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WHY RUBEN CAN’T READ! A bit of Magical Thinking in Maryland leads to a timely epilogue: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2006

NOWHERE TO RUN TO: Yesterday, we said we might have theories from readers about the logic of Bush’s proposed “paint job” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/30/06). But in the end, we don’t really feel that we’ve seen any theories which would explain how this job would have worked. What’s the story behind this incident? We don’t know—we’ll only say this:

The New York Times—and many other papers—reported a truly remarkable story. According to an authoritative memo, President Bush suggested faking an incident to “provoke a confrontation” with Iraq. That is truly a startling claim—and as we say, it comes from an authoritative source. But no one seems to be making any effort to figure out what this might mean, or to ask if it actually happened. This puzzling but truly remarkable report has disappeared like a stone down a well.

Did George Bush really suggest faking an incident to “provoke a confrontation”—start a war—with Iraq? The claim is remarkable—but it’s been treated as mundane. So it oddly continues to go in the “bizarre time” Peter Daou has described.

THE ACTIVIST WEB’S DOWNWARD SPIRAL: Over the past year or so, we’ve been surprised and disappointed by the downward spiral of parts of the activist liberal web. Yesterday, a good example of this process was provided by Digby. The Digster was battering Hardball’s Chris Matthews for his recent immigration discussions. After giving a mildly selective account of Matthews’ presentations, Digby proceeded to say the following, quoting a statement Matthews made Monday night:

DIGBY (3/30/06): I think it is EXTREMELY important, for this as well as many other reasons, that we make it very, very clear that Chris Matthews is not a Democrat. He’s a Republican:

MATTHEWS: People go to vote this November, you know this as well. When I go to vote, I know who my congressperson is. And I always voted for this woman out in Maryland for years, because I know her and like her, a moderate Republican. I always voted for her. Then if I knew somebody running against her personally, I'd vote for them.

It's the way I look at a lot of the elections. I think Bush is OK the first time, then he changed I thought, so I didn’t like him the second time. I‘m a thinker about this. Or do people just vote the party who my parents voted?

DIGBY: He’s a thinker, all right. A Republican thinker.

According to Digby, these (vacuous) statements show that Matthews is a Republican. He says it’s EXTREMELY important that we make that very, very clear—hitting “Caps Lock” as he does. But what does Matthews actually say in that passage? In his second paragraph, he says what he has said before—that he voted for Bush in 2000, then voted for Kerry four years later. (Note: Kerry was the Democrat.) Meanwhile, in the first of these paragraphs, he says that he frequently (or always) voted for Representative Connie Morella, who was just about the most moderate Republican in the House. (She was constantly re-elected from a Dem-heavy district. According to the Washington Post, “no Republican-represented district in the country gave Al Gore a higher vote percentage.”) He also says that he voted against Morella at some point—or that he would have voted against her—“if I knew somebody running against her personally.” (He may be saying, in these unclear remarks, that he voted for Democrat Chris Van Hollen when he ousted Morella in 2002, after the district was made even more Democratic.) In this passage, Matthews is saying that he votes for Republicans and for Democrats. But Digby—leaning on “Caps Lock”—can’t even repeat what’s been said.

This is a minor point, but it neatly captures the decline of the activist web. The intellectual dysfunction on display here has long typified pseudo-conservative work, a point we Dems continue to laugh at. But now this dysfunction is also spreading through the activist “liberal” web. Up is down; sometimes is always—and pseudo-liberal apes pseudo-conservative. It feels very good to lean on that key and thereby present EVERY LETTER in caps. But this practice corrupts the liberal interest—and it continues to spread through some major sites which help drive the activist web.

We wish that we could be more kind to a guy who has done a lot of good work. But work like this insults liberal interests—and it insults the liberal intelligence. Are we liberals really this dumb? Are we pleased to be dumb just like them?

SMILE-A-WHILE/NUMBERS ARE HARD: Good God! Kaplan and Kaplan spent some time writing a book on “adventures in probability.” For their trouble, they get to read this, from William Grimes’ review in the Times:

GRIMES (3/31/06): Before scoffing, chew on the now famous Monty Hall problem, named after the host of ''Let's Make a Deal.'' A contestant knows that concealed behind three doors there are two goats and one new car. The contestant chooses Door No. 1. The beaming host opens Door No. 3 to reveal a goat, and then asks the contestant if he would like to change his choice to Door No. 2. Two doors add up to a 50-50 proposition, obviously. So why bother? Because the odds have actually shifted. The chances are now two out of three that changing to Door No. 2 will obtain the car.
Say what? We don’t know what the Kaplans wrote to provoke that highlighted sentence. But for the record: If the contestant changes to Door No. 2, he’ll obtain the car half the time—and “half the time” is not “two out of three.” For what it’s worth, Grimes (or his editor) may have a future on the activist web, where voting for Bush one time out of two PROVES YOU’RE A FULL-TIME REPUBLICAN.

