Like Haggard’s mom, Paul Farhi tried!


Took two separate shots at the myths: “Mama tried,” Merle Haggard once said.

Well so what? So did Paul Farhi!

Way back in January 2007, Farhi had heard just about enough about our failing schools. He produced that rarest of press corps sightings—a Washington Post “Five Myths” feature about the public schools.

For context, see our previous post. Headline included, here’s the way Farhi started:
FARHI (1/21/07): Five Myths About U.S. Kids Outclassed by the Rest of the World

The usual hand-wringing accompanied the Department of Education's release late last year of new statistics on how U.S. students performed on international tests. How will the United States compete in the global economy, went the lament, when our students lag behind the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong in math and science? American fourth-graders ranked 12th in the world on one international math test, and eighth-graders were 14th. Is this further evidence of the failure of the nation's schools?

Not exactly. In fact, a closer look at how our kids perform against the international "competition" suggests that this story line may contain more than a few myths:
To read Farhi’s full report, click here. These were his five myths:
Myth: U.S. students rate poorly compared with those in the rest of the world.
Myth: U.S. students are falling behind.
Myth: U.S. students won't be well prepared for the modern workforce.
Myth: Bad schooling has undermined America's competitiveness.
Myth: How we stack up on international tests matters, if only for national pride.
Farhi fought a rising tide of bullroar and teacher-trashing. Today, more data are available—and most of those data are encouraging, perhaps even good.

Farhi spoke up, but the bullroar grew. Four years later, he spoke up again:
FARHI (5/20/11): Five myths about America’s schools

The end of the school year and the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers are bringing more attention to reformers’ calls to remake public schools. Today’s school reform movement conflates the motivations and agendas of politicians seeking reelection, religious figures looking to spread the faith and bureaucrats trying to save a dime. Despite an often earnest desire to help our nation’s children, reformers have spread some fundamental misunderstandings about public education.
These were his five myths this day:
Myth: Our schools are failing.
Myth: Unions defend bad teachers.
Myth: Billionaires know best.
Myth: Charter schools are the answer.
Myth: More effective teachers are the answer.
In our view, Merle Haggard’s mother gets too much credit when you look at the ways Farhi tried.

Down through the years, this pretty much seems to be the full effort from the Five Myths feature. That said, the public schools are a huge institution. The amount of bullroar about the schools continues to be very large.

That bullroar deceives the American people and serves highly specialized interests.

American newspapers like the Post should be reporting these basic topics in multi-part, front-page reports. Since test scores are constantly propagandized, they should be explaining the data from the NAEP and from the major international tests—the PISA, the TIMSS and the PIRLS.

Beyond that, would it kill The Millionaire Children of Cable to tackle these very important topics? Tremendous damage is being done by all these myths about public schools. So what was Rachel discussing last night, pleasuring herself as she did?

Who purchased the clothing for Ultrasound’s wife! Sure, it’s good solid fun for us rubes. And when we get served this sweet tribal gruel, it makes us adore Rachel more.

That said, couldn't these tribunes of self-adoration talk about low-income children just once? Or don’t kids like that count?

It’s hard to avoid a bit of disgust when millionaire children refuse to try. After all, even Merle Haggard’s mother tried—or at least, so Haggard said.


  1. Let's move on to sarin gas in Syria.

  2. OMB

    She was too young to fall in love.
    And I was too young to know.

    Beyond that, would it kill the impoverished PeePaw of the Blogosphere to ask the Millionaire Children of Cable
    his repetitive "why don't you cover" question directly?

    Why doesn't he inquire why they avoid challenging the bogus boatload of gloom? Perhaps he could ask why they would rather jump off the Eiffel Tower than stoop to the level of discussing our ratty public schools?

    It is hard to avoid a bit of disgust (it borders on the abscene) when these rhetorical questions keep getting posed to readers when surely the tribunes of self-adoration have phones and could be asked themselves.

    We are sure BOB is a very good person (although some sing Only the Good Die Young) since he is older and wiser (we assume since he always refers to others as children, kiddos, and such). You would think he has covered journalists long enough to, you know, do some reporting! Perhaps they can answer these question if asked.

    Why doesn't BOB ask these questions directly? Today we will call this The Mystery. Tomorrow we'll add the lyrics to The Great Pretender.

    1. How do you know that he hasn't, Little Darlin'?

    2. And, too, why would that be necessary component to valid criticism anyway?

      Never mind. Like everyone else, I couldn't give a shit what you "think."

    3. thedoginthewelleffectSeptember 7, 2013 at 12:20 AM

      then why did u respond to him anon?

