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MYTH INFORMATION! Do we know how to fix low-income schools? In the Post, a guest gets it right: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2009

Post to rubes: Look over here! Truly, you have to laugh at the Washington Post’s page 3 lay-out this morning. The message couldn’t be more obvious. Post to rubes: Look over here!

Quite literally, the entire top half of the page is consumed by “The Monday Fix,” penned by Cillizza and Bacon. In part, the feature consumes such a large chunk of space because it includes a very large photograph—a head shot of Sarah Palin. The photo stretches across three full columns, out of five. We’d estimate that it consumes about forty percent of the total space burned by The Fix. (You can see the photo at the link above. You can’t see how ginormous it is in the hard-copy paper.)

What’s so odd about that photo? Just this: Palin plays almost no role in the actual, 1200-word feature. She’s mentioned in only one sentence—and that sentence is literally parenthetical. It appears inside parentheses, at the end of paragraph 5. Let’s quote: “(One notable absence: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee...)”

That’s right. In a detailed, 1200-word feature, Palin rated exactly one sentence—because she didn’t attend an event. But a photo editor’s thinking was clear. Hey rubes! Pretty please! Over here!

Across the pond, The Sun has its unfortunate “page 3 girls.” This morning, the Post adopts the practice. And while we’re at it, let’s state the obvious: Olbermann hands Palin to the rubes each night for the same lofty reasons. Keith knows how to please the herd. Keith to rubes: Look over here!

Lohan used to be the draw. Today, it’s another pin-up.

A final marketing note: “Cillizza and Bacon” sounds like “Sizzlin’ Bacon!” HOWLER to Post: You can use it!

It never dies: Your modern “press” is a D-plus elite—a deeply inane little mafia. How inane is this group’s culture? First, review this sad example, as critiqued by Jamison Foser last Friday. (For Digby’s take on this gong-show, click here.) Then, check Foser’s work from last Thursday, as he was forced to waste his time and intelligence on more nonsense still.

That’s right! At US News, the children were wondering which of four lady pols would run the best day-care center. (Who burps babies better, Nancy or Sarah? Inquiring scribes wanted to know.) And one day earlier, Politico’s fedora-sporting Drudge knock-off had decided to “fact-check” Hillary’s claim about liking the Stones and the Beatles. (This reminded his pea-sized brain of her comments about the Cubs and the Yankees. Remarks she made in 1999. Remarks which were accurate.) But this is the low-IQ culture which has driven this cohort for decades. Simply put, this group is as dumb as a box of old rocks. Within our wider culture, it’s considered rude to say such things. But this cohort’s dumbness has been a threat to the national interest for decades.

They’re dumb as rocks—and they run your world. Which brings us around to poor Dowd.

For seventeen years, the cohort’s viral hatred for All Things Clinton/Gore has lay at the heart of its dumbness. This hatred virtually defines the harm this group has done to the nation, and to the world. And sure enough! It never dies! Here’s the way our saddest practitioner started yesterday’s column:

DOWD (2/22/09): Barack Obama’s grandmother told him to smile more. Bill Clinton tells the new president to strut more.

As the country takes a bullet train to bankruptcy, the last Democratic president urged the current one to “embody” that old American spunk. That spirit of—as they sing in “Oklahoma”—“We know we belong to the land and the land we belong to is grand! A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY!”

“It’s worth reminding the American people that for more than 230 years everyone who bet against America lost money,” Clinton told Chris Cuomo on “Good Morning America.” “I just want him to embody that and to share that.”

It’s hard to overstate the dumbness of that when you read Clinton’s actual interview. Did Vile Bill Clinton urge Obama to sing, “We know...the land we belong to is grand! A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY!” In fact, here’s the actual Q-and-A in which Cuomo first raised this topic:

CUOMO (2/20/09): Would you like to see [Obama] be more positive? He's had some dour proclamations recently. And yet he kind of came in on this wave of hope—“I'm the voice of hope.” Has not been that hopeful lately.

CLINTON: I'll tell you what I would like. First of all, the last thing that you want to do when you take office in a time like this is give people a lot of inane happy talk and false promises about how quickly we can get out of this...

Sickening, isn’t it? Sickeningly stupid? What was the first thing Clinton said, when asked if Obama should be “more positive?” Clinton praised the new president because he hasn’t offered people “a lot of inane happy talk.” And sure enough! When Cuomo asked a second time, Clinton said it again:

CLINTON: But I actually—I like the fact that he didn't come in and give us a bunch of happy talk. I'm glad he shot straight with us.

“I like the fact that he didn't come in and give us a bunch of happy talk,” Clinton said. To Dowd, this meant that he had urged Obama to sing, “A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY!”

What on earth can explain the fact that this idiot remains where is?

