BEING HERE! Our analysts thought of Chance the Gardner as Ravitch changed course on the schools: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, APRIL 6, 2010
The politics of cable: In theory, news programs exist to deliver the news, not to play party/ideological politics. That said, we thought of the politics of cable early this morning, as we flipped between a rerun of Countdown and a live presentation on Fox.
But first: Does anybody doctor quotes as persistently as Rachel Maddow?
On Sunday, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) appeared on Fox News Sunday, in tandem with Arlen Specter. Late in the segment, Kyl was asked if he would pledge that the GOP wont filibuster Obamas next Supreme Court appointment. What follows is the full Q-and-A. We highlight the part of Kyls answer that will turn out to be relevant:
You can paraphrase that last paragraph as you like. But last night, Maddow played videotape of that passage, editing it in a way that let her play you for fools. Youll have to read the full transcript of last nights show to see how absurd (and dishonest) her full presentation on this topic was. (Not yet available publicly as we post.) But in the following passage, you gaze on the work of a consummate hack:
Thats a very dumb piece of commentary; Maddows full, quite-lengthy segment is even dumber still. But note the way Kyls answer was edited. Maddow was careful to edit the part where Kyl seemed to say that he doesnt expect a filibuster. Soon, Maddow was thundering thusly to Senator Amy Klobuchar, her thoroughly pandered-to guest::
Had Kyl floated the idea of a filibuster because hes already outraged by the prospect of this nonexistent person? Sorrythats perfect crap, of the type Maddow has patented. In the most obvious sense, Kyl floated the idea because he was asked a question by Wallace. And Maddow had disappeared the part of Kyls answer which would have undercut her thoroughly childish analysis. But this is Maddowone of the worst ever dragged onto cable. Well guess its inexperience and tribal temperament more than simple dishonesty. But Maddow is truly one of the worst. She rarely permits you the truth.
That said, we thought of the politics of cable this morning:
At 1 AM, we saw Fox run a live, 11-minute update about those coal miners in West Virginia. At the same time, MSNBC was re-airing Countdown, as it always does at this time. This included a childish tease, right at the start of the program, in which Olbermann slipped in a few of his standard double entendre dick jokesthis time about a few non-sexual things Tiger Woods said at yesterdays press conference.
There was nothing wrong with re-airing Countdown, as MSNBC always does at this time. But we couldnt help thinking what viewers saw if they flipped between these two channels. They saw that Fox had thrown away its scheduled programming to attend to the life and death of coal miners. At the same time, they saw our own sides biggest buffoon telling his endless dick jokes.
Why do working-class white voters tilt toward Fox? Really? Do we have to explain?
PART 2BEING HERE (permalink): Its natural to turn to experts for sources of illumination. This is especially natural in areas which matter deeply, like the operation of our schools. Indisputably, Diane Ravitch is an educational experta person who has played a leading role in the educational debates of the past several decades. Rather plainly, shes a decent, caring persona person who would like to find ways to serve the children well.
For these reasons, its understandable when people like Mary Elizabeth Williams give their attention to Ravitch and her new book (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/5/10). But uh-oh! Ravitch now says that her judgments were largely wrong in the past several decades. I used to be a strong supporter of school accountability and choice, she writes at the start of Fridays op-ed column in the Washington Post. But in recent years, it became clear to me that these strategies were not working.
By her own account, Ravitchs judgments have turned out to be (largely) wrong. Should we assume that her expert judgment has suddenly gotten better? Given this recent history, wed be inclined to trust but verifyto rein in any high expectations. And nothing we saw in Ravitchs op-ed column would make us rethink that stance.
Tomorrow, well look at a statistical claim which anchored Ravitchs column. Today, lets look at the list of basic proposals which anchors her new approach. It is time to change course, Ravitch says in her column. She then offers a list of approaches. Below, we list the first five:
By simple word-count, this represents about one-third of Ravitchs column. In this chunk of her column, we are told that we need good teachers; we need experienced principals; and we need experienced superintendents. And not only that! Those good teachers should teach such subjects as history and science. We should avoid using assessments (tests) which allow students to rely solely on guessing.
Did Chance the Gardner write this column? (Chance was the Peter Sellers character in the film, Being There.) If one chose to be argumentative, he might even say something like this: Only in a fallen press corps would a major newspaper put such piffle in print.
(By the way: When did anyone ever use a test which allowed students to rely solely on guessing? Presumably, the answer is obviousnever. What does it mean when such a proffer escapes the editing process?)
We need to hire good teachers! They should teach history and science! For our money, Ravitchs proposals only get a bit less underwhelming as she proceeds, although we tend to agree with the thrust of the things she says here:
We agree with the general thrust of this passage, and yet the scent of Chance lingers. After explaining the blindingly obviousmany low-scoring schools serve populations of low-income kidsRavitch offers more Gardnerisms. We must improve the schools where performance is poor, she advises. But not before offering this prime nonsense: Usually, a school has low test scores because it enrolls a disproportionately large number of low-performing students.
Is this the face of educational expertise? Lets consider what Ravitch says in this passage in a bit more detail.
First, we agree with one basic point from this passage: Only in rare circumstances should a [low-scoring] school be closed. That said, how often have any public schools been closed due to low test scores? This is a type of threat which has sometimes been offered by strong supporters of school accountability. But how often has this threat been executed? As far as we know, quite rarely.
More significantly, consider what Ravitch says about the way we should help schools where test scores are low. Once again, this is what she says we should do with such schools:
According to Ravitch, every state should have inspection teams [which] diagnose what is wrong in these schools. (As she ends, another Gardnerism: Whatever the cause of low performance, the inspection team should create a plan to improve the school.) But please note: As Ravitch has explained in her previous paragraph, the thing that is wrong with these schools will routinely involve matters of demographics: Often, the children in these schools will come from low-income, low-literacy, non-English speaking backgrounds. Question: When those inspection teams survey these types of schools, what type of plan should they create? In more than 800 words, Ravitch makes only the most Gardeneristic attempts to answer this question. (Extra bilingual staff! An after-school program! And even this: Other resources!)
Surely, no one but an expert would think of solutions like those. What should teachers of delightful, deserving low-income kids do to address their academic problems? In a familiar bit of evasion, Ravitch doesnt say.
With apologies to Williams, who has given Ravitch her full attention: After all these yearsafter all these decadeswe find this type of column repellent. Weve been reading columns like this for forty yearscolumns in which educational experts play the Gardner role, pretending that they have ideas for ways to help low-income kids. How should we help low-income kids? Under the previous Ravitch regimethe regime built around accountability and standardsthe answer to this was fairly simple: We should threaten teachers with getting fired, and they will somehow magically figure how to get test scores up. In this new regime by Ravitch, the solution is no less magical. Were now supposed to send inspections teams into these schools, and they will come up with a plan! But what sorts of proposals will be in their plans? Like educational experts of time immemorial, Ravitch doesnt much say. And by the way: The various states simply dont have such inspections teamsteams can somehow magically say how a low-income school can get right. These teams of savants simply dont existexcept as a novelistic devise to let Ravitch continue to pose as an expert.
Were certain that Ravitch is well-intentioned. But at some point in time, work like this becomes repellent. Unhelpful too are the liberal saps who line up to drink this Gardneresque stew. Also unhelpful: The familiar data-spinning found at the start of Ravitchs piece. But when the lives of low-income kids are at stake, work like thischeered on by liberalshas been the norm for years.
TOMORROWPART 3: About that statistic