Emerging script about public schools?


Things we heard over Christmas vacation: Over the Christmas break, it occurred to us that we were hearing an emerging script about the public schools.

Prevailing script about public schools has largely come from the corporate center. Everyone knows the basic elements of this script:
Basic parts of the standard public school script:
Our public schools are a disaster.
No progress has been recorded. Indeed, we’ve been moving backwards!
Miraculous Finland, the light of the world, shows us the various ways to proceed.
It’s all the teachers’ fault, what with their fiendish unions!
In our view, those basic elements of the script all seem to be quite absurd. But these presentations have become quite standard in the past decade.

Over the Christmas break, we thought we saw the basic elements of an emerging liberal script. If this is an emerging script, we’re not sure it’s much better than the script we already have.

That said, the analysts tell us it’s New Year’s Eve! Why be negative on such a joyous occasion?

We’ll return to this theme as the week proceeds. In the new year, we liberals should try to create constructive suggestions for public schools, for all the kids within them.

We don’t think it’s especially helpful if we create our own brand of bullroar. Over the break, we thought we saw such scripting start to appear.

Other things we heard over Christmas: Down in North Carolina, a young scholar attends second grade in her neighborhood public school.

Her neighborhood school is a low-income school. Seventy-nine percent of the kids get free or reduced-price lunch. The school is one-third white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic.

Some of the kids don’t have English yet. None of the three major groups score as well as their peers in the state as a whole.

That said, this young scholar’s mother is thrilled with her second-grade teacher. We visited the school in June 2012 and thought the place was great.

We’ll admit that we were surprised by some of the things this young scholar told us during the Christmas break.

On the 26th, she read a piece in Highlights magazine asking why liquid rises through a straw when you suck on it. She proceeded to throw off an explanation based on what molecules do.

On the 27th, we toured a local public garden. She told us to put our ear on a handrail as she banged something on it. Sound travels through metal 16 times faster than through air, she facilely explained.

We’re not saying her statements were right. (Wikipedia says the number is really 15.) We’ll have to admit that we were surprised by the stuff she’s being taught inside a low-income school which underperforms the state of North Carolina.

(Repeat: When we visited the school, we thought it was fantastic. We plan to visit again in March.)

When did we learn about molecules? we asked this youngster’s grandmother that very night.

“Molecules?” her grandmother said, offering a puzzled look.

LAND OF SCRIPT: The Times reports!


Part 2—The script about Benghazi: In our view, Paul Krugman has been the nation’s Most Valuable Journalist over the past many years.

Nine years ago, he was on a productive path, directed by an incomparable guide who only had at heart his not getting lost.

For the Frost reference, just click this. Here’s what Krugman said:
KRUGMAN (8/3/04): Reading the Script

A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like campaigndesk.org, mediamatters.org and dailyhowler.com. It's good to see ourselves as others see us. I've been finding The Daily Howler's concept of a media “script,” a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence, particularly helpful in understanding cable news.
Krugman was on the right track. For his full column, click here.

What follows is highly counterintuitive. The script has become the basic unit of thought in our broken intellectual culture.

Needless to say, its reach extends well beyond the realm of cable news.

Our journalism is ruled by script—by the recitation of story lines which come from favored sources. Because these sources are highly favored, their scripts will be recited no matter how bogus they may be, even when they sally forth “in the teeth of the evidence.”

Contradictory facts will be discarded. Broken logic will be ignored. Absurd paraphrases will be invented. Misquotation may occur.

Script has guided journalistic practice in the fiscal realm Krugman often discusses. It also guides our crackpot discussions about our public schools.

Script also guides narrower discussions. In September 2012, a set of powerful scripts emerged about the Benghazi attack.

No journalist accepted these scripts as quickly and dumbly as Bob Schieffer. (We’ll review his work later this week.) But the scripts were widely accepted by the vast bulk of mainstream journalists.

Liberal leaders showed no signs of knowing how to fight back. For months, the children at The One True Liberal Channel completely ignored the spreading shitstorm. From 5 P.M. on, not a word emerged from their careful, unskilled mouths as the shitstorm spread.

(On his weekend show, Chris Hayes addressed the spreading storm. He flatly affirmed the script, taking back what he said one week later.)

Susan Rice was the sacrificial lamb in this latest act of conquest by script. On Sunday, the New York Times offered a lengthy front-page retrospective about the issues which were involved in this manifest nonsense.

Yikes! David Kirkpatrick’s front-page report ran 7300 words. His report reinforced the Benghazi reporting the Times had offered in real time—reporting which was widely ignored in deference to script.

That said, Sunday’s new report was extremely detailed. In this early passage, Kirkpatrick contradicts two basic parts of the brain-dead script which caused so much damage:
KIRKPATRICK (12/29/13): Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
Say what? The Times found “no evidence that Al Qaeda had any role in the assault?”

And not only that:

The assault “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam?”

Can those findings really be true? As everyone knows, Rice was crucified for suggesting the possibility that the video may have been part of the turmoil. And not only that:

On Day One, Rice was crucified by Schieffer for refusing to agree with the claim that al Qaeda had conducted the assault—indeed, that al Qaeda had planned the assault for months.

Fifteen months later, the New York Times has reported, in substantial detail, that the attack was not conducted by al Qaeda. Beyond that, the Times reports that the attackers were substantially motivated by the anti-Islam video which was fueling disturbances across the Muslim world.

Can the script about Benghazi have been so cosmically wrong? That’s what Kirkpatrick says in the following passage, which is journalistically weak in ways we’ll explore later this week:
KIRKPATRICK: Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.

One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
In that passage, Kirkpatrick gives the impression that Rice asserted a certain story-line about what occurred. That basically isn’t true.

Nor did Republicans always say that the assault had been preplanned to coincide with September 11. In our recollection, that interpretation was implied or permitted much more often than it was asserted.

But that passage captures the basic outline of the script which sank Ambassador Rice. According to the prevailing script, al Qaeda had staged a pre-planned attack—and that silly video played no role in what occurred. Rice had been lying to the public when she refused to concur!

No journalist pushed that script as dumbly or as quickly as Schieffer did. This Sunday, Schieffer returns to Face the Nation. He should explain why he did the things he did.

That said, this bogus script quickly came to rule the discussion. Very few journalists stood to challenge it. Indeed, Kirkpatrick bows to its power throughout his new report, as we’ll detail later this week.

Here’s a quick overview:

In deference to the controlling script, Kirkpatrick continues to misparaphrase what Rice said on the Sunday programs on September 16, 2012. At one point, he even flatly misquotes something she said.

Such is the power of script in our broken intellectual culture. Such is the weakness of the mainstream press corps’ intellectual skills.

Rice appeared on five programs that day. At one point, Kirkpatrick flatly misquotes what she said on Meet the Press.

In part 3, we’ll consider the way Kirkpatrick is still misparaphrasing what Rice said on those Sunday programs. We’ll look at his flat misquotation of Rice.

In fairness to Kirkpatrick and his editors, everybody makes mistakes. Beyond that, our journalists are extremely unskilled, especially at the highest levels.

Still, it’s hard to avoid an obvious thought. Even as Kirkpatrick debunks two parts of the Benghazi script, he has continued to defer to its political power.

He continues to misrepresent, and even misquote, what Rice actually said that day. He plays the “both sides did it” game, suggesting that Rice and her attackers made equal but opposite errors.

Beyond that, he names the names of Republicans who pushed the bogus script. But he fails to name the names of any big major journalists.

Rather plainly, MVJ Krugman was on the right path in 2004. To an astounding extent, our public discussions are ruled by script. Isn’t it time we all made this obvious statement?

Tomorrow—Interlude: Once again, the text of what Rice said

Thursday—Part 3: Still misrepresenting—even misquoting!—after all these years

Margaret Spellings, propagandist!


The Washington Post rides again: Margaret Spellings was education secretary under President George W. Bush.

She’s also a propagandist. The Washington Post doesn’t care.

Last Friday, the Post published this hapless column by Spellings. Because the column is riddled with errors, it shouldn’t have gone into print.

That said, Spellings’ column followed a set of scripts the mainstream press has long found quite congenial. This has especially been true at the Post, which has a financial conflict of interest with respect to certain types of education “reform.”

Does Spellings know she’s a propagandist? We have no idea. For today, we thought we’d show you two types of script-friendly errors which drove her unfortunate column.

As Spellings started, so did the gloom and the doom. In this passage, she seems to make obvious errors. Headline included:
SPELLINGS (12/27/13): For better scores, tighten standards

This month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released its review of global educational achievement. The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, is one of the most comprehensive global school surveys, assessing half a million 15- and 16-year-olds every three years. This year's results contain a profoundly important insight into what works in U.S. education reform.

At the start of 2000, U.S. students were average or below average. In 2012, their scores were almost exactly the same. Meanwhile, students in China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong made steady gains, particularly in math and science.
It’s true that U.S. scores have shown little change on the PISA over those twelve years. Is it true that “students in China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong made steady gains, particularly in math and science?”

