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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2010

When we practice to hate and to lose/NAACP edition: Truth to tell, the dumbness is probably worse than the hatred. But fresh off its recent accusation that Shirley Sherrod was a slobbering racist, the NAACP is helping us see the downward spiral, in morality and intelligence, of the “liberal” world.

In Saturday’s Washington Post, Krissah Thompson reported on the NAACP’s new “Tea Party Tracker” site—a site intended to monitor “racism and other forms of extremism” within the Tea Party movement (click here). In theory, that could be a constructive endeavor—in theory. But how much do we liberals now love to hate? Try to grasp the amazing dumbness captured in Thompson’s accurate report about the new site’s contents:

THOMPSON (9/4/10): So far the tracker site has posted links related to conservative commentator Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally last weekend, including a picture of a man wearing a T-shirt that reads: "Blacks own Slaves in Mauritania, Sudan, Niger and Haiti." The NAACP has also posted a slideshow of photos it says are of offensive signs displayed at tea party rallies.

The dumbness of that highlighted point would be hard to overstate. So would the extent to which such nonsense teaches liberals to hate—and to lose.

Let’s understand: Someone went to the Beck event looking for evidence of racism. The size of the crowd was estimated at 97,000 by CBS News—at 300,000 by NBC.

Let’s suppose the crowd was just 97,000. In that massive throng, the NAACP managed to find one person, wearing one t-shirt, which it found offensive. It posted a photo of the t-shirt on-line, saying this constitutes evidence of racism within the Tea Party. Or something.

The NAACP went to the rally—and all it got was that one lousy t-shirt! If you don’t understand the sheer stupidity involved in the decision to post and publicize that photo, we won’t attempt to help you. We will say this: The NAACP’s post should go straight to Guinness Book of World Records, where it could be hailed as the all-time greatest example of the practice known as “nut-picking.”

Until recently, liberals derided the practice of nut-picking. Now, we cling to its fruits.

(In a second post about Beck’s event, the NAACP links to this pathetic report from ThinkProgress—a report intended to counter the claim that the rally was “non-political.” How dumb are big liberal orgs now willing to be? Go check that ThinkProgress post, which is an utter embarrassment, unless your IQ is 9.)

Back to the t-shirt post: The stupidity of that post is astounding—but it also borders on the hateful in its desire to slime tens of thousands of people based on one lousy t-shirt. We will only warn you of this: Last Monday and Tuesday, Glenn Beck was (quite successfully) using this sort of “liberal” conduct to flip long-standing historical frames on the civil rights movement. Repeatedly, he played videotape of nasty pseudo-liberal commentators denouncing the “old white” people who attended the rally; he interspersed these nasty rants with interviews with calm, sane people at the actual event. The flip in frames was quite astounding. Loud, inane haters like Matthews and Schultz were suddenly cast in the role of the nasty, snarling southern sheriffs of the 1950s and 1960s. (Beck didn’t say this; he didn’t have to.) Beck’s followers were cast in the role he has prepared for them all year—the role of decent, non-violent people being unfairly reviled. (Liberals don’t know he’s been doing this. We’re too lazy to watch his program.)

Lucky for liberals, Bad Beck returned last Wednesday; he offered a stream of nasty, ludicrous claims in which everyone in the Obama administration was a Communist and/or a lover of Mao. But when liberals engage in the ludicrous conduct defined by that post about that one t-shirt, we’re asking for political death. We are practicing for defeat, the one thing we’ve always been good at. (Along with napping in the woods, our approach to the Clinton-Gore years.)

(Once again, we’ll recommend Dr. King’s ruminations on his opponents—his views on the hearts and minds of people who were actively trying to kill him. Remember—Dr. King was the greatest achiever of progressive outcomes of the past century. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/3/10. Better yet, read Dr. King’s books. In the past few years, have you read Strength to Love, a primer for progressive victory?)

Back to the NAACP, an organization grown so inept that it recently declared that Shirley Sherrod was a slobbering racist:

They went to the Glenn Beck event—and all they got was that one lousy t-shirt! If you don’t understand how deeply stupid the NAACP’s web post is, we won’t even try to explain it. But how much do some of us liberals now practice hate? Just consider a link we followed from Digby over the weekend.

Do liberals love to hate at this point? In this post, Digby directed us buck-toothed readers to a post by Howie Klein—a post about Arizona governor Jan Brewer. (“Happy reading,” she cheerfully said.) Here’s the headline on the post to which we were directed:

KLEIN (9/4/10): Maybe Jan Brewer Sounded Like A Lunatic During Her Debate Because It Runs In The Blood

“Because it runs in the blood!” Klein’s point: Governor Brewer has a son who is mentally ill. In fact, because he committed violent crimes in 1989, Brewer’s son has been judged “criminally insane” in the courts. Maybe this is why Brewer sounded like a lunatic, Klein thoughtfully mused. Digby linked us to his post, wishing us “happy reading.”

Some have been puzzled by the claim that Digby has become a bit of a hater. If you still can’t see the emerging pattern, we again won’t attempt to explain.

(Governor Brewer has another son who died of cancer—just click here. Who knows? Maybe Digby and Howie can craft a takedown from that!)

