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Print view: New York's test score have been thrown down the drain. Somehow, the experts survive
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THE EXPERTS SURVIVE! New York’s test score have been thrown down the drain. Somehow, the experts survive: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 24, 2010

The New York Times won’t mention Sean’s name: It’s astounding to see how hard major pundits have worked to avoid naming the names of people like Rush and Sean.

On Sunday morning’s This Week, a team of “liberal” and mainstream pundits criticized the rabble’s “intolerance” of Muslims, while carefully failing to name the names of the powerful people who have been driving this mayhem (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/10). If anything, pundits worked even harder on Special Report. Chris Wallace introduced his panel, then pondered a deeply confounding conundrum—why do a growing number of people think Obama is Muslim?

WALLACE (8/22/10): And it's time now for our Sunday group, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard; Nina Easton from Fortune magazine; Kevin Madden, a first-timer on the panel, he's a Republican strategist who was Mitt Romney's spokesman during his run for president; and Juan Williams from National Public Radio.

[…]

A Pew poll taken before the president's comments about the mosque—and this is before the president's comments about the mosque near Ground Zero—shows 18 percent of Americans now believe he's Muslim. That's up from 12 percent when he ran for president.

And in a Time magazine poll taken after his comments about the mosque, 24 percent believe he's Muslim. Only 47 percent think he's Christian. Steve, how do you explain this growing misperception of a sitting president?

It used to be twelve percent—now it’s eighteen! Wallace was thoroughly flummoxed. (For our money, the question asked in that Time poll was poorly formed and might be inclined to generate a high number.) How could the panel explain “this growing misperception?” Wallace’s inquiring mind wanted to know!

Wallace’s mind may have wanted to know, but his pundits were careful not to tell him. How had that 12 turned into 18? Any answer involves speculation, of course. But could the rise be fueled by the fact that Rush Limbaugh, our biggest radio talker, has been saying that “Imam Obama” is our “first Muslim-American president?” Three days before this panel convened, Media Matters had compiled a long list of pseudo-conservative hit men and crackpots saying and implying that Obama really is a Muslim (click here); the list included some major talkers and some widely-read bloggers. (For example: Pamela Geller had recently “quoted” Obama saying, “I am a Muslim,” although her “quote” was invented.)

Limbaugh and other major players have been saying Obama’s a Muslim. Could this possibly help explain the “growing misperception?”

Actually, no—this possibility is excluded in the land of the pundits! Wallace’s three Republican pundits took turns inventing obscure explanations for the rise in that “misperception.” Finally, Fox Democrat Williams took his turn—and he predictably fumbled and flailed. He managed to name a name very late, at the end of a long, hapless ramble. As he wandered, he kept attacking Obama’s “critics,” without saying who they are:

WALLACE: Juan, I want you to weigh in on this, but also I want you to answer another question. How important is it for the president politically to set the record straight that he's a Christian?

WILLIAMS: Well, I don't think it's going to help him with people who are his critics, and I think that's largely where this is coming from. I disagree. I think that this is a malevolent effort by people who are his critics to make him out to be “The Other” in American life, that he's not really an American, he's some sort of Manchurian candidate. I mean, this—

WALLACE: But wait a minute. The Time magazine poll shows that only 40 percent of all Americans—this isn't Republicans. Forty-seven percent of all Americans think he's Christian. So there's a pretty widespread feeling.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. It's mostly Republicans. I'm telling you—

HAYES: There are a lot of Democrats in there as well.

EASTON: Yeah, there's a lot of Democrats—

HAYES: There are a lot of Democrats.

WILLIAMS: To me, it's overwhelmingly coming from the critics. I think it's the same people who say, you know, this guy's a socialist. I think it's now about a third of Americans who—and overwhelmingly Republicans, who say he wasn't born in the country, people who want to say that he favors whites over blacks in terms of what the Justice Department is doing with the New Black Panther Party. It's about reparations for slavery. I think these are people who are uncomfortable with a black president or uncomfortable with his policies. They don't like Barack Obama.