Uh-oh! With the exception of special districts (like Hong Kong), the PISA doesn’t offer scores for “students in China.” Let’s adjust our question:

Is it true that “students in Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong made steady gains” on the PISA, “particularly in math and science?”

Uh-oh! In fact, Singapore didn’t take part in the PISA until 2009.

Spellings’ error-riddled presentation is now down to three jurisdictions. Let's adjust our question again:

Is it true that “students in South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong made steady gains, particularly in math and science,” between 2000 and 2012?

Below, you see the relevant math scores. All three jurisdictions were high scorers in both 2000 and 2012. That said, Japan dropped 21 points in math during that period. No significant gains are apparent:
Average scores, math, 2000 PISA
Hong Kong: 560
Japan: 557
Korea: 547
OECD average: 492

Average scores, math, 2012 PISA
Hong Kong: 561
Japan: 536
Korea: 554
OECD average: 494
Do you see the “steady gains” to which Spellings refers?

In science, a similar pattern obtains. All three jurisdictions have been high scorers ever since the inaugural PISA. But we see no signs of the steady gains Spellings seems to have conjured:
Average scores, science, 2000 PISA
Hong Kong: 541
Japan: 550
Korea: 552
OECD average: 493

Average scores, science, 2012 PISA
Hong Kong: 555
Japan: 547
Korea: 538
OECD average: 501
When one repeats a societal script, one feels free to embellish a bit. Spellings seems to have done just that with respect to this point.

Spellings’ second error strikes us as much more significant and as baldly dishonest. The Washington Post should never have put this passage in print:
SPELLINGS: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), another major evaluation of student achievement, shows similar significant gains among U.S. students in 2008 and 2009 compared with the previous decade. But as with PISA, the growth in NAEP scores has slowed dramatically since 2009. Fourth-grade math scores, for instance, climbed 14 points between 2000 and 2009 but only two points over the next four years.


[T]he substantial gains through 2009 coincided with states widely adopting rigorous accountability policies. Throughout the mid- to late-1990s and early 2000s, the nation embraced accountability. By 2000, more than half the country had adopted some form of consequential accountability policies, and these efforts were extended and expanded nationally through the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), President George W. Bush’s landmark education legislation, passed in 2001.
In this passage, Spellings blows the horn for No Child Left Behind. A bit later, she attributes the drop in the growth of NAEP scores after 2009 to the work of slacker Obama. (“Sadly, federal policymakers have loosened standards since 2009.”)

There is no doubt that score gains have slowed on the NAEP. Spellings says this slowdown started after 2009. She blames Obama.

These self-serving claims are patently bogus. They never should have been published.

Assuming minimal competency, Spellings seems to be lying. “The growth in NAEP scores has slowed dramatically since 2009,” she says. Then, she gives her prime example:

“Fourth-grade math scores, for instance, climbed 14 points between 2000 and 2009 but only two points over the next four years.”

Assuming minimal competency, Spellings seems to be lying. Below, you see the actual record of fourth-grade scores on the NAEP. Question:

At what point does the growth in NAEP scores slow dramatically?
Average scores, Grade 4 math
NAEP, all students, public schools

2013: 241.18
2011: 240.11
2009: 239.09
2007: 239.06
2005: 237.10
2003: 233.95
2000: 224.21
It’s absurd to say that the growth in those scores “has slowed dramatically since 2009.” If we take these scores at face value, the growth stops cold after 2007, with George Bush still in the White House.

Please note—for various reasons, it’s foolish to over-interpret these scores. But Spellings chose Grade 4 math as her specific example.

Assuming minimal competency, she was lying in her assessment about the growth in scores. The rapid growth in those scores stopped at some point on her watch, not after Obama took over.

A similar pattern obtains in the other three areas tested. Here are the data:
Average scores, Grade 4 reading
NAEP, all students, public schools

2013: 220.67
2011: 220.03
2009: 219.60
2007: 219.66
2005: 217.30
2003: 216.46
2000: 211.31

Average scores, Grade 8 math
NAEP, all students, public schools

2013: 283.62
2011: 282.73
2009: 281.67
2007: 280.17
2005: 277.52
2003: 276.12
2000: 271.83

Average scores, Grade 8 reading
NAEP, all students, public schools

2013: 266.02
2011: 263.59
2009: 262.29
2007: 261.01
2005: 260.40
2003: 261.33
2002: 262.75
1998: 260.66
In all three areas, progress slows or stops during the Bush/Spellings years, not under slacker Obama.

Please note: Growth is better if you disaggregate these scores by race and by income. But no matter how you slice it, a slowdown occurs during the Bush years.

Assuming even minimal competence, Spellings would of course know this. If the Washington Post fact-checked familiar scriptural claims, they would have seen this too.

One last note about Spellings’ basic competence:

In the passage we have cited, she says fourth-grade math scores rose fourteen points between 2000 and 2009. But if you look at the data we have posted, you see that they actually rose 14.88 points. That rounds off to fifteen!

Why did Spellings say fourteen points? We’ll take a guess—she may have been using the NAEP scores for public and private schools combined.

That would have been very dumb, of course; No Child Left Behind didn’t apply to private schools. But her 14-point claim is correct if we talk about public and private combined. We’ll guess that may be what she did.

Back to the larger point:

Whether Spellings knew it or not, her column is pure propaganda. An honest and competent newspaper wouldn’t have put it in print.

The Post was happy to publish her piece. The piece supports a familiar script, a script the Post has long adored.

So what if it’s based on bogus claims? We live in a world where such concerns don’t stop the promulgation of script from the corporate elite—or even from those who promulgate script from “the left.”

Tomorrow: Equal but opposite bullroar

For all NAEP data: For all NAEP data, just click here. From there, you're on your own.

LAND OF SCRIPT: Krugman says one of the fevers has broken!


Part 1—Land of many outbreaks: In today’s column, Paul Krugman says that one of the fevers has broken.

We’re not sure that Krugman is right, although he certainly may be. To us, his evidence seems a bit thin.

Time will tell! But as he starts, Krugman describes one of the fevered regimes under which this nation has labored. An obvious question comes to mind:

How can this possibly happen?
KRUGMAN (12/30/13): In 2012 President Obama, ever hopeful that reason would prevail, predicted that his re-election would finally break the G.O.P.’s “fever.” It didn’t.

But the intransigence of the right wasn’t the only disease troubling America’s body politic in 2012. We were also suffering from fiscal fever: the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment that budget deficits were our most important and urgent economic problem, even though the federal government could borrow at incredibly low interest rates. Instead of talking about mass unemployment and soaring inequality, Washington was almost exclusively focused on the alleged need to slash spending (which would worsen the jobs crisis) and hack away at the social safety net (which would worsen inequality).

So the good news is that this fever, unlike the fever of the Tea Party, has finally broken.
Has that fiscal fever really broken? We can’t say that we’re sure. For now, we’ll return to our earlier question:

How can such a fever occur in this country at all?

How could this fever have happened? In a famously free society with a wide range of media sources, how is it possible that “virtually the entire political and media establishment” could ever have insisted on any one thing at all?

How is it possible that “the entire media establishment” could all have advanced the same point of view, especially when substantial evidence tilts against their Standard Group Position? In theory, this can’t happen in our society, yet such fevers have defined our journalistic and intellectual culture for at least four decades.

Nine years ago, Krugman discussed this unholy phenomenon. Citing an incomparable source, he used a helpful term—“script:”
KRUGMAN (8/3/04): Reading the Script

A message to my fellow journalists: check out media watch sites like campaigndesk.org, mediamatters.org and dailyhowler.com. It's good to see ourselves as others see us. I've been finding The Daily Howler's concept of a media ''script,'' a story line that shapes coverage, often in the teeth of the evidence, particularly helpful in understanding cable news.
The power of script extends well beyond the realm of cable news, of course. In today’s column, Krugman describes an economic script which has guided “virtually the entire political and media establishment” for quite a few years.

That said, such scripts have ruled other public discussions, erasing presumed distinctions between mainstream, left and right. A few examples:

Campaign 2000: In 1999 and 2000, a set of deeply pernicious scripts about Candidate Gore sent George W. Bush to the White House. Many “liberal” leaders advanced these scripts about Gore. Others agreed not to notice them, or to complain.

Social Security: Before that time, a set of baldly illogical scripts guided public opinion about the future viability of the Social Security program. (“The money isn’t there—we’ve already spent it!”) This potent fever went unaddressed by the liberal world’s public performers. It led to a widespread belief among the public that Social Security “wouldn’t be there” by the time they retired.

(For various reasons, this fever has broken in recent years. For the most part, it was replaced by the economic fever Krugman describes.)

The public schools: Over the past decade, a set of scripts has been widely adopted concerning the public schools. At this site, we have devoted a great deal of time to the various gong-show procedures by which these gloomy scripts have been supported and pushed on the public.

For the most part, the liberal world has ignored this collection of scripts. Example: Even today, the public schools go almost completely undiscussed on The One True Liberal Channel. (The channel’s master, NBC News, has been a prime advocate of these gong-show scripts.)

