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WHO’S HONEST NOW! A brilliant ad was blatantly wrong. Matthews agreed not to notice: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2007

THE USES OF CHILDREN: The way the Washington Post reports on public schools is just this side of criminal. Last year, the Post put Alexandria’s Maury Elementary School at the top of its front page; it hailed the small, low-income school for its astounding success. But uh-oh! When we actually (get this) examined Maury’s test scores, it turned out that the school’s third-grade students had the second-lowest reading scores in the whole state of Virginia! (Only Grades 3 and 5 had been tested in Virginia that year.) We also established something the Post never reported, even after we had established it (even after the state of Virginia acknowledged it): Through a bit of statistical legerdemain, the state of Virginia had been systematically inflating its test scores, at every single school in the state. It was this systematic inflation of scores which had fooled the mighty Post—leading it to showcase a school with the second-lowest scores in its state.

At some point, you’d think they’d get embarrassed. But big newspapers simply love feel-good stories about “schools that work.” They’ve pimped these stories for decades now—often displaying the kind of ineptitude that would never get by in other sectors. (In other sectors, you get sued or prosecuted when you screw up like the Post did.) And on Sunday, we got our latest dose of such work; the Post put another local school on its front page, where it was showered with praise. If you believe the Post, you believe this school has registered “remarkable results” in the past four years. And uh-oh! In believing that, you are just dead wrong.

The school in question is Rock View Elementary, of Maryland’s Montgomery County. (Montgomery is a large suburban county bordering Washington.) You can read the Post’s front-page report yourself, to see the way Daniel de Vise heaps praise on Rock View’s principal for the progress she has engineered. In the process, de Vise attributes the school’s “remarkable [test score] results” to a recent change in its educational strategy.

Rock View’s results are just like the state’s. Somehow, the Post didn’t notice.
Let’s state the obvious: If some change in educational practice does produce “remarkable results,” that would be major news. On the other hand, none of this swing means a thing if Rock View’s test scores aren’t “remarkable”—for example, if they turn out to be completely normal among elementary schools in the state. And yes, it turns out that the latter is true. The score gains recorded at Rock View Elementary are perfectly typical for Maryland schools in the past four years. The Post either failed to notice this fact—or didn’t want to tattle.

Let’s make a long story short: The Post’s report includes a chart which shows the score gains at Rock View from 2003 to 2007. (Sorry: The Post has transferred this chart to the web in a way which makes it almost wholly unusable.) At the very top of the chart, we see this basic comparison: In 2003, 65 percent of Rock View students scored proficient in reading. Four years later, in 2007, the rate was 85 percent. Again, this comparison tops the Post’s chart, which is headlined: “Remarkable Results.”

But uh-oh! In fact, those results are not “remarkable” among Maryland schools. In fact, those results are completely typical among schools across the state. Why do we say that those score gains are “typical?” Duh! Because we know how to check test scores for the state as a whole—the state spends money to make them available— and because we know how to compare statewide score gains to score gains recorded at Rock View! Having engaged in this bone-simple process, we note a perfectly obvious fact: For the period in question, Rock View’s score gains are amazingly similar to those of the state as a whole.

Because Maryland tested only Grades 3 and 5 in 2003, this involves comparing reading scores for those two grade levels only.

Has Rock View Elementary made score gains during the four-year period in question? Absolutely. In 2003, 63 percent of its fifth-graders scored proficient in reading; in 2007, 75 percent passed. But guess what? In that same period, the state of Maryland as a whole recorded very similar gains, going from 66 percent in 2003 to 77 percent in 2007. (Links to all data below.) By the way: Did Maryland’s fifth-graders improve at reading during this period—or did the state’s fifth-grade reading test get easier? We have no way to sort that out. (Other explanations are possible.) But in Grade 5, Rock View’s score gain is not “remarkable” in the way de Vise suggests. It virtually matches the state-wide result.

And uh-oh! The comparison is slightly less flattering for Rock View when it comes to Grade 3 (though the differences here are all trivial). How does the school compare to the state? In 2003, 66 percent of Rock View’s third-graders scored proficient on Maryland’s reading test. In 2007, the school’s passing rate was much higher: 85 percent. But as a w hole, the state of Maryland recorded a larger score gain during this period. In 2003, 58 percent of the state’s third-graders scored proficient in reading. In 2007, it was 80 percent. In Grade 3, Rock View’s score gain wasn’t “remarkable” at all. It was actually smaller than the gain achieved by the state as a whole.

Let’s make sure we’re all semi-clear: This doesn’t make Rock View a bad school, or anything like it. And it doesn’t mean there’ something wrong with the educational changes the school has made. Beyond that, there may be ways Rock View has progressed that somehow exceed the state as a whole,. But we’ll never learn such things from the Post. Nor will we get answers to these basic questions:

Question 1: Are Maryland’s kids reading better these days? Or is Maryland’s reading test getting easier? Absent serious technical work, there’s no way to answer that question. But in the past year or two, many experts have cited the possibility that states are making their statewide tests easier, thereby inflating their passing rates. For that reason, you can’t assume that a higher passing rate means that kids are performing better. The Post still acts like it doesn’t know this.

