Part 4—Return from Gilligan’s Island: Does anyone at the New York Times know jack-spit about schools?
Certainly, very few readers do. Consider the way of the Times:
Last month, the former executive editor, Bill Keller, wrote in his weekly op-ed column that the United States has experienced “decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education.”
Among journalistic elites, such claims are very familiar. They’re also extremely hard to square with our best educational data.
That said, who gives a dang! Last Sunday, the Times handed the keys to the gloom machine to Robert J. Gordon, a self-regarding economics professor who doesn’t seem to know a lot about the public schools.
Beneath a visual of a broken-down school bus, beneath a headline which announced “the great stagnation of American education,” the self-regarding economics professor rattled a list of familiar scripts about “the poor quality of our schools.”
He failed to mention the last two decades of NAEP scores, which show large gains in reading and math by black and Hispanic students. Also by white kids!
Those large score gains didn’t get mentioned. But then, they never are!
Does anyone at this upper-class newspaper know jack-spit about schools? In fairness, they all seem to know the standard scripts, which all bring in the gloom.
More on the clueless Times:
Last year, the former editorial page editor, Gail Collins, staged the most embarrassing excursion since Gilligan attempted to stage his now now-famous three-hour tour. In support of a snark-laden book about Texas, Collins paraded about the land, warning crowds about the way the clownish red state was failing to educate its Hispanic kids.
The red-state failure had Collins upset. In Chicago, she warned a collection of blue-state liberals:
COLLINS (6/10/12): [Texas is] not doing the job of educating young Hispanic children that it needs to do if they’re going to become critical skilled workers for the next generation.Poor Illinois! The state was funding top-tier universities while Texas was frumping around!
Right now, Texas imports college graduates. It imports as many as it creates on its own. So when you are paying to help make the universities in Illinois top-tier universities, you are paying to help staff businesses in Texas because a lot of your graduates are going to wind up down there.
Now, unless Texas antes up and really, really, really steps up to the education plate—
In the future, ten percent of the work force of America is going to be Texas born, bred and educated. And unless they do a better job than they’re doing now, that’s when we all go south.
Using evocative tribal language, Collins warned the Chicago crowd that, if Texas didn’t improve its schools, we might “all go south.” She showed no sign of knowing that Hispanic students in Texas schools strongly outscore their peers in Illinois on the National Assessment of Educational Testing, the federal testing program she had praised at length in her thoroughly clueless book.
In short, the New York Times is a clueless disgrace when it comes to the public schools. From its most famous players on down, the paper pimps the gloomy scripts which constitute upper-class conventional wisdom—gloomy scripts which advance conservative political themes and corporate privatization strategies.
Its readers are rarely—actually, never—exposed to even the most basic data about the state of the schools. If you read the New York Times, you are the victim of adult abuse with regard to this major part of American life.
Keller and Collins should crawl on their knees, begging forgiveness from Times subscribers for their absurd presentations. After that, someone should explain why Gordon was invited to rattle the scripts about a topic he seems to know little about.
Someone should also awaken the children, the horrible children at The One Liberal Channel, to ask them why they sleepwalk through life concerning the state of the schools. If they complained about the endless spewing of corporate-laced nonsense, the New York Times might be forced to perform some real reporting for once.
That said, the children aren’t going to complain. These topics don't exist on The One True Channel. The adult abuse will continue.
Still and all, a person can dream! If the Times got off its big fat asparagus aspic and did some reporting about public schools, what would that reporting look like?
The schools are constantly in the news. If the Times decided to do its job, this is what several series of front-page reports might attempt to cover:
The National Assessment of Educational Progress: What has been happening in public schools over the past few decades? At newspapers like the New York Times, everybody praises the NAEP, the gold standard of domestic testing.
Nobody ever tells the public what NAEP data show.
Check that: Reporters frequently cite the “achievement gaps” found in NAEP data. Those data enable the gloomy tales which constitute the memorized upper-class line.
But alas! Big newspapers never report the large score gains among all major groups in the student population. Readers are never told about the large score gains in reading and math recorded by black and Hispanic students.
Darlings, that would sound like good news! In the world of the Times, good news about schools is withheld.
If a paper like the New York Times decided to do its job for once, it would start by telling the public about those NAEP data. This couldn’t be done in a single report. The issues are too complex.
Times readers would finally hear about those very large score gains. Through interviews with NAEP officials, the Times would try to explain how large the gains in achievement may actually be.
The Times might even inform its readers about the different scores achieved by different states. (Don’t forget to disaggregate!) By the way, is there any chance that higher scores in some states result in part from retention procedures? Are fourth- or eighth-graders in some states older than those in the others?
