FIVE KEYS AND ELEVEN SOLUTIONS: M. Night Shyamalan, educational expert!


Part 1—Flamboyantly wrong on his facts: Film director M. Night Shyamalan has been busy proving our various points.

Five years ago, Shyamalan decided to become an educational expert. In September, he published a book with a lengthy title:

“I Got Schooled: The Unlikely Story of How a Moonlighting Movie Maker Learned the Five Keys to Closing America’s Education Gap.”

Are there really five keys to “closing America’s education gap?” If so, does Shyamalan know what they are?

We’ll consider those questions later this week. For today, consider some things Shyamalan said in a recent interview.

Shyamalan spoke with Ali Velshi, formerly of CNN, now of Al Jazeera. Next Sunday, the full interview is scheduled to air on Al Jazeera.

At one point in the interview, Shyamalan seems to say that white students in the U.S. outscore the rest of the world on international tests. In fact, he seems to say they outscore the rest of the world “by a lot.”

Each statement is flamboyantly false. Here’s the transcript:
VELSHI (12/11/13): You're taking on the fight about how we change things in these schools so that everybody is on a level playing field and the gap between inner-city schools, which you very clearly identified as mostly black and Hispanic, versus suburban, mostly white schools. The achievement gap is there.

SHYAMALAN: You know how everyone says America is behind in education, compared to all the countries? Technically, right now, we're a little bit behind Poland and a little bit ahead of Liechtenstein, right? So that's where we land in the list, right? So that's actually not the truth.

The truth is actually bizarrely black and white, literally, which is, if you pulled out the inner-city schools—just pull out the inner-city, low-income schools, just pull that group out of the United States, put them to the side—and just took every other public school in the United States, we lead the world in public-school education by a lot.

And what's interesting is, we always think about Finland, right? Well, Finland, obviously, is mainly white kids, right? They teach their white kids really well. But guess what, we teach our white kids even better. We beat everyone. Our white kids are getting taught the best public-school education on the planet. Those are the facts.
“Those are the facts,” Shyamalan said.

Sorry! In that passage, Shyamalan makes a set of factual claims which are absurdly inaccurate. Let’s try to get clear on what he seems to have said:

From his initial statements, it seems fairly clear that Shyamalan is talking about the standing of American students on international tests.

In his book, his meaning becomes more clear. Shyamalan is referring to U.S. performance on the PISA, which he describes as “the most important international comparison of educational performance.” More specifically:

In his statement about Poland and Liechtenstein, Shyamalan is referring to the PISA’s 2009 reading test. That's the subject on which American students score best.

Shyamalan’s exclusive focus on reading helps him pimp the greatness of American white students. Even in his book, he doesn’t explain that he has engaged in that form of cherry-picking. (You can tell by the numbers he uses.)

At any rate, Shyamalan’s claims to Velshi occur within this general context. And those claims are crazily wrong.

According to Shyamalan, white kids in the United States “are getting taught the best public school education on the planet.” He seems to say that America’s white students “lead the world in public school education.”

Indeed, he seems to say that that they lead the world “by a lot.” All those statements are wrong—crazily wrong, in fact.

How wrong are the claims of our newest expert? Take a gander at the scores from the 2011 TIMSS, the international test on which American students tend to perform better than on the PISA.

Below, you see the scores in Grade 8 math. White students in the U.S. did outscore miraculous Finland, a fact which ought to be mentioned much more often.

That said, does it look like white kids in the U.S. “lead the world in public school education” at all, let alone “by a lot?”
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSS
Korea 613
Singapore 611
Taiwan 609
Hong Kong 586
Japan 570
Russia 539
United States, white students only 530
Israel 516
Finland 514
United States, all students 509
England 507
Hungary 505
Australia 505
Slovenia 505
Even on the TIMSS, U.S. white students scored far behind the world’s leading nations.