Final point: This sort of thing represents disastrous politics for progressives—but in its heart of hearts, it starts to border on evil. Hate is spreading through the pseudo-liberal world, although the stunning mega-dumbness is probably that much worse.

If this sort of thing didn’t exist, Karl Rove would probably try to invent it. Warning: Before Bad Beck returned last Wednesday, Good Beck was flipping the frame on liberals in truly amazing ways. But then, we liberals are historically good at two things: Napping in the words for long periods, followed by energetic bursts in which we practice to lose.

Special report: Who cares about black kids!

PART 8—THE BEST LACK ALL INSTRUCTION (permalink): The story came from a mythical empire. Blinkered citizens couldn’t grasp an obvious fact—their emperor was wearing no clothes.

A similar situation obtains in our country. For rational people, it’s hard to grasp the extent to which liberal and mainstream elites don’t give the first flying fig about the public schools—about the interests of black kids.

We’ll soon refer to David Leonhardt and Ezra Klein, two of the brightest, most valuable players in the whole mainstream press corps. But let’s start with a front-page report in the New York Times—a clear, well-written piece by San Dillon about the hottest new craze in the educational world.

Dillon wrote about “value-added modeling,” a system used to evaluate teachers based on their students’ test scores. The method is very hot, Dillon said, “with some saying it is an effective method for increasing teacher accountability, and others arguing that it can give an inaccurate picture of teachers’ work.”

How hot is this new method of teacher-evaluation? “Use of value-added modeling is exploding nationwide,” Dillon correctly wrote. “Hundreds of school systems, including those in Chicago, New York and Washington, are already using it to measure the performance of schools or teachers…it has also been a factor in deciding who receives bonuses, how much they are and even who gets fired.” The Obama Administration is supporting the use of the value-added method, Dillon seemed to say. And the Los Angeles Times has gone front-page with the method, in a remarkable way. The paper used a value-added method to evaluate more than 6000 city teachers, Dillon reported. The Los Angeles Times has even made these teachers’ “value-added” ratings available on-line.

Value-added is very hot. Eventually, Dillon gave a fairly clear explanation of the way the method works. Sorry—it takes several paragraphs:

DILLON (9/11/10): In value-added modeling, researchers use students’ scores on state tests administered at the end of third grade, for instance, to predict how they are likely to score on state tests at the end of fourth grade.

A student whose third-grade scores were higher than 60 percent of peers statewide is predicted to score higher than 60 percent of fourth graders a year later.

If, when actually taking the state tests at the end of fourth grade, the student scores higher than 70 percent of fourth graders, the leap in achievement represents the value the fourth-grade teacher added.

The concept is blindingly simple. If a student scored in the 50th percentile last year, she is predicted to score in the same percentile this year. If she scores in a higher percentile (the 60th percentile, let’s say), her teacher gets credit for the ten-point gain. If she scores in a lower percentile (for example, the 40th percentile), her teacher gets blamed for the drop.

For our money, there’s one key point which Dillon didn’t make sufficiently clear. Here it is: Under this system, Teacher A may be rated more effective than Teacher B, even if Teacher B’s students end up with higher test scores. Here’s how that works:

If Teacher A is assigned lower-achieving kids, but they improve over last year’s performance, Teacher A is rated effective. If Teacher B is assigned higher-achieving kids, but they drop from last year’s level, Teacher B is rated ineffective—even if her kids score higher, on an absolute scale, than the less-capable kids assigned to Teacher A.

The basic concept here is bone-simple. That’s why it’s sad to read Dillon’s accurate statement: “Use of value-added modeling is exploding nationwide.”

According to Dillon’s accurate statement, use of value-added modeling is “exploding nationwide” in the year 2010. To us, that’s a rather sad statement, precisely because the concept here is so bone-simple—and because the need for this type of analysis has been around so long.

A bit of basic history might be helpful here:

Basic point: The use of test scores to judge teachers and schools isn’t new in recent years. For ourselves, we came to Baltimore in 1969. Starting that fall, we taught our first fifth-grade class; in April 1970, we administered the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to that class, as teachers were required to do all over the state of Maryland. When the test scores were released, they were published in the Baltimore Sun, on a grade-by-grade basis, for every school in the Baltimore area.

Test scores were published for every school, on a grade-by-grade basis. This was an annual practice at the Sun—in the early 1970s! By the mid-1970s, the Baltimore school system was adopting some rather questionable test preparation procedures, hoping to drive those test scores up—even though it was already clear that flat-out cheating was underway in certain schools in the city. (In those days, “white flight” was often tied to the belief that city schools were no darn good. Major cities hoped to slow that flight to the burbs by getting their test scores up.)

Simple story: Standardized testing was in wide use by the early 1970s; it isn’t something that got invented by No Child Left Behind. Results from these tests were widely used, in various ways, for “accountability” purposes. And even then, everyone with an ounce of sense knew that you couldn’t simply compare results from one school (or classroom) to the next; you had to adjust for demographic factors. The Baltimore Sun didn’t waste a lot of ink on upper-class suburban schools which got high scores, since that was the predictable norm. The Sun did invest a lot of ink on schools in the inner city which turned out high test scores. (At least one of those schools was flat-out cheating, in ludicrous ways, as we told the Sun at the time, to no avail. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/8/05.)