Our nation has suffered from many such fevers over the past four decades. These outbreaks are marked by the symptoms Krugman describes—“the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment” that X, Y or Z is plainly the case, “even though” it isn’t.

These outbreaks are marked by the presence of script. This week, we’re going to look at two different sets of such scripts.

On the one hand, we’ll examine the scripts which emerged in the fall of 2012 concerning the Benghazi disaster.

Yesterday, the New York Times published a major new report about what happened at Benghazi. This new report contradicts major aspects of last year’s standard script about this incident. We’ll look at the way the New York Times, and other establishment orgs, have tried to obscure that fact and soften that blow in the past 36 hours.

We’ll also look at a new set of scripts concerning the public schools. These new scripts have begun to emerge from those on the putative left.

Warnings to liberals! When our side finally gets off its ass and starts fashioning scripts about some matter, these new scripts can be just as bogus as the scripts we’ve left behind.

For many years, the liberal world swallowed “the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment” that our public schools are a wreck, as proven by miraculous Finland. Now that our putative “leaders” have finally begun to fight back, they are fashioning alternate scripts which are sometimes just as bogus.

Are we smart enough to function as a society? Again and again, the evidence suggests we are not. As liberals, our historical arc is rather clear:

First, we swallow scripted BS from “virtually the entire political and media establishment.” After decades of such submission, we rush to swallow scripted BS from those who present as Our Own.

Tomorrow: Equal but opposite bullroar

Are children in D.C. learning more?


In the Post, Whitmire says yes: Are children in D.C.’s public schools learning more than they did in the past?

Have their reading skills advanced? Do today’s students know more math than their counterparts from earlier years?

That’s the way it looks on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, even after disaggregation. But uh-oh! Because we liberals know as a matter of faith that such things cannot be true, Valerie Strauss invented a set of ridiculous claims to explain the score gains away.

To examine Strauss' claims, click this. As always, Diane Ravitch went farther (same link), stating that D.C. is “the lowest performing urban district in the nation.”

Plainly, that isn’t the case—but who cares? In this age of propagandization, our leaders, including our “liberal” leaders, are going to tell us various things which simply aren’t true.

What explains the score gains in D.C.? We can’t tell you that.

Do the score gains reflect additional learning and skill? On its face, that would be one obvious explanation.

Richard Whitmire believes that explanation. He believes that kids in D.C. actually are learning more. He believes they’re learning more because their schools are improved.

We don’t know enough about D.C. schools to evaluate his claims. But here’s how he started his explanation in last Sunday’s Washington Post:
WHITMIRE: (12/22/13): Allow me to flesh out this story. The first thing to know is that the rapid progress in Washington can be attributed to three school chiefs. Everyone knows about Kaya Henderson, the D.C. schools chancellor, who is so widely admired that she was approached about taking over the New York City schools. Henderson is the kinder, gentler version of controversial former chancellor Michelle Rhee. As a Rhee deputy, Henderson relentlessly championed improving teacher quality. She hasn’t changed.

Then there’s the lesser-known Scott Pearson, who oversees the city’s charter schools, which educate 44 percent of the city’s students. The important thing to know about Pearson: He has relentlessly cleaned up the mess left by the old school board, which approved too many lousy charters. Thanks to his clear accountability system ranking the effectiveness of schools, and his efforts to lure top performers, the District has moved to the top ranks of charter school innovators.
According to Whitmire, the lesser-known Pearson has gotten rid of a bunch of lousy charters.

Is that true? Does it help explain the recent score gains? We don’t know. Nor will you ever see our “liberal” leaders trying to break the wall of propaganda by exploring such claims in a responsible manner. In this age of propaganda, people like Ravitch and Strauss will hand you bogus facts and ridiculous logic, playing the public in the same ways Rush Limbaugh has done in the past.

Back to Whitmire. According to his piece in the Post, “the third key player is Susan Schaeffler,” who “oversees the network of KIPP charter schools in the city, a system that has grown from 80 fifth-graders in 2001 to 3,600 students in neighborhoods that include Anacostia, Shaw and Trinidad.”

“Together, these three leaders have dug the D.C. schools out of a very deep hole,” Whitmire claims.

Is that true? We don’t know—and your various liberal leaders won’t try to help you find out. We live in an age of propaganda, an age of blatantly bogus claims and blatantly broken logic.

A few years ago, Whitmire was a highly sycophantic biographer of Michelle Rhee. We thought his work at that time was quite bad. Concerning last Sunday’s claims, he may be right.

But you will see few attempts to examine and analyze D.C.’s score gains in conventional ways. Instead, the propaganda and bogus claims will continue to flow.

Two cases in point, one from each side of the aisle:

On Friday, the Post published this op-ed column by Margaret Spellings, the former Bush education chief. Assuming even minimal competence, Spellings was clownishly cherry-picking her data—and the Post let her do it.

Due to its deceptive claims, her piece should not have appeared.

On Thursday, NPR’s Morning Edition aired this interview with Linda Darling-Hammond, the Stanford professor. The interview came straight from the land called Low IQ Nation, thanks in large measure to the work of Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, who simply accepted everything his guest said.

Darling-Hammond made some puzzling claims and presentations. Inskeep should have pursued them.

Next week, we’ll examine the column by Spellings and the interview with Darling-Hammond. We live in a truly remarkable world, a world of bungled factual claims and thoroughly bogus illogic.

Does anyone care about the truth? Evidence of such a concern is rather hard to find, especially among the very fine people arrayed on the pseudo left.

Our leaders are all Rush Limbaugh now. We serve as their ditto-heads.

Another puzzling example: Did you see this letter from Randi Weingarten? Next week, we’ll examine it too.

We live in very strange times. We don’t mean that as a compliment.

We’re going out to clean the pasture spring!


Christmas lands on the 25th: The analysts tell us that Christmas lands on the 25th this year.

For that reason, we’re going out to clean the pasture spring! We don’t expect to post again until Saturday.

We leave you the post directly below, concerning test scores in D.C. and the desire to say they don’t count.

The year of living propagandistically!


Strauss pulls a Rhee at the Post: In many ways, this has been the year of living propagandistically.

It has been the year when liberal entities followed Fox and Rush and Sean down a wormhole of bogus claims and propagandistic misrepresentations.

This has been especially true when it comes to public schools. Consider this recent post by the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss.

Strauss became an education reporter at the Post in 1994. Since 2009, she has been writing The Answer Sheet, an education blog.

In her recent post, Strauss discusses, or pretends to discuss, the new NAEP scores recorded by the Washington, D.C. schools. In the case of D.C., this can be am especially tricky task, for the following reasons:

As of now, 44 percent of D.C. students attend charter schools. These schools are public schools, of course. But the large number of charters can make the task of reporting D.C. test scores a bit complex.

For a “liberal” like Strauss, the recent rise in D.C. test scores presents a dual problem:

We liberals don’t want to say that the large score gains have come from the District’s charter schools. On an ideological basis, charters are known to be bad.

On the other hand, we don’t want to say the score gains came from the District’s non-charter public schools. Under chancellor Kaya Henderson, those schools still operate in accord with Michelle Rhee’s “reform” principles.

For a liberal propagandist, there’s no good way to report the score gains which have occurred in the District. As a result, Strauss adopted a gloomy point of view about the District’s gains—a point of view she advanced with a set of claims which are disgracefully clueless.

This is how Strauss begins her post. We include her dismissive headlines:
STRAUSS (12/18/13): What does rise in D.C. test scores really mean? Not much.

Public schools in D.C. just saw larger gains on 2013 math and reading tests on the National Assessment of Educational Progress—which is sometimes called “the nation’s report card”—than any other major urban school system in the country. Impressive, right? Well, maybe not so much.


The test score gains were impressive on the face of it: five points in fourth-grade reading, eight points in eighth-grade reading, seven points in fourth-grade math and five points in eighth-grade math.

But consider this:
As Strauss notes, D.C. recorded large score gains this year. This year’s scores are substantially higher than those from 2011, when the NAEP was last given.

Strauss proceeded to tell the world why those gains don’t mean much. Below, you see a set of four bullet points.

You also see an example of appalling journalism. Assuming minimal competence on Strauss’ part, what follows is pure propaganda:
STRAUSS (continuing directly): But consider this:

*NAEP scores for D.C. public schools have been going up for a decade, well before Michelle Rhee became chancellor in 2007 and began the test-based school reforms that her successor, Kaya Henderson, has continued.

*DCPS still has the nation’s widest achievement gaps between white and black students and white and Hispanic students than any other big urban school district. Here are the percentages of fourth-grade students who scored high enough to be labeled “proficient” in reading, which in NAEP terms is high: 78 percent for whites, 26 percent for Hispanics and 13 percent for blacks.

*Poor black D.C. students score lower, on average, than their counterparts in other cities.

*White D.C. students are generally more affluent than black and Hispanic students. And the city has seen some demographic changes in the last decade in which the proportion of white fourth-graders...has tripled, and the proportion of black students fell from 87 percent to 67 percent.
Strauss’ first bullet point is accurate and perfectly apt. As we ourselves have often noted, scores were rising in D.C. before Michelle Rhee hit the scene.

