GREEN (4/13/19) Lining the walls of the school’s vast lobby are 114 shoes, including those worn during the 2016 season when Mr. James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the N.B.A. championship, a reminder that he once walked a path similar to these students. Mr. James was also considered at risk; in fourth grade, he missed 83 days of school.

Nataylia Henry, a fourth grader, missed more than 50 days of school last year because she said she would rather sleep than face bullies at school. This year, her overall attendance rate is 80 percent.

“LeBron made this school,” she said. “It’s an important school. It means that you can always depend on someone.”
Rather plainly, that passage is meant to be read as a classic before-and-after. It's also meant to be taken as a sign of this new school's instant success:

Last year, this fourth-grade girl missed more than 50 days of school! This year, though, thanks to her important new school, she's attending school 80 percent of the time!

What kind of editor would put that presentation in print? Let's unpack the numbers there to see what's actually happening.

This fourth-grade girl is attending school 80 percent of the time. If she maintains that pace to the end of the yea—and there's zero reason to assume that she will—she will have missed 36.4 days of school this year.

We'll grant you this—missing more than 36 days of school is better than missing more than 50! If she maintains that pace to the end of the year, this student's attendance record will have been better this year than last.

More precisely, her rate of attendance will have moved from 72 percent all the way to 80 percent. That's if she maintains her current pace, which, of course, she may not.

It's very, very, very silly to offer a trivial anecdote like that as an implied example of a school's implied success. On a journalistic basis, it's deceptive to offer this anecdote in the way the Times chose to do, with the numbers jumbled in such a way as to disguise the minor gain in attendance rate being described.

That passage becomes an offense against decency when we consider one final point—when we consider how bad that current attendance rate still is. Assuming even minimal competence on the part of Green's editors, that passage become an open insult to the Times readers' intelligence.

That fourth-grade child has been maintaining an 80 percent attendance rate. That fact is presented as a triumph of the will—as an implied example of this new school's implied success.

In fact, an 80 percent attendance rate would be scored as "chronic absenteeism" anywhere in the United States. Here you see an official statement by the United States Department of Education:
USDOE: Students who are chronically absent—meaning they miss at least 15 days of school in a year—are at serious risk of falling behind in school. Yet, for too long, this crisis in our nation's public elementary and secondary schools has not been fully understood. Now, under the Every Student Succeeds Act, many states are reporting chronic absenteeism data annually. This data story, updated with the 2015–16 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), bolsters efforts to reduce and ultimately eliminate chronic absenteeism so that all students have a better chance of reaching their full potential.
In that statement, the USDOE says a student is "chronically absent" if she misses 15 days of school in a year. It presents this as a civil rights concern.

In its heartwarming closing passage, the New York Times seems to be praising a fourth-grade child who's on pace to miss 36 days of school! She's absent at more than twice the rate the USDOE regards as chronic!

That said, should a student be graded "chronically absent" if she misses 15 days? At this link, you'll see The Education Trust noting the way that definition now works as a matter of law.

In fairness, that definition by the USDOE is fairly tough. At this link, you'll see Edutopia citing a slightly softer standard:

"Chronic absenteeism is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of a school year—approximately 18 days a year."

"Chronic absenteeism is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of a school year?" In its heartwarming closing passage, the New York Times is praising a child who's absent twenty percent of the time—and yes, that standard obtains in Akron. Here's the state of Ohio's official statement:
OHIO DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION: It is important for Ohio’s students to be in class every day ready to learn. Ohio defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. A child who is not in school is a child who is missing out on his or her education.
The state of Ohio says you're chronically absent if you miss ten percent of the school year. The New York Times is praising a kid who currently doubles that rate!

In her upbeat front-page report, Green presented no data about this new school's overall attendance rate. Instead, she singled out one child—a child who is chronically absent—and presented the data in such a way as to mislead readers about this state of affairs.

Why does the New York Times work this way? When it comes to this familiar old story, you might as well ask why water runs downhill.

For fifty years, the nation's newspapers have functioned this way with respect to The Little School System(s) That Could. Our newspapers love to publish this silly old tale. When it comes to peddling this tale, it's No Nonsense Left Behind!

