PRESENTING THE EZRA KLEIN CHALLENGE! In the wake of a sorry blog post, we offer the Ezra Klein Challenge: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2010
When the police chief jokes, we dont listen: When the police commissioner jokes, we dont listenwe laugh, in uproarious fashion!
Last night, we were happy to serve as a judge in the Funniest Celebrity in Baltimore contest, benefiting the R Baby Foundation (click here). Marylands first lady, Katie OMalley, was nice enough to throw out the first joke. But the actual contest was won by a man of many threats to the judgesby Baltimore City Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld! The savvy commissioner performed in uniform, defeating (among others) Philip Closius, dean of the University of Baltimore Law School.
Were fairly sure the commish will be keeping his day job. From the program: With his grandfather, great-grandfather and great uncles on the force, it was a childhood dream of Commissioner Bealefelds to serve in the Baltimore Police Department. Through a skillful blend of jokes and threats, the commish has extended that dream.
PART 4PRESENTING THE EZRA KLEIN CHALLENGE (permalink): Our culture devotes a lot of attention to matters we deem worth discussing. On Tuesday, we were struck by this news report, written by John Noble Wilford, in the New York Times.
Wilford reported ongoing efforts to record the planets dying languages. His report was detailed, and quite well written. It was accompanied by two color photos. It started off like this:
Not that theres anything wrong with it! As he continued, Wilford described the discovery of a hidden language, known locally as Koro, completely new to the world outside these rural communities.
The discovery of this new, hidden language was announced just last week. The New York Times rushed the news into print, in a well-written news report accompanied by two color photos.
Thats the way your culture deals with matters it deems important. At the upscale Times, highly cultured reports like this help establish the newspapers brand.
By way of contrast, consider the way your culture deals with matters involving black kids.
Way back in 1967, Jonathan Kozol described the way your culture was dealing with such kids in their public elementary schools. (Many people in Boston are surprised, even to this day, to be told that children are beaten with thin bamboo whips within the cellars of our public schools and that they are whipped at times for no greater offence than for failing to show respect to the very same teachers who have been describing them as niggers.)
So Jonathan wrote, in 1967, in his famous book, Death at an Early Age. Yesterday morning, Ezra Klein gave us a taste of the way our culture deals with such kids today.
Quite justifiably, Ezra is often regarded as the Bright Young Man of contemporary liberal journalism. On his blog at the Washington Post, he discusses Economic and Domestic Policy, and Lots of It. He offers heavily data-driven accounts of a wide range of policy topics. On Thursday, he made a rare excursion into the world of low-income schools.
This came at a time when such schools are being widely discussed, in large part due to Davis Guggenheimss manipulative, simplistic documentary, Waiting for Superman. (The quote comes from New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who praised the director being manipulative and simplistic in his much-discussed film.)
Ezras take was quite brief. Bad newsand good newson education policy, his headline said. (To read the full post, click here.) Kevin Drum had spoken some hard truths on education and poverty policy, Ezra wroteand then, he posted a fairly large chunk from Kevins recent post, which we discussed on Wednesday.
The deletion was made by Ezra. The highlighting was done to us:
That mostly describes my thinking, too, Ezra said, devoting 86 words to his critique, in which time he managed to discuss the relative merits of merit pay, charter schools and early childhood education.
In forty-three years, weve gone from whippings in the basement to low-grade contempt like that.
What was wrong with Ezras post, a tossed-off version of What Kevin Said? In part, the problem with Ezras post can be seen in Figure 1 of a widely-discussed ETS reporta report which spawned a great deal of bungled journalistic discussion just a few months ago. (For the most part, this wasnt the fault of the studys authors. See link below). In the part of the graphic shown below, you see reading scores for 9-year-old students on the National Assessment of Education Progress, the widely-ballyhooed, widely-lauded gold standard of educational testing. The reading scores have been disaggregated, showing results for black kids and white kids. The scores date back to 1971, when the NAEPs long-term trend study began. (To see the full graphic, click here, scroll down to page 5.)
Lets look at the reading scores for 9-year-old black kids, starting in 1971. The scores trend up quickly from 1971 through 1980, then bounce about, largely staying in place, through 1999. But at that point, these reading scores begin moving up again; they begin moving up very sharply. From 1999 through 2008, black kids are shown gaining 18 points on the NAEP reading scalea score gain which is actually understated on this graphic due to a change in procedure the NAEP undertook in 2004.
Allowing for that change in procedure, we would say that black 9-year-olds more accurately gained 21 points on the NAEP reading scale during this nine-year period. How big an academic gain might that 21 points represent? Routinely, educational experts offer a rough rule of thumb, in which ten points on the NAEP scale is said to be equivalent to one academic year.
We regard that as a very rough rule of thumb. Wed be amazed if black 9-year-olds really gained two years in reading achievement, on average, over their earlier counterparts during that nine-year span. But unless something is massively wrong with these data, you are looking at very substantial growth by black kids over that relatively short period. (This ETS study used these data because they are widely regarded as the most authoritative data we haveas the gold standard.)
Those reading scores went way up from 1999 to 2008. Despite thisdespite similar data found throughout both of the NAEPs two major studiesliberals like Ezra routinely throw black kids away in gloomy, 86-word ruminations. They show no sign of ever having troubled themselves to look at these data. This is even true at Ezras blog, which spills with data every day.
