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Daily Howler: This week's striking test results deserve to be seen for themselves
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TO THE DATA THEMSELVES! This week’s striking test results deserve to be seen for themselves: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2009

Progressives of the world, unite: On the progressive TV show Countdown, it was a gala “May Day Eve” special. The topic of Olbermann’s number-one story? Miss California, Carrie Prejean, has been revealed to have breast implants! TV’s five million dollar progressive deftly swung into action:

OLBERMANN (4/30/09): After going rogue at the Miss USA Pageant, Miss California, Carrie Prejean, was enjoying her new title as self-appointed champion of “opposite marriage.” Pageant officials are now retaliating. They’ve outed her—for having breast implants. Our number-one story, Miss California now being accused of using performance-enhancers.

The good news is this increases her chance of dating Alex Rodriguez someday. The Miss California organization’s co-executive director Shanna Moakler claiming that not only did Miss Prejean get breast implants, but that the Miss California organization paid for them.

"Breast implants in pageants is not a rarity. It’s very common. I don’t personally have them," she said, “but, you know, they are." Adding a little saline to that wound, Miss California USA pageant officials also released this statement: “We are deeply saddened Carrie Prejean has forgotten her platform of the Special Olympics, her commitment to all Californians, and solidified her legacy as one that goes beyond the right to voice her beliefs, and instead reveals her opportunistic agenda.”

Today, Miss Prejean, head held high, while channeling her inner and partly-silicone Anita Bryant, joining forces with the National Organization for Marriage’s campaign against same-sex marriage. After being praised for choosing truth over a tiara, Miss Prejean was asked about the implant imbroglio.

Be sure to read the actual words the corporate hireling said: “Our number-one story: Miss California now being accused of using performance-enhancers.” (To watch the whole segment, click this.)

As many readers already know, this whole thing started when Prejean was asked to state her view on same-sex marriage. She stated a view slightly to the left of Barack Obama’s (and Al Gore’s, and Hillary Clinton’s). She therefore had to be trashed on the progressive TV shows which endlessly kiss that president’s keister. Thereby attracting the demo, of course, which these programs exist to stalk.

But uh-oh! Suddenly, it had been revealed that the lady in question has breast implants! As a major TV progressive, Olbermann sensed that he had to act. (Executive producer Bill Wolff may have been called in to help with his thinking.) But the topic was too challenging for one actor alone. And since you can’t spell “Musto” without the word “smut,” Michael Musto, Village Voice seer, was rushed to a nearby studio.

Progressives of the world, unite! Janeane Garofalo could hardly have said it better—although Musto failed to mention Prejean’s obvious limbic brain problems. And yes, it made a tasteful lead-in for the next program’s host:

OLBERMANN: There it is here, Miss California is opposed to same-sex marriage, which is at least marriage between two human beings, but she has fully endorsed now marriage between a man and a woman who is partially made out of plastic.

MUSTO: Well, she’s dumb and twisted. She’s sort of like a human Klaus Barbie Doll. I mean, you tell Perez Hilton you’re against gay marriage? That’s like telling Simon Cowell you’re against screeching a show tune. This is the kind of girl who sits on the TV and watches the sofa. You know, she thinks innuendo is a Italian suppository.

Can I keep going? On the pageants now, they really should have easier questions, like what’s your middle name or what show was Seinfeld on. I mean, this girl’s a ding-dong. I didn’t even like her earrings.

OLBERMANN: The cruelest cut of all. The outcomes here, too. Perez Hilton looks like an intellectual titan and some sort of civil rights leader. And the new poster girl against same-sex marriage is not just a boob, but a fake boob. This is a real win for this cause, is it not?

MUSTO: Well, Perez is the new me, let’s leave him alone. And using the C word is something I wouldn’t do. But yes, Carrie Prejean, however you say it, she’s getting something off her chest. But what she really needs to get off is the price tag there.

The “girl” was dumb and a ding-dong, Musto explained, as he struggled with her last name. (Olbermann fake-mispronounced her name too, right at the start of the segment. He added the fact that the girl is a boob.) Did we mention that Prejean’s position on the issue at hand resembles that of almost all major Dems? Resembles that of President Obama, to cite just one example?

At any rate, the boys went on and on—and on—with their clever boob jokes. Musto proved he was a progressive when he announced that he wouldn’t call Prejean a “c*nt” (or even a “b*tch,” one might assume), as Perez Hilton has done. Because the gentlemen were so clever, we offer you more of their minstrelsy:

OLBERMANN: Now, the moral in this is what? Never cross a beauty pageant official who knows you’ve had implants?