Relentlessly, our newspapers have conned their readers with ridiculous, heartwarming tales based on deceptions of this type. Tomorrow, we'll show you how silly the Times was willing to be concerning the "extraordinary results" this school has allegedly posted "on its first set of test scores."

"Man [sic] is the rational animal," Aristotle is said to have said. In fairness, he'd never read the New York Times when it decided to tell you the tale of The Little School System That Could.

Tomorrow: Ninth percentile, here we come!

Biden has to explain past position on busing!


As if someone supports it today:
Are people able to change, to grow, in the course of living their lives?

We were struck by Jonathan Martin's report in today's New York Times about the Fritz Hollings funeral. First Joe Biden, then James Clyburn, said the former governor and senator had changed during the course of his life.

More specifically, the two men said that Hollings had changed in his attitudes about "race." Since Clyburn is black and Hollings, like Biden, was white, Clyburn's statement might have been more significant:
MARTIN (4/17/19): On Tuesday, it fell to Mr. Clyburn to speak in more detail about how Mr. Hollings went from defending ''separate but equal'' as a young state legislator to, as governor, telling state lawmakers that ''we have run out of courts'' and supporting the integration of Clemson University.

''Thank God a man can grow,'' said Mr. Clyburn, his voice breaking. ''Fritz grew and I grew along with him.''
We don't know the story behind that statement, in which Clyburn—a civil rights activist in his youth—said, in a breaking voice, that he had grown along with Hollings.

We do believe the obvious fact that people can change and grow. We also tend to believe that tribes cannot, especially at junctures like this one.

In this context, it's our own pseudo-liberal tribe which has us concerned. We seem to be fully capable of screwing almost everything up, and thus getting Trump re-elected:
MARTIN: Younger Democrats have little personal connection to Mr. Hollings and those who are aware of him recall that he began his career, like many other white politicians of his generation in the South, as a segregationist.

Mr. Biden, who is himself facing intense questions about his 1970s opposition to school busing, handled Mr. Hollings's evolution on race delicately in his speech, referring only obliquely to the senator's earlier support for segregation.

''He was constantly evolving,'' said Mr. Biden, standing before a Citadel choir that was made up equally of black and white members.
We keep seeing it said that Biden is "facing intense questions about his 1970s opposition to school busing," At such moments, we typically turn to the analysts and author some comment like this:

As if anyone supports it today!

No, seriously! Which of the other Democratic hopefuls supports mandatory busing to achieve greater racial balance in today's public schools? No one advocates any such thing, but our purity police will be chasing Biden around, flogging him for having opposed what no one supports today.

At present, our underwhelming liberal tribe is rich with purity trolls. We're silly and foolish and nobody likes us, but we seem to be completely unable to come to terms with such facts.

We're not especially high on Candidate Biden ourselves. Though we think he has some obvious strengths, we also think he's too old.

That said, we'd enthusiastically support him if he won the nomination. But like everyone else in the Democratic field, he'll have purity police chasing him around, beating his shins with their hard wooden sticks, as was the case with Candidate Clinton, who had spoken the word "super-predators" on one occasion, two decades before, at a time when the deeply troubling, triggering word was in fairly widespread use.

(Just for the record, that complaint about Candidate Clinton may have come to our fevered brains live and direct from Vladimir Putin. Also from the assistant, associate and adjunct professors, of course.)

Our self-impressed tribe is deeply flawed. Sadly though, due to the impressive fervor with which we focus on loathing The Others, we seem unable to some to terms with this basic fact.

And not only that: And not only that! Candidate Clinton had also seemed to support the racist 1994 crime bill!

Do you know the racist crime bill we mean? The one former Black Panther Bobby Rush voted for in the House?

That complaint about Candidate Clinton may have come from Vladimir too! Friends don't let comrades read Facebook, especially in these sorry times.

THE LITTLE SCHOOL SYSTEM THAT COULD: Future Anthropologists speak out on the Times!


"It's the best they can do," we've been told:
As we noted yesterday, Kevin Drum made several excellent points in his March 22 post.

Since such a thing is so rarely done, it's worth revisiting those points. That's especially true in the wake of the New York Times' recent revival of a long-standing press corps favorite tale, The Little School System That Could.