Numbers, dear friends, are hard work.

TOMORROW: Media Matters nails O’Reilly. And then, check out Kinsley and Robinson.

UPDATE: Omigod! We're flooded with e-mails insisting Grimes is right. So far, we're denying everything.

Special report—Why Ruben can’t read!

RUMINATIONS ON RUBEN: Why is Ruben a below-level reader? Read each part of our series:

Part 1: Ruben takes reading class three times a day! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/27/06.

Part 2: What is Ruben actually reading? Or is just doing cheap drills? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/28/06.

Part 3: Are there signs that Ruben is learning? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/29/06.

Part 4: Did Ruben ever have science books? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/30/06.

Today, an epilogue.

EPILOGUE—MARYLAND MAGIC: Why can’t Ruben Jiminez read (very well)? For an epilogue, let’s depart the Golden State and take in some Maryland Magic.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Nick Anderson reports a major move by the Maryland Board of Education. It may represent a wave of the future. Here it is, in Anderson’s words:

ANDERSON (3/30/06): The Maryland Board of Education voted Wednesday to place 11 Baltimore public schools under independent management in a shake-up of this city's school system that could be a harbinger for struggling schools in Prince George's County, the District and elsewhere.

The state intervention provoked outrage from an array of Baltimore officials, and the president of the city's school board indicated the city may fight the action in court.

In Baltimore, eleven schools with low test scores will be placed under independent management. This could be the wave of the future—and not just in Maryland, Anderson notes. He quotes Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy: “What Maryland is doing will be a precursor to what a number of other states will do.” Maryland has been ahead of the curve on these matters. Other states will likely follow.

Low-scoring schools—the kind Ruben attends—may increasingly be run by independent entities. We’re not saying that’s a bad thing; for ourselves, we’d err on the side of reasonable experimentation in matters like this. But let’s note a bit of Magical Thinking as state boards proceed in this manner. Note this: In Maryland, the Board itself isn’t proposing solutions for these low-scoring schools. The Board is doing something different; the Board is saying, “We’ll let Entity X run these schools, and we’ll let them come up with solutions.” As we say, we don’t necessarily oppose that approach. But it’s good work if you can get it.

The Board isn’t planning to fix these schools. They’re letting Some Other Guy do it.

It isn’t wrong when boards do this. But we’d prefer to see school boards come up with solutions all by themselves. So how about it? How about the California schools which young Ruben Jiminez has attended? If we were sitting on a board which wanted to analyze their performance, we would ask these basic questions about the way those schools run:

Question 1: What happens to these schools’ low-income kids starting on Day One of kindergarten? If they arrive lacking readiness skills (see below), are they met a by a program geared to their profile? Or are they perhaps pushed ahead too fast, producing ongoing confusion?

Question 2: What happens to these schools’ low-income kids starting on Day One of first grade? Are they met a by a reading program geared to their actual state of readiness? Or are they perhaps pushed ahead too fast? Is the school’s program perhaps more geared to the educational profile of middle-class kids? For various reasons, this would be understandable. But it’s bad news for struggling kids.

Question 3: What happens to kids like Ruben by the time they hit the fourth or fifth grade? If they’re reading years below grade level (see below), are their classrooms full of books from which they can gain real reading experience? Do their teachers have science and history textbooks written for kids on their reading level? Are their teachers able to give them lots of books about reptiles and frogs—and about inspiring leaders? Or do they sit and stare into air because their teachers can’t give them such books? Such kids need lots of reading experience. Are their schools prepared to provide it?

Why doesn’t Ruben read very well? We don’t have the slightest idea. But if we were charged with supervising his schools, we’d start by exploring those basic questions. By contrast, Maryland’s Board is going to let Some Other Guy do that. Entity X will solve these problems. It’s great work—if you can get it.

THAT PROFILE OF CHILDREN LIKE RUBEN: Again, we’ll post that profile from that latest new study—that profile of children like Ruben:

THE CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Young low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, such as recognizing letters and counting...By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind non-poor students.
Likely to start school without basic skills! Three grade levels behind by fourth grade! Kids like that need unique, well-crafted programs. It doesn’t take an Independent Concern to find out if Ruben’s schools have them.

KOZOL’S CORRESPONDING PROFILE: In The Shame of the Nation, Jonathan Kozol offers a similar profile of low-income children on Day One of kindergarten:

KOZOL (page 52): More commonly in urban neighborhoods, large numbers of children have received no preschool education and they come into their kindergarten year without the minimal social skills that children need in order to participate in class activities and without even such very modest early-learning skills as knowing how to hold a pencil, identify perhaps a couple of shapes or colors, or recognize that printed pages go from left to right.
Kid who are far behind at the start must have carefully-crafted programs. If they’re years behind when they’re in the fourth grade, the same admonition obtains. Do such programs exist in Ruben’s schools? Boards of Ed can ask that themselves. They don’t need to name Independents.