WALLACE: But why would it be growing—why would it be growing? I mean, he's been in office a year and a half. Would you think that people would have more of a sense—

WILLIAMS: I don't know if you noticed, but his approval ratings have been sinking. And as his approval ratings have been sinking, I think more people feel, you know, absolutely unleashed in terms of their criticism. And I think the stuff that's coming from the right wing, from Rush Limbaugh and the like—you know, “Imam Obama” and all that —that has become more—

WALLACE: Steve?

HAYES: Look, his approval ratings aren't sinking because people have the misunderstanding that he's a Muslim. His approval ratings are sinking because the economy is in the tank.

After reams of fumbling about “people who are his critics,” the hapless Williams finally named a name—Rush Limbaugh! He was promptly cut off at that point, although in truth he had burned lots of time with his name-free wandering.

This was par for the course on Sunday, as major pundits struggled and strained to avoiding naming powerful people like Sean Hannity, cable’s prime mover of the war against Imam Rauf. By now, it’s a tenet of Hard Pundit Law, observed all over the mainstream “press corps”—you simply don’t name the names of such people! For our taste, the panel on This Week gave a textbook display of this Millionaire Pundit Cowardice, in which major “liberals” denigrate and name-call the proles, while failing to name the powerful people who have the proles in a big tizzy.

Why are some of us proles in a tizzy? Night after night, day after day, they have been told that Imam Rauf wants to bring the stoning of women to this country; that he is building a “mosque” right “at” Ground Zero; that he’s a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Reich and Hunt are too gutless to challenge the people who have been spreading these slanders around. So they do the next best thing—they proceed to name-call the public, in indiscriminate fashion, failing to explain how the public is supposed to know that the things they have repeatedly heard don’t happen to be so.

Presumably, Digby loves every word of this prole-bashing—but Digby is a bit of a hater, not unlike Geller. (The pair just despise different groups.) In this new post, Digby says “teabaggers” are “dumb as dirt”—and proves it with a piece of tape in which Glenn Beck says that Imam Rauf “has been tied to sharia law and terrorist organizations.” But how exactly are these dumb-as-dirt people supposed to know this isn’t true? If they watched their Sunday shows, they saw the nation’s fanciest “liberal” pundits refusing to challenge such claims. In fact, they have seen Hannity say these things night after night—and whatever people Queen Digby regards as smart haven’t bothered to challenge his statements. Just who is the dumb one here? For ourselves, we’d vote for Digby on this point—but with Digby, the problem is hatred, not dumbness.

The hacks go out and lie to the proles—and the mainstream “press corps” refuses to speak. Hunt, Reich and Woodruff served as good Germans on Sunday last—and so did reporter Anne Barnard (and/or her editors), in this astonishing front-page report in Sunday’s New York Times.

Barnard penned a long, sympathetic review of Imam Rauf. Her report was accompanied by this detailed examination of Rauf’s past statements and views, including some of the statements which, when cherry-picked and edited deftly, have become highly controversial. (Headline: “Parsing the Record of Feisal Abdul Rauf.”)

Barnard’s report and companion piece are actually quite instructive. But what is missing from her reports? Any attempt to name the people who have been trashing the imam! “The Internet is crowded with claims and counterclaims about Feisal Abdul Rauf,” Barnard writes at the start of the companion piece, signaling her intention to avoid the names of the powerful people who have been making “claims” about Rauf on cable TV and talk radio. And sure enough! If you search through Barnard’s twin pieces, you will search in vain for the names of the powerful people who have been slandering Rauf. “Some have claimed that the son’s book was published in Arabic by a publisher with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” she bravely says, in the passive voice. And then, at last, the craven reporter finally names a name:

BARNARD (8/22/10): Some have claimed that the son’s book was published in Arabic by a publisher with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Cordoba Initiative’s list of frequently asked questions says, “The Arabic translation rights to his book were arranged by the Arabic book program at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, United States of America.”

A post by Alyssa Lappen on the Web site Pajamas Media, declares, “Feisal Rauf’s Muslim Brotherhood provenance, radical by definition, is as authentic as it gets.”

