WHOS 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 Alexandrias 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 Maurys test scores, it turned out that the schools 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, youd think theyd get embarrassed. But big newspapers simply love feel-good stories about schools that work. Theyve 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 Marylands Montgomery County. (Montgomery is a large suburban county bordering Washington.) You can read the Posts front-page report yourself, to see the way Daniel de Vise heaps praise on Rock Views principal for the progress she has engineered. In the process, de Vise attributes the schools remarkable [test score] results to a recent change in its educational strategy.
Rock Views results are just like the states. Somehow, the Post didnt notice.Lets 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 Views test scores arent 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 didnt want to tattle.
Lets make a long story short: The Posts 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 Posts 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 Views 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 Marylands fifth-graders improve at reading during this period—or did the states fifth-grade reading test get easier? We have no way to sort that out. (Other explanations are possible.) But in Grade 5, Rock Views 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 Views third-graders scored proficient on Marylands reading test. In 2007, the schools 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 states third-graders scored proficient in reading. In 2007, it was 80 percent. In Grade 3, Rock Views score gain wasnt remarkable at all. It was actually smaller than the gain achieved by the state as a whole.
Lets make sure were all semi-clear: This doesnt make Rock View a bad school, or anything like it. And it doesnt 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 well never learn such things from the Post. Nor will we get answers to these basic questions:
Question 1: Are Marylands kids reading better these days? Or is Marylands reading test getting easier? Absent serious technical work, theres 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 cant assume that a higher passing rate means that kids are performing better. The Post still acts like it doesnt know this.
Question 2: Did Rock Views change in instructional practice produce the schools remarkable score gains? Thats the notion de Vise presents all through his report. But across the state, schools which didnt 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 Views 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 Marylands 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 states 2003 performance report, just click here.
Special report: Welchs at war!
READ EACH THRILLING INSTALLMENT: Last Tuesday night, at that Dem debate, Jack Welchs famous Lost Boys went to war. Why not read each installment?
PART 1: Russerts deep concern about dishonesty extended to no one but Clinton. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/07.In Part 4, Russert and Matthews refuse to ask, Whos honest now?
PART 4—WHOS 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 dont have the slightest idea—and Chris Matthews doesnt want to find out. In what follows from last nights Hardball, Matthews is trying to help Obama and Edwards in their efforts to trash Clintons 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 Obamas appearance on last weekends 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. Thats his message.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, thats 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 weeks debate, the brilliant ad proceeds to say this, about Clintons position:
EDWARDS AD: It was a yes or no question.We still dont know the answer? Last Wednesday, Clinton announced that she supports Spitzers plan. Simply put, Edwards seems to be lying in this brilliant ad. But somehow, his host didnt notice.
Meanwhile, is Edwards actually being honest about his own stand on drivers licenses? We dont have the slightest idea; this past Sunday, George Stephanopoulos didnt 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.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?Weird! Edwards supported licenses in 2004, but he opposes the Spitzer plan now. Why has he apparently changed his position? We dont have the slightest idea. And wouldnt you know it? Hapless (or compliant) George Stephanopoulos didnt remember to ask him. Im 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 hes changed his stance because he wants to take the more popular position now? We dont have the slightest idea, but we can surely tell you one thing—you wont 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 Tuesdays 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?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 nights 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 shes going to stay clammed up. She doesnt have anything to gain. If you think about it, what does she gain if she says, Lets raise taxes for Social Security, lets raise the retirement age, lets raise whatever, lets reduce the benefits? What they want her to do is show some pain to the public, and she doesnt want to do it.Poor Tim! He still didnt know why Obama changed his position. But why didnt 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 dont worry, that next auto-da-fe will start—as soon as theyve 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, its quite hard to tell—and Matthews and Russert will look away every time theres 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 nights show, discussing Social Security:
RUSSERT (11/5/07): If youre going to make tough decisions as a president, you have to answer tough questions. What are you going to do? Show us how youre going the lead us. Everyone knows Social Security, as its constructed, is not going to be in the same place its going to be for the next generation [sic]. Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.Its a bad Ponzi scheme, the boys both said. Everyone knows it, Russert asserted. Of course, heres 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 its 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: Heres 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?