On the PISA, which tests 15-year-old students, American rankings are worse. Below, you see some of the new results from the 2012 PISA.

As a general rule, more nations take part in the PISA than in the TIMSS:
Average scores, math, 2012 PISA
Singapore 573
Taiwan 560
Hong Kong 561
Korea 554
Japan 536
Liechtenstein 535
Switzerland 531
Netherlands 523
Estonia 521
Finland 519
Canada 518
Poland 518
Belgium 515
Germany 514
Vietnam 511
Austria 506
United States, white students only 506
United States, all students 481
Does it look like white students in the U.S. “lead the world in public school education by a lot?” Is it true that “we beat everyone?”

(For the latest PISA reading scores, see below.)

On their face, Shyamalan’s statements to Velshi are crazily inaccurate. Tomorrow, we’ll show you how Shyamalan managed to get his facts so wrong, based on statements he makes in his book.

For today, though, consider the following points. These three points help us see the way our journalistic culture works:

Earlier this month, Shyamalan gave an interview in which he made wildly inaccurate statements. Result?

Velshi published the interview anyway, spreading the false claims around. No fact-checking occurred. He plans to broadcast the false statements this Sunday.

Back in September, Shyamalan made somewhat similar statements to the Atlantic’s Julia Ryan. Like Velshi, Ryan simply published the interview, bogus claims and all.

To complete our rule of three, we’re forced to link to Friday’s post by Kevin Drum. The analysts moped and wailed all weekend after reading it.

(One even posed as Llewyn Davis “We woke from our dream, Our idol was clay,” he or she mournfully warbled.)

Last Friday, Drum posted Shyamalan’s claims to Velshi, the same excerpt we’ve posted. But good lord! Drum praised Shyamalan’s remarks, saying his statements were accurate.

We tried to cover for Drum. Never buy a car which was made on a Friday, we masterfully told the young analysts. We noted that Drum seemed to have misread the sweep of Shyamalan’s statement.

Still and all, there was our smartest liberal blogger passing on wildly inaccurate claims to fifty million readers worldwide. When the analysts read the comments to Drum’s post, their wailing only grew louder.

Drum also semi-endorsed Shyamalan’s “five keys,” his five key points about the way to close our education gap. We found the five keys underwhelming. But then, we had a somewhat similar reaction to the eleven “solutions” offered by Diane Ravitch in her new book, Reign of Error.

As the week proceeds, we’ll take a look at the five keys and eleven solutions. For tomorrow, though, we’ll tell you how Shyamalan got his facts so wrong.

Shyamalan’s claims derive from a favorite piece of liberal bullroar which has been peddled by Ravitch. As our team increasingly emulates Fox, this bullroar has been widely accepted wherever such bullroar is sold.

In his Oscar-nominated film, The Sixth Sense, one of Shyamalan’s characters famously says, “I see dead people.” As we’ve been telling you all year:

Pretty much wherever we look, we see dead intellectual culture.

Tomorrow: How Shyamalan managed to get things so wrong

The subject in which U.S. students score best: Do white students in the U.S. outperform the rest of the world? Do they outperform the rest of the world “by a lot?”

Actually no, they don’t. Here are the reading scores on the 2012 PISA. Shyamalan’s claims seem to be based on the 2009 reading test:
Average scores, reading, 2012 PISA
Hong Kong 545
Singapore 542
Japan 538
Korea 536
Finland 524
Ireland 523
Taiwan 523
Canada 523
United States, white students only 519
Poland 518
Estonia 516
Liechtenstein 516
New Zealand 512
Australia 512
United States, all students 498
In our view, American white students score amazingly well on that test, as they do on the TIMSS, which tests science and math. In our view, we’d be better off if our “journalists” and “educational experts” were forced to discuss such facts.

But even on that reading test, those students aren’t leading the world, let alone “by a lot.” In math, they don’t even come close.

Velshi plans to broadcast Shyamalan’s claims. There’s no fact-checking in Velshi’s world, but where did those crazy claims come from?