Whatever! For decades, you and your interests have been in their hands—in the hands of a gong-show palace elite. During that period, their hatred of Everything Clinton/Gore transformed your nation—and the world. In this latest manifestation, Dowd doctored the (insignificant) things Clinton said, as she and her cronies have done for decades. Indeed: For a similar act of reinvention, recall Frank Rich’s astounding account of what Gore told Katie Couric in November 2002, back when Gore was warning the nation not to go into Iraq. Sadly, you didn’t learn what Gore said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/25/02). Instead, you got what Rich wanted you getting—contempt for All Things Clinton/Gore. Six years later, this practice won’t die.

Below, we’ll post the full, insignificant exchange between Cuomo and Clinton. No, this wasn’t worth discussing; in truth, it didn’t mean a whole lot, one way or another. But this group, simply put, is out of its mind—and they’re in charge of your national discourse! And oh yes—the fast-emerging liberal world is increasingly adopting their spin-soaked culture (more perfect examples tomorrow). We regard this fact as a real disaster for the land where we rubes all live.

The full exchange: Snore! Cuomo raised a rather tedious topic, producing this underwhelming exchange. In each answer, Clinton praised Obama for avoiding “happy talk.” Unless you read yesterday’s Times, of course, in which he scolded silly Obama for his failure to strut:

CUOMO (2/20/09): Would you like to see him be more positive? He's had some dour proclamations recently. And yet he kind of came in on this wave of hope—“I'm the voice of hope.” Has not been that hopeful lately.

CLINTON: I'll tell you what I would like. First of all, the last thing that you want to do when you take office in a time like this is give people a lot of inane happy talk and false promises about how quickly we can get out of this.

Now, the only thing I'd like him to do, I just would like him to end by saying that he is hopeful and completely convinced we're going to come through this.

CUOMO: People need to hear that, don't they?

CLINTON: Yeah. And it's worth reminding the American people that for more than 230 years everyone who bet against America lost money. It's a mistake to bet against this country, over the long run. I just want him to—to embody that and to share that.

But I actually—I like the fact that he didn't come in and give us a bunch of happy talk. I'm glad he shot straight with us. I just want the American people to know that he's confident that we are going to get out of this and he feels good about the long run.

No, none of that was worth discussing. But if you felt forced to discuss such trivia, you really didn’t have the right to pick and choose and doctor and fake in the reflexive way Dowd adopted. Actually, no: Clinton didn’t tell Obama that he should sing, “A-YIP-I-O-EE-AY!” And by the way, what occurred in the next Q-and-A? Here it is; Dowd left it out:

CUOMO (continuing directly): Let me ask you just two or three quick questions. If you give the administration a grade so far, what would it be?

CLINTON: A.

Wouldn’t you know it! Dowd completely forgot to mention Obama’s straight-A grade! As Rich forgot to tell the truth when Gore tried to warn about Iraq. You see, Gore was still a Major Rich Target. The gong-show took over from there.

Ceci’s return: Ceci is back; she’s misstating again, this time about Social Security. If you missed our Saturday post, you know what to do—just click here.

MYTH INFORMATION: Kalman Hettleman has been active in Baltimore’s schools for as long as we have lived here. (We don’t know him.) Sunday morning, our analysts lustily cheered when we read his piece in the Washington Post.“5 Myths About Schools That Just Can’t Be Fixed,” the hard-copy headline said, somewhat incoherently.

More precisely, the analysts cheered when Hettleman debunked his first “myth about schools.” (We’ve often made similar points in these pages.) Well—they cheered until the end:

HETTLEMAN (2/22/09): We know how to fix public schools; we just lack the political will to finish the job.

Wrong. For the past 25 years, K-12 education has been at or near the top of most politicians' domestic agendas. Candidates vie to become the "education" president, governor or mayor. The public cries out for better schools and is even willing to pay higher taxes to get them.

There is no shortage of strategies for education reform, either. The most famous (or infamous) is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), with its federal mandates for rigorous student testing. School districts across the country have been flooded with other initiatives, too. Conservatives generally advocate breaking up teacher unions and privatization, while liberals call for more money, less testing and greater teacher autonomy. But nothing has succeeded. In 2006, experts at the Harvard-based Public Education Leadership Project concluded that all these efforts, including NCLB, "have failed to produce a single high-performing urban school system."

As we’ve frequently said in the last year or so, we’re always amazed when people proclaim that “we know how to fix (low-income) schools.” Clear-eyed believers like Wendy Kopp love to issue such proclamations. Usually, their hands are extended for cash donations as they issue these pleasing claims. And they offer claims about their own greatness—uplifting claims which can’t be sustained by the available evidence.

