WHATEVER HAPPENED TO STANDARDS! Michelle Rhee has always been all about standards. Except when it came to that probe: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30, 2011
Professors, Klansmen and how to treat friends: Has Donald Trumps clowning begun to subside? Pray to God for small favors!
Over the past week, Trumpa very well-known figurehas peddled all sorts of brain-dead crap about Obamas troubling birth. He has spread all sorts of disinformation around, extending one of the dumbest episodes in our very dumb modern history.
At this point, we are a very, very dumb people. Are were dumb now on various sides.
Trump has behaved in inexcusable ways. But hes been enabled, every step of the way, by major journalists and liberals.
In the process, weve had a chance to see the way citizens get disinformed, especially in a tribal culture. And weve seen the ways mainstream journalists and career liberals will protect their ownby kicking down, not up.
Trump has been most at fault in the past weeks destructive clowning. But he has had a lot of helpfrom Greta van Susteren; from Barbara Walters; from Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar. And as he has spread his disinformation around, no major figure in the high mainstream press has managed to say boo about it.
The New York Times has let it go. So has the Washington Post. By now, it is the accepted norm when big players act this way.
How do somewhat gullible people end up believing things which are false? As part of the answer, consider the way Lawrence ODonnell and Professor Melissa Harris-Perry treated this unfolding matter on Monday evenings Last Word.
Whos at fault when gullible people get conned by big public figures? As ODonnell started, he played an overt tribal card. He played tape of our old pal, Bill Maher, blaming the other tribes evil rubesand saying its all about race.
Maher referred to a poll of likely Republican primary votersa poll with a rather small sample (click here). Why do so many people say they dont think Obama was born in the United States? In standard tribal fashion, Bill could think of only one answer:
For the record, being born in another country doesnt make someone un-American. (It does mean youre not a natural-born citizen.) If Bills mother had given birth to him in Norway, Moldova, North Korea or France, he would of course still be an American citizen.
Fish gotta swim and birds gotta flyand Bill [had] to think this was race! Deep inside the tribal mind, there could be no other answer! Indeed, tribal players always think in this manner. Everyone in The Other Tribe is presumed to be just like everyone else. These beings will then be described in the least flattering way our limbic brains can construct.
Question: Could it be that someone believes this crap because they saw Donald Trump say itand because they saw three major liberals flounder, thrash around and flail, failing to challenge his factual statements? Because they saw the liberal Professor Heldman fail in the exact same way on Hannity, a few nights later? Because they see Trump saying all these things, and they see no big players correcting his statements? In a tribal world, nothat cant be it! That might place some of our members at fault! Continuing, ODonnell brought on the professor to offer her own deathless thoughts on this topic. And soon, the analysts were clutching their ears, complaining of her racial cant and her professoriatese.
Harris-Perry started in English. Her statements made perfect sense:
Rather than tackle Obamas ideas, Trump was challenging his identity. Rather plainly, this statement was accurate. In similar ways, public clowns like Jerry Falwell paraded around in the 1990s, challenging President Clintons identity. Clinton was a serial killer, they said (so was his wife)and they would sell you a tape which proved it! And Clinton was a drug-runner too! And of course, he had gone to Moscow as a graduate studentperhaps as a Soviet spy!
Gullible people believed that crap too. They didnt need race to help them do it, just partisan gullibility. They believed those attacks on identity tooand the mainstream press corps looked away, trembling, worthless and silent.
The professor was off to a pretty good start. Her opening statements made perfect sense. But just like that, she adopted Mahers tack! Pleasing us rubes all over the land, she announced that this was all about race! It couldnt be anything else!
We were all ears! But when the professor began to explain, she slipped into her second language. What follows is almost pure bafflegab, though its largely delivered in the tongue known as professoriatese:
The birthers arent all racistsalthough its certainly all about race! And she didnt mean that they were all Klansmen.
After that, the bafflegab started.
Her statements said this was all about raceand this was pleasing to us rubes. But her key statements make little real sense; very little of what she said could really be paraphrased. Birthright citizenship is always about race? The statement is vague and therefore usefulbut it isnt clear what it has to do with the current ridiculous matter, which turns on the requirement that an American president be a natural-born citizen.
Question: If there had been some stupid way to pretend that Clinton had been born in France, do you think Falwell wouldnt have trumpeted that? Because it wouldnt have been about race? Because citizenship in this country is [always] about race?
Related question: Remember that brief window in time when we liberals would happily note that Arnold Schwarzenegger, briefly ascendant, could never run for president? (Hes a citizen, but he isnt natural-born.) How did that fit into the professors sweeping picture?
Have you ever heard it said that ex-governor Granholm, whos very bright, could never be picked for vice president? She was born in Canada! This too is all about race!
Harris-Perry is often quite fluent in professorial bafflegab. (In their book Higher Education?, Hacker and Dreifus mock the ways the professoriate now tends to speak in private languages. Wed say this resembles what they mean.) But in this latest offering, she quickly joined Maher in saying that this could only be about race (whatever that meant). Everyone who believes this crap believes it because of racebecause Barack Obama challenges Americans deeply held conception that whiteness and American-ness go hand in hand. By some miracle, this is true for all the gullible peoplethe racists and non-racists alike!