We’d like to see that report. We can't find a way to tease that out through the NAEP’s public data, which are quite voluminous and are almost wholly ignored.
Might there be problems with the NAEP data? A real newspaper would examine that question—would have done so long ago. But alas! During those years, the Times has been off on Gilligan’s Island, clowning around with the Thurston Howells and advancing their upper-class dreck.
The Times has been dishing the adult abuse, has done so for a long time.
The PISA, the TIMSS and the PIRLS: As everyone knows, newspaper readers are constantly told about our nation’s gruesome performance on international tests. Last Sunday, the self-impressed Professor Gordon made a standard presentation:
GORDON (9/8/13): Then there is the poor quality of our schools. The Program for International Student Assessment tests have consistently rated American high schoolers as middling at best in reading, math and science skills, compared with their peers in other advanced economies.According to Gordon, results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show “the poor quality of our schools.” In a rather standard move, he didn’t mention results from the other major international tests, on which American students have sometimes performed rather well.
The most recent PISA results are from 2009. But uh-oh! In 2011, American students did rather well on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), a major international assessment of fourth-graders’ reading achievement.
How well did American students do? They outscored their peers in Canada, England, Germany and France, four well-known large nations. They outperformed Spain, Italy, Australia and Taiwan, four other famous countries. (Technically, Taiwan is still part of China.)
They outscored every smaller European nation save one, including Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. They outperformed the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. They outscored New Zealand and Israel.
They were outscored by only two nations—Russia and Finland—and by Singapore and Hong Kong, two small, wealthy city-states. Other than that, they outscored all comers.
Following established practice, Professor Gordon said good-bye to all that. But then, such strong performances almost never get mentioned. Based on the quality of Gordon’s piece, we wouldn’t assume that he’s ever heard of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) or the PIRLS.
What is the overall picture on the PISA, the TIMSS and the PIRLS? If the New York Times ever returns from its stay on Gilligan’s Island, that would make for a fabulous, highly relevant series of front-page reports.
Is the PISA a better test battery than the TIMSS and the PIRLS? Does that explain why the Times tends to ignore the stronger performance on the latter tests while screeching about the lower scores on the PISA?
And by the way: Did the PISA over-represent low-income kids in its 2009 American test group? We don’t know the answer to that. A real paper might want to report it.
Such a series of reports would include the truly gloomy news about what happens when you “disaggregate” American scores on international tests. The scores by white kids look pretty good. The scores by black and Hispanic kids don’t.
The Times might also report what happens when you disaggregate scores by income. In short, there is a slew of information Times readers have never heard.
The Times could fill its front pages for weeks with reports on these seminal topics. Readers of the famous newspaper might start acquiring some information. At some point, the Times might even develop the types of skill which would let it examine the sorts of programs occurring within our schools.
At present, the Times is simply too unskilled to tackle such topics. Last month, the paper created a world of confusion trying to report a bone-simple matter—the transition to more difficult statewide tests in New York based on the new Common Core standards.
That was a stunningly hapless performance by a grossly incompetent newspaper. But the Times is persistently over its head when it tries to discuss even the simplest classroom topics.
In short, if the world were split into reading groups, the New York Times would be grouped with “the buzzards,” not with the robins or bluebirds. On average, American students may not be half bad. The American press is a mess.
What is the actual state of our schools? What could we possibly do to help our low-income and minority kids improves their performance faster? Enjoy their lives in school more?
At the New York Times, they don’t seem to know and they don’t seem to care. But then, the career liberal world doesn’t seem to give a rip either.
Welcome to the horrible world through which the Dowdism crept! In this world, the news is mainly entertainment, although it’s also a way of driving plutocrat scripts.
Like the Times, MSNBC is off on that three-hour tour when it comes to the public schools. So is the gang at Salon; so too for “career liberal” writers.
Relentlessly, public school teachers get trashed as the swells suppress those rising NAEP scores. We’re told that the teachers have ruined the schools through their infernal unions.
We’re told we need to privatize schools. We need to bring in the Princeton kids. We’re told the government can’t do anything right, not even in “government schools.”
We aren’t allowed to know about the large score gains achieved by our black kids. We ought to be pleased by what seems to be happening. But by the current rules of the game, we can’t even be told!
That said, the children at the corporate liberal orgs are talented with their R-bombs. They love to flounce about, announcing that we’re The Very Good People and The Others Are Just Very Bad.
The public schools and their kids can go jump in the lake. Who gives a shit about scores by black students?
The adult abuse has been widespread. But also, who cares about kids?