Question 2: Did Rock View’s change in instructional practice produce the school’s “remarkable” score gains? That’s the notion de Vise presents all through his report. But across the state, schools which didn’t make this curricular change achieved slightly larger score gains than Rock View. (Although the differences are trivial.) Yet on its front page, the Post proclaims that these changes in Rock View’s instructional practice have produced “remarkable results.” If you actually care about which practices work, this should be very disturbing.

For the record, we have no problem with the educational practices described in this report (though we find it hard to distinguish them from other practices which de Vise says are observed at “most elementary schools in the region”). But this is deeply illiterate work, of a type which has long prevailed.

REVIEWING THE DATA: For the state of Maryland’s “2007 Maryland Report Card,” just click here. Meanwhile, because things get murky from there:

Annual “reports cards” from 2003 through 2006 can be accessed at the bottom of this page. (See “Archives.”) Making your job amazingly easy:

For the state’s 2003 performance report, just click here.

Special report: Welch’s at war!


READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Last Tuesday night, at that Dem debate, Jack Welch’s famous “Lost Boys” went to war. Why not read each installment?
PART 1: Russert’s deep concern about dishonesty extended to no one but Clinton. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/07.

PART 2: This always happens, the pundits have said. As always, the pundits are wrong. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/2/07.

PART 3: The Times’ twin stooges, Rich and Dowd, predictably swung into action. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/3/07.
In Part 4, Russert and Matthews refuse to ask, “Who’s honest now?”

PART 4—WHO’S HONEST NOW: In his recent campaigning, is John Edwards “saying what he really believes,” to borrow a phrase from the hapless Frank Rich? To use the language of Edwards himself, is he being “honest?” We don’t have the slightest idea—and Chris Matthews doesn’t want to find out. In what follows from last night’s Hardball, Matthews is trying to help Obama and Edwards in their efforts to trash Clinton’s character, just as he struggled, eight years ago, to pimp Bradley and call Gore a phony. (More on those efforts this week.)

On Hardball, this followed tape of Obama’s appearance on last weekend’s Saturday Night Live. And yes, this is what Matthews said. He was pimping this sh*t very hard:
MATTHEWS (11/5/07): Welcome back to Hardball. That was, of course, Barack Obama himself on Saturday Night Live this weekend. Get the message? Hillary is a political animal, willing to do anything to win. That’s his message.

Here is Obama bamming it home in South Carolina, as he attacks Clinton-style politics.

OBAMA (videotape): As we saw—as we saw in the debate last week, it encourages vague, calculated answers to suit the politics of the moment, instead of clear, consistent principles about how you would lead America. It teaches you that you can promise progress for everyday people, while striking a bargain with the very special interests who crowd them out.

MATTHEWS: Edwards is hitting the same point in this brilliant ad with his wonderful waltz music.

(Begin videotape, Edwards campaign ad)
Obama was “bamming it home,” we were told. Hillary is a political animal. And Edwards had posted a “brilliant ad”—with that “wonderful music.”

“Well, that’s the best one this year,” Matthews said, after the “brilliant ad” finished.

Sadly, there were obvious problems with Edwards’ ad, the one Matthews thought was so brilliant. It doctors and dices things Clinton has said, making her statements sound weird and dishonest. And uh-oh! It ends with a blatant misstatement! After slicing-and-dicing the things that were said about drivers’ licenses at last week’s debate, the brilliant ad proceeds to say this, about Clinton’s position:
EDWARDS AD: It was a yes or no question.

We still don’t know the answer.
“We still don’t know the answer?” Last Wednesday, Clinton announced that she supports Spitzer’s plan. Simply put, Edwards seems to be lying in this brilliant ad. But somehow, his host didn’t notice.

Meanwhile, is Edwards actually being honest about his own stand on drivers licenses? We don’t have the slightest idea; this past Sunday, George Stephanopoulos didn’t seem to want to find out on Sunday. On This Week, Edwards gave a lengthy, rather unclear account of his own position on drivers licenses. At one point, this exchange occurred:
STEPHANOPOULOS (11/4/07): Because back in 2004 you were unequivocally for giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

EDWARDS: I was concerned then and I'm still concerned about the possibility of people driving who haven't had any training, the law enforcement implications of that, the dangers on the road. I think that's what they—a lot of the states are concerned about. That's a very legitimate concern, but that fits in the bigger context of what are we going to do about the big issue about immigration, illegal immigration, immigration reform. And I think what makes sense and what fits with the rule of law in the United States of America is to allow them to get driver's licenses once they get on the path of citizenship.
Huh! In 2004, Edwards supported licenses for all illegal immigrants. But after much confusing discussion, it seemed that he now has a new attitude. Most of this segment was quite murky—but the segment ended like this:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're against that plan, the Spitzer plan?