    4. Cecelia, if there is anything I demonstrate in my comment, repetitiveness is the hallmark of Mr. Somerby's literary style (very Collinesque, if you ask me). I am confident, had he attempted to interview anyone with MSNBC he not only would have posted about it (which I could have missed) but he would have harped on it endlessly.

      Let me say it another way. If, as a Blogger,
      he took the initiative to create an interview, he would have surely told his readers over and over again or at least bragged about it to W. Blitzer.

      Anon. @ 7:32

      Having Mr. Somerby attempt to interview the people whose actions he keeps questioning is not a necessary of criticism. It is necessary to get an answer. If you keep asking the same question of the wrong people, you are either extremely stupid, not really interested in the answer, or, like Gail Collins, you are exercising your otteresque ability to kill space.

      Emp. B (etc.)

  3. I've just read this week's Somerby education posts expounding what apparently is a leit-motif of his blog: the media-ignored forty-year-long improvement in NAEP—featuring dramatic gains in all demographic groups (when the results are disaggregated), and I noted his mentioning that forty years is as far back as this “gold-standard” extends, i.e. we have no reliable assessments before that, which means this rise could have been occurring throughout the twentieth century.

    I cite all this to bring up the following very interesting concurrent trend, which has fascinated and perplexed virtually everyone aware of it: the “Flynn Effect”. This is the trend, throughout the twentieth century, of rising IQ's, in all classes and all countries—increases that are not merely “statistically significant” but of great practical significance because the rise, cumulatively, is so very large. If you believe what the tests seem to show, IQ scores that classified people in the early twentieth century as near-geniuses would currently cause them to be classified as retarded. What's particularly mystifying is that this increase has occurred in the parts of the IQ tests that are most reflective of true intelligence and least responsive to improvements in education—for example, the most striking increases have occurred in the Raven's Progressive Matrices test which is a culture-free, language-free test of abstract thinking, reasoning ability, and pattern recognition and is thought to be the best measure available of general intelligence.

    My purpose in mentioning the Flynn Effect in the context of the gains in NAEP is to suggest that maybe the improvement in the latter has nothing whatsoever to do with what's going on in the schools and may simply be a reflection of whatever it is that's responsible for the Flynn Effect. Clearly, higher IQ's are correlated with higher math and reading scores. My conclusion? Until we can explain the Flynn Effect, we should hesitate to make any grand statements about the true meaning of the NAEP improvements.

    1. We don't have "grand statements about the true meaning of the NAEP improvements" as our problem to deal with.

      What we have is pronouncements about the validity of the NAEP, accompanied by 1) utter disregard of its measured results, and 2) unsupported hand-wringing about the parlous, degraded state of US education.

    2. Anon 7:35PM:

      You say we “don't have any grand statements about the true meaning of the NAEP improvements”--how about the claim that they show our public schools are doing an excellent job despite the cries of calamitous decline? That sounds pretty grand to me.

      Evidently you missed my point: The Flynn Effect calls into question the SEEMINGLY obvious cause of the NAEP improvement, better schools.

    3. thedoginthewelleffectSeptember 7, 2013 at 12:24 AM

      no sarcasm wc . . . best. comment. ever.

      intelligence is so complex.

    4. Yes it is, dog and wc. And of course the danger of statistical analysis using a single measurement (NAEP) is that it might show the effect, but not the entire cause.

      All that said, one could safely say that yes, public (and private) education is better than it was 40 years ago, given the advancement in ever other field of human endeavor, just as education improved from 1933 to 1973, particularly given the advances in technology that makes information more instantly and widely available today than it has ever been.

      Flynn also cites enormous gains in overall nutrition and health, gains in literacy (through education), a more stimulating environment through technology (movies, radio, television, computers), more intellectually challenging work, the societal trend toward smaller families, and a host of other factors.

      I don't fault Somerby this time for saying that public education isn't as bad as those who seek to continue to de-fund it (particularly in those inner-city areas where it is most needed to break a cycle of poverty). It had better be better. After all, my 2007 Dodge is a lot better than my 1977 Dodge in so many, many ways.

      But you are correct in that it is fundamentally flawed to "prove" it with the results of a single, standardized test.

      The big flaw in citing any standardized test as a "gold standard" to demonstrate the quality of schools is that it is also used as an excuse to de-fund so called "non-performing" schools.

      This lesson was taught to me by an associate superintendent of curriculum at a very well-heeled suburban school district when the board of education began bragging about the number of kids they had in gifted programs.

