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PLEDGES COME EASY! Charles Carroll’s new super has made a key pledge. But will he be able to keep it? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2006

SCARBOROUGH GETS IT RIGHT: In today's Post, it’s Krauthammer going feudal, repeating the things his sovereign has said and imagining nothing beyond them. (As he often does at times like this, he also says that he’s a psychiatrist, and that those who dispute him seem to be semi-nuts.) It’s fascinating to watch such men turn themselves into willing vassals. Equally puzzling is this question: Why do papers like the Post put such complete, utter cant into print? This morning, Krauthammer repeats what his sovereign has said—and contemplates nothing beyond it.

For ourselves, we’ll go with Imus this morning; we don’t hugely care if Cheney was drinking on this ill-fated hunt. (Imus assumes that he was.) Presumably, impaired hunting would be stupid, but it isn’t like drunk driving, where uninvolved people are put at risk. If there was drinking—and there may not have been, of course—then presumably, Whittington knew it. But it has been quite instructive to watch the way a range of pundits have dealt with this issue. By Tuesday night, it was clear that many Inside Washington players were trying to avoid the possibility that Cheney ducked the sheriff for a reason. Yesterday, the vassal Brooks lowered the boom, accusing those who raise this obvious question of ginning up a “vast conspiracy.” It was intriguing this week to see who spoke—and to see who went feudal and cowered.

One who spoke was Joe Scarborough. Scarborough can be a very sharp pundit—and he often bucks his party’s scripts. (“Conspiracy theory” was Talking-Point One, recited by every team player.) All this week, Scarborough discussed various possible explanations for Cheney’s odd conduct. And we’ll promise you this—his viewers didn’t like it. By Wednesday night, he was saying this:

SCARBOROUGH (2/15/06): There are a lot of people, I can guarantee you right now, who are very angry, saying, “How could you all even talk about”—or, “Scarborough, how could you allow anybody to come on your show and suggest that the vice president may have been drinking too much when he fired the shot?”

And to those people, I say, had the vice president stepped forward immediately, had people been able to come in and investigate it right up front, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, because we would know. And when you’re vice president of the United States, whether you are a conservative or a liberal or a Republican or a Democrat, it really doesn’t matter whether Tucker Carlson says, which Tucker says this—God bless him—he says, if you are vice president and you shoot somebody on your property, that`s your own business. I respectfully disagree.

All week, Scarborough discussed the range of possibilities, while obedient vassals bowed to their lord. But then, Scarborough often plays against party interest. He savaged Bush in the wake of Katrina—and he stayed post-Enlightenment all this week. Charles Krauthammer is a remarkable case. By contrast, Scarborough, all week long, just kept getting it right.

Special report—Threatening Carroll!

PART 4—PLEDGES COME EASY: Others have threatened Charles Carroll Middle—but now, someone has made it a pledge. Yesterday, the Prince George’s County school board picked a new superintendent—their fifth superintendent in the past ten years. The new head man will be John Deasy (DAY-see), current head of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. It’s the front-page, lead story in the Washington Post. Nick Anderson records Deasy’s promise:

ANDERSON (2/17/06): Deasy offered himself as a leader free of ethical taint, challenging anyone to scour his record. He also pledged to close the black-white achievement gap that shadows schools in Prince George's and elsewhere in the country.

"This is a fulcrum issue in education," Deasy said in a telephone interview from Santa Monica. He said he was humbled. "I fully recognize there's a huge job ahead.”

Deasy pledged to close the achievement gap—in schools like Carroll Middle, for example. But how is Deasy planning to do that? Sadly, if you read the Post’s front-page coverage, you aren’t given the slightest idea. There’s no sign that anyone asked Deasy that. There’s no sign the new chief ever said.