Back to Drum! As his first major point, he said our public school achievement gaps are actually real. He also said that true-believing pseudo-progressives should stop pretending they aren't:
DRUM (3/22/19): I think progressives are ill-served by the continuing notion that every standardized test ever invented is racially biased in a massive way. Over the past several decades, the organizations that create these tests have gone to considerable lengths to address racial bias, and they’ve been largely successful. The tests aren’t perfect, and they have flaws quite aside from any questions of race, but they aren’t terrible either.


These gaps are real effects of education, not just an artifact of test-taking, and the fact that the gaps increase over time is good evidence that much of the fault lies with our schools and the communities they serve. We miss this if we insist that standardized tests are useless. After all, if there’s no “real” gap at all, then our schools must be doing fine.
We agree with almost every point. We especially recommend Drum's final point, which basically goes like this:

If our achievement gaps are just an artifact of lousy testing, then our schools (and "the communities they serve") must be doing fine as things stand. There's no reason for us to waste our time wondering how to improve them! We can go back to reading about fellows who won't kiss their girl friends!

There's no reason for us to wonder how we can improve them! Keep that award-winning thought in mind. We'll return to it all through the week.

First, though, we proceed to Drum's second basic point. In his second basic point, Drum said that he himself doesn't know how to "fix" our low-income schools, and he almost implied that no one else does either:
DRUM: I’m no expert in how to close this gap, though I can say that there have been many dozens of serious efforts—some aimed specifically at schools, others aimed at parents and communities—and virtually all of them have failed. In any case, we shouldn’t pretend there’s nothing here except a bunch of racist test constructors.
Drum doesn't know how to erase those gaps. In that passage, he almost seems to suggest that, at this point in time, no one else knows how to do that either.

In a slightly different world, those points could form the foundation for a serious discussion of low-income schools. In this world, no such thing will ever occur, because no one actually cares about low-income schools, or about the good decent kids who, on average, produce low test scores within them.

No one cares about those kids, and no one ever has, from the NAACP on down. This fact is mads abundantly clear by the way this topic is never discussed, and by the ridiculous clowning which ensues when major elites, on rare occasions, pretend to stage such discussions.

Below, you see one of the basic data sets which define our current achievement gap. As we show you those data, we ask you a question—have you ever seen Rachel Maddow discuss any such statistics or the reality lying behind them?
Average scores, Grade 8 math
Public schools nationwide, 2017 Naep

White students: 292.16
Black students: 259.60
Hispanic students: 268.49
Asian-American students: 309.52
According to a standard though very rough rule of thumb, those data describe enormous gaps in academic achievement. In response to the question we posed, you've never seen Maddow discuss this topic, and you never will.

Our highly self-impressed liberal tribe likes to pretend that we deeply care about the lives and the interests of the nation's black kids. In recent years, we've even invented a way to show how much we care:

Whenever a young black person is shot and killed, though only by police, we start inventing and disappearing facts to make the situation seem even more heinous. This is how we in our self-impressed tribe now show that we really care!

Let's return to the specific question of the nation's low-income schools. Within the nation's upper-end press, the operation of those schools is almost never discussed in any serious way.

Instead, the upper-end press has invented a way to show that it really cares. On an intermittent basis, it pleasures us with feel-good "news reports" under happy-talk headlines like these:
LeBron James Opened a School That Was Considered an Experiment. It’s Showing Promise.
The inaugural class of third and fourth graders at the school has posted extraordinary results on its first set of test scores.
On line, those headlines sit atop the lengthy "news report" which appeared on the front page of last Saturday's New York Times. The report, which was really a feel-good novel, concerned a new public school in Akron which is being partially funded by NBA star LeBron James.

The claim that the school is "showing promise" is an allusion to its name; it's called The I Promise School. The claim that the school, which hasn't yet finished its first year, has already "posted extraordinary results on its first set of test scores" is an utterly foolish claim, a point we'll discuss tomorrow.

That said, it's as we've told you! That front-page report in the New York Times is part of a long-standing tradition—a tradition in which elites pretend that our achievement gaps can be easily whisked away.

Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM), the disconsolate group of future scholars who report to us from the aftermath of the global conflagration they glumly describe as Mister Trump's Inevitable War through a set of nocturnal submissions the haters like to refer to as dreams, have told us that they like to refer to this press corps tradition by sampling the late Joseph Campbell:

To this gloomy group of future scholars, this fifty-year journalistic tradition is "The Misdirection With A Thousand Faces." Or so we think we've heard them say in several of those recent "dreams."

