Supplemental: Nicholas Kristof, music man!

MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2015

Biggest journalistic hoax concerning test scores yet:
In today’s first post, we discussed the “pseudo-journalism” which is so common at the New York Times.

For a truly stunning example, consider the way Nicholas Kristof started yesterday’s column.

Life-forms like Kristof have spent many years running down American students and their public school teachers. Some journalists do this out of sheer ignorance. Others do it because they want to help their upper-class minders and masters privatize public schools.

Yesterday, Kristof created one of the most remarkable incidents yet. As journalistic deception goes, we’d call this passage jaw-dropping:
KRISTOF (4/26/15): I am afraid you’re eligible to read this column only if you can answer this question faced by eighth graders around the world:

What is the sum of the three consecutive whole numbers with 2n as the middle number?

A. 6n+3
B. 6n
C. 6n-1
D. 6n-3

More than three-quarters of South Korean kids answered correctly (it is B). Only 37 percent of American kids were correct, lagging their peers from Iran, Indonesia and Ghana.

We know Johnny can’t read; it appears that Johnny is even worse at counting.

That’s the way Kristof started yesterday’s column. Before he was done, he offered two similar examples of Johnny’s astonishing dumbness.

For simplicity sake, let’s stick to this one example. In it, Kristof’s reflexive dishonesty reached an astounding new level.

Reading that example, a reader may get the impression that American students perform more poorly in math than their counterparts from Iran, Indonesia and Ghana, which are clearly meant to be seen as deeply embarrassing countries.

As Kristof surely knows, that impression would be grossly inaccurate. The test in question is the 2011 TIMSS, one of the two major international test programs in which most developed nations take part.

Along with a few other Asian tigers, Singapore tends to outscore the world on these international tests. But American kids scored fairly well on the 2011 TIMSS as compared with everyone else. Here are the relevant scores, with endlessly-ballyhooed Finland included as a point of comparison:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, TIMSS, 2011
Singapore 611

Finland 514
United States 509

Iran 415
Indonesia 386
Ghana 331
For all average scores, click here.

Eighth-graders in Iran, Indonesia and Ghana didn’t perform nearly as well as their counterparts in the United States. How did Kristof manage to tie that false impression to his ugly, stupid remark about the way pitiful Johnny can’t read or even count?

Simple! Kristof links to this site, where the TIMSS has posted 88 questions from the 2011 math test which won’t be used again.

In a remarkably deceptive way, Kristof cherry-picked through that long list of questions. The question about the three consecutive numbers is, quite literally, the question on which American kids did least well out of all 88 as compared to the rest of the world.

Let’s make sure you understand that! Quite deliberately, Kristof chose the least representative example out of 88 possible items.

He led his column with that unrepresentative example. He then pretended it shows that stupid-ass Johnny “can’t count.”

Assuming the TIMSS data are accurate, why did American kids perform so poorly on that one question? We have no idea. We also can’t explain why American kids outscored every nation, including Singapore, on the question called “Median number of staff members.” But, by God, they did!

In fact, they outperformed all nations, including Singapore, by a wide margin on that one question. An equally dishonest person could cherry-pick that one example to advance the false impression that U.S. eighth-graders lead the world in math.

Why in the world would a life-form like Kristof deceive his readers this way? Beyond that, what makes him so eager to denigrate American kids?

We can’t answer that question, but several commenters thought they could. They said Kristof had once again cast himself in the role of tool to his corporate masters, who want to destroy teachers unions and privatize public schools:
COMMENTER FROM NEW JERSEY: Mr. Kristof has been consistently anti-teacher, anti-public schools. He frequently trots out misleading information, perhaps out of ignorance (he has no expertise or skin in the game in education), or perhaps because he has a vested interest in privately funded education.
Other comments drifted along that line. Meanwhile, quite a few comments show the things people end up believing when they’re subjected to a steady stream of disinformation from Kristof and his merry band of gong-show propagandists:

“As long as the US has teachers that do not have a master’s degree in the subjects they are teaching—especially in math and natural sciences—we’ll never catch up to other advanced nations,” one gloomy reader said.