      She replied, "Look at who we are getting. They come from two-parent homes in which both parents are college-educated and working in careers. They live in single-family homes in low-crime and no-crime neighborhoods. They get plenty to eat, are in great health, have access to books, magazines, newspapers and all sorts of information technologies, and have been stimulated since birth. They go on vacations, they have recreational opportunities. Of course, we're doing a great job educating them."

    5. Winterchill, despite our fundamental disagreemnet over Greenwald, I find your comments interesting and thought provoking.
      They had me believing in you as an example of the incresed intelligence your latest comment alludes to. Until you mentioned three decades of Dodge ownership. Perhaps there is a familial excuse.

      EB (GOTT)

    6. Mercy me, Anon @ 9:10, I mistook you for Winterchill. If it makes you fell any better, I'd rather drive a Dodge than read Greenwald.


    7. To thedoginthewelleffect

      I appreciate your complimentary words, a very rare thing in any “comments” section, and particularly in this one. Thank you.

      You're certainly right that intelligence is so complex. As are our ideas about it—complex and often wrong.

      Here's one story that illustrates two ways in which they're wrong:

      Doginthewelleffect, did you ever hear about how, back in the 1930s, the man then widely considered the world's second smartest (after Einstein), John von Neumann, made an incredibly foolish logical error and delayed the development of key ideas in quantum mechanics by thirty years--in part because everyone felt it was impossible for someone of his acknowledged (and genuine) brilliance to make such a mistake and so his work was not scrutinized with the usual zeal. And even when von Neumann's error was pointed out in a rigorous analysis in a journal article by a credentialed mathematician/philosopher named Hermann, because that mathematician/philosopher was Grete Hermann, instead of, say, Gustav Hermann, the article was ignored. After all, how could a woman exhibit better skills of logical analysis than the second smartest man on the planet? It wasn't until the 1960s that John Bell exposed von Neumann's folly of thirty years earlier in a way that made an impression upon the scientific world, and only then that the crucial phenomenon of quantum entanglement began to be taken very seriously. Taken seriously only because it was someone named JOHN writing the article.

    8. Anon at 9:10AM

      I wanted to respond to a couple of points you raise. First, you quote Flynn enumerating many factors that he considered responsible for the IQ rise—we might call this the “Murder on the Orient Express” explanation. I refer to the Christie novel where, not one, not two, but TWELVE people each stab the villain, each dealing a wound that contributed to his death. And so it MAY be with the IQ rise. It's possible that most or all of the factors cited by Flynn were indeed responsible, each in its own small way—but equally possible is that only one or two were genuinely important. And if so, it's vital to find out which, because, given the magnitude of the IQ rise, society could benefit tremendously from a better understanding and control of this factor or couple of factors.

      You say several times in your comment that it is a serious error (“fundamentally flawed” you call it) to rely upon a single, standardized test, even one considered a gold standard like the NAEP, to “prove” something, and you believed that to be one of my points. Actually, it's not--even if you had a hundred different tests all showing the exact same results as the NAEP it wouldn't make the slightest difference. That's because I'm not questioning the results of the NAEP—a pronounced improvement over a forty year period in math and reading among all demographic groups. What I'm saying is this: even if we assume the genuineness of the improvement (as we certainly would if my hypothesized “hundred tests” confirmed the NAEP findings) it wouldn't tell us anything about the CAUSE of the improvement.

      And we cannot say, as SEEMS reasonable, “Oh, of course, the forty year rise in the NAEP must be because of better schools—what else could it be?” That's because the Flynn Effect makes us understand that something (largely or wholly outside of the effects of education) is causing a profound long-term rise in IQ scores, which rise in and of itself would fully account for the improvement in math and reading scores.

      And what about your argument that the schools must have improved since everything has over the last decades, just like your Dodge? At the risk of alienating and infuriating the Emperor, we can objectively demonstrate how much better today's Dodge is versus the one of thirty years ago—we can compare gas mileage, time for 0 to 60, survivability of head-on collision statistics, etc. But now that the Flynn Effect has made better test scores useless in documenting improvement in SCHOOLS (as opposed to improvement in math and reading), how do we determine such improvement objectively? Hmmmm, quite a problem.

      And actually, it's not “everything” that has gotten better: it's primarily technology. And how much, really, does better technology have to do with producing deeper thinkers or just people more competent in basic skills? I question its role.