Duh. Everyone knew, in the 1970s, that test scores meant different things depending on the demographics of the school or classroom at issue.

What that in mind, the value-added method is sweeping the nation—forty years later! It’s stunning to think that it took so long for such a bone-simple concept to be developed and adopted. If we want to be a bit unkind, we might even say this: It shows how little anyone cares about what goes on in our public schools, despite all the talk we hear in the press—talk which is typically derived from our hapless “educational experts.”

Those “experts” tend to be Potemkins—experts in appearance alone. (As our society keeps devolving, Paul Krugman keeps making the same observation about our “expert” economists.) Their observations grind exceedingly slow, as has been true in this instance. Watching the glacial way we proceed, the apocryphal visitor from Mars might well draw an unkind conclusion: In the United States, no one really gives a fig about the public schools.

Since minority kids get the worst outcomes in those schools, the visiting Martian might also think this: No one actually gives a fig about the interests of back kids.

There are major exceptions to such generalizations. But amazingly few of those exceptions are found in the liberal world.

Tomorrow, we’ll review the stunning disinformation conveyed in Robert Samuelson’s latest column in the Washington Post (click here). On Thursday, we’ll conclude our current back-to-school series with some dreams for the new school year.

But first, consider David Leonhardt’s remarkable piece in Sunday’s New York Times magazine.

Dave Leonhardt is very smart; beyond that, he’s a clear writer. Plainly, he’s one of the smartest, and most constructive, writers in the whole mainstream press corps. In Sunday’s magazine, he wrote about “a statistical technique called value-added analysis,” focusing on the recent work done by the Los Angeles Times. But good grief! He never explained the particulars about the way “value-added” works—and he offered a strikingly bungled account of the method’s possible limitations:

LEONHARDT (9/5/10): Yet for the all of the potential benefits of this new accountability, the full story is still not a simple one. You could tell as much by the ambivalent reaction to the Los Angeles imbroglio from education researchers and reform advocates. These are the people who have spent years urging schools to do better. Even so, many reformers were torn about the release of the data. Above all, they worried that although the data didn’t paint a complete picture, it would offer the promise of clear and open accountability—because teachers could be sorted and ranked—and would nonetheless become gospel.

Value-added data is not gospel. Among the limitations, scores can bounce around from year to year for any one teacher, notes Ross Wiener of the Aspen Institute, who is generally a fan of the value-added approach. So a single year of scores—which some states may use for evaluation—can be misleading. In addition, students are not randomly assigned to teachers; indeed, principals may deliberately assign slow learners to certain teachers, unfairly lowering their scores. As for the tests themselves, most do not even try to measure the social skills that are crucial to early learning.

Leonhardt cited two possible problems with value-added analysis. Incredibly, the second problem he describes is the very problem the method was designed to address! “Principals may deliberately assign slow learners to certain teachers, unfairly lowering their scores,” Leonhardt wrote. That’s true, of course—and there’s nothing automatically wrong with that type of class assignment. But people! That is precisely the type of problem “value-added analysis” was designed to address! Leonhardt is as smart as it gets in the mainstream press—and he seemed to have no idea how this new method works.

Neither did his editor. But there’s no big surprise there.

Ezra Klein is in the same category as Leonhardt; he’s as smart as it gets in the mainstream press. (For his superlative piece in Sunday’s Post about the future of Social Security, just click here.) But uh-oh! In a Friday blog item, Klein linked to Leonhardt’s magazine piece, which had already been posted on-line. But good grief! Klein specifically posted the puzzling passage we’ve excerpted above, without seeming to realize it didn’t make sense. He too didn’t seem to know how “value-added” works.

Does anyone care about public schools? Does anyone care about black kids? It ought to be an utter embarrassment that value-added is “exploding nationwide” forty years after the nation began using test scores to evaluate teachers and schools. But even now, as this method explodes, the smartest people in the press corps don’t seem to know how it works! Even the best lack all instruction when it comes to our public schools! And by the way: Value-added has only hit the New York Times’ front page within the past week. But in the Washington Monthly, the method was discussed in detail, in a lengthy report, way back in 2005! Even then, we were surprised to see Kevin Drum enthuse about this method, in a perfectly accurate post (click here). The reason? Kevin Drum is very smart—and the basic idea behind this method was embarrassingly simple even then. This breakthrough was massively overdue, even in 2005.

Does anyone care about public schools? Does anyone care in the liberal world? Leonhardt and Klein are both very smart. But good grief! Five years after that piece appeared in the Monthly; in the wake of clear news reports in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times; they still didn’t seem to know how this hot new method works. Amazingly, Leonhardt wrote an entire magazine piece on the method without seeming to know.

Does anybody care about black kids? Within the liberal world, the answer has been clear. Routinely, the answer has been no, for a large number of years.

Tomorrow: Astounding disinformation (again)

Thursday: Thrilling conclusion! Maybe this is the year!