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THE LOGIC OF FAILURE! No Child's remedies make perfect sense—except for the logic of failure: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12, 2006

SMILE-A-WHILE/MISSING LINKS A long-time reader (and sharp observer) wonders why we’ve been spending our time this week on misstatements which seem to tilt against Bush. His questions are good; we had decided to semi-answer today. But darn it! We got boggled up this morning, and we’ve decided not to post what we wrote. But we think the question was good, and at some point, we’ll try to answer.

Meanwhile, let’s share a small smile among friends. As we noted yesterday, David Shuster made a groaning mistatement in his report on Monday’s Hardball (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/06). Describing the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, Shuster said the claim that Iraq was “vigorously trying to pursue” uranium was “not in the document at all.” Shuster’s statement was howlingly wrong; an hour later, Keith Olbermann said the same thing. But so what? It felt good when Shuster said it—even though it was baldly inaccurate. So you guessed it! Crooks and Liars posted the tape which included Shuster’s howling misstatement—and Christy Hardin Smith, at firedoglake, linked to the tape. “Now that is reporting,” Smith enthused, linking to Shuster’s howler.

Shuster makes a howling error. But we don’t correct it; we link to and praise it! Tomorrow, let’s consider something we mentioned last week—Chris Matthews’ “unmitigated whoredom.” We’d planned it as our topic today; we should have proceeded apace.

DRUM GETS IT RIGHT—AND WE AMPLIFY: On Monday, Kevin Drum noted an intriguing statement from the recent Fitzgerald filing. As of September 2003, Fitzie writes, Bush didn’t know that Scooter Libby had been discussing Valerie Plame with the press. You can read the full excerpt at Kevin’s site. You know what to do—just click here.

For ourselves, we don’t know if Fitzgerald’s statement is true, and—as Kevin notes—he doesn’t explain why he believes it. In fact, here’s Kevin’s reaction to what Fitzie said. We do suspect that we can clear up Kevin’s one point of puzzlement:

DRUM (4/10/06): It's only one sentence, and it's not clear what Fitzgerald bases this on, but it seems as if he's saying as a factual matter that George Bush had no role in the Plame leak and didn't know it had happened. Since Bush's role in Plamegate is still an open question, I'm a little surprised this statement hasn't gotten more attention.
Why hasn’t this statement received more attention? Here’s one idea: As we’ve noted, even the mainstream press now has its thumb on the scale regarding these recent, pleasing matters. With Bush’s numbers falling fast, they’ve become brave about Bold Leaders’s depredations. And as always, they’re picking-and-choosing their facts, avoiding those which challenge their overall judgments. Most likely, they haven’t mentioned Fitzgerald’s claim because the claim cuts in Bush’s favor.

Did George Bush know what Scooter was doing? We don’t have the slightest idea. But Kevin was right to notice this claim—and to notice the press corps’ silence. Why has the press corps let this claim pass? Alas! We can make a good guess.

Special report—The logic of failure!

PART 2—WHEN THE LOGIC OF REMEDIES FAILS: On the surface, remedies offered under No Child Left Behind seem to make perfect sense. Are students attending a low-scoring school (schools which are often referred to as “failing”)? If so, they’re given two options, Susan Saulny explained in the New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/06). These students can receive free tutoring—tutoring for which the federal government may pay up to $1800 per year. Or they can transfer right out of their low-scoring schools—they can go to another public school of their choice. But uh-oh! Most students aren’t signing up for these remedies, Saulny notes. And that’s bad, because those remedies seem to make perfect sense—unless you know low-income schooling.

Alas! When students are years below “grade level,” surface logic will often deceive. As Saulny notes the problems with these two remedies, she helps bring this fact into focus.

What could be wrong with these two proffered remedies? Saulny starts with the more drastic option. What’s wrong with letting kids transfer out of low-scoring schools? The remedy makes perfect sense—in theory. But it may not make sense in the world:

SAULNY (4/6/06): While Ms. Spellings highlighted a lack of parental notification about the options, critics of the programs, including parents and some academics, say another reason children do not transfer out of failing schools is that they do not have many options other than similarly failing schools.
This problem is obvious—once you’ve heard it. What keeps kids in a low-scoring school from transferring to a “better” school? No “better” school may be available! For many kids in big urban districts, all local schools may be low-scoring. On the surface, it seems to make sense when kid are offered this school-transfer option. But what if there aren’t any high-scoring schools? Just like that, logic fails.

All right, then—but what could be wrong with the tutoring? Saulny cites a couple of problems. And we’ll move beyond her critique just a tad.

What could possibly be wrong with free tutoring? Ugh. Saulny starts with this:

SAULNY (continuing directly): As for tutoring, some critics say, the quality of the programs varies so wildly that some parents feel the free classes—which cost the government as much as $1,800 a child—are not worth the time. And many programs have not penetrated the toughest neighborhoods.
Ugh. According to Saulny, many of these privately-run programs “have not penetrated the toughest neighborhoods.” Kids who already pay a price for the place where they live may end up paying one price more. But then again, some of these programs may not even be very good—may not be “worth the time,” Saulny says. As she continues, we get a familiar knot right in the pit of our stomach:
SAULNY (continuing directly): The report released yesterday said that half the states had not yet established any standards for evaluating the effectiveness of the private companies and other groups that provide tutoring under the law.
Groan. In the Bronx, the state dumped $3 million on a charter school which sounds a great deal like a joke (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/6/06). Here, we’re warned about something similar. Half the states have no way of knowing if these programs are any good. They’ll take the cash, but will they produce? The states have no way to judge that.

In theory, of course, this problem can be fixed; in theory, the states could figure out ways to evaluate these private tutoring companies. But will the states be up to the challenge? In Virginia, the Department of Ed isn’t even able to report accurate school-by-school test scores. And by the way, there are built-in problems with this sort of tutoring—problems which may defeat the logic of this remedy.

Free tutoring for students! It seems to maker sense. We tend to picture a situation where a student needs a little help to get back up to grade level. But many kids in “failing” schools are years below traditional level—and this creates special problems for tutors. Tutor this: A fifth-grade boy who is sixth-grade by age, who is reading (and doing math) on the second- or third-grade level. It would be hard for a tutor to know where to start in providing help to this child—and it would be very unlikely that once- or twice-a-week sessions would make a serious dent in his problems. Meanwhile, where would these tutors get the materials they need to help this deserving child? Where would they get textbooks this child can actually read? Where would they get appropriate instructional programs? For reasons we have discussed in the past, it can be very hard to intervene with kids who have fallen this far behind. Under current imaginable, circumstances, we’ll guess that most tutoring companies will take the cash—and will provide worthless sessions.

When we grasp the actual needs of low-income students, we understand a basic fact. Things are rarely as simple as they seem when we try to help such children. These proffered remedies seem to make sense—but up close, the logic may fail. Tomorrow, we’ll ask a related question—what is a “failing school,” anyway?

TOMORROW–PART 3: Just what is a “failing school,” anyway? To read ahead just a bit, just click here.