THE TIMES IT IS A-CHANGIN! As Dillon recorded the latest NAEP scores, your HOWLER kept getting results: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MARCH 25, 2010
No half loaf of history today: With annoyance, weve changed our mind. Over at our companion site, we now plan to post the full Chapter 4 next Tuesday.
Were sorry for this annoying delay. So much historical garbageso little present time.
A look at The Dumb and The Hate: We were happy to see Brendan Nyhan this morning, on the New York Times op-ed page! Brendan got famous in the old, on-line days at Spinsanity. Now, hes one of them perfesser fellers. And he offered this excellent piece in this mornings Times.
Will people start thinking better of the health reform plan, now that it has passed into law? Not so fast, the professor advises. We the people are deeply skilled in our resistance to knowledge, especially when such knowledge conflicts with our partisan preferences. After chiding Fox and MSNBC viewers alike, Brendan gave a good example of our potent devotion to Dumb. For good or ill, his example involves conservatives only:
For ourselves, we were struck by the starting-point in Nyhans experiment. Imagine! Coming in, 36 percent of conservatives had been conned into believing the biggest load of bull of the past thirty years: Tax cuts actually increase federal revenue! Its the dumbest claim in American politicsand it is widely believed.
Nyhan was working with The Big Dumb. At this point, we asked ourselves a question: Can we think of any common belief among liberals that is as dumb as that one? Off-hand, we couldnt do it. But we did think of something we saw on The Ed Show last night. We thought of the (rapidly growing) way we liberals seem to love The Big Hate.
Say what, many readers will say. We liberals love The Big Hate? Well actually, yeswe pretty much do. In our view, Brother Schultz went around the bend and over the falls in last nights exchange with Ernest Istook, a former Republican congressmanan exchange which began with the following question:
Was something wrong with that question? Not exactly, though we ourselves wouldnt have framed it that way. Have all conservatives been involved in over-the-top rhetoric and/or acts of vandalism? Most conservatives? Some? Just a few? Modern conservatives are very dumb when they believe that tax cuts increase federal revenue! But increasingly, modern liberals seem eager to make the dumbest, most destructive move in world historythe move which takes us from some to all, stated or implied. (To watch last nights segment, click here.)
For our money, Rachel Maddow has largely done a good job the past two nights focusing on the actual people who have engaged in actual misconduct in reaction to the health reform vote. (Your HOWLER keeps getting results!) But all across the dial, pseudo-liberals have been very happy to make the move from some or a few to alland to burn with fury at the conduct they thereby impute to the masses. If some behave badly, must all be condemned?. Maddow herself made this move last night, bringing the eternal note of tribal dumbness in:
Do you see how easily the reptilian brain produces that tribal move? To wit:
On Saturday, some small number of people (presumably one) spat on a member of Congress. Meanwhile, some small number of fallen souls tossed epithets at Congressmen Lewis, Cleaver, Carson and Frank. But Maddows brain told her something different; it told her it was really that crowd on the lawn of the Capitol which had been doing these things. And not only that! Those members of Congress had been condoning that crowds actions!
Question: Had the actions in question even occurred when those members appeared on that balcony?
Maddows brain played a trick on her mind when it led her to indict that crowd. She instantly moved from some to all, obeying a prehistoric imperative.
Sadly, there has been a great deal of that among liberals in the past few weeks. And yes, its every bit as dumb as thinking that tax cuts increase federal revenue! By the way: What really happened around the Capitol building? How much name-calling did occur? What other sorts of conduct occurred? On Monday night, we were disappointed when Keith Olbermann failed to ask Rep. Clyburn. Note what Clyburn said:
We saw two points of interest there. Clyburn himself didnt hear the slurs. (Lewis, Cleaver, Carson, Frank did.) But he did hear venomous comments, which made him wonder what that was all about. We would have liked for KO to question him on each of those points. What sorts of venomous comments did he hear, since he himself didnt hear any slurs? And what was Clyburns assessment of the crowds overall demeanor? On the whole, how racial did the crowd seem to be, if Clyburn didnt hear any slurs?
What are the answers? We dont know, because Olbermann didnt ask. And by Wednesday night on the Maddow show, an age-old transformation had occurred. The undifferentiated crowd on the lawn was now responsible for those racial epithetsthe epithets which were so widespread Clyburn himself didnt hear any. Meanwhile, thanks to KOs failure to ask basic questions, we didnt get a chance to learn about the things Clyburn really did hear.
Wed like to know more about what went on. We would have liked to hear more of Clyburns assessment. But liberal hosts have been happily moving from some to all this week, and theyve been pretty much leaving it there. Its the most destructive move in all of human history.
