CORRECTING DEASY! Does anyone ever give accurate data to Post education reporters? // link // print // previous // next //
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2006
CORRECTING DEASY, RATHER MILDLY: Does anyone ever give accurate data to Post education reporters? In Thursdays paper, Nick Anderson presented his latest profile of new Prince Georges superintendent John Deasy (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/21/06). But uh-oh! As Anderson noted, numbers from previous profiles of Deasy have now been declared inoperative. To his credit, Anderson does call attention to this matter. He notes that California state data contradict basic numbers which Deasy had given the Post:
ANDERSON (2/23/06): In many ways, Deasy's experience here [in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district] contrasts with what he will face when he moves east. This school district is one-tenth as large as the 133,000-student Prince George's system. State data show it has about 12,500 students through grade 12, lower than a 14,000-student figure Deasy had given The Washington Post. Deasy's initial total included about 1,500 students in adult programs.Oops! In short, the Santa Monica-Malibu district is smaller than the Post has been reporting; by including 1500 adult program students, Deasys numbers gave a false impression about the districts size. No, this isnt the end of the world, and the confusion may have resulted from a simple mistake or misunderstanding. But in handing out those original numbers, Deasy did gain two advantages in his quest for the Prince Georges job. This matter is worth describing out in a bit more detail than Anderson did in this report.
First, Deasys numbers indicated that his current district is larger than it actually is. This is significant, because one concern about Deasys candidacy was his lack of experience in large school systems, like that of Prince Georges County. To a rational person, the apparent advantage gained here is slight. But these debates are rarely rational, and ramping up the size of the district was an advantage to Deasy nonetheless.
But Deasys data conveyed a second advantage, one which may have been more significant. In Andersons report, we are told that Santa Monica-Malibu is actually smaller than previously reported. But we arent told about the second misperception which stemmed from Deasys original numbers. As it turns out, Santa Monica-Malibu is also less diverse than we have been told up till now. Here is the relevant passage, as Anderson continues directly:
ANDERSON (2/23/06, continuing directly): His district is majority white, with state data showing 27 percent Latino students and 8 percent black students. The student body in Prince George's is three-quarters black with a fast-growing Latino minority.To state the obvious, theres nothing wrong with those student demographics—but Deasys original numbers told a different tale. Heres how Anderson described the district in his first profile of Deasy:
ANDERSON (2/14/06): The president of the Santa Monica-Malibu school board confirmed Deasy's assertion that he had raised achievement at high-poverty schools in the district, where about half the students are non-Hispanic white, one-third are Latino and one-tenth are black.In short, Deasys numbers overstated his districts minority demographics. (Presumably, those 1500 adult program students are disproportionately black and Hispanic.) Indeed, by the time Deasy was picked for the Prince Georges job, the misreported student demographics had tilted even more in his favor. More than a third of the system's students are Latino, and about a tenth are black, Anderson wrote on February 19 (our italics). In short, Deasys numbers bumped up Santa Monica-Malibus minority population by about ten percentage points. This is a significant matter, since Prince Georges was looking for a superintendent who knew how to improve minority achievement. Deasy was saying that he knew how to do that—and was handing out numbers which overstated the size of his districts minority cohort.
One more point is worth noting from Andersons most recent report, although this problem doesnt concern those original numbers from Deasy. Uh-oh! As it turns out, Santa Monica-Malibu also has substantial less poverty than Deasy will find in Prince Georges:
ANDERSON (2/23/06; continuing directly): Santa Monica and Malibu have more concentrated wealth than [Prince Georges] county and far less extensive poverty. The percentage of students here who qualify for federal meal subsidies—about one-fifth—is less than half the percentage in Prince George's.Here, the fault belongs to Anderson, not necessarily to Deasy. Last week, Anderson compared Santa Monica-Malibus pleasing test scores to those of the state of California as a whole (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/21/06). In response, we noted that Santa Monica-Malibu was almost surely a fairly wealthy district, and we said that Anderson should have mentioned this basic factor before making such facile (and fawning) comparisons. Now we see that Santa Monica-Malibu has much less poverty than Deasys new district—and much less than the state of California as a whole. (Statewide, 49 percent of California students qualify for federal meal subsidies. Just click here. In Prince Georges County, 54.4 of grade school students receive these subsidies. Click this.) It was silly for Anderson to make those test score comparisons without noting this elementary variable. But then, all through the courtship of Deasy, we were hearing about Santa Monica-Malibus troubling, vast poverty. See the quote from school board president Julia Brownley in the excerpt above.
Is Prince Georges getting what it bargained for? For whatever reason, Deasy distributed elementary data which misrepresented elementary facts—and tilted the playing field in his favor. Meanwhile, we kept hearing about Deasys work with poverty students—although his current district is rather low on such measures. Meanwhile, back to our opening question—does anyone ever give accurate data to Washington Post education reporters? A few weeks ago, we watched as the Post pushed phony data right to the top of its front page (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/8/06). Now, Deasy has also gained from presenting some misleading data. And uh-oh! Andersons mild, truncated correction suggests this may be the way to go in dealing with this papers ed writers.
HIS BIGGEST FLAW IS THAT HES TOO HONEST: For the record, Andersons early profiles were also full of praise for Deasys honesty—praise which often came from Deasy himself. Since Prince Georges got taken by its last faulty choice for this post, this too was a paramount concern:
ANDERSON (2/14/06): During his visit, Deasy depicted himself as an educator with a squeaky-clean record and a passion for raising student achievement. Those are two paramount concerns for the nine-member Board of Education, which is seeking to replace Andre J. Hornsby, who resigned as schools chief last year amid an ethics controversy.After making implausible statements about Prince Georges County, Deasy continued to applaud his own ethics:
ANDERSON (2/14/06): He said Prince George's, which has nearly as many students in public schools as Montgomery County and test scores higher only than Baltimore's, offered an alluring challenge for an educator looking to move up.As weve said, we dont know if Deasy tried to mislead with those misleading numbers. We will admit to a Gary Hart Moment when we first read these words of self-praise about his own sterling character.