Strauss’ next three bullet points constitute an intellectual disgrace. Let’s run through them in order:

“DCPS still has the nation’s widest achievement gaps between white and black students?”

That’s true, and everybody knows why it’s true: D.C.’s white student population comes from a very high socioeconomic background. No other city (or state) has a comparable white student population.

Those students produce extremely high test scores. By a large margin, they outscore the white student populations of every state, including high-flying Massachusetts.

Those high test scores produce D.C.’s unusually large achievement gaps. If Strauss is even minimally competent, she is being baldly dishonest when she cites those gaps as evidence that the District’s recent score gains “don’t mean much.”

This point will become more clear below, when we look at the score gains recorded in recent years by D.C.’s black students.

“Poor black D.C. students score lower, on average, than their counterparts in other cities?”

This extremely fuzzy statement is true—but it’s also false! The District's low-income black kids score below their peers in some cities—but they outscore their low-income peers in quite a few other cities.

Assuming minimal competence, that statement is extremely fuzzy because Strauss doesn’t want to lay out the facts.

Below, you see average scores for Grade 8 math by low-income black students. We’re providing the scores for the twenty cities which took part in the NAEP Trial Urban District study and had a sufficient sample of black students.

For reasons you will quickly discern, we’re presenting D.C.’s average scores three different ways. If you count all the District’s public schools, charters and non-charters alike, D.C.’s low-income black kids scored right in the middle on Grade 8 math as compared to their counterparts in the other cities:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2013 NAEP
Low-income black students only

Boston 269
Houston 267
Charlotte 266
Washington DC (charter schools) 266
Austin 261
New York City 261
Dallas 260
Tampa (Hillsborough County) 260
Atlanta 258
Washington DC (all schools) 257
Chicago 257
Miami 257
Baltimore 256
Philadelphia 255
San Diego 253
Los Angeles 252
Louisville (Jefferson County) 252
Washington DC (non-charter schools) 249
Cleveland 249
Fresno 246
Milwaukee 245
Detroit 235
None of those average scores are “good.” Certainly, none of those scores are good enough. But if you consider all D.C. schools, charters and non-charters alike, D.C.’s low-income black kids scored in the middle on Grade 8 math as compared to their peers.

Is that the impression you would have gotten from Strauss' statement, which was extremely fuzzy?

D.C.’s black kids scores in the middle. Given this city’s traditional standing, that represents a very strong improvement. That performance “doesn’t mean much” if you don’t care about D.C.’s black kids. Or if your ideology is more important than telling people the truth.

Strauss’ last bullet-point is especially disingenuous. She notes the influx of affluent white students into the D.C. schools in recent years. Her suggestion is clear—this influx means that D.C.’s score gains “don’t mean much.”

In one sense, that is accurate. In part, D.C.’s aggregate scores have gone up because of the influx of these affluent students.

But if Strauss is even minimally competent, she knows how to “disaggregate” test scores! She knows how to review the scores of black kids on their own.

Below, you see what Strauss failed, or refused, to tell readers about. You see the scores, and score gains, recorded by D.C.’s low-income black students:
Average scores, Washington, D.C., Grade 8 math
All schools, low-income black students only

2013: 257
2011: 252
2009: 245
2007: 241
2005: 238
On their face, those are very large gains—and those average scores are not being inflated by the scores of high-income white kids.

On their face, those score gains represents very good news, if you actually give a rip about D.C.’s black kids. Assuming even minimal competence, Strauss surely understands that.

Strauss has one more complaint about D.C.’s score gains. This passage is pitiful too:
STRAUSS (continuing directly from above): D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson understandably wants the credit for the test score rise to go to her administration’s reform policies, which include evaluating teachers by student test scores. But she can’t really know that that is the reason. In fact, data Brown received shows that black students in the city’s public charter schools overall did better than black students in the traditional public school system.
One part of that passage is certainly true. No one can say exactly why these score gains have occurred. And as we noted earlier, score gains were occurring in D.C. before the tenure of Rhee and Henderson, Rhee’s assistant and now her successor.

That said, note the statement we’ve highlighted. “In fact, data Brown received shows that black students in the city’s public charter schools overall did better than black students in the traditional public school system?”

Good God.

Strauss refers to Post reporter Emma Brown, who did the paper’s puzzling news report about D.C.’s new scores. According to Strauss, Brown “received data” which show that black kids in D.C.’s charters scored better than their counterparts in the city’s non-charters.

Are those really “data Brown received?” Thanks to the National Center for Education Statistics, tose data are available on-line for everyone in the world to review! (Start here, continue clicking.) And yes, black kids did score better in the charters, as we’ve shown you above.

In the ridiculous phrase we’ve quoted, we get a hint that Strauss may not be minimally competent. But note the disingenuous nature of her complaint about those two sets of scores:

Every liberal knows the script about charter schools, and there is merit to that script. Whenever a charter school achieves decent scores, we liberals correctly note that charter schools are able, at least in theory, to siphon off more motivated students from a school system’s non-charters. (This is often called “creaming.”)

Presumably, this process explains some or all of that difference in scores in the District. D.C. kids who have gone to the charters are probably more motivated, on average, than the kids who stayed behind.

In other situations, someone like Strauss would instantly note this possibility. In this case, she wants to say that D.C.’s score gains in D.C. don’t mean much.

She wants to knock the D.C. schools. Toward that end, all facts will be cherry-picked, all logic will be perverted.

For the record, even as very large numbers of kids have been siphoned off by D.C.’s charters, scores have been rising in D.C.’s non-charters too. This is what the scores look like for low-income black kids who didn’t go into the charters:
Average scores, Washington, D.C., Grade 8 math
Non-charter schools, low-income black students only

2013: 249
2011: 243
2009: 239
2007: 235
Why have those scores gone up? We can’t tell you that. But those scores haven’t been inflated by an influx of high-income students, white or black. And those gains have been occurring even as the charters have siphoned off a big chunk of the student population.

What explains the score gains we have detailed here? We can’t tell you that; reasonable skepticism is always appropriate. But it’s appalling to see Strauss try to fudge these gains away in such disingenuous ways.

Assuming even minimal competence, Strauss’ post is a journalistic disgrace. We’d have to say she’s “done a Rhee.”

Here’s what we mean by that:

When Michelle Rhee came to D.C., her resume included ridiculous claims about her own brilliant teaching career. That very first week, we noted how absurd her claims seemed to be, and we made an obvious statement:

It’s appalling to see someone build her career on false claims about a bunch of low-income city kids.

Strauss does the same thing in this post. Assuming even minimal competence, that post is appalling—baldly dishonest. Let’s summarize the facts:

Across all the schools of the District, the average score of low-income black kids has risen by 19 points in Grade 8 math over the past eight years. It takes a special type of ideologue to say that “doesn’t mean much,” especially when her analyses are so clownishly illogical.

Three of Strauss’ bullet points make no sense at all. Her additional point (the charters score higher!) is pitifully weak tea too.

You really have to hate black kids to be willing to lie about them so much! In this year of living propagandistically, Strauss’ post helps show the way the “liberal” world has followed Fox and Rush and Sean deep down into the toilet.

Where you can get NAEP data: There’s no easy way to access these data. In part, that’s because the NCES has done a clumsy job with the complexities of D.C., which has a lot of charter schools and is sometimes treated as a state.

If you want to examine the data, click here, then click on MAIN NDE (Main NAEP Data Explorer). Click on, "I agree to the terms above." From there, you’re on your own.

For the reasons we have cited, D.C. data are quite tricky. You’ll have to teach yourself how to find them. We think our data are all accurate, but we’re willing to be corrected. In the particular case of D.C., the NCES has made this process unnecessarily confusing.

That said, Strauss’ treatment of those score gains is a disgrace, an obvious undisguised joke. The influx of white kids doesn’t inflate the average scores of black kids. The achievement gap doesn’t mean that black kids’ score gains don't count.

Charters are draining off lots of kids, but scores in non-charters are going up too. And D.C.’s black kids are outscoring their counterparts in quite a few cities. Why didn’t Strauss simply state that fact? Why did she offer an absurdly fuzzy statement which seemed to suggest something worse?

Who would toy with black kids this way? Answer:

In an age of living propagandistically, logic and facts will be sacrificed to a far nobler cause.

This sort of thing happens a lot: Sadly, pathetically, this sort of thing happens a lot.

Less than two weeks ago, Diane Ravitch made a ridiculous statement about the D.C. schools:
RAVITCH (12/10/13): Despite its recent gains on the 2013 NAEP, the District of Columbia is not a national model.

It remains the lowest performing urban district in the nation.
At the time, we asked an obvious question: Why would Ravitch say that?

At that time, the full data weren’t available from the 2013 NAEP. But even on the 2011 NAEP, it was clear that D.C. wasn’t the lowest performing urban district, not even among the twenty districts available for review.

