DAZED MEETS CONFUSED: Pesudoliberal contempt!


Part 5—Our big TV stars don’t care: Imagine a primitive, preliterate society, one in which it is very hard to conduct the simplest public discussion.

Rumors are easy to spread in this world. Misinformation is widely repeated.

In many ways, you live in such a world. You plainly live in such a world when it comes to our public discourse about public schools and their infernal teachers.

How is it possible that so many people have never head the simplest facts about the National Assessment of Educational Progress? The NAEP is widely described as “America’s report card,” the “gold standard of educational testing?”

How is it possible that people have never heard about the large score gains in reading and math the NAEP has been recording? More specifically, how is it possible that the Washington Post could have made the highlighted statement at the end of last week?
LAYTON (6/28/13): The nation's 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds are posting better scores in math and reading tests than their counterparts did 40 years ago, and the achievement gap between white students and those of color still persists but is narrowing, according to new federal government data released Thursday.

The scores—collected regularly since the 1970s from federal tests administered to public and private school students age 9, 13 and 17—paint a picture of steady student achievement that contradicts the popular notion that U.S. educational progress has stalled.
In fact, the most widespread “popular notion” about public schools is much more grim than the one the Post cites. The most widespread notion actually holds that our public schools are in a hideous state of decline.

This notion is broadcast far and wide. Everyone recites it.

In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has spilled with large score gains for many years. How is it possible that no one has heard about those gains—and that “popular notions,” advanced by all, paint so different a picture?

We’ll try to explain, but please understand—you live in a primitive land. Inside your society, disinformation rules the day concerning the public schools.

In part, the disinformation is able to flourish because of the mainstream press corps’ indifference and incompetence, as we outlined in yesterday’s post. The new report on latest NAEP scores was largely ignored by the nation’s major news organs. And when such news orgs did report, they tended to assign the task to young, inexperienced journalists—people who had no background or expertise in public school issues.

Twenty-three year-olds straight out of Cal were handed the task of reporting these scores. Due to their lack of specialized knowledge, they tended to work from an AP report, which was written by a 33-year-old with no background in education.

That’s how news orgs treats a topic they don’t much care about. But alas:

The liberal world doesn’t give a fig about these topics either! Plainly, the liberal world doesn’t care about American schools, or about the children within them.

Simply put, we modern liberals don’t care about black kids. Few things could be more clear.

Do liberals care about public schools and the children who attend them? If so, how did liberal news organs react to the new NAEP report?

Alas! This is the best we can tell you:

The rapidly devolving Salon staged the usual gong show. We find no sign that anyone did any original reporting or commentary about the new NAEP report. That said, Salon did run the AP report on this topic—the report which drives the corporate line that our schools are doing quite poorly.

Increasingly, Salon is an intellectual disaster—an obvious liberal embarrassment. That said, no one else in the liberal world showed much interest in this topic, with the exception of Kevin Drum.

At Mother Jones, Drum did two posts about the new NAEP report. We find no sign that anyone else at Mother Jones mentioned the topic.

Beyond that, the silence was general across the liberal world.

We find no sign that anyone mentioned the new report at the New Republic or the Washington Monthly. We find no sign that the report was mentioned at The Nation.

We find no sign that the new report was mentioned by the Center for American Progress. We find no sign that the American Prospect mentioned the new report.

(We used two search terms, “NAEP” and “National Assessment,” in our fruitless attempt to find liberal interest in the new report.)

How about the nation’s new smart set of technocratic analysts? We find no sign that any of the kids at Wonkblog bothered themselves with this new report. We find no sign that anyone mentioned it at the Atlantic.

At Slate, Matt Yglesias did discuss the NAEP report! Therein lies a miserable tale, although the tale is quite short.

Below, you see Yglesias’ full report, with most of the typos cleaned up. This is incompetent, sleepy-eyed work from a genuine slacker:
YGLESIAS (6/28/13): NAEP Scores Are Rising

New NAEP long-term trend data is out and the news is good (actual long-term trends are difficult to discern from this series since they changed the way the assessment works in 2004). Even if you look at the oldest cohort of students tested, progress is being made across the board.

Black 17-year-olds' reading scores averaged 262 in 2004, and they're up to 269 by 2012. White kids' went from 289 to 295. Latino kids went from 267 to 274. In math, black 17-year-olds' went from 284 to 288. White ones' went from 311 to 314. Latinos' went from 292 to 294. And as usual, if you look at 9-year-olds' or 13-year-olds' you see even more progress.