But who in the world is Alyssa Lappen? We’ll admit that we don’t know; we suspect she’s less powerful than Sean Hannity, who has three million viewers most nights. (Barnard proceeds to shoot down Lappen’s claim about Rauf.) But Lappen’s name is the only name Barnard managed to name this day! A bit later, she returned to the passive voice as she listed more claims against Rauf:

BARNARD: Bloggers have asserted that the American Society for Muslim Advancement, an organization led by Mr. Abdul Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, “refuse to sign” a pledge rejecting punishment by death for apostasy sent to its office by Former Muslims United…

Bloggers have asserted! Barnard did a nice job critiquing that claim too, suggesting that mistakes have been made!

How utterly gutless are players like Barnard? (And her editors, who bear the bulk of responsibility for this front-page cowardice.) Incredibly, it reaches this level:

BARNARD: Ms. Khan said that…both she and her husband rejected punishment by death for apostasy. She said they did not reject Shariah per se, as it was a body of religious law subject to many interpretations that governs the ritual practices of Muslims and prescribes social and legal ideals. She said the Cordoba Initiative’s Shariah Index Project aimed to hold governments accountable that claim hypocritically to be implementing Islamic law and attempted to dispel beliefs among some Muslims that the proper practice of Shariah includes human rights violations like stoning women and cutting off people’s hands.

As we have noted, one of America’s most powerful cable hosts has been saying and implying, night after night, that Rauf and Khan want to bring sharia law to this country—including the stoning of women and other such practices. But Barnard, who bravely named Blogger Lappen, will not name his name. Readers of the New York Times have no idea this has been happening.

Reich and Hunt and Woodruff and Barnard are part of a deeply corrupt Potemkin press cohort. The first three have behaved this way forever, dating back to the wars against Clinton, then against Gore. Their lives are kept simpler and finer this way. For you and yours—for regular people—the results can be seen all around.

Special report: Who cares about black kids?

PART 2—THE EXPERTS SURVIVE (permalink): Sometimes we wonder how certain folk remain “educational experts.”

Perhaps unfairly, that question kept popping into our heads as we read the recent New York Times report about the enduring “achievement gaps” in New York City’s public schools (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/10).

On the surface, the facts are quite disappointing. Over the past five or six years, Mayor Bloomberg had been taking major credit for narrowing the “achievement gap”—the gap in achievement in reading and math between white kids, black kids and Hispanic kids.

Without question, New York City’s “achievement gaps” had seemed to be narrowing, in the past five years, on New York’s statewide tests. The passing rates of Gotham’s black and Hispanic kids had been creeping up on the passing rates of the city’s white kids. But this past year, the state of New York threw its statewide tests under the bus, replacing them with new, improved tests which were said to be more reliable. “The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” said David Steiner, current state education commissioner, as he reviewed the weird scoring patterns churned by the previous tests—as he threw the state’s existing tests into a big round can.

The state acknowledged that its tests had been flawed. It replaced the tests with a new, better measure. And poof! Just like that, passing rates dropped all over the state—and in New York City, those old achievement gaps were back, with a vengeance. In this early passage from the Times news report, a frequently-quoted educational expert offered a rueful assessment:

OTTERMAN/GEBELOFF (8/16/10): When results from the 2010 tests, which state officials said presented a more accurate portrayal of students’ abilities, were released last month, they came as a blow to the legacy of the mayor and the chancellor... [T]he most painful part might well have been the evaporation of one of their signature accomplishments: the closing of the racial achievement gap.

Among the students in the city’s third through eighth grades, 40 percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, compared with 75 percent of white students and 82 percent of Asian students. In English, 33 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students are now proficient, compared with 64 percent among whites and Asians.

“The claims were based on some bad information,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research group that studies education policy. “On achievement, the story in New York City is of some modest progress, but not the miracle that the mayor and the chancellor would like to claim.”

Some bad information had been going around, this educational expert said. But then, all through the Bloomberg years, observers had noted potential problems with New York City’s claims about rising achievement. Everyone had noted these potential problems—everyone but the experts!

The red flags had been rather clear. In the past decade, passing rates had been shooting up all over the state of New York. Unfortunately, these results indicated a level of progress which didn’t seem to be reflected on test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the widely-heralded “gold standard” of American testing. This disconnect suggested an obvious possibility; New York’s statewide tests might be getting easier from one year to the next, producing illusory levels of progress. And by the way: If tests of this type get easier from year to year, this will tend to reduce achievement gaps, especially if reporting is built around passing rates (as opposed to other possible measures, like average student scores). As the tests get easier, the highest-scoring demographic group can only increase its passing rate so much. Demographic groups with lower passing rates will tend to gain ground as the tests get easier, even if there’s no change in the actual achievement levels of the various groups.