Do we know how to “fix” our low-income schools? We think the claim remains a giant stretch; we cheered as Hettleman challenged it. And yet, we think Hettleman overstates a tad when he says that “nothing has succeeded.”

Depending on how you score such matters, we’d agree that the nation’s efforts “have failed to produce a single high-performing urban school system.” But for our money, Hettleman is a bit too dour about the progress that does seem to have occurred in the past several decades (in part, we would assume, through the efforts of people like him). In the past few months, we spent some time checking the long-term results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the highly-regarded testing program which has gathered national data about reading and math since 1971. The NAEP is considered the gold standard of such data collection—and its testing has shown substantial progress in reading and math over those years. And this is true among all major groups: White kids’ scores are better—but so are the scores of black and Hispanic kids. (Note: Of all major testing programs, the NAEP provides the least incentive for in-school cheating.)

How much better have NAEP scores gotten? Absent interviews with NAEP officials, we’d be reluctant to quantify too precisely. But especially among grade-school kids, we’d be inclined to say this: A lot. For example, here are reading “scale scores” for white and black kids over a 33-year span (1971-2004). As we recently noted, those gains in “scale scores” are impossible to evaluate absent further technical guidance. (What does a 30-point gain really mean?) But based on what we ourselves know about these scores, we’d say that those gains are significant.

Hettleman is right—we don’t have “a single high-performing urban school system.” But based on those NAEP data, it seems wrong to say that nationwide efforts haven’t produced some success. Things may remain bad in our low-income schools. But NAEP’s data suggest that things have gotten substantially better since the day we met our first fifth-grade class, in the fall of 1969. (And a charming group it was!)

We cheered when Hettleman challenged the claim that “we know how to fix (low-income) schools.” We think this claim remains a vast overstatement. But what sorts of improvements have occurred through the years? Funny, ain’t it? That important question is rarely discussed within our impoverished discourse.

Our question: Have you ever seen anybody explain what those long-term NAEP data actually mean? Everybody calls NAEP the gold standard—and no one wastes time on its data.

And Kahlenberg makes two: Reading yesterday’s Post, we were also stuck by Richard Kahlenberg’s review of Work Hard. Be Nice., Jay Mathews’ new book about the KIPP schools. More specifically, we were struck by one significant part of Kahlenberg’s KIPP-friendly piece. We’re KIPP-friendly around here too. But if true, the highlighted fact is important:

KAHLENBERG (2/23/09): KIPP's experience does little to rebut the longstanding social-science consensus that poverty and segregation reduce achievement. In many respects, KIPP schools more closely resemble middle-class than high-poverty public schools. KIPP does not educate the typical low-income student but rather a subset fortunate enough to have striving parents who take the initiative to apply to a KIPP school and sign a contract agreeing to read to their children at night. More important, among those who attend KIPP, 60 percent leave, according to a new study of California schools, many because they find the program too rigorous. As KIPP's reputation grew, it could select among the best teachers (who wish to be around high-performing colleagues), and it became funded at levels more like those of middle-class schools.

Is that true? Do 60 percent of KIPP students leave the program (at some point) because they find it too rigorous? If so, this reinforces a powerful caveat—a caveat which is often ignored when pundits point to KIPP’s success in low-income communities. We think the KIPP schools have performed a highly valuable service. But its students “self-select” when they enter the program—and, if Kahlenberg’s figure is accurate, they also “self-select” through this large attrition rate. This would tend to reinforce Kahlenberg’s claim: “KIPP does not educate the typical low-income student but rather a subset fortunate enough to have striving parents...”

In Hettleman’s piece, he implicitly criticizes folk who say it would be easy to “fix” our low-income schools. KIPP’s test scores are sometimes cited in support of such claims. (Example: Mathews’ piece this morning.) But Kahlenberg’s highlighted claim suggests that something else—self-selection—may be at work in the test scores KIPP has produced. Do we know how to fix our low-income schools? “Fixing” such schools gets massively easier if less-driven students drop out.

Like Mathews, we think the guys who founded KIPP did a very good thing. But let’s rework an earlier question: Have you ever seen anyone try to explain what KIPP’s test scores actually mean? Again, we’ll offer a mordant thought: Our national discourse is just as “impoverished” as the good, decent kids in those classrooms.

Coming Friday: Hettleman challenges five myths about schools. Below, you see the four biggest myths we’d challenge, restricting ourselves to low-income schools. We’ll plan to review all four on Friday:

Four myths about our low-income schools:
1) We know how to “fix” our low-income schools. We just lack the will to do it.
2) We need to set “tougher standards.”
3) Our public school kids are “all the same,” whatever their social background may be.
4) It’s mainly the fault of the teachers and unions—no “experts” or swells need apply. (See Hettleman’s myth number 4.)

In our view, the experts and swells have persistently failed. But the experts and swells rarely say this.