GAIL COLLINS CARES: But not very much!

THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2012

Part 3—327 words: Just an impression:

For many people, it’s hard to see how dumb and uncaring our discourse really is.

Beyond that, it’s hard to see how deeply uncaring our modern elites really are. This includes our journalistic elite—and our pseudo-liberal elite.

How uncaring are these elites? For one example, consider that key paragraph in Gail Collins’ recent column about the public schools:
COLLINS (5/26/12): If there’s an education crisis, it’s one of at least 50 years duration. By the best national assessment we have available, it appears that the math skills of American fourth- and eighth-graders have been going up slowly but steadily for decades. Reading scores are also a tad better, although pretty flat. We need to do much better, and the fight over what to do next is mainly between people who think the big problem is a lack of resources and those who think it’s all about accountability and standards and tests. Romney is definitely way over in camp two.
In her overall column, Collins was pretending to discuss Mitt Romney’s education proposals. But at that start of that key paragraph, she pretended to discuss the state of the public schools over the past fifty years.

In part, Collins’ assessment was right. In last Wednesday’s speech, Candidate Romney dumbly said that President Obama has failed to solve our “education crisis.” But to all appearances, if we actually have such a crisis, we have been involved in that crisis for at least the past fifty years.

It’s somewhat like what Collins said: “By the best national assessment we have available, it appears that the math skills of American fourth- and eighth-graders have been going up slowly but steadily for decades. Reading scores are also a tad better.”

In that passage, Collins was plainly referring to the NAEP, the federally-administered testing program which is universally praised as the gold standard of educational testing. She tossed off a fleeting assessment of what the NAEP data seem to show.

She then moved on to the thing she loves most—additional snark about Romney.

But wait a minute! Piddle and bullshit and snark to the side, is it actually true? Have math skills been “going up steadily for decades?” Perhaps for fifty years? And if that’s true, isn’t it possible that skills have gone up a great deal during that period?

As we noted yesterday, a great many of Collins’ readers completely failed to ingest that passage, which Collins herself hurried past. In comments, they wrote hackneyed accounts about the way our schools have just kept getting worse. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/12.)

In those comments, we get to gaze at the low IQ of the emerging liberal world. But while you’re at it, do something else: Be sure to note the uncaring world of our modern press elite.

We’ve said it here for years, though we might as well talk to the man in the moon: Everyone vouches for the NAEP, but no one discusses its data! In fact, it appears that math skills have gone up a huge amount on the NAEP. It appears that reading skills have gone up a good deal too, though not as much as math.

In our view, Collins substantially understates what the NAEP data seem to show. But plainly, a boring matter like that is not her real concern. Her real mission involves jokes and snark and that poor abused dog, about whom she has been inventing facts for five years.

We’re sorry, but the truth is plain, though your lizard brain won’t let you see it: The high lady Collins cares about dogs. But not about low-income kids!

In fairness to Collins, the New York Times has never explored those NAEP scores in its reporting. Neither has the Washington Post; Darlings, such things just aren’t done! Meanwhile, have you ever a seen a “liberal journal” or a “liberal news channel” attempt to report what those test scores show?

No, you haven’t ever seen that—and it seems you never will!

Everyone vouches for the NAEP—but in the pseudo-liberal world, no one ever dirties his hands explaining its data! Have you ever seen Lawrence O’Donnell stoop to this task? Instead, O’Donnell buys the good feeling of pseudo-liberals by raising funds to buy desks for African kids. In response, we weep and praise his greatness and show what fools we be.

What fools—and how uncaring.

Plainly, Collins cares about dogs. But she doesn’t care about low-income kids. We were struck by that fact when she finally pretended to explain Romney’s proposals.

Needless to say, her “explanations” were brief. By the time she finished her Opening Apology, her jokes and her snark, we would say that she devoted 327 words, tops, to the Romney proposals. (We’re omitting the paragraph where she misleads her reader about the way Romney kept saying “bold.”) Basically, here’s what she said:
COLLINS: But about school reform. Three big ideas: First, Romney is going to make the states provide “ample school choice.” Unless we’re talking, mushily, about vouchers, this one sounded exactly like the Bush law that allows parents whose children are in failing schools to move them elsewhere. It hasn’t really worked well. It turns out the parents wanted their local school to be better, not to ship their children out of the neighborhood. The magic of the marketplace works great for iPods, but not apparently for fourth graders.

Second, Romney wants the schools to have “report cards” on student performance so parents can make good decisions about choice. The only problems with this plan are: A) The parents don’t want that kind of choice; and B) the schools already have report cards.

Finally, he vowed to encourage teacher evaluation and accountability. This is something the Obama administration has been doing through its Race to the Top initiatives, much to the dismay of some teachers’ unions.

Romney then concluded with a long attack on Obama for being in the pocket of teachers’ unions.

Happy Memorial Day.
For ourselves, we weren’t exactly blown away by Romney’s proposals. Beyond that, we think Romney is a horrible candidate—the worst we’ve ever seen nominated.

But we thought that passage was deeply uncaring—quite typically unfeeling and cruel.

