BRIGHT STARS DECLINE: Were beginning to think that all our fiery liberal leaders may have been kid-napped. We thought Kevin Drums piece on McCain and abortion was a tad weak (more below). But this post, about a study of LA charter schools, was remarkably so.
Kevin discusses a news report in Tuesdays Los Angeles Times. In the report, Mitchell Landsberg describes a new study by the California Charter Schools Association, an industry group. Its conclusion is that charters generally perform better academically than nearby regular public schools, Landsberg writes, and that charters improve as they age. After noting at least a couple of huge caveats here, Kevin offers an upbeat conclusion: Still, it's encouraging news if the results can be confirmed.
Thats right. And if it can be confirmed that gas costs 12 cents a gallon, that is encouraging too.
On its face, the study seems almost impossibly daft, a point Landsberg seems to suggest in his report. How absurd is the studys design? Put this in your lunch box and swap it:
LANDSBERG (6/10/08): The study is sure to trigger debate about how to determine which schools are comparableor whether that is even possible.
For the report, the charter association compared each charter in Los Angeles with three regular public schools within a five-mile radius that had similar demographics, in particular a similar racial breakdown.
For instance, it compared the Bright Star Secondary Academy, with 89 students, with three large, comprehensive high schools: Manual Arts, Crenshaw and Los Angeles. Bright Star scored more than 200 points higher than the average Academic Performance Index of the three schools, the biggest difference in the city.
Please. Bright Star Academy has 89 students. The study compares it to three behemoth high schools. (Current enrollment at Manual Arts is nearly 4000 students.) If tiny schools do better than behemoths in a carefully designed comparison, you might want to build lots of tiny schools. But were this studys comparisons well designed? As Landsberg continued, he quoted an expert making an obvious point:
LANDSBERG (continuing directly): Jeannie Oakes, a professor of education at UCLA, said that though she had not read the report, the comparison struck her as flawed, in part because of the difference in size between most charters and nearby traditional public schools, and because charters might attract more motivated students. She said a similar national report by Caroline Hoxby of Harvard University several years ago was criticized for selection bias.
Heres what that means: The kids at Bright Star might be demographically similar to those at the three behemoths. Except for one thing: The kids at Bright Star all chose to opt out of those struggling schools! To simplify a bit: Of the (roughly) 10,000 kids at these three behemoths, these seem to be the 89 who were motivated enough to seek something different. (Or whose parents were so motivated.) There may be ways to control for that in comparing the 89 to the 10,000. But did this study make such an attempt? You can read it if you like. But most often, these studies are jokes.
Over the course of the past forty years, big news orgs have constantly shown the soft bigotry of low expectations when it comes to studies of low-income schools. Any hint of success is ostentatiously ballyhooed, no matter how absurd or patently bogus the hint of success might be. Big newspapers cheer, and readers can see how high-minded their editors must surely be. At the Times, Landsberg didnt play this game. But now, were playing the silly old game on our liberal web.
By the way: Have Bright Stars kids found the cure for cancer? If it can be confirmed that they have, that will be solid news too.
Regarding McCain and abortion: Do some people think McCains soft on abortion? If so, that may be because he played it that way when he ran for president in 1999 and 2000. First, he said he didnt support repeal of Roe v. Wade. (The previous year, he had said the opposite.) Then, he said he wouldnt have a litmus test for his running mate or for Supreme Court nominations. Later, he said he wouldnt stop his 15-year-old daughter from getting an abortion. (Later that day, he semi-reversed.) In these instances, the apparent conflict with his prior record was so plain that the press corps actually asked him about it. On this, as on many other issues, he seemed to be in a perpetual state of confusion.
But so what? Senator, please pass the donuts! And would you mind telling us once again about that dish in Rio?
Our guesses? Most likely, McCain doesnt care much about abortion; wed guess that he simply cast the party vote on the issue throughout his career. That doesnt mean that Dems should support him. Theres no real way to know what hed do if he ended up in the White House. Who knows? He might follow the party line on Supreme Court picksor he might get it into his head that his honor required doing different. That makes him a very bad bet for a Dem who supports the right to choose.
But if people think hes soft on abortion, that may be because of the things he said (then often semi-unsaid) during his previous race for the White House. The liberal world has given a pass to McCain for the past dozen years, so most liberals dont know about this.
MUST BE THE SEASON OF THE WITCH: Theyve married among themselves for so long that the effects can no longer be hidden. Yes, cosmetic surgeons can sand off their physical bumpscan even restore a gentlemans preferred hair color when infernal science goes briefly astray (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/9/08 and 5/13/08). But nothing can hide the mental disorders. Hence, the spectacle of Maureen Dowd standing bravely against killing witches:
DOWD (6/11/08): Its good news for Obama that Hillarys out of the race. But its also bad news. Now Republicans can turn their full attention to demonizing Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama is the new, unwilling contestant in Round Two of the sulfurous national game of Kill the witch.
Republicans can turn their full attention to Michelle Obama! Can engage in that sulfurous game! Truly, a power elite which would put that in print, from Dowd, simply cant be embarrassed.
Obviously, no one has killed more witches in recent years than the aforementioned Dowd. She comes very close to being the person who invented the sulfurous game. Indeed, if youre a woman who is married to a Big Major Dem, the chances are youve enjoyed a good dunking in Dowds pond by now. In January 2004, for example, she described a startling picture of [Howard Deans] wife on the front page of Tuesday's Times, accompanying a Jodi Wilgoren profile. Continuing directly, the saver of witches let us know what had startled her so:
DOWD (1/15/04): In worn jeans and old sneakers, the shy and retiring Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean looked like a crunchy Vermont hippie, blithely uncoiffed, unadorned, unstyled and unconcerned about not being at her husband's sidethe anti-Laura. You could easily imagine the din of Rush Limbaugh and Co. demonizing her as a counterculture fem-lib role model for the blue states.