Assuming Ravitch writes her own books, she already knew that. Here’s what she wrote in Reign of Error, which appeared in August:
RAVITCH (page 154): Looking at NAEP scores, we know for certain that Rhee didn’t turn it into the highest-performing urban district in the nation. Its students still have low scores on the no-stakes federal assessment. It remains in the bottom group of urban districts along with Atlanta, Baltimore City, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Fresno, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Philadelphia (Atlanta is in the bottom tier in mathematics but not in reading).
That account was very weak in a wide range of ways. But in her book, Ravitch didn’t claim that D.C. was the “lowest performing” district even as of the 2011 NAEP.

D.C. was in “the bottom group,” she said. To establish her claim, she placed D.C. in a group of ten cities, out of only twenty cities involved in the NAEP urban study.

In December, the nation learned that D.C. had recorded large score gains on the 2013 NAEP. For unknown reasons, Ravitch proceeded to drop a bomb. She claimed that D.C. was the lowest performing district, even after its large gains.

Why did Ravitch say that? By now, with additional data released, we can see just how absurd that statement actually was.

In many ways, this has been the year of living propagandistically. For decades, these practices came to us from the right—from Rush, from Sean, from the Fox News Channel, from the gong-show world of talk radio.

Increasingly, the absurd misstatements now come from our own. Assuming even minimal competence, Strauss’ post was an utter disgrace.

Whatever her various merits may be, Ravitch remains a puzzling fount of propagandistic misstatement. Can this really be the best the liberal world has to offer?

New York Times bungles test scores again!


The era of living incompetently: On Thursday morning, the New York Times reported, or tried to report, the new NAEP scores for New York City.

For reasons you can review, we described the news report as the work of functional illiterates. That was before we fact-checked the newspaper’s factual claims.

Yesterday, we fact-checked their claims. Truly, we are all trapped in the era of living incompetently!

What did Al Baker and Motoko Rich claim in their multiply bungled report? As you can recall at the link we’ve provided, this was the passage we found most striking:
BAKER AND RICH (12/19/13): More than a snapshot of achievement, the scores released Wednesday illuminate overall increases the city’s fourth and eighth graders have made in math and reading since 2003, the year after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office.

For New York City’s fourth graders, the average reading score rose to 216 out of 500 this year, up 10 points from 2003. Nationally, the average fourth-grade reading score rose by four points, to 221. On math tests, the city’s fourth-grade average score rose to 236, up 10 points from 2003; the national score rose by seven points, to 241.
Baker and Rich tried to report the score gains achieved in the Bloomberg years. As it turns out, their highlighted statements are wrong.

Did New York City fourth-graders gain ten points in both reading and math? As we noted in our original post, that would suggest strong academic gains, based on conventional rules of thumb for interpreting NAEP scores.

That said, Gotham’s fourth-graders didn’t gain ten points in either reading or math.

Miraculously, the writers got the current fourth-grade scores right. But in each case, they misstated the size of the gains.

Here are New York City’s actual scores for fourth-grade reading. We’ll give you two decimal places:
Score gains on NAEP, New York City, 2003-2013
All students, Grade 4 reading

2013: 216.27
2003: 209.88
Score gain: 6.39 points
On its face, that isn’t a bad score gain. But no, it isn’t ten points.

Here are the scores for math, where the Times almost got something right:
Score gains on NAEP, New York City, 2003-2013
All students, Grade 4 math

2013: 235.84
2003: 226.36
Score gain: 9.48 points
By conventional rules of thumb, 9.48 points is a strong gain. As you can see, it’s a gain of almost ten points, although, by convention, 9.48 rounds off to nine.

By conventional rules of thumb, those aren’t bad score gains at all. Across the nation, gains have been easier to achieve in math than in reading, a pattern which holds in this case.

For that reason, we were struck by the reporters’ original claim. On its face, a gain of ten points in reading would have been a very strong gain.

The real gain was 6.39.

As the reporters noted, these gains are larger than those of the nation as a whole. But as usual, Baker and Rich were weirdly wrong, even in their factual statements.

How does the New York Times manage to do it? How do they get so many things wrong, right down to their basic numbers?

In our view, Rich’s education reporting creates an especially deep puzzle. At the social club known as our greatest newspaper, this summa cum laude graduate of Yale get very few things right.

How is that even possible?

A few more points:

It was never clear why the reporters singled out fourth grade in their report. Completing the picture, here are New York City’s gains in eighth grade reading and math:
Score gains on NAEP, New York City, 2003-2013
All students, Grade 8 reading

2013: 256.43
2003: 251.79
Score gain: 4.64 points

All students, Grade 8 math
2013: 273.62
2003: 265.77
Score gain: 7.85 points
Those gains are farther from ten points. Did it make sense to (mis)report the fourth-grade gains while ignoring the smaller gains recorded in Grade 8?

One more point:

It is always dangerous to work with aggregate scores—with the average scores achieved by all students. If demographic changes have occurred in a student population, aggregate scores can mask more significant trends.

Below, you see the score gains for black kids in New York City during the Bloomberg years.

On their face, these are good gains. None of the gains amount to ten points, although Grade 8 math comes close:
Score gains on NAEP, New York City, 2003-2013
Black students, Grade 4 reading

2013: 209.70
2003: 201.27
Score gain: 8.43 points

Black students, Grade 4 math
2013: 224.70
2003: 218.90
Score gain: 5.80 points

Black students, Grade 8 reading
2013: 252.56
2003: 244.71
Score gain: 7.85 points

Black students, Grade 8 math
2013: 262.59
2003: 253.15
Score gain: 9.44 points
On their face, those eighth grade gains are strong. Final point:

Especially in tests where samples are tested, any individual score can be “wrong.” Any individual score can be unnaturally high or unnaturally low, for any number of reasons.

There is no perfect sampling. Unless you’re measuring height or weight, there is no perfect measurement—and not even then, of course.

Any individual score or score gain can be “wrong.” You have to look at the broad sweep of scores and make a broad assessment. On their face, the score gains were pretty good in Gotham during the past ten years.

Inevitably, though, the New York Times misstated the basic facts in Thursday’s multiply-bungled report. The Times, which is really a social club, is grossly incompetent in an amazingly wide range of ways.

Our pledge:

In the next year, we’ll try to induce other people to discuss that remarkable fact. Given the national role of the Times, it’s very hard to get career writers to state that remarkable fact.

Coming tomorrow or Monday: The year of living propagandistically! Valerie Strauss’ propagandistic review of D.C.’s new NAEP scores

Where do our data come from: As far as we know, there isn’t any easy way to link you to these NAEP data. If you want to check for yourself:

Click here, then click on MAIN NDE.
(Main NAEP Data Explorer.)

Click on “I agree to the terms above.” From there, you’re on your own.

Salon has itself a creeped-out little Christmas!


We’ve seen this movie before: We’re going to make an admission:

Until yesterday, we had never listened to the lyrics of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” a non-Christmas Christmas song which publicly dates to the 1949 Esther Williams film, Neptune’s Daughter.

Yesterday, we listened for the first time, inspired by Salon’s street-fighting agent of change, Daniel D’Addario. Reprising what is fast becoming a seasonal tradition at Salon, he told the on-line magazine’s readers what the song is really about:
D’ADDARIO (12/19/13): “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is one of those Christmas songs that really has nothing to do with Christmas—it’s just about cold weather, and also sexual coercion.
Say what? Is Baby, It’s Cold Outside really “about sexual coercion?” Such matters are in the eye of the troubled beholder.

In D’Addario’s case, he has apparently struggled with the song for some time. He offers six versions of the song which “have particularly creeped us out in recent years.”

Us? He doesn’t explain.

Based upon his selections, D’Addario gets the creeps fairly easy. He’s troubled by the fact that Willie Nelson is 46 years older than Norah Jones, with whom he has recorded the song.

(“Hearing him rasp, ‘What’s the sense in hurting my pride?’ to the young lady he’s just served a drink is not how we want to celebrate the season,” the Salonista complains.)

We? Again, no explanation.

D’Addario finds another version of the song “depressing.” (Explanation: Teenagers shouldn’t be singing it.) Here’s his reaction to hearing John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John:
D’ADDARIO: In this deeply strange, gender-swapped version, Newton-John tries to seduce her “Grease” costar, who’s worried about his parents overreacting to his coming home late. Travolta was 58 when this song came out, unlikely to be worried about his parents or, allegedly, the particular charms of a woman like Newton-John, who nearly blows out her larynx trying to sound kittenish.
Salon takes down Newton-John!

At some point, the thought begins to intrude—D’Addario may be amazingly dumb. But we don’t think that’s it.

Before we reveal what it actually is, a few observations:

The song was instantly “gender-swapped” when it debuted in Neptune’s Daughter. In that film, Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams do the song first. Later, Red Skelton sings it with Betty Garrett, with Garrett—the girl!—cast in the role of the smitten partner who wants to extend the evening.

Garrett, who started out in the Borscht Belt, is very funny and very winning. Betty Garrett could really perform! It’s actually worth watching the second half of the tape.