  1. Haven't checked comments in a while... Am I still a windy douchebag?


    1. No, you are a poor soul treading fictitiously on someone else's fictious identity. It kind of puts you in the same league as a sock puppet.

    2. Yes. I'll let you know when your status changes.

    3. Please ban personal attack trolls.

  2. You remind me of the south end of a horse facing north.

  3. please please please. 3 comments and nobody has addressed the column yet.

    i will be monitoring.

  4. As long as you continue to devote this column to educational test score details instead of political and social commentary I don't care to read it.

  5. And as long as you insist on reading and commenting on things you don't care to read I hereby refuse to read your comments. (I only read every other word of your comment, so it doesn't count.)

  6. OMB (Busy elsewhere the King returns when hearing his name invoked in clearly the most important comment section in liberalworld)

    "As we’ve long told you, everybody praises the NAEP. No one reports what the NAEP data show."
    BOB on Saturday

    "To complete our rule of three, we’re forced to link to Friday’s post by Kevin Drum. The analysts moped and wailed all weekend after reading it." BOB today, in this very post.

    One of the main features of Kevin Drum's post, which set BOB awailing were two graphs of......dum ta da dum (drum roll please)...NAEP scores.

    This means when BOB says no one reports what the NAEP data show, BOB is demonstrating what happens to oldish scribes with no educational background in either the field of jourmalism, education, or fine arts. They miss sometimes. Badly. Either that or they mislead sometimes. Deliberately.

    Oh, and before my local critics wail about this comment, be advised that, just as BOB promises to flail a new villain for the remainder of the week, KZ promises to look back at some of BOB's more recent dubious claims, using the very graphs taken from NAEP scores by that awful Kevin Drum.

    BTW....Drum has fifty million readers worldwide,BOB? I smell dumb people.

    KZ (Beware imitators)

    1. Excessive literal mindedness is a symptom of brain injury or mental illness.

    2. Defense of factual inaccuracy is an affront to Mr. Somerby
      except when the factual inaccuracy comes from Mr. Somerby.


    3. I'm sure "Mr. S" doesn't claim infallibility. His record is far better than yours, though.

      Do you still smell dumb people when you're alone?

      Just sayin'.

  7. And where does he live - in Peoria?

    "Losers, guess what? The volume of traffic on the bridge has nothing to do with this story. Traffic across the bridge was not affected, only access to the bridge from the town of Fort Lee."

    Fort Lee and Manhattan ARE on opposite sides of the river.

    You HAVE to cross the bridge to go to Manhattan from Fort Lee.

    So if the lanes from Fort Lee that lead to the toll plazas were closed - that would have forced the Fort Lee-ans to compete with the general traffic crossing the bridge.

    Can't even get his nit-picking straight.

    1. Sorry - wrong thread.

    2. Anonymous at 1:42 PM!


      You are the eleventh commenter on the Eleven Solutions.

  8. What an unbelievably shitty shit-sucker !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Take a look - and then decide if the shit-sucker's shitty nit-picking means shit.

    And instead of kvetching and hurling shit at others, Shyamalan genuinely wants to help black kids and has analytically supported recommendations to help all schools.

    This blogger covers anything he touches with shit.

  9. Oh, well. I didn't realize that M. Benighted wants to help black kids. Not only help but genuinely help. And now with 50% more facts and figures and graphs and charts. 'Cause his recommendations are not only supported but analytically supported.

    Now, I don't know about you, but ordinarily I would be loathe to take my advice about improving the educational system in this country from bad movie directors who can't get straight the simplest facts about test scores. But it's different when the bad movie director genuinely and analytically wants to help.

    Honest to God, is there anything you won't buy as long as you can put yourself on the opposite side of TDH's position?

    For more good ideas, go here:

    Spoiler alert: Ya know what will make all the difference in the world: good teachers. Who'd have guessed?