Collins, of course, rushes through her remarks about the Romney proposals. Regarding the matter of “ample school choice,” did Romney’s proposal really “sound exactly like the Bush law that allows parents whose children are in failing schools to move them elsewhere?” On the op-ed page of yesterday’s New York Times, someone who actually read the proposal expressed a quite different view. He noted that the proposal would, for the first time, allow urban kids to attend schools outside their own school district—schools out in the suburbs.

(To see liberal icon Richard Kahlenberg praise this writer’s book on this general topic, go ahead—just click here.)

Urban kids could go to suburban schools! This may not seem like much to Collins. But then, she cares about dogs.

In our view, it’s easy for a person like Collins to sneer at this provision, blithely saying that parents don’t want “to ship their children out of the neighborhood.” But some urban parents would leap at that chance—and for some kids, it could be a godsend.

Transparently, Collins doesn’t care about such parents or kids. It simply doesn’t enter her head to imagine these actual children. She’s too busy weeping, and making up facts, about Mitt Romney’s dog.

We had a similar reaction to what Collins said about school report cards. No, this isn’t a huge proposal. But in all honesty, Romney didn’t say that he “wants the schools to have ‘report cards’ on student performance so parents can make good decisions about choice.” Here’s what he actually said in his speech—not that an uncaring slacker like Collin would be likely to notice the difference:
ROMNEY (5/23/12): Parental choice will hold schools responsible for results, but parents can only exercise that choice effectively if they have good information. No Child Left Behind helped our nation take a giant step forward in bridging this information gap. But the law is not without its weaknesses. As president, I will break the political logjam that has prevented successful reform of the law. I will reduce federal micromanagement while redoubling efforts to ensure that schools are held responsible for results.

For example, parents shouldn't have to navigate a cryptic evaluation system to figure out how their kids' schools are performing. States must provide a simple-to-read and widely available public report card that evaluates each school. These report cards will provide accurate and easy-to-understand information about student and school performance. States will continue to design their own standards and tests, but the report cards will provide information that parents can use to make informed choices.
For decades, Collins has pretended to do journalism in New York, a state which publishes school report cards which are extremely "cryptic." We'll guess she doesn't know this. For ourselves, we have often gnashed our teeth over those New York State report cards. Since some other states publish report cards which are quite clear, we’ve often wondered if New York’s cards were deliberately crafted to be hard for parents to follow.

Collins has never had that experience. As her past work plainly suggests, she has possibly never tried to use those report cards. She just flat-out doesn’t care.

For our money, Romney’s proposals are quite underwhelming—but Collins’ column was massively worse. We don’t know when we’ve seen a person who seemed to care so little about low-income kids, or about anything else you can name.

But people! So what?

In the comments to her column, “liberal” readers thanked her, as always, for the wonderful jokes about Mitt Romney’s dog. And they showed how little they know, or actually care, about low-income students or schools.

Tomorrow: MSNBC fakes it on class size


  1. Since nobody cares about this post, I might as well point out that Bob has obviously been posting as "Anonymous" for quite some time. It's sad, what he has become.

  2. lowercaseguys casemanagerMay 31, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    This post mentions Gail Collins.

    Because lowercaseguy cannot abide this, an incoherent outburst is likely.

    While his reactions are childish and sometimes disturbing, we feel that even the simulation of interaction with actual humans that he achieves here may help in lowercaseguy's rehabilitation.

    Thanks for your understanding.

  3. Well, allow me to tell relatively new readers why Somberby is about as boring as a high school economics teacher when he wanders into the deep grass of education.

    Once upon a time, Somerby grew tired of politics after he ran out of things to say about the 2000 election and decided to turn the Daily Howler into an education blog. Then he quickly ran out of things to say about education, and lost his audience in the process.

    Then he re-entered politics to prove, probably at the behest of his good friend Matt Cooper, that it was Joe Wilson, not George Bush, who was lying about Saddam Hussein and the African uranium.

    But that still didn't stop him from saying all he knew about the 2000 election and education -- which isn't much -- over and over and over and over and over and . . . .

    Much to the delight of what few remaining cattle he has left who think he is both a genius and an original thinker, as they are fed cud and think it is brand-new sweet hay.

    1. I have nothing to say about this post by Bob, but I can't shut up, so I write this stupid shit.

      I am an (the?) Anonymous Idiot.

    2. I'm grateful for Bob Somerby's coverage of the rise in NAEP scores and the press's almost unanimous silence about this issue. It's not something I knew about previously and it's a story worth telling (and retelling).

    3. I frequently have issues with some of The Howler's obsessions, but his work on the education data, including the NAEP debunking neo-liberal cliches about failures of our schools and telling the truth about self-promoting "reformers" like Michelle Rhee, have been invaluable. Nobody else has been doing it consistently, although David Sirota is one progressive who has picked up the baton and the resistance movement is growing.

    4. Here is Somerby's "invaluable" work on education in a nutshell.

      1. NAEP scores are up.

      2. Michelle Rhee is a fraud.

      3. Finland can't be compared to the United States.

      After that, he's had nothing to say.