“I could not agree more with Mr. Kristof about our nation’s poor performance in math. It starts early,” another reader wrote.

“The scandal is not that students in Iran, Indonesia, Ghana...would perform better on these questions than their counterparts in the US,” another reader wrote, possibly having swallowed the false impression. “There are bright individuals everywhere and nothing to say that Americans have a birthright to superior scores.”

The readers shown below agreed—it’s done much better Over There! In a slightly rational world, these would be seen as embarrassing comments:
COMMENTER FROM ISRAEL: The key is having good math teachers. Unfortunately those who are capable of doing so can usually find more lucrative jobs so often the math teachers are second tier (except of course for countries like Finland which pay teachers well). If you want students to succeed, then make sure there are good teachers and pay for them.

COMMENTER FROM MICHIGAN: As for the main point of this column, as a teacher I share your dismay. I truly think our system needs strong structural reform, and we should probably look to the Swedish model.

COMMENTER FROM VIRGINIA: I remember a statement by Larry King decades ago on his show where the pitfalls of the US public school system compared the ones in other advanced nations were described, including discipline. King said that in Germany teachers were so greatly respected that their pupils addressed them as doctors. Well, heck, I yelled at the TV, that's because a large number of them have Ph.D. in the subject they teach.
Please. On the test to which Kristof referred, American kids basically matched their counterparts in Finland. They outscored glorious Sweden by 25 points, with its average score of 484.

Germany didn't take part on the eighth grade level in 2011. It did participate at the fourth grade level, where its kids were outscored by kids from the U.S.

(Other scores in Grade 8 math: Great Britain 507, Australia 505, Italy 498, Norway 475.)

“We know Johnny can’t read; it appears that Johnny is even worse at counting!” It’s hard to imagine why someone like Kristof would want to write such a thing. But such deceptions are completely routine within our upper-end press corps. This has been the reliable norm for a very long time.

We know of no topic on which Americans are so persistently disinformed by American pseudo-journalists. Yesterday, Kristof took the dissembling and the deception to a remarkable low.

Kristof seems to get stranger by the month. As Shakespeare thoughtfully asked, “On what meat doth this our Times pseudo-journalist feed?”

Just for the record: The other examples Kristof presents are also cherry-picked. He had to sift through 88 examples to mislead his readers so.


  1. If Amer-cans would raise lions instead of kids, those Asians with their little tigers wouldn't be getting our goat.

  2. Game, set, match.
    Imagine kristoff explaining that...

  3. Nick is guaranteed a job for life as an Arizona State politician.

  4. Seems to me Kristof has become methadone, as Somerby tries to kick the Maddow-heroin monkey.

    1. "Seems to me Kristof has become methadone, as Somerby tries to kick the Maddow-heroin monkey."

      ...because I refuse to acknowledge Somerby has a good point about Kristof here, and that it really does merit the attention.

      In short, because I am a troll.

    2. Oh you BOBfan of great faith. BOB does have a good point.

      Problem is he had to skip Kristof's main point entirely to make his own.

    3. You're right, 5:09. Bob hasn't replaced his obsession/addiction with Maddow with an obsession/addiction with Kristof to the point that what has been happening for days in Baltimore, right under his very nose, he has chose to write bout . . . Nicholas Kristof.

    4. A bunch of thugs are using a current event as an excuse to loot and burn. Why does that justify anyone's attention?

    5. Yep. Baltimore is burning. Nothing to see here. Move along.

    6. You would expect at least some mention from Bob about how Freddy had it coming to him because of his long rap sheet. Or how he had those cops so terrified of him, they took him on a ride in a van instead of getting him medical care, stopping only three times along the way.

