The end to a very poor week: In our view, the New York Times had a very poor week. Two final observations:
Apparently, fifteen op-ed columns about Anthony Weiner weren’t quite enough. On Friday, the Times published this front-page news report about the man who won’t be mayor.
Subject: How do black voters feel about weiner? Kate Taylor was called in to thrash this question, on the paper's front page.
The inanity of this coverage ought to be obvious. Have any actual issues emerged from the mayoral race? Not that we’re aware of! But then, we read the Times.
Also notable was Thursday’s editorial about New York City’s new test scores. As they began, the editors made a thunderous and truly remarkable set of claims:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORAL (8/10/13): Over the last decade or so, most states deceived the public about the dismal quality of public schools by adopting pathetically weak learning standards that made children appear better prepared than they actually were. Not surprisingly, when states like Kentucky dropped the charade and embraced more challenging standards, scores dropped precipitously.A remarkable trio of claims is made in that opening sentence. According to the editors, “most states” have done the following in recent years, including, it would seem, the state of New York:
That same scenario is playing out in New York State, which, this week, released the first round of scores from tests linked to the rigorous Common Core learning standards, which have been adopted by all but a handful of states.
Most states have adopted pathetically weak “learning standards.” In this way, those states have deceived the public about the dismal quality of their public schools.
As is often the case at the Times, it isn’t quite clear what the editors mean. For example, what do they mean by the murky phrase, “learning standards?”
As they thunder, do the editors mean that these states adopted pathetically weak curricula for the various grades, thus setting instructional goals which were easy to reach? Or is it possible that these states had perfectly good curricula but then constructed pathetically easy statewide tests?
Whatever! The editors make a remarkable barrel of thunderous charges, a hallmark of the Rosenthal era. Forgive us if we get the sense that these very loud people may not quite know what they’re talking about, even as they bring all that thunder.
As the editors continue, they extend the sense of confusion which suffused their paper’s reporting of these new test scores, which came from a brand new set of statewide tests.
“Since the new tests require different and stronger skills than the old ones, the state has discouraged direct comparisons of results from the two,” the editors write at one point. Actually, the state has noted that you can’t make such comparisons in any meaningful way, a different point which this thundering herd doesn’t quite seem to get:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: The new scores were bound to be controversial in New York City thanks to the mayoral race. Some candidates are trying to curry favor with the teachers’ union, which is taking a scorched-earth approach to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s educational policies.“Some candidates are looking for ways to blame Mr. Bloomberg for the drop in scores?” Pathetically, that seems to be true, but the editors don't seem to understand the key point—no one can be blamed “for the drop in the scores,” since there hasn’t been any “drop in scores” in any meaningful sense.
Some candidates are looking for ways to blame Mr. Bloomberg for the drop in scores, even though the tests are overseen and managed by the state, and even though the city experienced less of a decline in scores than the state as a whole.
There is no way to compare this year’s passing rates to last year’s passing rates, since they emerged from completely different tests. That is a bone simple point, but the editors don’t quite seem to get it. Despite this, they demand that teachers improve the children’s reasoning skills!
(“The Common Core standards are aimed at helping children acquire sophisticated reasoning skills,” the editors note. Unsophisticated journalists, why not try healing thyselves?)
Dating back to the Gail Collins era, this board has done some horrible work with topics of this type. As the state of New York’s statewide tests got easier, driving passing rates up, they failed to discern what was happening, even when New York City teachers told them. When the problem was finally acknowledged at the highest levels, they joined their pitiful newspaper’s news division in failing to explain what had actually happened.
Now, they continue to thunder. They make sweeping claims about the nation’s schools, whose performance seems to have improved substantially in the period they are discussing. And they they continue to obscure the basic logic of this particular incident.
On line, readers are invited to “Meet The New York Times’s Editorial Board.” If you click the link you're offered, you will see bios of the “17 journalists with wide-ranging areas of expertise” who comprise this board.
Only one of the seventeen is said to have “expertise” in education. (He also seems to boast expertise in criminal justice and economics!) Is that claim about education justified? Here’s what his bio looks like:
Brent Staples, Education, Criminal Justice, EconomicsDoes Staples have expertise in education? There’s no sign that he ever covered education, or that he knows any more about the topic that your neighbor’s pet duck.
Brent Staples joined The Times editorial board in 1990. His editorials and essays are included in dozens of college readers throughout the United States and abroad. Before joining the editorial page, he served as an editor of The New York Times Book Review and an assistant editor for metropolitan news. Mr. Staples holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Chicago and is author of "Parallel Time," a memoir, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
That editorial was loud and unintelligent. When it comes to the public schools, this highly self-impressed board has been and remains a long-running joke—a long-running public disgrace
The Times is a fatuous, low-IQ paper. Powerful forces in our culture work to obscure that key fact.