    5. To be more specific: I remember the various posts Somerby did on the starry-eyed pieces MSM likes to do on the "miraculous" gains made by some flavor-of-the-moment success-story school in which the reporter trumpets the rising scores achieved by some superstar principle. Somerby asked the obvious question: how did those rising scores compare to state-wide scores? What he found, more often than not, was that scores had risen across the state and that there was very little difference between the profiled schools and the rest of the pack. To me, that was good work. Somerby took the time to actually look at the scores, which were public record and posted on the web--a simple procedure that had apparently not occurred to the journalists who were paid to cover the story.

    6. Anonymous @ 4:24

      If, indeed, Bob Somerby has managed to convince anyone of influence of the points 1-3 you say summarize his work on education, then he does something impressive indeed.

      Because those points are emphatically NOT accepted by, say, Obama, Arne Duncan, anyone at the Gates Foundation or any other major non-profit dedicated to education, any "education reporter" on TV, or just about any education reformer one might choose to name.

      One can't both be belaboring the obvious and steadfastly defying the entrenched orthodoxy.

    7. Really? Nobody thought up education reforms until Somerby came along with his blog. And Obama, Arne Duncan and the Gates Foundation are opposed to his wonderful ideas.

      Well, what are Somerby's ideas?

      And you want to know why NAEP scores are up? It's because Bill Clinton, long before Somerby started his blog, got massive amounts of federal funding to local school districts that not only modernized school buildings, and brought computer technology into classrooms from coast to coast, in both public and private schools, but also improved teacher pay, included money to hire new teachers to reduce class sizes, and provided scholarship incentives to college students who would commit to teaching for a certain number of years in inner city schools.

      Unfortunately, Clinton's carrots also came with sticks that held school boards, students and teachers accountable for outcomes, just as he did when he appointed Hillary to come up with a plan to overhaul education in Arkansas when he was governor.

      And holding teachers accountable and even requiring them to undergo competency testing galled pseudo-liberals like Somerby, who clutched his pearls and swooned.

    8. " . . . the press's almost unanimous silence about this issue. It's not something I knew about previously and it's a story worth telling (and retelling)."

      Well, if you get all your news about education from Somerby's blog, then you would certainly believe that nobody but Somerby was talking about the rise in standardized test scores.

      Unfortunately, it isn't true, and you would know that if actually read "the press" that you claim you know all about.

      The vast, American "press" as diverse as it is, is filled with all sorts of stories about education -- schools that work, schools that don't, and scores going up.

      Now I know Bob wants his cattle to believe that the "American press" is some sort of monolith. Well, media ownership is falling into fewer and fewer hands, but we haven't quite gotten to the point where you can make broad, general assumptions about "the press".

      What we still have is a hodgepodge of national, regional and local media that is impossible to fit into a neat little "the press" box.

      In fact, some of the finest reporting on education comes from very local media -- smaller town newspapers, and even suburban and rural weeklies -- media that Somerby wouldn't bother reading himself.

    9. Thanks for pointing that out. How about some links so I can catch up on my reading.

  4. How empty does your life have to be to dedicate time each day to troll the comment section of someone who you feel has no audience?

    Almost unimaginably empty and pathetic, I'd think.

  5. I assume you refer to Collins as part of the pseudo liberal elite. You rather answer any questions about shallow sophistry with such a label.
    Mind, I can't think of many real liberals contributing to public discourse in the U.S. I rather value trade union and anarchist thought for the contrast that is otherwise lacking in analysis.

  6. I'm no fan of Romney, but do you really think he's the worst candidate ever? Worse than McCain? Worse than W? Romney seems far smarter than either of those guys, but even less principled, I'll admit (although it's very hard to tell what he really stands for). I think he would be disastrous, but I'm not thrilled with Obama either, but I'm inclined to think that he wouldn't be as bad as W and the McCain would have been worse than Romney - all in all, however, you've got to say the GOP keeps the hits comin'!

    1. I think the GOP has nominated the Ultimate Plutocrat this time around -- at precisely the moment that our descent into plutocracy must be at least slowed down if it can't be stopped altogether.

      And I guess we could argue whether the Ultimate Plutocrat is the worst candidate ever, given the context of the point of history we have now reached.

  7. And if you don't agree with Somerby, you are truly an idiot.

    Is that how you define the world? Into those who agree with Somerby and those who don't?

    How sad. And pathetic. And cult-like.

  8. Did Bob do a series of posts on the Republican "war on women," and, if he didn't, does that prove he doesn't care about women and might as well enjoy watching them suffer? Is the standard now, seriously, that unless you discuss the issues Bob cares about in precise Bob-favored language at precisely calibrated Bob-favored times, you perforce don't care about them? Because, you know, by that standard Bob doesn't give a cold dead rat's ass about anything besides standardized tests, MSNBC, and that time someone said Al Gore's brown suit was funny.

    1. Bob only posts during the "war on women" flareup was to say that liberals can't dare criticize Rush Lumbaugh for calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" because they didn't criticize Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann said mean things about Hillary Clinton four years ago.

      Which, of course, was wrong. Lots of liberals took issues with Matthews and Olbermann over that.