As a general matter, this is known as “the ceiling effect.” What expert wouldn’t have known this?

Here at THE HOWLER, we ain’t no experts, but we’ve been asking the obvious questions about these topics for years, even as our “educational experts” tended to diddle and stare into air. The New York Times was also quite active in failing to note what was might be happening. Five years ago, Gail Collins, the Duchess of Middle Inania, was in charge of the Times editorial page. To see this high lady roll her eyes at vile suggestions about the state tests, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/6/05. (“Mr. Bloomberg has every right to take a bow,” Collins wrote, kissing major billionaire keister, a common practice at the Times during the Bloomberg years. Collins swatted away observations by proletarian teachers, who had said that the statewide tests seemed to be getting easier.) We were still batting the topic around in the spring of 2009, puzzling at something Chancellor Klein had written in the Washington Post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/25/09). In short, it was always clear that problems were lurking around the state of New York’s statewide tests—around the apparent gains in New York City. And if the statewide tests were getting easier, one predictable outcome would be a narrowing of the gaps.

In paragraph 22 of their lengthy report, Otterman and Gebeloff make brief reference to some of the “skeptics” who voiced concerns about the state tests. Aside from that one fleeting mention, readers weren’t told that this year’s disappointing discoveries were in plain sight all along. “Educational experts” should have spoken up, all through the past decade, about these concerns. Bloomberg and Klein should have known better too, although the onus falls first on Klein, who was the educational leader. That said, the principal fault in this underplayed scandal lies with the New York State education department, which created years of statewide tests the state will no longer defend.

No one has quite come out and said so, but all the data from those previous years have pretty much been thrown down the drain. New York State test scores have been thrown away. But somehow, the experts remain.

Otterman’s piece helps us ponder the experts’ latest failure. One researcher gets a pass, seeing her name airbrushed away. Another expert continues to chirp about the wonders of Klein:

OTTERMAN/GEBELOFF: By 2009, the passing rates of black students on English exams had narrowed to within 22 percentage points of white students’, and within 17 points on the math exams. And charter schools, which predominantly serve black students, were doing so well that one Stanford University researcher proclaimed that they had practically eliminated the “Harlem-Scarsdale” gap in math.

OTTERMAN/GEBELOFF: Mr. Klein began to use test scores to measure schools’ performance, and joined with the Rev. Al Sharpton in forming the Education Equality Project in 2008 to promote good instruction and education reform for minority and poor children. “It is certainly what makes Joel Klein tick,” said Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, which advocates for progress on the issue. “And you can’t say that for everyone.”

Even Al Sharpton got semi-misled! Overall, it’s hard to find a discouraging word about Klein in the Otterman piece—and the same old experts are being quoted! Haycock should have known that something seemed to be wrong. But so what? Having failed in that earlier task, she continues to chirp about Klein’s greatness—and she remains an “educational expert.” Here, as elsewhere, we see a familiar aspect of modern press culture: If your office is found in the right part of town, it’s impossible to be so inept that you lose “expert” status.

That said, the legacy of the Bloomberg years isn’t nearly so bad as one might think from reading the Otterman piece—or from reviewing its large, sprawling graphic, which the Times hasn’t put on-line. When parents expressed their outrage at last Monday’s public meeting, they probably didn’t understand the fuller picture which emerges from this underplayed scandal. That fuller picture went unreported in the New York Times piece.

The achievement gaps are back in New York City—the gaps are back with a vengeance. But by focusing exclusively on the gaps, Otterman and Gebeloff failed to convey the more hopeful part of this story. Results from the NAEP are not in question—and New York City’s black kids have done substantially better on those tests over the course of the Bloomberg years. So are the city’s Hispanic kids, though you’d never know this from reading the Times.

The gap is back—and that’s not good. But achievement is up among all demographics. This fact was bungled in the Times report.

But then, what else is new?

Tomorrow—part 3: Gap remains as the scores rise