    7. They stopped once to secure him because he was creating a disturbance, putting him in leg cuffs. They stopped again to pick up another detainee. Then they stopped because he was complaining again. He resisted arrest by first running away, necessitating a lengthy chase, then by refusing to cooperate in being handcuffed and put into the vehicle. He yelled and complained about needing an inhaler and being unable to breathe, kicked the van and made a major ruckus consistently from the time of his arrest. Cops believe that if you can yell and complain loudly, you are not having trouble breathing. It is unclear how he was injured, whether that occurred in the van as he kicked and rolled around, whether it occurred as he was fleeing from cops, or whether it occurred when he refused to cooperate by getting into the van. Bystanders confused his lack of cooperation (he went entirely limp and had to be lifted by officers, despite being shown about to stand and walk upon reaching the van) with medical need and suggested to officers that they get him medical care (when he was lying on the ground). Bystanders also describe his legs being in an odd position, despite the fact that his spinal fracture is reportedly at his neck. They appear to be trying to help advance the narrative but unclear about how to give testimony consistent with his injury.

      I don't think minor criminals should die for those crimes. I do think that when people run away from and resist cops, they place themselves in greater jeopardy because cops must then use more force to subdue them. Rioters want instant answers about what happened. An investigation doesn't happen instantly. We may never know how he acquired the spinal injury. It is clear that he contributed to his own situation by resisting. It is also clear that cops were not harassing him nor profiling him. He was involved in selling drugs, most likely at the time the cops saw him and he decided to run.

    8. Thank you for regurgitating the right wing spin. I'm sure Bob will get around to it, now that it is out, sometime within the next week or two, with plenty to say about "pseudo-liberals" who think a guy who has been shot might need immediate medical attention.

      And of course, Bob will also focus on the rioters in yet another attempt to turn the cops into the real victims here.

      After all, except for Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, there is no other place to say all this except The Daily Howler.

    9. My description came from a newspaper, but it is interesting that you consider facts to be "right wing spin".

    10. "I do think that when people run away from and resist cops, they place themselves in greater jeopardy because cops must then use more force to subdue them. Rioters want instant answers about what happened. An investigation doesn't happen instantly. We may never know how he acquired the spinal injury."

      What newspaper did that come from?

    11. This isn't conservative spin. It is my opinion. I think it is common sense.

    12. And I think your opinion is racist, right-wing blame the victim,excuse the perp idiotic crap.

      But then again, idiots always think they are the ones -- and the only ones -- blessed with "common sense."

    13. So far, all the cops did was arrest a resisting suspect and put him in a van. The rest is stuff you made up.

    14. You also omitted that the cops arrested him when he had committed no crime. To say that he resisted arrest by "running away, necessitating a lengthy chase" is Orwellian, because he had committed no crime, and therefore no lengthy chase was necessary. Even once the officers caught him, his refusing to cooperate did not justify them in putting him in the vehicle, because he had committed no crime. He was carrying a legal pocketknife, which did not justify because it was legal.

      The rest of your racist nonsense is also nonsense.

    15. Maybe he was running because he was afraid if the cops caught him he'd end up dead.

  5. No PISA Please & I'll pass on those Cherries you PIACCed (Test Menu Magic with the OTB)

    "Please. On the test to which Kristof referred, American kids basically matched their counterparts in Finland. They outscored glorious Sweden by 25 points, with its average score of 484."


    BOBfans will gloat at BOB showing up the uncaring Kristof, a man who once made a Restavek cry like one of BOB's analysts. But what trick, might the tiny number of less adoring BOBreaders, ask, does the magical BOB himself employ? The famous DISAPPEARING FACT trick.

    As you can see, BOB says Kristof referred to the TIMMS study. To use a BOBphrase, while that is technically true, the topic of Kristof's column was devoted to another study, the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), a new survey of adult skills. The questions were from TIMMs, but they were used perhaps as bait for the readers, not as the focal point for this piece of Kristof's work.

    And guess what BOBreaders and BOBfans? BOB disappeared any mention of that PIACC study. Wonder why? Well perhaps you will have to read the whole Kristof column yourself and follow his links on your own. One hint, its findings support BOB's frequent and repetitive assessment of your general dumbness!

    If you are lazy as well as dumb, enjoy the cherries BOB serves while denouncing those who cherry pick amongst us. Pseudo-liberals love them some cherries.

