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.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.
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:
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: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.
*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’ 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 NAEPNone 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.
Low-income black students only
Washington DC (charter schools) 266
New York City 261
Tampa (Hillsborough County) 260
Washington DC (all schools) 257
San Diego 253
Los Angeles 252
Louisville (Jefferson County) 252
Washington DC (non-charter schools) 249
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 mathOn their face, those are very large gains—and those average scores are not being inflated by the scores of high-income white kids.
All schools, low-income black students only
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?”
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 mathWhy 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.
Non-charter schools, low-income black students only
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.At the time, we asked an obvious question: Why would Ravitch say that?
It remains the lowest performing urban district in the nation.
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?