For the record, Deasy faces a daunting challenge if he plans to keep his pledge. How serious is the achievement gap in this large, majority-black school system? Anderson lays out some data:

ANDERSON: In Prince George's, where three-quarters of public school children are black, white third-graders have been three times more likely than black students to score at advanced levels on state reading tests. Conversely, black third-graders have been nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to fail those tests.
Anderson notes that the system’s achievement rates have been rising. “Yet by the stark measure of Maryland test scores, the county ranks ahead of only Baltimore academically,” the Post writer notes. “More than a third of its schools—76 in all—are rated in need of improvement.” Charles Carroll Middle is one of those schools. It is to struggling schools like Charles Carroll that Deasy has made his key pledge.

But how is Deasy planning to keep it? Is there any real reason to think that he can? Pledges are easy, like threats and demands. Will Deasy be able to keep his pledge ? And how is he planning to do it?

When it comes to that, the Post is quite vague. First, consider Deasy’s track record. At one point, Anderson describes his career:

ANDERSON: Deasy began his career as a biology and chemistry teacher and became superintendent of a small system in Coventry, R.I., in 1996. He has led Santa Monica-Malibu Unified since August 2001 and says he has raised achievement there significantly for Latino and black students, taking two high-poverty schools off a state watch list.
Deasy says he has raised achievement levels? Surely there are objective data, but Anderson doesn’t present them here—nor did he present them in an earlier profile of Deasy. But then, Anderson’s report is equally vague when he discusses Deasy’s background in urban education:
ANDERSON: Deasy has never led or held a senior position in a large urban system. He said he has consulted for the Los Angeles Unified School District, however, and is well versed in urban educational issues. He was chosen last month to participate in an urban superintendents academy sponsored by the Broad Foundation.
Deasy said he consulted for Los Angeles? When it comes to low-income schools, does anyone check anything out? Meanwhile, board members were admirably vague when asked for their assessment of Deasy. “Clearly, he has a passion and an energy for public education," one board member is quoted saying. The head of the county teachers union is equally upbeat—but equally vague. "Deasy has a lot of energy," she says. "He's going to be very, very positive.”

So he’s made a pledge—and he’s going to be positive, with a good deal of passion and energy. But putting his energy to the side, what does Deasy plan to do to keep that pledge to Charles Carroll? What procedures would Deasy propose to wipe out that achievement gap? As we noted earlier this week, our national education discussion is wondrously vague; we hear a lot about “threats” and “demands” (and sometimes pledges), but we rarely hear anyone talk about what actually goes inside our real classrooms. What does Deasy plan to do there? There isn’t a single word about that at any point in Anderson’s two reports. Deasy “is well versed in urban educational issues,” Anderson says in the passage we quoted above. But just what are those urban ed issues? And what does Deasy think about them? It’s very typical—very typical—that these profiles of Deasy don’t say.

“Threats” are easy—but so are pledges. It’s knowing what to do in the classroom that’s hard. There isn’t a word—not a single word—in this report about Deasy’s ideas. Does Deasy have any real ideas about how he can keep his pledge to Charles Carroll? It’s very typical—very typical—that these reports make no effort to say.

RUTH MARCUS, COME ON DOWN: We hope Anderson will push, in future reports, to learn about Deasy’s real ideas. It’s time to get past pledges and threats. It’s time to get inside those classrooms—to see what is actually happening.

What are the “urban educational issues” in which John Deasy is so “well versed?” And what does he think about those issues? We hope Anderson will write about such matters many times in the next several years. Threats and pledges come very easy. Intelligent change? That comes hard.

Which brings us back to the Post’s Ruth Marcus. On Wednesday, we noted that Marcus, who is smart and sincere, had some rather vague reactions to the film, The Boys of Baraka (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/15/06). And we said that wasn’t really her fault; our education debate is quite thin, and it’s rarely based on real ideas about real classroom procedures. At our long-promised successor site, we plan to follow Deasy’s performance—and we plan to offer specific ideas (based on real experience) about matters which might be correctably wrong in our urban/minority/low-income classrooms. As of today, Prince George’s County starts over again—and they start over today with a pledge. But how does Deasy plan to keep it? We hope Marcus will write about the coming debate, creating a deeper discussion.

OUR PLEDGE: We’ll bump back our promised review of the Virginia “school report card.” We pledge to provide it on Monday.