    1. GACK! Or is it GAACK? Well it is in fact PIAAC not PIACC. Two out of three acronyms from Zarkon got that wrong. We correct our errors. And apologize for any that didn't offend you.

    2. @ 8:26 are you by chance a millennial?

    3. Results from the PIACC tests:

      "How do the average scores of U.S. millennials compare with those in other participating countries?

      In literacy, U.S. millennials scored lower than 15 of the 22 participating countries. Only millennials in Spain and Italy had lower scores.

      In numeracy, U.S. millennials ranked last, along with Italy and Spain.

      In PS-TRE, U.S. millennials also ranked last, along with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.

      The youngest segment of the U.S. millennial cohort (16- to 24-year-olds), who could be in the labor force for the next 50 years, ranked last in numeracy along with Italy and among the bottom countries in PS-TRE. In literacy, they scored higher than their peers in Italy and Spain."

      But don't worry. The knew as much math in the fourth grade as their parents did in sixth grade. At least according to Bob.

    4. Say, when was the last time Somerby updated us on PISA test results and the work of the amazing Amanda Ripley?

      Anybody? KZ?

    5. "As part of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the OECD collects and analyses data that assist governments in assessing, monitoring and analysing the level and distribution of skills among their adult populations as well as the utilisation of skills in different contexts.

      The Survey of Adult Skills, implemented in 24 countries, and the Education and Skills Online Assessment for individuals are part of the package of tools available to support countries develop, implement and evaluate policies that foster both the development of skills and the optimal use of existing skills."

      It doesn't seem to be an academic assessment of school performance at all. It is aimed at adults, not kids. Further, as an online assessment, the conditions under which it is administered are very different.

      Similarly, PS-TRE is "Problem-solving in technology rich environments," another vocational test developed by the creators of the PIACC.

      Somerby criticizes Kristoff for cherry-picking questions to create a misleading portrait of American SCHOOL performance. If you wish to say we should do better on vocational education and that our adults aren't up to snuff, that doesn't absolve Kristof at all.

      There is a bait-and-switch when he uses data from a test assessing children's academic performance to a test assessing adult vocational skills.

    6. Shorter KZ:

      Don't ignore what my NYT heroes said about the PIACC, just to focus on what what they did wrong elsewhere, you mean old Somerby!!

  6. Benny at the LandingApril 27, 2015 at 6:46 PM

    "Some journalists do this out of sheer ignorance. Others do it because they want to help their upper-class minders and masters privatize public schools."

    Can't it be both?

  7. What is the formula used to prove this?

  8. stay safe bob, if you need members of the alt-right to protect you tonight, just let us know

  9. "A child's acute awareness of measuring up, and of failing to measure up, exists for few adults with the same remorseless constancy as it does for a teacher. Everything a student has failed to learn is something a teacher has failed to teach. (And everything that might be construed as wrong with society at large can be placed and inevitably will be placed at the feet of its teachers.) Work harder, you tell yourself, but hard work is not always enough. Knowledge of material or technique is not always enough. You can still fail. What is more, you will fail. Certain social conditions combine with certain working conditions to make failure a foregone conclusion. The realization that I could work every waking hour of every day and still fall short of the most modest expectations was the first great lesson of my teaching career."

    From "Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher" by Garret Keizer, 2014

    This reality makes criticism of our schools a game anyone can play for their own purposes. Failure to consider what those purposes might be will undermine the efforts of all trying to help kids have better lives.
    Somerby is right to shine a light on the motives of people like Kristof.

    1. Nobody can legitimately criticize our schools because they cannot do any better.

  10. quote
    Life-forms like Kristof have spent many years running down American students and their public school teachers. Some journalists do this out of sheer ignorance. Others do it because they want to help their upper-class minders and masters privatize public schools.

    you criticize kristof for giving a misleading impression, but you fail to note that he uses a second source
    for much of his argument
    (see Figure 1)
    u r worse then he is in terms of accuracy, and a lot less polite
    nice ad hominem [life forms] attack that has no sources

  11. The life-from remark was gratuitous. Otherwise, strong work. You've got him dead to rights.

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