You could imagine Rush Limbaugh demonizing her! Its as weve told you for a very long time: This gang of defectives love to project their most foolish conduct onto others. Sometimes they project onto late-night comedians. In todays column, Dowd uses Republicans, having used Rush in the past.
At any rate, as the tedious years have rolled by, Dowd has killed quite a few other witchesincluding Michelle Obama. At one point, banned from killing a cancer-afflicted wife, she even lit into a candidates daughter, helping us see that this young witchs choices contradicted her fathers phony beliefs. As was common when discussing the Breck Girl (John Edwards), the cost of a haircut was cited:
DOWD (4/21/07): Mr. Edwards, the son of a mill worker, moved from a $5.2 million, six-bedroom Federal mansion in Georgetown to a 28,000-square-foot behemoth in North Carolina with a basketball court, a squash court, two stages and a swimming pool.
His 25-year-old daughter, Cate, a former editorial assistant for Vanity Fair, co-founded Urbanista, an online Rolodex that dispenses advice for ''hip'' girls in Manhattan, offering to be a ''bestie'' (a best friend) and answer questions like ''Where should I go to get my Marc Jacobs shoes reheeled?'' and ''Does anyone know the best place to get a really great haircut?'' One salon the site recommends is Warren-Tricomi, where Edward Tricomi says haircuts range from $121 to $300.
Did you follow that? Cate Edwards, age 25, had once co-founded a ceratin web site. The web site was now recommending a hair salon which might charge as much as $300! Inside the group still described as a press corps, this counted as political analysisand apparently, as saving a witch.
In other words, Dowd is an undisguised nut. This has been true for many years, except to the gang of quasi-modos still described as a mainstream press corps. To get an idea of the way Dowds mind works, heres the way she got started today, trying to save a witch:
DOWD: There are some who think it will be harder for America to accept a black first ladythe national hostess who serenely presides over the White House Christmas festivities and the Easter egg rollthan a black president.
There are creepy Web sites, like TheObamaFile.com, dedicated to painting Michelle as a female version of Jeremiah Wright, an angry black woman, the disgruntled, lecturing Mrs. Grievance depicted on the cover of National Review.
On that site and others around the Internet, the seamy rumors still slither that theres a tape of Michelle denouncing whitey, a rumor that Barack Obama disdained last week as scurrilous.
E.D. Hill, the Fox anchor who said that the celebrated fist pump between Michelle and her husband the night he snagged the nomination could be called a terrorist fist jab, apologized Tuesday.
As with defective Todd Purdum before her, Dowd started repeating seamy rumorsand naming (and linking to) creepy Web sites. By the way: When Dowd start tagging others as creepy, weve reached a new, irony-free low.
In fairness, you could imagine someone including these references in a sincere attack on witch-burning. Indeed, Dowd is complimentary to Michelle Obama in the bulk of this mornings column; she says many nice thing about her. Unfortunately, when Dowd decides to start praising a witch, the voice of Robin Givhan starts creeping in. And of course, Dowd cant make herself save one witch without quickly killing another:
DOWD: Shes going to take her big microphone on The View as a co-host next week, when she will no doubt try to put her remark about her belated pride in her country in context.
And she clearly scored a pre-emptive hit both with her chic styleVogues André Leon Talley declared in The Times the dawn of a black Camelotand with her playful fist pump that now has older white guys, like North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, awkwardly trying to do it with Obama.
The dap or pound, as its also called, was a natural and beguiling moment that showed the country that, even though she started out as her husbands boss and has a résumé that matches his, she likes him and is rooting for him, and is not engaged in a dreaded Clintonesque competition with him.
In that passage, Givhanesque purrings about chic style and the dap give way to familiarand evilold stylings, concerning the Greatest Witch of Them All. But then, Quasimodo has been killing that witch for as long as we all can remember.
Who knows? Dowd may be setting out today to be more kind to Michelle Obama. But its her obsession with candidates wives (and daughters; and haircuts; and states of lactation) that defines her plu-creepy style. The kindest thing you can say about Dowd is that she, like Austin Powers, has arrived in some sort of time capsule. Judged most charitably, her work is a kooky throwback to the mid-50s womens page, when ladies who were allowed to speak were only allowed to speak about ladies chic styles. To the intermarried group still described as a press corps, those were the days when gals were real galswhen witches like the Vile Witch Clinton hadnt yet begun tormenting souls.
In fairness, other defects of this cohort have been on full display this week. In this post, The Poor Man shows us the stunning way Fred Hiatt continued a standard practice; incredibly, Hiatt cherry-picked the intelligence report to defend cherry-picking the intelligence! (On the other hand, treat yourself to a good solid laugh at Duncan Blacks analysis of Hiatts piece. So thoughtful! So deeply informative!) Meanwhile, in this mornings Times, note the way Mark Leibovich invents a pleasing new constructthe notion that the Clintons are now compiling a brand-new enemies list. Note the skills! Leibovich specifically says that they arent making listsbut he keeps sliding ahead into use of the term. Result? Dowd makes instant use of the pleasing new construct, right at the start of her column:
DOWD: Hillary and Bill are busy updating their enemies lists. And Obama is racking his brain trying to figure out where to stash his erstwhile rival.
In fact, Leibovich says something quite different, especially about Hillary Clinton. But he knew to keep using the language of lists. He knew that defectives like Dowd wanted to hiss-spit that next.
For many people, its hardperhaps impossibleto comprehend the depth of this cohorts dysfunction. Dowd arrived on a spaceship from the 50s. (She even lives in Dear Jacks 50s crib!) Its the place where this intermarried elite would most like to be living.