Do the editors read their own newspaper?


The New York Times [HEART] Tennessee: Do the editors of the New York Times read the New York Times?

If not, we can’t say we blame them. But we were surprised by the featured editorial in today’s paper. Here’s why:

On Monday, Michael Winerip ridiculed Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system in his ON EDUCATION column. His column appeared in the New York Times. That's where it appears every week!

(For our own report on Winerip’s column, go ahead—just click here.)

How ridiculous is Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system? Very ridiculous, Winerip said. You may recall this part of the stew:
WINERIP (11/7/11): Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers—kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers—the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.
Uh-oh! Under the Tennessee system, test scores are part of every teacher’s evaluation. But Tennessee, like other states, doesn’t have statewide tests for a wide array of subjects. There are no statewide tests in music. There are no statewide tests for anything taught in first and second grades.

How can teachers of these subjects and grades be evaluated by test scores? According to Winerip, this is the ingenious solution Tennessee devised:
WINERIP: To solve that, the state is requiring teachers without test results to be evaluated based on the scores of teachers at their school with test results. So Emily Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary, will be evaluated using the school’s fifth-grade writing scores.

“How stupid is that?” said Michelle Pheneger, who teaches ACT math prep at Blackman High and is also being evaluated in part based on writing scores. “My job can be at risk, and I’m not even being evaluated by my own work.”

For 15 percent of their testing evaluation, teachers without scores are permitted to choose which subject test they want to be judged on. Few pick something related to their expertise; instead, they try to anticipate the subject that their school is likely to score well on in the state exams next spring.
“How stupid is that?” Very stupid. There was much more in Winerip's piece. But you get the general idea.

On Monday, Winerip devoted his column to this ungodly mess. But today, the New York Times’ featured editorial showers praise on Tennessee—for its transplendent teacher evaluation system! After praising the state's approach, the editors complain that some “political forces” are trying to delay full implementation:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (11/12/11): Tennessee’s Push to Transform Schools

Tennessee has a long way to go in improving its schools, but it has made significant headway in turning itself into a laboratory for education reform. It was one of the first states to test a rigorous teacher evaluation system, which was put in place this school year. Yet even before the results are in, political forces are now talking about delaying the use of these evaluations. State lawmakers and education officials must resist any backsliding.


The Tennessee Education Association has criticized aspects of the system, citing what it describes as poorly trained evaluators and a confusing scoring rubric, and wants it postponed until it is essentially perfect. Some lawmakers are suggesting that evaluations performed this year not be used in personnel decisions. Such a delay would destroy momentum and could weaken reform.
Do the editors read their own newspaper? Their editorial is rather lengthy, but they never mention the detailed column which appeared in their paper on Monday. Nor do they address the problems Winerip discussed in such detail. This is the closest the editors come to discussing the “no test scores” problem:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: At the legislative hearing, superintendents and other school leaders praised the new system, saying that it had forced principals to spend more time in classrooms and required them to offer more help to novice teachers.

The president of the teachers’ union, however, pointed out that some evaluators failed to give teachers the feedback they need to improve. And she raised concerns about the fairness of the state’s decision to use schoolwide achievement measures to evaluate the more than 50 percent of teachers who work in grades or subject areas where standardized tests are not given. Better measures are under development but are not available.

As with any new reform, adjustments will be necessary. For example, principals should have the option of evaluating high-performing teachers less frequently than novices or low performers. And state officials must continue to review the question of how much standardized test data should count in teacher evaluations. Tennessee will need to address these issues fairly if the system is to win wide support among teachers and school administrators. But, even with shortcomings, the new approach to teacher evaluation is a vast improvement over the one it replaced.
According to Winerip, those teachers “who work in grades or subject areas where standardized tests are not given” are being evaluated by other types of test scores—by test scores which have nothing to do with their own teaching performance! What do the editors think about that? They only mention this problem in passing, in that fleeting reference to the use of "schoolwide achievement measures." For the record, that fuzzy formulation downplays the lunacy of the practices Winerip described.

People who read the Winerip column will be puzzled by today’s editorial. Meanwhile, the first two paragraphs in that last excerpt recall an earlier editorial. Some things never change:

In 2005, some teachers were saying that the state of New York’s annual statewide tests were getting easier year-to-year. They said this helped explain the significant rise in New York City’s passing rates. But so what? Under the leadership of Gail Collins, the editorial board rolled its eyes at the claims of these useless proles. Instead, they continued to heap big praise on their city’s billionaire mayor. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/6/05.

Earlier this year, it turned out that those teachers were right. Acknowledging that its statewide tests had in fact been getting easier, the state of New York threw out all test scores for the years in question. In response, the New York Times pretended that this wasn’t a major scandal which called for full examination. But then, that’s the way these booster newspapers always respond to such acts.

Back in 2005, Collins rolled her eyes at the proles. This same condescension is present today. “At the legislative hearing, superintendents and other school leaders praised the new system,” the editors helpfully tell us. In the face of this judgment by their betters, how dare Tennessee’s ratty-assed teachers union stand to complain?

This is how these palace dwellers think. Could someone possibly do the right thing and occupy the New York Times? Meanwhile, do the editors read their own newspaper? In this morning’s editorial, we find no sign that anyone read Winerip’s column this week.

Can’t tell the players without a scorecard: Tennessee’s new education commissioner is Kevin Huffman. He’s the former husband of Michelle Rhee. Rhee is part of the Gotham elite surrounding the billionaire mayor.

By definition, if this group sneezes, it’s known as “reform.” This may help explain this morning’s editorial.


  1. Bob: When I got to the middle of Gail Collins' op-ed this morning (don't ask me why I still read her) I thought "well now she's really just out to torture Somerby!" with her eleven hundredth reference to the dog on the roof of the car. She's out to drive you batty!!!

  2. I'm not upset that an editorial disagrees with an article. Tennessee's tests are controversial. There's something to be said for having arguments presented on both sides.

    The Wall Street Journal has a somewhat liberal group of news reporters and very conservative opinion writers. They often disagree and sometimes even correct each other. That gives some sort of overall balance probably improves the accuracy.

  3. The answer is no, they don't. An example of this is the Arizona Republic.
    In the last two weeks, they have printed articles by the two most clueless pundits in Arizona. The first one engaged in a stunning fallacy of composition by stating that the failure of Solyndra is proof that government investment in private enterprise can never succeed.
    Another claimed that government harms the economy (the fossil fuel folks) whenever it subsidizes industries that private investors shun, i.e., solar energy companies.
    The Republic's editors print only articles that go along with the right-wing scripts. Facts be damned.

  4. Yeah, neoliberals suck.

    Chalk up another policy area where the Democrats have co-opted the right wing policy prescription.

    I love how Michelle Rhee is failing upwards. As if the American people are hungry for her ideas instead of rich jerks foisting her upon us.

    Unlike you masochists I don't read the NYTimes and other propaganda that much but I saw Rhee on some pro Catfood Commission Super committee show the other night. She was awful. The whole show was awful.

    Democrats suck. This whole policy area is a perfect example of how Democrats are the new right-wingers.