MUSTO: Yes, exactly, that’s it. This has escalated to a public shaving. I mean, and what Moakler has left out, Keith, is they also paid for Carrie to cut off her penis, and sand her Adam’s Apple and get a head-to-toe waxing. I know for a fact that Carrie Prejean was Harry Prejean, a homophobic man, who liked marriage so much he did it three times. Now he’s a babe who needs a brain implant. Maybe they could inject some fat from her butt. Oh, they have?

No one’s quite as progressive as Musto, a regular guest on this TV show. Appreciatively, KeithO closed like this:

OLBERMANN: There it is, your guilty pleasure. The one and only Michael Musto of the Village Voice. As always, good to talk to you, Michael.

MUSTO: Thank you.

The segment had been our “guilty pleasure,” KeithO told us progressives. And then, he threw to Rachel Maddow, as he does every night at this time.

As readers may know, we’re not real high on Maddow’s work to this point. We think she tends to be under-prepared (and over-extended). We think she isn’t real sharp on domestic affairs; we think she’s made a few very poor judgments. That said, it was a remarkable pie in the face when Olbermann staged this segment of locker-room clowning about boobs and breasts, then threw directly to Maddow. Elsewhere, gentlemen of Olbermann’s type get sued for such wonderful workplace humor. But as has occurred since the dawn of time, Maddow was forced to take his pie right in the kisser last night, although we thought she may have seemed a bit offended as the hand-off occurred. (Tape of the opening isn’t available at the Maddow Show site.)

Final notes about Prejean for all us May Day pseudos:
First, Prejean now says she opposes same-sex marriage as a matter of policy. (Or something. Olbermann didn’t explain.) But then, so does Barack Obama. So did Candidate Hillary Clinton, along with Candidate Edwards. So did Candidates Kerry and Gore. So do most major Democrats, although that will surely be changing.

Criticizing Prejean for this stance, and for her new affiliations, is perfectly OK, of course—although she simply isn’t an important public figure. But Prejean’s stance has nothing to do with her “boobs,” or with Olbermann’s undying need to denigrate women’s intelligence and joke about women’s bodies. The fact that this keeps occurring on a “progressive” TV show is a truly amazing fact about an amazing corporate era. Even more amazing: The fact that a screaming mess like this would then be thrown to a woman host. The fact that few progressives on the “liberal web” will ever say boo about this.

Progressives of the world, unite! Although few such souls will likely arrive at the meet from the ass-kissing “liberal web.”

How big a progressive is KeithO: To give you a rough idea: As of this morning, only one newspaper in the whole country has stooped to mention Prejean’s implants, or Moakler’s ridiculous conduct. (Unless Nexis is somehow deceived.) In other words, that Countdown segment wasn’t about same-sex marriage. That segment concerned a very strange man’s relentless desire to mock women’s bodies and brains. This conduct has persisted for years—on our “progressive” TV show.

TO THE DATA THEMSELVES: The program known as “No Child Left Behind” was signed into law by George W. Bush on January 8, 2002. He was president at the time.

This Tuesday, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the latest test results from its “long-term trend” assessment program (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/30/09). The tests in question were given last year; testing in this much-admired federal program had last occurred in 2004. As such, these new test scores can be used as a measure of student progress from 2004 through 2008—a four-year period which began soon after No Child Left Behind took effect.

To be honest, no: You really can’t form detailed judgments about the effects of No Child Left Behind from data like these. We can, however, form two basic judgments from these new test scores:

  • The institution of No Child Left Behind didn’t magically change the course of American history. More specifically, it didn’t erase long-standing “achievement gaps” between white kids and their minority counterparts.

  • The institution of No Child Left Behind didn’t halt a pre-existing upward trend. From 1971 through 2004, NAEP test scores had steadily risen among all major population groups (blacks, whites and Hispanics). This pattern continued after 2004. If anything, the rate of gain may have bumped up a bit. But we’d be surprised if any real experts felt they could base detailed judgments of No Child Left Behind on these new scores.

How did test scores change in the period from 2004 to 2008? A bit of complexity was introduced by a change in NAEP procedures—a change designed to include more kids with disabilities, and more “English-language learners,” into the testing program. (Click here, then click to page 51, “Accommodations and Exclusions.”) That said, gains were observed for white kids, for blacks kids and for Hispanic kids, in both reading and math, at all three age groups tested.