This was perfect tribal politics. Everybody blamed regular peopleand no one blamed the stars! More specifically: No one blamed Barbara or Whoopi or Joy! You see, Whoopi and Joy are part of our tribe. When journalism is really just tribal self-pleasure, no one in our own perfect tribe can ever be said to be wrong.
No one pushed up at our biggest newspapers, saying they should get off their tuffets for once and bring folk like Trump crashing down. When journalism is really self-pleasure, the kicking is always aimed down.
In fairness, the professor did offer an accurate lecture about the 14th amendment. But we have no real idea what it has to do with the current case. In no apparent way does the current nonsense have anything to do with birthright citizenship. Do you know why she started there? We have no idea! But lord, how good it felt!
ODonnell finished in typical fashion. Instead of noting that the previous, Republican governor of Hawaii actually vouched for Obamas birth, he cited the current Democratic governora friend of Obamas parents. This feels good within the tribe. But its a dumb way to argue.
But then, this is really all about entertainment and tribal self-affirmation. Serious people combatting such nonsense will kick big keister within the tribe, insisting that members do better next time. Theyll tell Whoopi and Joy to get off their asses and do their goddamned homework for once. Theyll tell Barbara Walters to quit or perform. (Though this might cost them future guest appearances.) They might even scream and yell at the New York Times, telling them to show some guts for once and denounce their famous fellow New Yorker. They might even tell the Times to name van Susteren while theyre at it. Her conduct has been a disgrace, seen by millions of voters.
But darlings, this simply isnt done! Tip-top careers can be ruined that way! ODonnell was simply running us rubes. He fed us race and comfort food. And lord! How good it all felt!
PART 2WHATEVER HAPPENED TO STANDARDS (permalink): How much cheating-by-erasure may have occurred in DCs public schools?
That question will be quite hard to answer, but the story to date has a comical aspect. But first, a basic distinction:
Although the District isnt a state, it does have a state education departmentthe Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). That office supervises the DC public schools. In 2008, when this story began, Deborah Gist was DCs state superintendent of education.
Lets get on with our story:
In the spring of 2008, Michelle Rhee was finishing her first year as chancellor of the DC Public Schools But uh-oh! In Mondays report in USA Today, Gillum and Bello say that Gist recommended that the scores of many schools be investigated because of unusually high gains (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/11).
When test scores jump in implausible ways, serious people will want to check twice. A bit later, the USA Today reporters describe Gists action in a bit more detail:
If USA Todays report is accurate, this would suggest that the OSSE was concerned by the size of some schools score gains. At any rate, 96 schools were flagged by McGraw-Hill for excessive wrong-to-right erasures. In at least three schools, 85 percent of the classrooms were flagged for excessive erasures.
But uh-oh: Although all of the experts consulted by USA TODAY said such aberrations should trigger investigations at the school level, that did not happen in D.C. in 2008. As they continue, Gillum and Bello report what happened in more detail:
Seven charter schools did conduct probes. (USA Today doesnt report the results.) But for better or worse, the DC Public Schools rejected Gists request.
The earth continued to turn; before long, it was time for testing again. But in the spring of 2009, the annual testing produced a new set of excessive erasures. This time, though, the DC Public Schools got off its duff and conducted a probe. Or at least, they gave the appearance.
After the 2009 tests, the school district hired an outside investigator to look at eight D.C. public schools, the reporters note. In the following passage, we get a bit more detail:
In this, the second year of Rhees reign, the District schools did respond to the OSSEs request. But that is where the mordant humor starts to enter the story.
Please note: The number of schools flagged for excessive erasures dropped in this second year of Rhees tenure, from 109 in 2008 to 46 in 2009. That said, its hard to tell what this drop might have meant. In this chart, USA Today notes that a new methodology was used in 2009 (see note at bottom); the newspaper makes no attempt to say if this methodological change might account for the lower number of schools getting flagged. At any rate, the mordant humor enters our tale when we read USA Todays account of what these District-funded probes turned up.
In this passage, Gillum and Bello describe the limitations placed on the probes. After that, they describe what the probes turned up:
From the outside, there is no way to know what may have occurred in these various schools. But on the basis of this rather circumscribed probe, the DC Public Schools determined the following:
They found that one (1) well-intentioned teacher had cleaned up stray pencil marks on some answer sheets. And not only that! At a second elementary school, one (1) teacher was barred from administering future tests, though no violation was found.
And sure enough, that was it!
Its hard to miss the mordant comedy found in this second-year probe. Meanwhile, excessive erasures were still running wild at various schools, including at the Noyes Education Center, the suddenly top-notch school on which Gillum and Bello have focused. In 2008, passing rates had soared at Noyesand McGraw-Hill flagged 75 percent of its classrooms for excessive erasures. But that pattern never changed at Noyes, despite the probe Rhee finally launched. In 2009 and 2010, at least 75 percent of the schools classrooms were still getting flagged for excessive erasures, including some classrooms whose erasure rates truly went through the roof.
Michelle Rhee has always been all about high standards. That said, the standards for her erasure probe seem to have been a bit lax. Tomorrow, well look at some of the ways this story has progressed this weekand well journey to Atlanta. But plenty of humor can be found in this tale.
This kind of thing is decades old. Sometimes, you just have to laugh