ALSO IN ATLANTA! Atlanta has suffered a two-year cheating mess. Why did the Times take a pass? // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2011
Mark Twain and the TV profs/The truth about us the people: Are we the people driven by nothing but slobbering racial concern?
We almost wish it were so! Consider a gruesome part of Hacker and Piersons book, Winner-Take-All Politics.
It starts on page 108. It concerns the things we the people just plain flat-out dont know:
Weve highlighted the most significant point. We the people are hopelessly uninformed; this makes us vulnerable to various claims from every crank, kook, crackpot and TV billionaire. But in our so-called serious political discourse, its considered bad manners to say so! No one ever tells the people that they dont know squat from squadoosh. Pols dont do so for obvious reasons. Journalists are also concerned with maintaining their popularity; for this reason, they are constantly spotted on the TV machine, telling us how sharp we all are. This permits the cluelessness to grow. Hacker and Pierson continue:
We the people know virtually nothing. This helps explain why people like Donald Trump can put dumb ideas in peoples heads, especially when theyre being enabled by their overpaid, unprepared society friends. (Examples: Walters, Behar and Goldberg. Its a form of professional courtesy.)
That said, many folk who follow politics cant conceive of how dumb the rest of us are. You cant blame that on Hacker and Pierson! The gentlemen pour it on:
If we might be permitted a major buzz kill, youll note that these numbers make it hard to blame this whole thing on the tea-baggers. On balance, we Democrats, liberals and progressives are dumb as a box of rocks too.
We offer this as a continuation of yesterdays discussion. We the people are amazingly dumb. In truth, we dont know squat from squadoosh; squadoodle is light-years beyond us. For that reason, were prone to believing every damn-fool claim that comes down the pike; in fact, we always have been. Well recommend Twains portrait of the cowardly lynch mob, followed instantly by his fond portrait of the credulous circus crowd (just click here). But we the people are dumb as rocks, and we always have been.
For these reasons, were often amazed when the professors descend from the skies to tell us what everyone has to be thinking when they believe the latest fool thing. For our money, some TV professors are dumb as rocks too, a trait they display on demand.
PART 3ALSO IN ATLANTA (permalink): Michelle Rhee tends to walk her ridiculous statements back.
This pattern has obtained again in the wake of USA Todays reportits detailed report on possible cheating in DCs public schools.
Tuesday night, Rhee appeared on the Tavis Smiley program, and she let USA Today have it between the eyes. Helped along by a helpful host, she seemed to say the newspapers work had been, in a word, dishonest:
Rhee also implied the report had been racial: What I think is the really unfortunately piece is that oftentimes when the academic achievement rates of a district like D.C. go up, people assume that it can't be because the kids are actually attaining higher gains in student achievement.
There was more. On Monday, Rhee had released an astounding statement, saying the USA Today report was an insult to the dedicated teachers and schoolchildren who worked hard to improve their academic achievement levels. Presumably, in a perfect world, there would be none of these news reports! Sensible people would simply let Rhee inform them as to the truth!
Rhee, of course, has had several wild statements blow up in her face. She came to DC in 2007, making a highly implausible claim about her own vast success as a teacher. Her claim never made any real sensebut a few months ago, an old piece of research came to light. The absurdity of her glorious claim became even more apparent.
In the wake of that old reports reappearance, Rhee walked her previous bullroar back, having clawed her way to the top on the backs of low-income third-graders.
Well yesterday, it happened again! Rhee backtracked on her earlier claims about the very bad people at USA Today! On his blog at the Washington Post, Jay Mathews reported a phone call from Rhee:
For the record, Mathews has tended to be a supporter of Rhee; at times, he has been a bit soft on the subject. (We think Rhee has some good points too, though they get the low end of the seesaw.) Jays wife, Linda Mathews, directed USA Todays impressive reports on public school testing practices. More praise to her tomorrow.
Rhee walked back her earlier comments! Of course, even as she was calling her Monday comments stupid, her Tuesday comments were still being aired. We watched the Smiley program last night, on WHUT in Washington (Howard Universitys PBS station). Sure enough! There was Rhee, on a very large stage, saying again that Mondays report absolutely lacks credibility.