We live in an increasingly dangerous time. We live in a vast continental nation which contains substantially different political traditions and instincts. (See Michael Linds Made in Texas.) Our nation contains very dumb people and fallen souls, who tribalists will always make evil. (Dr. King simply didnt do that. It helps explain why he won.) For our money, Maddow has basically done a good job in the past two nights, naming the names of the actual people who have engaged in real misconduct. (We would include Sarah Palin in that group. Of course, people who have trashed Palin for every damn thing will not be listened to nowexcept within the tribe.) But all across the liberal dial, you can see ardent tribal believers making the age-old play.
They will move from some to alland then, theyll start to yell at Istook. After that, Laura Flanders will make a snide remark about the state hes from. In an ancient tribal play, she sneered at Ernie from Oklahoma. (Go aheadwatch the tape. You decide.)
Within our history, these are dangerous plays. At present, we liberals seem to enjoy them. Its always that way before war. Remember Gone with the Wind?
THE TIMES IT IS A-CHANGIN (permalink): This morning, the analysts stood and cheered Sam Dillon, the New York Times education reporter. And sure enough! Once again, your HOWLER was getting results!
Why were the analysts cheering? In todays Times, Dillon reports the 2009 reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the federal testing program known as the nations report card. (These scores were just released.) The analysts cheered when they read the following passage. In it, Dillon tells us how many points such scores have gone up over the past twenty years. But Dillon tells us something else in the following passage. He also gives us a rough idea what those score gains mean:
Hurrah! Dillon tells us that fourth grade math scores have gone up 27 points since 1990. And then, he gives us a rough idea what that score gain means! That score gain means that fourth graders know about two and a half years more math than fourth graders knew in 1990. And by the way: If true, that is an astounding gain. Its important that people be told about it.
Dillon is applying a rough rule of thumb, one he attributes to federal officials. Under that rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is equivalent to roughly one year of learning. For ourselves, wed be inclined to doubt the claim that todays fourth graders really know that much more; we would be curious to know if federal officials would apply their rule of thumb that extensively. But in that passage, Dillon at least gives readers a rough idea what those score gains mean.
A bit of background: As you may recall, we had to rough Dillon up a bit on this very point when he reported the NAEPs 2009 math scores. (The math scores were released last fall. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/15/09). He applied his rule of thumb a bit selectively, and a bit murkily, that day. Today, he does massively better.
That said, lets say it again: If todays fourth graders are two and a half years ahead of fourth graders from 1990, that would represent massive improvement. If Dillon (and those federal officials) believe that is the case, that should create a front-page headline in some future report.
Gains in reading have been slower. Lets note a couple of points:
Unfortunately, demography still makes a big difference in our public schooling. For better and worse, white kids still score substantially better than black kids and Hispanic kids on tests of basic skills like the NAEP. As a result: When the Times reports these scores, it should break them down by those three groups. Often, score gains look a lot better when theyre reviewed this way. Reason? As the years go by, white kids constitute a smaller percentage of the overall student population. Trust us: In this circumstance, scores of all three groups may be going up, even as the overall average stays the same.
We knowthats counterintuitive. But as everyone knows, its also true. (We havent looked at these new reading scores by group. Dillon should have done that. This disaggregation is the one part of No Child Left Behind which most people still praise.)
Second point: Overall reading scores are largely unchanged in the past decade. But significant progress was observed in one group, as Dillon reports:
Applying Dillons rule of thumb, that passage would mean that the nations lowest-scoring ten percent is now scoring a year and a half ahead of their peers from the year 2000! That too would represent remarkable progress, if true. Dillon semi-explains this apparent progress in this semi-illogical passage:
Huh? First, Valencia explains why the progress is all being made at the bottomits because the Reading First program focused on lower-level skills, the kinds of skills which would advance poor readers. She then says that such lower-level skills dont really help you on the national assessment. Of course, Dillon has just finished telling us that the scores of lower-level student have risen impressively on the NAEP! Go aheadreread that passage. It gives you a look at the level of logic that rules most education debates.
That said: The new Obama plan focuses its attention at the nations lowest-achieving schools. To judge from this passage, Reading First helped our lower-achieving kids, but didnt do much for kids who are nearer the top. But kids at the top are important too. In fact, theyre very important for the future life of the nation.
Should we focus on lower-achieving schools? Why cant Arne Duncan come up with a plan which would help all kids, in all schools?
Tomorrow: Another report from the public schools! (We found this one a bit shocking.)