Second observation: A lot of people have sung this song, which is probably fun for singers to sing. Sometimes, a pair of singers singing a standard is just a pair of singers singing.

We believe Abraham Lincoln said that.

Note to Salonistas: You actually aren’t supposed to imagine that Willie Nelson is trying to hit on Norah Jones. You aren’t supposed to ask yourself whether Travolta would really worry about his parents.

D’Addario graduated from Yale in 2010. What made him offer this strained pisspiddle? Here goes:

At Salon, we’d have to say that something is happenin’ and we do know what it is. Or so it appears, Mr. Jones!

At Salon, a new generation is declaring its break from all that has gone before. The children seem to be casting about, rejecting all cultural markers.

Something similar happened in the 1960s, when we kids were busy stopping a war. Never trust anyone over 30! In many ways, the determined inanity of our generation didn’t work out super well, although there were also large gains.

So it may be with the kids at Salon! For whatever reason, they’re declaring a revolution. It’s one they frequently stage inanely, but it may lead to good things.

That said, our generation, in its excesses, helped spawn an era of Reaganist reaction. Hopefully, the Salonista won’t attract enough attention to provoke a similar backlash. But God knows they’re going to try!

As usual, many commenters rolled their eyes as Salon jumped the standard. (“Oh, for crying out loud. Leave it to Salon to turn a delightful, funny, and romantic song into a hyper-sexualized hymn to rape culture.”)

For ourselves, we couldn’t help wondering:

Did their parents send them to Yale to get creeped out in such ways?

An instant holiday tradition: For last year’s critique of this song at Salon, just click here. We’re quoting:

“Especially for a tune so closely associated with the holidays, Baby, It’s Cold Outside is icky at best, at worst reprehensible: It describes what may be a date rape.”

In conclusion, it isn’t the values to which we object. It’s the blinding stupidity of the way the values are being pursued. When “liberals” stage generational jags of this type, things may not turn out super well.

Should Governor Ultrasound be ruined?


Rachel the Destroyer: Last night, the Maddow show had nothing about Chris Christie.

The enormous national story had apparently died down. In its place, we got an early tease about Governor Ultrasound:
MADDOW (12/19/13): Will Bob McDonnell be the first-ever Virginia governor to be criminally indicted while still in office? Today, we got an answer to that question, and it turns out it’s a fascinating answer.

That story is ahead. Stay with us.
The second tease was longer. It jacked up the power of the story, which Rachel called “mind-blowing:”
MADDOW: In political terms, one of the things that’s happening this holiday season that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s term in office is coming to a close. He has spent his final month in office being fairly festive.

He put out a proclamation that the month of December is Christmas Tree Month! That’s smart.

He attended a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Ta-da!

He unveiled a— “Oh, what’s that? A portrait of me? You shouldn’t have!”

All in the line of duty for Governor Ultrasound.

None of these things, though, have distracted anybody from the big legal storm cloud that has overshadowed his final year as governor. It turns out, though, that the legal gods just recently have presented one very, very special Christmas gift to Governor Ultrasound—a very special present, almost a festive present.

Stay tuned. This story is next and it is mind-blowing.
In truth, the story wasn’t mind-blowing. On the other hand, we thought it revealed an intriguing turn of mind on the part of Cable Host Vlad the Destroyer.

When her full segment began, Rachel worked from a front-page report in the Washington Post. She seemed to misstate the report in at least one major way.

According to the Post, this is the state of play for Governor U-sound:
HELDERMAN (12/19/13): Federal prosecutors told Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell last week that he and his wife would be charged in connection with a gift scandal, but senior Justice Department officials delayed the decision after the McDonnells’ attorneys made a face-to-face appeal in Washington, according to people familiar with the case.


On Friday, the day after the meeting, McDonnell’s attorneys were told that the decision would be put on hold, the people said. A final decision about whether to press charges is now not expected before Jan. 2 and could come as late as February, they said.
According to Rachel’s account, the Post report left no doubt that McDonnell will be indicted. The date on which he will be charged has merely been delayed.

That pretty much isn’t what the Post said. But Rachel, like Dusty Springfield before her, seemed to be wishin’ and hopin’.

Lovingly, Rachel rattled off the alleged offenses by McDonnell, which, to be perfectly honest, involve extremely stupid and venal behavior but don’t amount to much. She was careful to mention the children, as she always does at such times.

Rachel is a true believer in the evil of Others. As she introduced her guest, she expressed her frustration with the failure to charge:
MADDOW (12/19/13): The Justice Department is not commenting on the Washington Post’s reporting, and the Justice Department would not make someone available to talk with us tonight about this case.

But it is thought to be unusual for the Justice Department to overrule a U.S. attorney like this. And if they are delaying the indictment out of deference to Governor Bob McDonnell’s standing as a public official, why is that?

The alleged crimes here, violations of the Hobbs Act, the alleged crimes here, they are public official corruption crimes. Of all the crimes, wouldn’t that be the kind of crime where you would not defer to the guy’s stature as a public official? Isn’t the whole point that he has abused the office? Why keep him in it if that’s what he’s done to it?

Joining us now is Thomas Cullen. He’s a former federal prosecutor in Virginia.
Cullen tried to talk Rachel off the ledge. He told her that it isn’t “unusual for the Justice Department to overrule a U.S. attorney like this.”

He said an indictment at this time might be disruptive to the transition to Governor McAuliffe. “So I think for all those reasons, the department was receptive to the argument, you can wait a little while if you’re going to do this, buy some time, and let’s continue a dialogue about potentially how to resolve this case without an indictment.”

In response, Rachel let her destroyer flag fly. Shouldn’t we want to see McDonnell “humiliated and ruined,” she now asked:
MADDOW: If the argument is that it would be disruptive for the political process in Virginia, the other side of that is the argument for why you would ever bring charges in a case like this in the first place, right?

I mean, the federal government intervenes in a case like this. It’s a federal charge, in order to essentially ensure the integrity of public office, so that people are punished and incidentally humiliated and ruined when they abuse their office in such a way that causes them to violate the Hobbs Act and potentially go to prison.

So if the idea is to deter, the reason you prosecute these things to deter other public officials from doing it, isn’t that a good counterargument against the threat of disruption to the political process?
In Rachel’s mind, the Justice Department tries to ensure that people get punished “and incidentally, humiliated and ruined.”

We thought that was weirdly harsh. But after another attempt at soothing by Cullen, Rachel went there again:
MADDOW: I understand the argument. I totally disagree with it. I think the public interest in this case is about nailing people for public corruption and it helps if you ruin their career in the process.

But, apparently, they’ve made their decision.
It helps if you ruin their careers! Apparently, Rachel thinks the ruination of Ultrasound would be less next month.

We thought this display was odd for two basic reasons:

First, as noted, McDonnell’s alleged corruption is actually pretty small cheese. He took a lot of money from a business owner, but he didn’t do much to help him. The public interest wasn’t harmed in any gigantic way, if it was harmed at all.

Our second reason was a bit different. As Rachel rattled off the various ways McDonnell accepted money, we couldn’t help thinking of all the money Rachel is shoving into her pants as she snarks and frets her way across the stage.

She is accepting much more money than McDonnell ever did. In our view, she violates the integrity of her own position pretty much every night.

We’re a bit more mellow than Rachel. It struck us as strange that she would want to see someone “humiliated and ruined” at all.

It struck us as especially strange, given that her own misconduct seems to have eclipsed his.

That said, Rachel the Destroyer left no doubt about the way she feels. Someone gave Ultrasound a watch. On that basis, she wants to see him “humiliated and ruined.”

Rachel is a very strange duck. In our view, she works quite hard, in various ways, to keep you from seeing that.

Haven’t been there, done that!


Part 4—The word from the absentee experts: In his new book, I Got Schooled, M. Night Shyamalan presents “the five keys to closing America’s education gap.”

In this recent post, Kevin Drum summarized Shyamalan's ideas.

In her own book, Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch offers eleven solutions. On page 229, she starts with this:
SOLUTION NO. 1 Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.
That sounds like a good idea to us! We’ll look at other solutions below.

We don’t necessarily disagree with any of the recommendations from these two observers. Ravitch’s work is more important because she’s more highly placed.

(She isn’t so highly placed as to merit attention from MSNBC. According to the Nexis archives, Ravitch has appeared on the channel’s late afternoon and evening programs exactly once in the past year, for a single segment on the October 4 Chris Hayes program. To his great credit, it seemed that Hayes had actually read Ravitch’s book, as we’ll note below! Manifestly, though, the liberal world doesn’t seem to care about low-income kids.)

We don’t necessarily disagree with any of those recommendations. But even as we read Ravitch’s more influential work, we get a familiar feeling about these writers:

We get the feeling they’ve never been there or done that. We get the feeling that they don’t really know what they’re talking about.

A great amount of our “educational expertise” comes to us in this manner. Here’s how the system works:

Our experts sit in their comfortable quarters, preferably on the campus of Stanford. As they sit, they sift through the incoming.