I'm genuinely uncertain as to where the state of the conventional wisdom is at this point. Do people think that dastartardly [sic] education reformers with their drill-and-kill teach-to-the-test approach are ruining public education, or do they think that dastardly teachers unions with their stuck-in-the-mud opposition to reform are responsible for ruining public education? Either way, the actual trend in American student achievement has been positive. It is difficult to establish any specific causal inferences from that, but it seems like evidence that things are improving overall. Maybe schools are changing for the better. Or maybe non-school factors are changing for the better. But either way, contrary to a certain kind of gloom-and-doom prognosticating about America the underlying trends are positive notwithstanding a horrible recession and other problems.
Yglesias is a child of Hollywood wealth and he's a Harvard graduate. He may have prepared that porridge in bed, though it’s not clear if he was awake.

Early commenters to his post commented on its collection of typos. Most of the typos have been cleaned up, although we still count at least two and the slacker stylistics remain.

Yglesias may have been asleep as he typed this low-energy post. To his credit, he does avoid the standard error of saying the new test scores are “grim” or “bleak.” He explicitly says that the gloom-and-doom conventional wisdom about public schools is wrong.

Beyond that, he does as little as humanly possible as he pretends to cover the topic. One example: He lists score gains from 2004 through 2012 without making any attempt to explain how large such score gains can be taken to be.

Among 17-year-olds, the average reading score of black kids went from 262 to 269, he notes, and that statement is accurate.

But is such a gain a lot or a little? How much academic progress might be indicated by a gain of that size? In the three paragraphs he churned, Yglesias made no attempt to put those numbers into some sort of perspective. In his final, rambling paragraph, he notes that the gloomy conventional wisdom is wrong, then rolls over and goes back to sleep without making any attempt to explain the source of this giant incomprehension.

And good lord! Early on, we get handed this puzzler: “[A]ctual long-term trends are difficult to discern from this series since they changed the way the assessment works in 2004.”

Presumably, that statement explains why Yglesias only discusses score gains from 2004 on. That said, the quoted statement is simply absurd. As we’ll see, it’s a mischief-inviting waste of space in a post which simply cried out for further explication.

How sad! Yglesias did more with this topic than almost everyone else. But even he took an extremely lazy approach. And uh-oh! The problem with this lazy approach showed up instantly in his comments. This brings us to a larger problem with modern liberals.

Predictably, commenters to Yglesias’ post offered the standard objections to the handful of things he had said. Were the score gains achieved by cheating? Couldn’t the score gains simply mean that teachers are better at teaching to the test? Isn’t it true that the aggregate scores for U.S. students are flat? Why should we credit these score gains when the U.S. is plummeting in rank among other nations?

A heroic commenter named “dbmicc” struggled to clarify familiar points of confusion and misinformation. This commenter produced much more information concerning the NAEP than the slacker Yglesias did.

Anyone with an ounce of sense would have known that these objections were coming. But Yglesias simply rolled over and died, and some objections were directly triggered by Yglesias’ peculiar comments.

“Actual long-term trends are difficult to discern from this series?” Here you see the mischief that resulted from the lazy, absurd remark:
COMMENTER: “NAEP Scores Are Rising” is an exercise in happy talk. Matt writes: “New NAEP long-term trend data is out and the news is good.” He then salvages a tiny bit of credibility by hedging: “actual long-term trends are difficult to discern from this series since they changed the way the assessment works in 2004”. How convenient.
In fact, it isn’t difficult to chart the long-term growth from the 1970s to the present. But Yglesias’ foolish early remark gave this naysayer purchase.

Alas! Some predictable negative comments seemed to come from liberals. We’ll guess that may have been the provenance of this sardonic remark:

“Well if the problem is that they're teaching to the test at the expense of a good overall education, then citing rising test scores as progress doesn't make sense.”

Alas! By now, we liberals have devised a standard set of ways to wish away all signs of progress in basic skills among American students. These sardonic dismissals will be on display wherever pseudo-liberal claptrap and bullroar are sold.

To see a few of these standard dismissals, check the comments to Drum’s first post about the new NAEP data. Careful, though! You won’t find many comments. When it comes to public schools, liberal disinterest will always be on full display.

Perfectly valid questions can and should be asked about the NAEP scores and their ultimate meaning. That said, where does all this reflexive liberal cynicism come from?

In part, it comes from the horrible cretins we’re willing to choose as our leaders. As usual, Diane Ravitch jumped into the fray, offering this bogus reaction to the new NAEP report.

Ravitch’s post was so bogus, so full of misstatements, that it deserves separate treatment, which we’ll hope to give it tomorrow. For now, let’s discuss one last set of lions who didn’t roar about the new NAEP data.