In such ways, a type of player rejects her own comments even as she continues to make them. Among the fast players who drive our debates, its how these things are done.
At any rate, Rhee acknowledged that there can be exceptionsthat principals and teachers do sometimes falsify test results. (Everyone has always known that, of course, dating back at least thirty years.) And shes thrilled to learn that Henderson, her former aide, will conduct a probe, just three short years after Deborah Gist first told these two numb-nuts to do so. In a general threat to the public order, DCs City Council has also said that they might conduct a probe of their own. Its even possible that we might learn more about what happened.
Or not! Our big news orgs tend to duck stories like this. Just consider our biggest news orgs and the recent events in Atlanta.
Last November, in a truly unfortunate matter, Dr. Beverly Hall announced that she was resigning as head of Atlantas public schools. Hall had served in the post for eleven years, an extremely long run for an urban school chief. During that period, Atlantas test scores had risen impressively on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the so-called gold standard of educational testing.
The NAEP is a major federal program on which it has long been assumed that there is no particular incentive or opportunity to cheat.
Dr. Hall has been highly regarded; as far as we know, she still is. Last December, the New York Times reported her resignationin the course of describing an ongoing, two-year-old mess:
Eventually, Severson mentioned Hall. At City Hall and in corporate offices around town, the talk is about how best to find a successor for the schools superintendent, Beverly L. Hall, who announced her resignation last month.
Did someone tamper with answer sheets in DC? If so, they werent alone. The conduct was widespread in Atlanta (and elsewhere in Georgia). For the record, this cheating occurred on Georgias high-stakes statewide exams, not on the gold standard NAEP, which is used for research purposes.
Why havent you heard about this mess, which has brought so much misery to Atlanta? This brings us back to those ludicrous stories in the New York Times.
As readers may recall, the Times did a front-page report on this general topic last June (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/11/10). Trip Gabriel discussed the general problem of cheating on high-stakes tests; in the process, he noted that the Georgia scandal is the most far-reaching in the country. (He even quoted Hall. To read his report, just click here.) But good grief! In August, the Times ran two ridiculous news reports which seemed to suggest that Atlantas schools, and Hall herself, had emerged with a clean bill of health.
Cheating Inquiry in Atlanta Largely Vindicates Schools, read the ridiculous headline on Shaila Dewans August 3 news report. This is what the New York Times thought vindication looked like:
Amazing, isnt it? Twelve schools (out of 84) displayed a schoolwide problem. That was fifteen percent of all Atlanta schools! And there was morein thirteen more schools, the problem might involve whole grades! Somehow, though, Dewan believed this represented a vindication for Atlanta. Weirdly, she quoted Fremer saying that the problem in Atlanta seemed to involve between 1 and 2 percent of educators. Imaginably, this statement might even be technically accurate (or not). But it vastly downplayed the apparent sweep of the mess.
What did vindication look like? More than half of Atlantas schools did not show significant anomalies! So the New York Times said.
Five days later, Dewan wrote a fawning profile of Hall, inadvertently noting some of the ways Caveon dumbed its analysis down (click here). These were very foolish reportsand from there, the Times walked away from the story, until Dr. Hall was gone.
As far as we know, Dr. Hall never did anything wrong in any of these matters. As far as we know, the score gains Atlanta achieved on the NAEP remain real, and they remain real signs of progress. If we had to venture a guess, wed guess that the Times decided to take Halls side in such ludicrous ways because the issue was becoming an unfortunate race-and-politics fight, with Georgias white Republican governor challenging a school system run by a well-regarded black superintendent.
Its a shame Atlanta is stuck with this mess. But the Times reports were an absolute jokeand Gabriels ballyhooed CHEAT SHEET series has abandoned this type of topic, thus ceding the field to our most colorful newspaper.
What happened in DC is important. We hope the probes will produce real information. But why do so many big news orgs seem to play fast and loose with these topics?
Alas! Atlantas troubles to the side, those reform billionaires are still all around! Tomorrow, well visit with Charlie Rose, pondering his ties to one (or two) of those big major players.
Well also praise USA Today, and plan its next sweeping probe. Investigative reporting is back! Who knew such things were still possible?