The story has assumed many different looks since the 1960s, but its basic shape is always the same. We're always told, when we're handed this story, that it shouldn't really be all that hard to make those gaps go away!

Nothing to look at! Just move along! So says this heart-warming tale.

The problem just isn't that vast! We just need someone like Michelle Rhee, who went into a poverty-area Baltimore elementary school and produced a set of (alleged) test scores which everyone but the American press corps (and the D.C. City Council) knew were fraudulent all the way down.

(She ended up presiding over a major cheating scandal.)

We just need a program like Teach For America, with a charismatic leader like Princeton's own Wendy Kopp, who told Charlie Rose every kind of crackpot success story as Rose agreed to pretend that her claims made sense.

We just need a school like Alexandria, Virginia's Maury Elementary, which was hailed atop the front page of the Washington Post for its fantastic test scores. When we did a bit of checking, it turned out that the school's third-graders actually had the second lowest passing rate of any school in the entire state of Virginia on the tests in question.

(As the chairman of the state board conceded to us, the state had been running a statewide test score scam. He said that he had known nothing about the scam, and we saw no reason to doubt that. The Post never retracted its front-page report. More significantly, it never reported the fact that the state of Virginia had admitted running a statewide scam.)

We just need a school like [NAME WITHHELD] Elementary, which was getting praised for its annual drop-dead test scores in the Baltimore Sun as of 1972. We happened to know two experienced teachers at the school; they told us about the widespread cheating taking place there. They said it was taking place at the direction of some federal bureaucrats who had told the school's teachers, in a faculty meeting, that they had to get their test scores up to continue their generous federal funding under the (we think) Model Cities program.

(We ended up writing several articles in the Baltimore Sun on this general topic. Forty years later, the mainstream press corps finally caught on to this general problem—though it was USA Today which blew the whistle on some major cheating scandals, not the Washington Post and certainly not the Times.)

For us, there have been many other "faces" to this endless story. Several involved [NAME WITHHELD], editor-in-chief of the [NAME WITHHELD] standardized tests, who told us about the way this story was playing out on the test publisher level.

(Hint: Allegedly fraudulent national norms, which explained why the [NAME WITHHELD] standardized tests were suddenly gaining market share, especially among urban school districts. He also told us—in the early 1980s!—that test publishers, for a fee, would scan answer sheets for bogus erasure patterns, a sign of organized school-level cheating. Thirty years later, the nation's press caught on.)

One other "face" involved Dr. John Cannell, whose comically-named Lake Wobegon Report created a brief surge of press corps interest in test score cheating. ("By early 1988, all 50 states were testing above the publisher's national norm, a phenomenon dubbed the 'Lake Wobegon' effect.") Needless to say, this surge in interest disappeared from press corps memory like the morning dew.

There are many different ways to execute The Misdirection With A Thousand Faces. That said, the behavior in these episodes all tended to have the same effect—it let people think our achievement gaps aren't really as large as they are.

At any rate, through all these years and all these episodes, the upper-end press corps never stopped writing the standard heartwarming story about The Little School System, Low-Income School or Low-Income Classroom That Could. Last Saturday, there the story was again, on the front page of the Times.

Fresh off weeks of ridiculous claims that Gotham's vast achievement gaps are an artifact of test prep (full stop), the upper-class paper was pleasuring readers with this heart-warming story again!

We mentioned Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM) for an important reason. They keep telling us that we should regard this nagging saga as an anthropological question.

"You're up against the intellectual and moral limitations of the one remaining human species," they've gloomily said, with a nod to Professor Harari. "These journalists simply aren't wired to care about the nation's black kids, or to handle actual data.

"Instead, they're wired to keep producing these heartwarming tales." So these future disconsolate scholars have quite instructively said.

Is this really just an anthropological problem? So these shivering scholars have said, transmitting from the entrances to future fire-warmed caves.

Tomorrow, we'll examine the "extraordinary results on its first set of test scores" that new school in Akron is said to have posted. We'll also review the attendance record of that one fourth-grade girl.

"Strange as it may seem, this is the best the Times can do!" So our scholars have recently said, speaking while huddled in caves.

Tomorrow: 80 percent attendance! To the Times, that ain't half bad!