What sorts of score gains were observed? Consider the score gains recorded by black kids and white kids in reading. And remember that very rough rule of thumb: A ten-point gain on the NAEP scale is sometimes considered, very roughly, to be the equivalent of one academic year.

From 2004 to 2008, these score gains occurred:

Among 9-year-olds: The average reading score of white kids improved by four points. For black kids, the average reading score improved by seven points. (If that seven-point gain is real, it’s a very large bump in these scores.)

Among 13-year-olds: The average reading score of white kids improved by three points. For black kids, the average reading score improved by eight points.

Among 17-year-olds: The average reading score of white kids improved by six points. For black kids, the average reading score improved by four points.

Among both black kids and white kids, slightly smaller gains were observed in math, at all age levels tested. (In all cases, the gains were three or five points.) Hispanic kids showed gains at all ages in both subjects too (9-year-olds gained eight points in reading), although the gains were slight among 17-year-old Hispanic kids.

We’d call those score gains quite encouraging—especially because the gains are occurring in the actual lives of real kids, real kids who deserve the best opportunities in their future endeavors. But alas! When they reported these test scores this week, we thought the Washington Post and the New York Times rushed to offer tendentious accounts of what the scores supposedly showed about the merits of No Child Left Behind. Remember? Right at the start of her relatively short report, Maria Glod offered this slightly tortured, pro-No Child assessment in the Post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/29/09):

GLOD (4/29/09): Math and reading scores for 9- and 13-year-olds have risen since the 2002 enactment of No Child Left Behind, providing fuel to those who want to renew the federal law and strengthen its reach in high schools.

Unfortunately, the math and reading scores also provided fuel to those who want to denigrate the federal law—at least to judge by the New York Times, where Sam Dillon started like this:

DILLON (4/29/09): The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation's best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency.

Between 2004 and last year, scores for young minority students increased, but so did those of white students, leaving the achievement gap stubbornly wide, despite President George W. Bush's frequent assertions that the No Child law was having a dramatic effect.

Although Black and Hispanic elementary, middle and high school students all scored much higher on the federal test than they did three decades ago, most of those gains were not made in recent years, but during the desegregation efforts of the 1970s and 1980s. That was well before the 2001 passage of the No Child law, the official description of which is ''An Act to Close the Achievement Gap.''

''There's not much indication that N.C.L.B. is causing the kind of change we were all hoping for,'' said G. Gage Kingsbury, a testing expert who is a director at the Northwest Evaluation Association in Portland. ''Trends after the law took effect mimic trends we were seeing before. But in terms of watershed change, that doesn't seem to be happening.”

Groan. On Wednesday morning, we thought Glod had started her news report with a bit of forced interpretation—until we read the report by Dillon, who had tortured the data much more. Scandal! According to Dillon (paragraph 3), more gains occurred during an earlier twenty-year period than have occurred in the past four years! And not only that: No “watershed change” occurred in the last four years! On these utterly silly bases, Dillon seemed to score No Child Left Behind a bust—and a suitable “expert” was thus found and quoted. This spinning was crammed down readers’ throats in Dillon’s opening paragraphs, right on page one—before he proceeded to review the actual data in some detail. Inside, on page A16.

(By way of contrast, Glod’s first quote came from Bush Ed Sec Margaret Spellings, who was—surprise!—astounded by her own program’s massive success.)

In our view, we’d all be better off if our newspapers and TV shows paid more attention to the actual data produced by this ballyhooed testing program—data which fly in the face of the gloomy portrait our president offered, somewhat strangely, just last month. If we actually care about low-income and minority kids, we might want to teach ourselves the facts about their historical progress—even before we renew our tedious, often self-involved fights about a highly politicized program. (But teacher! We want to criticize Bush!) By the way: The dueling assessments in these two newspapers were remarkably predictable. The Post tends to love all testing-based programs; the Times tends to look down its nose.

Anyone know why that might be the case? We’re heading off for a visit with our niece and her husband—and with our great-niece, who’s almost three! For that reason, we’ll wait till Monday to speculate about possible motives. But here’s one hint: An obvious financial conflict of interest has long obtained at the Washington Post. Just click here if you’re the type who likes to read ahead on such topics. Search on “Kaplan Inc., The Post Co.'s education division, which now provides 53 percent of company revenue.”

Note: We’re not suggesting that the Times’ work tends to outstrip the Post’s. We think the Times tends toward a standard line too—toward a slant which is basically silly. And deeply self-involved.