How different are these modern writers from the well-meaning people who whipped Kozols students in the basement of their Boston school? In Death at an Early Age, Jonathan devoted a great deal of space to the protestations of people with whom he taught, people who insisted that they truly had the interests of the schools black children at heart.
Especially at a time when manipulative, simplistic propaganda is being aggressively broadcast about public schoolsabout teachers and their infernal unionswed have to say that Ezras post was a minor moral disgrace. For that reason, we are today issuing The Ezra Klein Challengea challenge well extend to a series of major liberals (and others), whose names we present below.
Explain why we keep offering gloomy, throw-away posts in the face of these data.
Explain why we allow ugly, simplistic attacks on teachers (and on their infernal unions) in the face of these data.
Explain why we keep saying there are no solutions, when data from both of the NAEPs major studies seem to suggest that something has been working in the past dozen years.
Explain why we refuse to offer credit where credit is due:
To the nations deserving black kids, who seem to be showing substantial progress in both of the NAEPs major studies. To the nations deserving Hispanic kids, whose score gains have been similarly large. To the nations maddening white kids, who have largely maintained the achievement gap during this period because their NAEP scores have gone up too.
To the nations public school teachers, who seem to be doing something right, unless theres something massively wrong with the NAEPs voluminous data. To the nations superintendents, who have been screaming and yelling at the nations teachers.
Again and again in the past two months, weve described these data here at THE HOWLERthe data from the NAEPs long-term trend study and the data from the NAEPS main study. We wont waste time describing those data again today. Below, well link to some previous work.
But manifestly, it seems that nothing can make the modern liberal speak about these data. Would Ezra Klein have whipped black kids in the basement of Jonathan Kozols school? Plainly, well assume the answer is no. But the modern liberal is allowed to serve plutocrat interests in more antiseptic ways.
The madness of your dying culture is seen in the topics we agree to ignore. All through last years debate about health care, health care experts, journalists and liberals agreed to ignore a remarkable factthe fact that the U.S. spends two to three times as much on health care, per person, as all other large, developed nations. We never saw a serious attempt to discuss that remarkable fact. No such effort was ever made within the mainstream press, or by a liberal journal.
This year, as teachers and unions are endlessly trashed, we all agree to ignore the data from the NAEPs two major studies. In the face of those striking data, data-driven liberals like Ezra and Kevin toss off gloomy, hurried posts, announcing that nothing seems to work. Whips in hand, they allow the plutocrats to build a nasty, consequential narrative about the failure of public schoolsabout the evils of unions.
Would Ezra Klein have whipped Kozols kids? Manifestly, the answer is no. For that reason, we issue a challenge to Klein, and to other major writers who tend to traffic in data:
To Paul Krugman, the most important journalist of the past decade.
To Jonathan Chait; to Kevin Drum; to David Brooks; even to Nicholas Kristof.
To Eugene Robinson, whose new book chronicles the black experience. To E. J. Dionne.
To Joan Walsh, who edits a liberal journal which brands itself as caring on race. To the editors of the other liberal journalsthe Nation; the New Republic; the Washington Monthly; the American Prospect.
To John McWhorter, who roams outside conventional narratives in his writing on race. How about to Professor Gates, who could get an article published? (If he can spare a minute or two from his pimping of famous celebrities.)
To education writers and editors at newspapers like the New York Timesnewspapers which file learned reports, with color photos, when someone finds a new hidden language in a remote village somewhere.
(Would it kill a journal like Mother Jones to write about black kids achievements?)
The data are there for all to see, in both the NAEPS major studies. And the data are striking over the past dozen years.
Tell the public about those data! After that, try to explain the data. Stop insisting that nothing works when it seems that something has been working. If you give the first flying fig about black kidsabout Hispanic kids, about low-income kidstry to figure out why those scores have gone up!
But, more than anything else, just do your damn jobs for once: Just report those data! Mention these data when the plutocrats agents launch their incessant attacks on the schoolson the people who teach in the schools, on their infernal unions.
By inference, on black kids themselves.
Sorry, but the discussion flowing from Waiting for Superman has been a rolling moral disgrace. The liberal world has sat and stared as this ugly, stupid discussion unfoldsas Guggenheim is praised for being simplistic.
The New York Times writes learned reports when a language is found in an Indian village. At the Post, Klein promises readers that they will get Economic and Domestic Policy, and Lots of It. Fulfilling that promise, his blog spills over with data, on a daily basis.
So go headtake The Ezra Klein Challenge! Its a challenge we issue to Ezra, and to all the other writers weve named! When it comes to low-income schools, lets get off our big fat keisters for once. Explain the data weve been describingthe data in both of the NAEPs major studies.
Just for once, could we do the right thing? Jonathans book is covered with dust. Must its patterns linger?
Visit our incomparable archives: In the past several months, weve endlessly described the data in the NAEPs two major studies. As has been true for decades now, liberals refuse to care.
Just enter NAEP in our whirring search engines for endless links to these endless reports. But for a one-stop review of the data found in both major studies, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/1/10.
In that same piece, you will see George Will bungle that recent ETS report, misunderstanding the difference between achievement itself and the achievement gap. (Minority kids achievement is up. Because white kids achievement is also up, the gap has largely remained.)
Bottom line: In the past dozen years, tests scores are strongly improved among black kids and Hispanic kids, on both of the NAEPs major studies. Liberals and journalists simply wont say so.
For our money, these data-deniers stand near the top of those stairs. They have the best interests of black kids at heart, not unlike Kozols fellow teachers.