They examine the kinds of data you can review without ever leaving your home. They may even work with data from our various statewide tests. They may be using such data even now, when even they must understand that a lot of those data are grotesquely compromised.

(For ourselves, we first discussed outright cheating on standardized tests with the Baltimore Sun in 1971 or 1972. We did a full column on this subject in 1981, complete with implausible scoring patterns from individual schools. In the past few years, the nation’s educational experts have begun to catch up with what’s going on. Generally, this has occurred because of the whistle-blowing of non-experts.)

Our educational experts tend to be the last ones to know! Reading Ravitch, we get the sense that she strongly cares, but that she hasn’t been there.

What are the actual problems in urban elementary schools? Those who have never taught in such schools may have little idea. Briefly, let’s discuss the late Dr. Sam Banks, in our view a very fine person.

As of the early 1970s, Dr. Banks was in charge of social studies instruction for the Baltimore City schools.

In the 1950s, Baltimore had been a legally segregated, dual system. Dr. Banks was in the vanguard as Baltimore became majority black in its student population and in its administrative ranks.

In the early to mid-1970s, Dr. Banks created a sprawling, wildly ambitious social studies curriculum for the elementary schools. There was one major problem. Dr. Banks, a superb person who deeply cared, didn’t seem to understand the problems of Baltimore’s elementary schools.

In 1982, we described a problem with his curriculum in the Baltimore Sun:
SOMERBY (2/9/82): [I]n grade after grade, for topic after topic, [Baltimore City teaching] guides recommend textbooks which are clearly too difficult for most city students to work from—books which are completely inappropriate for children who may be several years below traditional grade level in reading. In the first semester of fourth grade, for example, the two most commonly cited textbooks are Daniel Chu’s “A Glorious Age in Africa”—a textbook with a measured eighth-grade reading level—and Frederick King’s “The Social Studies and Our Country”—Laidlaw’s sixth-grade textbook.

Few fourth graders anywhere will be able to profit from textbooks as difficult as these. In an urban system like Baltimore’s, this selection is particularly surprising—and dooms any attempt to teach the social studies curriculum in a rigorous, systematic way.

The results of this situation are all too predictable. Baltimore teachers find it difficult—indeed, impossible—to find readable textbooks with which social studies and science can be taught to their numerous below-level readers. The result may be that such children are not taught social studies and science at all.
Long before Amanda Ripley, there we were, discussing “rigor!” But we knew what we were talking about. For the most part, Ripley doesn’t seem to.

Back to the basics: You can’t ask fourth-graders to read eighth-grade books, especially if the kids are reading on traditional second- or third-grade level. Rather, you can ask them to do that. But they won’t understand what they’re reading, and they’ll learn to hate “learning” and school.

Dr. Banks lives in our memory as one of the most caring people we’ve ever met. But in our view, he didn’t seem to understand some of what happens in low-income elementary schools.

That’s the same impression we get when we read Shyamalan, Ripley or Ravitch. Due to her rather peculiar stature as the leading liberal in this area, Ravitch’s work is important.

At least in principle, some of the work in her new book is very good. Example: Early on, she lays out a lot of information about the rise in scores on the NAEP over the past twenty years.

(In our view, she does less well with international tests. She belongs to the cult of Finland!)

In some very basic ways, we’re less impressed with Ravitch’s eleven solutions. Below, you see her early summary of same, which she goes on to detail in later chapters.

We strongly disagree with the very first thing she says:
RAVITCH (page 6): We know what works. What works are the very opportunities that advantaged families provide for their children. In homes with adequate resources, children get advantages that enable them to arrive in school healthy and ready to learn. Discerning, affluent parents demand schools with full curricula, experienced staffs, rich programs in the arts, libraries, well-maintained campuses, and small classes. As a society, we must do whatever is necessary to extend the same advantages to children who do not have them. Doing so will improve their ability to learn, enhance their chances for a good life, and strengthen our society.

So that readers don't have to wait until the later chapters of this book, here is a summary of my solutions to improve both schools and society.


Children need prekindergarten classes that teach them how to socialize with others, how to listen and learn, how to communicate well, and how to care for themselves, while engaging in the joyful pursuit of play and learning that is appropriate to their age and development and that builds their background knowledge and vocabulary.

Children in the early elementary grades need teachers who set age appropriate goals. They should learn to read, write, calculate, and explore nature, and they should have plenty of time to sing and dance and draw and play and giggle. Classes in these grades should be small enough—ideally fewer than twenty—so that students get the individual attention they need...

As students enter the upper elementary grades and middle school and high school, they should have a balanced curriculum that includes not only reading, writing and mathematics but the science, literature, history, geography, civics, and foreign languages. Their school should have a rich arts program, where students learn to sing, dance, play an instrument, join an orchestra or a band, perform in a play, sculpt, or use technology to design structures, conduct research, or create artworks. Every student should have time for physical education every day. Every school should have a library with librarians and media specialists...
For the full text of the fuller passage, you can just click here.

It’s hard to disagree with any of those prescriptions. We agree! Children in the early elementary grades should to read and write!

The problem is, everyone has always known. The question has always been this:

For kids who may be struggling in school; for kids who may be years “behind;” for the many beautiful kids who don’t come from “homes with adequate resources,” how can actual urban teachers accomplish those obvious goals?

Ravitch says such kids should get prekindergarten classes. (We agree!)

After that, she says teachers should set “age appropriate goals.” As they advance, children should get a “balanced curriculum” with a “rich arts program.” Later, she says this at the start of Chapter 24:
SOLUTION NO. 3 Every school should have a full, balanced and rich curriculum...
We agree with that! But at no point does Ravitch say what a “rich curriculum” ought to like for a fifth-grader who may be years behind, and confused and discouraged, in both reading and math. Meanwhile, concerning those “age appropriate goals,” riddle us this:

Two first-graders may be exactly the same in age but light years apart in development. What is the age-appropriate goal for them? And if a fourth-grader is two years behind in math, should the teacher set goals which match his or her age? Or should the goals match his or her state of development?

Somewhat blithely, Ravitch says “we know what works.” Sitting at Stanford or in New York, it’s amazingly easy to say that.

But that sandwich offers empty calories; that sadly familiar statement is fluff. Nowhere in 325 pages do we find Ravitch explaining what actual teachers can actually do to get better results in the classroom:

What if children don’t “learn how to listen and learn” in those prekindergarten classes? What should teachers do then?

From her perch atop Olympus, Ravitch simply says “we know” that those pre-K classes will “work.” But she never explains how to make them work, or what to do next if they don’t.

We’ve come to strongly dislike such writing, which is quite widespread. Beyond that, Ravitch’s writing is jumbled, self-contradictory, routinely confused. We can tell that Hayes must have read her book because at one point in a fairly short segment he actually asked her this:
HAYES (10/4/13): So, two different ways of thinking about critiquing testing, right? One is the presence of tests in themselves. The other is not having the right tests.

Sometimes it seems, in your book, you kind of move between those two different— There’s parts of the book where you say we need, children need to not be worrying about testing, particularly when the young need to be creative and playful. But at other times, you seem to be saying testing is important, we’re just doing the wrong testing.
Dude! Indeed, from page to page, from graf to graf, Ravitch constantly seems to self-contradict, on that specific topic and many others.

You can always make the adjustment for Ravitch, imagining what she must have meant. That said, fifty years into this discussion, her overpowering fuzziness can make her book infuriating to read. Fifty years in, how can this possibly be the best work the liberal world can produce?

Ravitch’s eleven “solutions” are the kind you can dream up in your office. That doesn’t mean they’re bad ideas. It just means they won’t likely be solutions, and it means that, in many key ways, she doesn’t really seem to know what she’s talking about.

Of her eleven solutions, Solution 3 is as close as she comes to prescribing what urban teachers should do. We think this is basically useless:
SOLUTION NO 3 Every school should have a full, balanced and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics and physical education.
We agree with that! That's what we were saying in 1982, in the passage we posted above. (“The result may be that such children are not taught social studies and science at all.”)

But what if you have a bunch of fifth-graders who are several years behind in math, and confused? What textbook do you use with them? What curriculum should you follow? What should “age appropriate goals” look like in that case? Does any study guide exist for children in that predicament?

Those are the questions real teachers must answer. Ravitch, the best we pseudo-liberals have, has no apparent idea.

This just in from the Common Core: We’ve never understood how grade-level standards are supposed to work for kids who are years behind.

We’ve also never seen anyone explain that basic point. Nor do we know how such kids are helped when we make our standards tougher.

Whatever! As with Ravitch, so with the Common Core. These are some of the standards in reading for grades 2-5:
Grade 2: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.2.4a Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
Grade 3: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.3.4a Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
Grade 4: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.4.4a Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
Grade 5: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.5.4a Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.
Apparently, the student is supposed to be able to read a grade-level text!

But what if the student isn’t reading his grade-level text with purpose and accuracy? What does the teacher do then?

Like Ravitch, the standards don’t seem to say. Why do we feel that the Common Core standards were worked up in somebody’s office?

Chris Christie said he invented the Internet!