    9. To my revered Emperor (aka EB (gott)),

      I have to apologize for something--sincerely. In our first series of exchanges (last weekend), you always compromised your Anonymity by adding one of many variants of your title at the end of your posts. But then, in what I now take to be a “Prince and the Pauper” maneuver on your part, you forsook your royal identity entirely and posed as a truly Anonymous commoner when you responded to my very brief allusion to Glenn Greenwald. I wasn't sure until today it was you writing (though I suspected it because of the stylistic “tic” of yours that appeared in that fully Anonymous post—referring to Somerby as “BOB” (all caps)) In any case, I didn't notice that telling “BOB” until after I posted my response, and because I didn't realize I was addressing YOU, I was much harsher in my response than I would otherwise have been. For that I'm genuinely sorry. And perhaps my harshness caused you not to respond. And for that, I'm even more genuinely sorry, because I think it's very important to discuss the Glenn Greenwald issue. So I'd like to paste below your comment in response to my brief comparison of Somerby and Greenwald, and then my reaction to that. I hope you'll now be willing to give the rejoinder you elected not to give last weekend.

      So first, here's your response to my Somerby/Greenwald comparison:


      BOB is an often repetitive somewhat self righteous fellow with a slight hypocrisy problem. Greenwald is an often repetitive totally self righteous fellow with an insoluble ego problem. Maybe nobody important will listen to BOB. But nobody important will blow Greenwald up. He'll do that to himself.

      I'll stick with BOB reading and commenting.
      He's right more often.”

      Now here's my response to you (when I didn't know it was you!!!):

      “Even IF Somerby were right more often, right about what? That Maureen Dowd is a twit, that Gail Collins has cooties......?

      You're indisputably correct that Glenn Greenwald has a monstrous ego, and that he's totally self-righteous--and I thank God for that! It requires the monstrous ego and extreme self-righteousness that you decry and mock in order to do what he dares to do. He needs the ego (also describable, in more neutral words, as a secure sense of self) to enable him to disregard the constant disparagement, ridicule, and assaults upon him—like yours but more vicious and less elegantly phrased (I appreciated the deftness of your parallelism even as I deplored the use to which you were putting it). He especially needs the overwhelming, unalterable conviction that he's doing the right thing (what you opprobriously call “self-righteousness”), considering that the entire Washington establishment and much of the so-called free world is calling him an accessory to treason.

      As for your final act of belittlement, saying “But nobody important will blow Greenwald up. He'll do that to himself”, how cavalier you are on your couch in Fresno or wherever the hell you are in deriding the very real threats to Greenwald's well-being. Have you not followed the events at Heathrow, where someone tangentially involved in the NSA documents affair was held incommunicado for nine hours? Do you seriously believe the US government, or one of its “friends”, wouldn't consider arranging for the brakes to fail in Greenwald's car? With plausible deniability of course.”

      Here I am, flashback to last weekend over, awaiting your response, hoping to understand why, even if you object to certain personal attributes of Greenwald's, you consider them important enough to disqualify him as a person to be taken seriously, and more importantly, to cause you not to support him in what I genuinely consider his heroic defiance of established power on behalf of all of us. After all, Patrick Henry almost never changed his socks, and yet......

    10. WinterChill,

      It wasn't a Prince and the Pauper (of even a PPP) manuever. I simply forgot to add my self adopted title from the Planet of Doom.
      I figured in the midst of the direct exchange
      we were having in the very initmate and uncrowded place that is the commentary thread here, you knew who I was.

      Emp. B (G of whatever)

    11. Emperor,

      Given that, uncrowded or not, this comments section has a Witness Protection Program-sized complement of Anonymouses (who never hesitate to intrude upon exchanges between two other people, however “intimate”), it would have been rash for me to assume that the commenter was you—especially since you'd never before failed to employ some permutation of your Emperor identity, and seemed to cherish every opportunity to use it.

      Second, a huge element of doubt was introduced by the sentiment this anonymous commenter was voicing—an endorsement, however tepid and qualified, of Somerby! From the Emperor I'd only seen perpetual pillorying of him, but this anonymous commenter concluded that Somerby was “right more often”!!!

      In fact, it's precisely that fact that leads me to believe, despite your denial, that you were employing a Prince and the Pauper gambit—because you would have been profoundly embarrassed for the Emperor to be seen conceding Somerby is “right more often”. Of course, it's entirely possible that it was an act wholly directed by your subconscious so that you're not being at all disingenuous when you say you “forgot”.

      Finally, I note with interest your continuing refusal to explain or defend your intense personal antipathy to Greenwald, an animus so extreme that you're willing to disregard the substance of his contributions and the fact that he's risking his freedom (if not his life) to make them, just so you can disparage him as a self-righteous egomaniac.

  4. Actually Valerie Straus of the Washington Post does a good job of covering the schools. Not the usual mindless media cheerleading of so called "school reform," charter schools, school vouchers and punishing teachers.

  5. Whoops, Valerie Strauss, education reporter for the WaPo; her column is The Answer Sheet.