The New York Times didn’t report the new data. Neither did PBS or the NewsHour.

The new NAEP data weren’t mentioned at The Nation. And needless to say, the new report wasn’t mentioned, not once, by the fiery people who pose as progressives on The One True Liberal Channel.

All over prime time at MSNBC, the TV stars were silent. Are black kids doing much, much better? Should the public be given this news?

A real progressive would insist! Not at The One True Channel.

The new report, which spilled with score gains, wasn’t mentioned by Al Sharpton. It wasn’t mentioned by Lawrence O’Donnell.

(O’Donnell runs a feel-good promotional ad in which he visits an empty schoolroom. But he wouldn't discuss public schools on TV if his grandmother’s life were at stake.)

Needless to say, the NAEP report wasn’t mentioned by Chris Matthews. And needless to say, the new report wasn’t mentioned by Chris Hayes or Rachel Maddow.

Wasn’t mentioned on The One Liberal Channel! Not even once!

Progressive interests keep getting murdered in the public discussion about public schools. The union movement keeps getting slaughtered. So does the notion that government can do things well, even in “government schools.”

Meanwhile, a whole generation of minority kids have vastly outperformed their parents, who of course worked very hard to help them accomplish that task. The wider American public really deserves to be told that fact.

Knowing that fact might help us the people like and admire our black children more. But the liberal world just flat doesn’t care about these ratty young children.

No one mentioned the new report on the One True Corporate Liberal Channel. These are very bad millionaires. We advise you to watch them with caution.

Coming next week: The evolving liberal agenda


  1. I quibbled initially, but this series of critiques are exceptional and I am really, really grateful for them.


  2. Yglesias made up that nonsense about 2004. Says NCES:

    Beginning with the 2004 administration of the long-term trend assessments in reading and mathematics, several changes were made to the assessment design. Any time changes are made in a long-term trend assessment, studies are required to ensure that the results can continue to be reported on the same trend line—that is, that they are validly comparable to earlier results. Analyses were needed to ensure that the 2004 results under the new design were comparable to the results from 1971 through 1999, under the design that existed earlier. Therefore, two assessments were conducted in 2004. The revised assessment used the new design, and the original assessment replicated the former design. Comparisons of the results could then detect any shifts in results due to changes in test design. The original assessment linked the old assessments to the new one.


  3. I struggle to determine Mr. Somerby's rhetorical strategy. For instance:

    "Simply put, we modern liberals don’t care about black kids. Few things could be more clear.

    Do liberals care about public schools and the children who attend them? If so, how did liberal news organs react to the new NAEP report? "

    Whom, exactly, is Mr. S. trying to persuade?

    You know, if you are a proper leftist, you don't expect much of the liberal agenda but maybe go along with it, day-to-day, on one level, because it's preferable to the alternative. Mr. S. really should consider real leftist analyses, rather than inveighing against the obvious limitations of "liberalism."

    (And, btw, does even the most dyed-in-the-wool liberal expect Matt Y to care about black kids? No. Not news.)

  4. @ mch

    Your offer an interesting perspective. But, it seems to me, your central premise, I think, is flawed.

    You say that we really cannot expect much from the "liberal agenda," and by inference, the "liberal" media.


    1. The media, despite what Fox and right-wingers proclaim, is not "liberal." They are now, more than ever, corporatist.

    2. We can and should expect the media to report the news honestly and accurately. As The Washington Post's Eugene Meyer put it when he bought the paper:

    • "The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly
    as the truth can be ascertained."

    • "The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it,
    concerning the important affairs of America and the world."

    • "The newspaper’s duty is to its readers and to the public at
    large, and not to the private interests of its owners."

    Those principles are the essence of responsible journalism. And responsible journalism is integral to the well-being of a democratic society. And democratic societies the honor and model the social contract pay fidelity to the values of popular sovereignty, equality, justice, freedoms for all citizens, tolerance, and promoting the general welfare. See the connection?

    Public education is a cornerstone of democratic governance. So is honest-to-goodness accurate and insightful journalism.

    Citizens committed to the core values of democracy should care a lot about both.

  5. Our Congress has doubled the interest rates on some student loans.
    One has to ask, is this to help balance the budget by charging working class families more?

    Or is it simple Neo-con ideology?

    Or is it another way to hasten the progress to the ultimate goal, plutocracy?

    After all, big politicians and the wealthy get legacy at our finest universities for their kids, and the rich don't need to borrow for college expenses in any case.