The Washington Post pretends to report on Connecticut’s public schools: Last week, we said the following:
At least in theory, Meredith Vieira started out as a journalist. Meanwhile, she has been paid more than $110 million over the past fifteen years.
At age 60, she could afford to perform some real journalism. And God knows, her struggling nation could use some!
What did we mean by that last statement? For one thing, consider what happened when the Washington Post tried to report on Connecticut’s public schools in yesterday's Sunday edition.
Reid Wilson did the report in the high-profile Outlook section. The headline said this:
“Best State in America: Connecticut, for its teachers”
Does Connecticut really have the nation’s best teachers? That wasn’t Wilson’s basic point, as you’ll see if you read his report.
Eventually, though, he did say this, as he ended his piece:
WILSON (9/7/14): Connecticut seems to be getting good returns on its investment. Its students perform better than the national average. The National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] reports that Connecticut students are more likely to be at or above proficient levels in math and reading in both fourth and eighth grade.Other states “should look to Connecticut at the head of the class?” Although we thought we already knew, we checked to see how well Connecticut actually did on the most recent NAEP tests.
So, as other states strive to improve their schools, they should look to Connecticut at the head of the class.
First, a few caveats:
For starters, it’s hardly astounding if Connecticut’s students “perform better than the national average.” It’s in the nature of an average that some students (and some states) will exceed it.
Meanwhile, Connecticut is one of the wealthier states, as Wilson had already noted. Why would anyone be surprised if one of our wealthier states exceeds the national average?
Connecticut also has fewer black and Hispanic kids than the average state. (In 2011, its eighth-grade student population was 66 percent white, as opposed to 54 percent for the nation as a whole.) Given current realities, that too suggests that Connecticut should “perform better than the national average” in its overall scores.
The NAEP, to which Wilson referred, tests reading and math in Grades 4 and 8. Incomparably, we decided to see where Connecticut’s students ranked among the fifty states on last year’s math test.
We “disaggregated” the scores, comparing groups of kids in Connecticut to their peers in the other states. Does it look to you like other states “should look to Connecticut at the head of the class?”
Connecticut’s standing among the 50 statesTo access those data, click here. From there, you’re on your own.
Average scores, 2013 NAEP
Grade 4 math
White students: 10th among the 50 states
Black students: 39th
Hispanic students: 45th
Grade 8 math
White students: 9th among the 50 states
Black students: 25th
Hispanic students: 45th
Test data don’t interpret themselves. Beyond that, relative success in math may reflect a state’s math curriculum, which its teachers don’t create.
Having said that, does it look like the other states should be trying to copy Connecticut?
At first glance, it looks like white kids scored pretty well in Connecticut, while black and Hispanic kids didn’t. But even that is quite misleading. Read on:
We looked again at the scores by Connecticut’s white students, this time adjusting for income. Uh-oh!
Among lower-income white students (students who are eligible for the federal lunch program), Connecticut ranked 28th in Grade 8 math. The state we all should emulate was outscored by these states:
Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.
Yes, you read that correctly. Among lower-income white kids, Connecticut was outscored by Mississippi—although, as Muffy might say, it was only be a smidge. Right next door, Massachusetts outscored Connecticut by roughly one full year.
Let’s be fair! Connecticut stacks up better in reading than it does in math. But Wilson’s cheerful, upbeat assessment makes absolutely no sense. Simply put, Wilson’s analysis was completely incompetent.
For the record, the assessment we’ve provided is extremely basic. If you can’t do this simple type of analysis, you don’t know how to report test scores at all.
And yet, this sort of work is completely typical at the education-happy Washington Post. The Washington Post routinely performs this type of incompetent work.
What does it mean when the Washington Post performs this kind of work? When it does so in its Sunday Outlook section, with its very high profile?
It means that a lot of the “journalism” you see is “journalism” in name and appearance only. Way back in 1988, Meredith Vieira’s husband explained the culture:
They “believe you lower the common denominator, frame everything in entertainment terms, make it pablum,” he said. “The currency of the realm ceases to be journalism.”
A final gruesome point:
At 11 A.M., we watched the first segment of Vieira’s new show. We don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone degrade herself in quite the way Vieira did in that blatantly phony segment.
(Her husband was there to play along with the hook about the furniture coming from their family room. He said he wants his chair back!)
Is this what daytime TV is now like? Is Vieira simply the world’s biggest fraud? Did everyone already know that but us?
All through The Precincts of Journalist County, you can be thoroughly sure of one thing. Uninquiring minds are working hard not to know.