Lawrence then and now: Over the summer, Chris Christie announced, then executed, a $12 million scam.

The larceny occurred in bright sunlight. Everybody say ho-hum and continued on their way.

Today, a range of players are involved in creating a scandal around Christie. Below, you see something we the rubes were told by Lawrence last night.

Lawrence spoke with Hunter Walker, who he agreed to describe as “national affairs reporter for Talking Points Memo:”
O’DONNELL (12/18/13): OK. And here is some more maybe fire in the smoke, OK?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that New Jersey governor Chris Christie called New York governor Andrew Cuomo to complain that Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was pressing too hard how to get off to the bottom of why the number of toll lanes on the bridge was cut from three to one in early September.

Hunter Walker, I got to say, the thing that is amazing here is, it is such a stupid idea, if it is a politically motivated idea, breathtakingly stupid. But everything Christie World is doing makes it look like they were up to something.

WALKER: Well, and you know, Andrew Cuomo was asked if he believed Chris Christie’s explanation of this, the traffic study story, and he just paused for six seconds and he kind of said, “Well, if Chris Christie said it, it must be true.” And you know, it was one of those sort of wonderful Cuomo koans where it was a little bit of a riddle to figure out what he actually meant. But it was hardly a heartfelt endorsement.

O’DONNELL: David, very quickly before we go, what does this do to Christie?
What Lawrence said was accurate. Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal did report that Christie made that phone call.

Here’s what Lawrence didn’t say. Neither did Walker, who clowned about koans instead:

Last Friday, Christie categorically denied the Wall Street Journal’s claim—and Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing vouched for Christie’s statement. You even got to hear that fact on Rachel’s program that night.

Rachel spoke with Ted Mann, the Wall Street Journal reporter:
MADDOW (12/13/13): Ted, let me ask you about one specific thing that you reported that really seemed to get Governor Christie very excited today and not in a good way. And that was your reporting that Governor Christie, as he’s been joking about this and making light of it in public before today, had earlier this week called New York Governor Andrew Cuomo essentially to say, “Listen, your appointees, your New York appointees on this are pushing too hard for answers. Why don’t you get them to lay off.”

Governor Christie is now denying that that call ever took place.

MANN: Right. And Governor Cuomo’s spokesman did too. We stand by that story. That story is right.
We have no idea which report Mann was standing by; Rachel didn’t ask. But Mann noted that Cuomo’s spokesman had supported what Christie said.

Last night, you weren’t told that. Instead, Josh’s man gave you a song and dance about Cuomo’s koan.

(Go ahead. Look it up.)

This is the way Lawrence played you last year, when he spent several months inventing and asserting bogus facts about the killing of Trayvon Martin.

What happened with the George Washington Bridge? Like all the hacks who are playing you, we have no way of knowing.

We do understand how this game is played. In effect, this is what you’re being told in the current hullabaloo of group narrative:

Chris Christie said he invented the Internet!

Here’s what we mean by that:

If a wide range of media powers agree to tell you a story; if they agree to keep repeating it night after night after night; if there is no powerful interest willing to push back hard against their story; there is no way a politician can make the magpies stop.

In this instance, Democratic entities are playing the fool, pushing the Bridgegate/Sopranos narrative. People like Lawrence will play you for months on end.

(Lawrence was still trying to take out Candidate Gore in mid-October 2000. In the end, he and the others succeeded. People are dead all over the world because of what Lawrence did. Today, Lawrence is a pseudo-lib god. It’s the way we pseudos roll.)

Presumably, some Republican and conservative entities want to take Christie out, just like the DNC does. (Could the Wall Street Journal be part of that crowd?) If these entities all agree to keep talking about the way “Christie World” is displaying “their” guilt, there is no way Christie, or anyone else, can make these entities stop.

Last summer, Christie stole $12 million from New Jersey taxpayers. He committed this act of theft in broad daylight.

People like Lawrence just diddled themselves. To our ear, the Dorchester puppy has started to play you again.

How fake is Rachel Maddow: On Tuesday night, Rachel told you a story. She said Politico had finally reported about the bridge.

Yesterday, we noted that this statement wasn’t true.
As you know, Rachel tends to be like that.

We linked to Politico's original report about the bridge, a report from December 12. We just noticed this other report from December 16, in which Politico reported the fact that Governor Cuomo had supported Christie’s statement about that phone call.

This report appeared on Monday afternoon. Tuesday night, Maddow linked to a different, later report, saying it was Politico’s first.

Maybe Rachel didn’t know. How much are you willing to bet?

From Cupcake Wars to Candy Crush Saga!


We don’t find this hard to believe: At the start of this morning’s column, Gail Collins had a confession to make:
COLLINS (12/19/13): For the past couple of months I have been in the thrall of a game called Candy Crush Saga.

It’s about matching little colored thingies on your iPad or phone. I am not going to explain it in any more depth because that would just make this whole discussion more humiliating.
Presumably, no one familiar with Collins’ work will find this hard to believe.

Just a bit later, the New York Times ace went into more detail:
COLLINS: About the game: It’s been played about 150 billion times over the past year. There is no reward for winning; you just advance to another level in an ever-growing chain of chocolate mountains and lemonade lakes.

I told you this was embarrassing. I used to be addicted to playing BrickBreaker on my cellphone, and I now recall those days as my own personal version of Athens in the Age of Pericles.
Has anyone given a better description of the modern American discourse? You just keep advancing in an ever-growing chain of lemonade lakes!

We recall being surprised when Collins wrote a column in which she seemed to assume that readers would recognize the name “Cupcake Wars.”

Skillfully, we looked it up. According to the leading authority, “Cupcake Wars is a Food Network reality-based competition show hosted by Justin Willman based on creating unique and professional-style cupcakes.”

Do people watch Cupcake Wars while playing Candy Crush Saga?

For years, we’ve been amazed at the general fatuity of Collins’ work. (We'll ignore her capacity for making large errors.) Do you ever get the feeling that the foppists atop our journalistic elites may not be all that?

Half the people she knows: Half the people Collins knows are caught in the Candy Crush craze:
COLLINS: I am only modestly comforted by the fact that half the people I know all seem to be in the same ditch. My sister Mary Ann got lost in the game while she was parked in a shopping mall, until a woman started banging rather urgently on her window.

“She said she wanted to make sure I was O.K. because I was sitting with the car running and my head in my hand for a long time. I thanked her and said I was texting,” said Mary Ann. “I was too embarrassed to say I was playing Candy Crush.”
We’re just saying.

The world in which we actually live!


The actual New York Times: For people who don’t like longer posts, we’ll repeat a point made in the long post below.

This excerpt from today’s New York Times was written and edited by functional illiterates. In this passage, Al Baker and Motoko Rich describe New York City’s score gains on the NAEP over the past ten years:
BAKER AND RICH (12/19/13): More than a snapshot of achievement, the scores released Wednesday illuminate overall increases the city’s fourth and eighth graders have made in math and reading since 2003, the year after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office.

For New York City’s fourth graders, the average reading score rose to 216 out of 500 this year, up 10 points from 2003. Nationally, the average fourth-grade reading score rose by four points, to 221. On math tests, the city’s fourth-grade average score rose to 236, up 10 points from 2003; the national score rose by seven points, to 241.

In the past decade, the city has chipped away at an achievement gap with the national average, even as cities with similar proportions of children from low-income families have risen from far lower bases of performance...
We’re told that New York City students have gained ten points in both reading and math. But is that a lot or a little?

Baker and Rich make no attempt to say. Meanwhile, in the hard-copy Times, this boxed sub-headline appears:

“Small but steady improvements in the Bloomberg era.”

Really? Small improvements? By a conventional rule of thumb, a ten-point gain on the NAEP scale is actually rather large—a full academic year. But Baker and Rich give readers no way to assess the size and significance of the gains they report.

You have to be a functional illiterate to write a news report like that. There’s no point in reporting a “ten point gain” if you don’t make any attempt to explain how significant such a gain is.

On the SATs, ten points is a meaningless rounding error. On other scales, it might mean a lot.

How much is ten points on the NAEP scale? Baker and Rich make no attempt to say.

It’s hard to grasp the sheer dysfunction of our elite intellectual culture. That passage in this morning’s Times was composed by functional illiterates.

This is the world in which we all live. This is the real New York Times.

Imagine a report like this: Imagine a report about teacher salaries in Siberia. The report would read like this:
BAKEROFF AND RICHSKI: Teachers in Siberia are receiving their highest pay in years. Last year, starting salaries hit a new high, with first-year teachers being paid 15,000 Eastern Ruble Units per year.

Despite the raise, Siberian teachers complain that they lack a living wage.
From that passage, you would know that salaries went up. But you would have no earthly idea how generous the salaries were.

How much is an Eastern Ruble Unit? You would have no idea!

The value of “15,000 Eastern Ruble Units” would need to be explained. The same is true when we are told that test scores rose “ten points.”

On the SAT, ten points is nothing. How much is ten points on the NAEP?

Illiterate minds at the New York Times don’t seem to want to know.