EDWARDS: I'm against that plan.
Weird! Edwards supported licenses in 2004, but he opposes the Spitzer plan now. Why has he apparently changed his position? We don’t have the slightest idea. And wouldn’t you know it? Hapless (or compliant) George Stephanopoulos didn’t remember to ask him. “I’m against that plan,” Edwards said. And Stephie moved on to new topics.

Edwards has changed his position on licenses! Gee! Is there any chance that he’s changed his stance because he wants to take the more popular position now? We don’t have the slightest idea, but we can surely tell you one thing—you won’t see any big broadcaster ask Edwards that obvious question as long as their war against Clinton continues. You see, the bully-boys of the insider press corps (Russert, Matthews, Williams) have laid down the rules for this new, full-blown war—and the weak mewling sisters, like Stephanopoulos, will pretty much follow their play-book. That explains why the following, laughable exchange occurred at last Tuesday’s debate. Obama, so famous for his vast honesty, was asked a question about his own views—and he refused to answer:
RUSSERT (10/30/07): Senator Obama, you said in May that, quote, "Everything is on the table" when it comes to Social Security. You now have an ad up in Iowa which says that any benefit cuts are off, and raising retirement age are off. Why have you changed your mind?

OBAMA: Well, what I say is, is that that is not my plan. Now, I just want to go back to—to what Senator Clinton said, because I think it's important for us not to engage in business as usual on Social Security, and talk straight...
Asked to explain his change in position, Obama refused to answer, then went back to trashing Clinton for her lack of straight talk! And Russert failed to challenge this dodge. This produced a sad exchange between Russert and Matthews on last night’s Hardball. After Matthews compared Clinton to a clam, Russert issued a sad, weak lament:
MATTHEWS (11/5/07): You know what it reminds me of? Remember in biology class in high school, where you had the starfish trying to open up the clam? These guys are trying to keep open up the clam, and she’s going to stay clammed up. She doesn’t have anything to gain. If you think about it, what does she gain if she says, Let’s raise taxes for Social Security, let’s raise the retirement age, let’s raise whatever, let’s reduce the benefits? What they want her to do is show some pain to the public, and she doesn’t want to do it.

RUSSERT: Well, Senator Obama had said that he had—would have everything on the table for Social Security, and now he’s limited that as well. So all of them can be scrutinized. But I think, Chris, the important thing for voters who are watching this, it’s more than just a game of primary versus the general election. They’re waiting for leadership.
Poor Tim! He still didn’t know why Obama changed his position. But why didn’t this big, fat, trained plutocrat know? Because when he asked Obama about it, Obama went back to trashing Clinton! And as we showed you last Thursday, Russert “followed up” in a predictable way—by inviting Obama to trash Clinton more (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/07).

“All of them can be scrutinized,” Russert said. And don’t worry, that next auto-da-fe will start—as soon as they’ve taken down Clinton.

Who is being honest here? Who is “saying what he or she believes,” to borrow that phrase from the hapless Rich? Frankly, it’s quite hard to tell—and Matthews and Russert will look away every time there’s a possible problem with Obama or Edwards. Edwards can run an ad with a blatant misstatement; Matthews will praise it for its brilliance. Obama can skip the most basic question; Russert will politely defer.

Short story? The plutocrats are trying to pick your nominee, as they tried to do in 1999. Then, these same tools puffed the wondrous Bradley, and viciously went after fake, phony Gore. And just so you can see who they are—these people who try to select your nominees—here they are, on last night’s show, discussing Social Security:
RUSSERT (11/5/07): If you’re going to make tough decisions as a president, you have to answer tough questions. What are you going to do? Show us how you’re going the lead us. Everyone knows Social Security, as it’s constructed, is not going to be in the same place it’s going to be for the next generation [sic]. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.

MATTHEWS: It’s a bad Ponzi scheme, at this point.

RUSSERT: Yes.
It’s a bad Ponzi scheme, the boys both said. Everyone knows it, Russert asserted. Of course, here’s Paul Krugman, on the day of that remarkable Dem debate, saying exactly the opposite. In fact, no leading Dem—save, perhaps, Obama and Edwards—thinks anything like what Russert and Matthews said. But plutocrats have pushed those scripted deceptions at the public for twenty-five years. Last night, their well-paid “Lost Boys” were pimping again—and telling you, you Democrats, who you should pick for your candidate.

Sadly, Matthews and Russert are so balls-out stupid that they may believe the things they said. They got their narrative about Social Security from the club long ago; they may not even know it’s a fraud. But these are the people who fought very hard to pick your nominee eight years ago, and they are trying, very hard, to treat you like things they own now.

TOMORROW—PART 5: Pimping Russert.

WHAT YOU HAVE TO DECIDE: Here’s what you have to decide: Is Russert really so god-damned stupid that he believes what he said about Social Security? Or is he simply saying that, because his bosses expect it? Remember: Russert was made a multimillionaire by Jack Welch, a near-billionaire conservative Republican. He shares an island home with Jack now. Our question: What transpires there?