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THE DUKE’S GREATER OFFENSE! Clinton’s a traitor, Cunningham said. It’s time to tell voters about it: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2005

THE DUKE’S GREATER OFFENSE: You really have to be a fool to want to sit on antique commodes, but Duke Cunningham fills the bill nicely. Which should come as no surprise, of course. As Marty Kaplan reminds us at the Huffington Post, here was this same stupid man in the fall of ’92:
Oct. 9, 1992: The Los Angeles Times quotes Cunningham as urging President Bush to attack Bill Clinton's patriotism, telling him: "This is an issue that will kill Clinton when people realize what a traitor he is to this country. In some countries, if something like this came out, he would be tried as a traitor. Tokyo Rose had nothing over Clinton."
It’s hard to be a bigger fool—though Cunningham, perched on his antique pot, may have finally managed. But now we see a nasty truth—the fellow who called Clinton a “traitor” was also, in his spare time, selling off his nation’s defense contracts.

Here’s our suggestion to liberals and Dems: Cunningham’s bribes are a major offense. But a greater offense, by far, is the sheer stupidity he and his kind have introduced into our public discourse for the past several decades. From Rush on down, they’ve played the voters for fools, from their stupid claims about Clinton-the-traitor to their stupid claims on the war against Christmas. With Cunningham, we now have a “teaching opportunity”—a chance to help the voters see how stupid these clownish claims have been all along.

We’ve suggested, for years, that Dems should just say it: These people are treating the voters like fools. For year after year, they’ve made a joke of our discourse, robbing us of our greatest possession. We’ve suggested this theme because it’s true and important, and because Dems and libs have no other Big Story. Amazing, isn’t it, to look back now and see what this fool was saying back then? To see the utterly fake, corrupt way he dragged our lives and minds through the gutter? It isn’t too late to complain about this—to help voters see, at long last, how frauds like Cunningham played them for fools in the endless stupid slanders of Clinton.

By the way, Al Gore wore too many earth tones! That was another part of this process. Such brain-dead claims put a fool in the White House. With people finally seeing through Bush, it’s time to tell voters about this.

ON THE OTHER HAND: Having praised Kaplan, let us now question him. We were amazed by this passage from a recent post, a post which was specifically recommended by Arianna (with whom our entire staff has kissed-and-made-up telephonically). Kaplan is talking about the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity:

KAPLAN (11/20/05): When government officials or campaign operatives go off the record to a reporter in order to smear someone, spread disinformation, lie about an opponent, stab someone in the back while wearing the cloak of anonymity, kindle a propaganda brush fire, slander critics, psych out enemies, and throw red herrings in an investigator's path, they are engaging in the dark arts of psy ops.
As Kaplan continues, he hammers Bob Woodward for being taken in by “a lie:”
KAPLAN (continuing directly): From Caligula to Machiavelli, from the Congo to the Gulag, deception has always been a handmaiden to power. But in our First Amendment democracy, where journalists protect sources, political liars have figured out how to game the system. Lee Atwater not only knew how to assassinate; he knew that reporters would dutifully wipe his fingerprints off the weapon. Cheney, Chalabi, Rove, Libby et al are his heirs. They're so good at it that a Bob Woodward can think a lie is a casually tossed-off piece of gossip, rather than an Oscar-worthy performance in a government-wide defamation campaign.
But this fist-waving passage is really quite remarkable. What exactly is the “lie” that Woodward is said to have treated as gossip? According to Woodward, an administration official told him, in passing, that Plame worked for the CIA. But, of course, this wasn’t a “lie;” it was an accurate piece of information! What has happened to the liberal mind when we let ourselves thrill to this sort of writing? When we’re so eager to blubber and play victim? When we’re willing to baldly misstate because it makes us feel good?

Note to Earth: In theory, we aren’t complaining because officials “lied.” In theory, we’re complaining because they told the truth—about a matter which was classified and should have stayed secret. What has become of the liberal intelligence when we engage in such odd weep-fests? When we no longer even attempt to engage in accurate statement?

SIMILAR POINT—HUFF ON WOOD: Aarrgh! In this post. Arianna complains about Woodward’s alleged omissions from Plan of Attack. She lists a string of Bush/Cheney quotes from the fall of 02, then says this about Woodward:

HUFFINGTON (11/28/05): Any reporter worth his salt would have used these publicly available quotes to—yes, connect the dots—and show Bush's "make sure no one stretches" comment to be the PR pap it so obviously was. But Woodward just swallowed it.
But this is absolute nonsense. In fact, Woodward discusses those quotes in great detail in Plan of Attack, repeatedly saying that Cheney and Bush were misstating the intelligence when they made them. Arianna is right to complain about the way Bush’s “make sure no one stretches” quote was pimped when Woodward’s book appeared. But why was that quote so widely pimped? Because conservatives made sure that it got widely pimped, while liberals ignored the vast stretches of the book which explicitly show Bush and Cheney misstating. Once again, industrious pseudo-cons played the ant. We cast ourselves in the role of grasshoppers.

Have we become too much like Bush? Is reading books—even the most influential books—just too much “hard work” for our species?

Special report: You know the drill!

PART 2—A VERY CRUDE MEASURE: If you’ve taught in an urban system, you may know the drill. The system always has a new “reform” plan, and the new reform plan is always quite brilliant—if you let the heads of the system tell it. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the big reform plan of the late 1990s was a quarterly exam known as the “The Drill-Down,” and when Hedrick Smith went to Charlotte as part of Making Schools Work, he bought the system’s claims for the Drill-Down in every way—hook, line and sinker (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/29/05). For some reason, Smith seemed to think that the Charlotte-Meck schools had produced major gains in academic achievement (in our view, the test scores simply don’t show this). Result? When the system’s administrators talked the Drill-Down way up, Smith seemed to buy every syllable. Result? For a large chunk of his segment on the Charlotte-Meck schools, Smith presents the wonders of a big reform plan which doesn’t seem to have worked all that well. But so it goes when our major news orgs seek feel-good tales about urban schools. So it goes when major news orgs hunt for stories about “schools that work.”

How is the Drill-Down supposed to work? In Making Schools Work, we start in a Charlotte elementary school, nine weeks into the school year. “The Drill-Down starts here, with these teachers getting ready to administer a quarterly, a test given every nine weeks,” Hedrick Smith says. “But this test isn’t really about grading students—it’s about checking on teachers and how well they’re doing. It’s the first step in collecting an essential ingredient of the Charlotte Drill-Down—data.” After former superintendent Eric Smith praises the system’s use of these data, assistant superintendent Susan Agruso describes the Drill-Down in a bit more detail:

ARGUSO: [Superintendent Eric Smith] knew that if you had information about student performance, you could then use that information to improve student achievement. And use it to understand what students did know and could do. And then use the data to figure out what they didn’t know and what you were going to do about it tomorrow.
The Drill-Down tests are scored at central headquarters; the data are quickly returned to the schools. Soon, Agruso is praising the Drill-Down again—with the kind of well-intentioned hype which will be familiar to those who know this age-old drill:
AGRUSO: When folks really understand the power of the data, they want that information immediately. You don’t want a day to go by where you don’t know how your students are doing because you want to be right back in that classroom the next day working with them to improve their performance.
To our ear, Agruso is spinning a tad—but then, you may know the drill here. “You don’t want a day to go by where you don’t know how your students are doing,” she enthuses. But in fact, you’ll have to wait many days—you’ll have to wait for nine full weeks—before you get any help from the Drill-Down at all, and then you’ll have to wait nine more weeks if you want any further assistance. Is the Drill-Down really helpful at all? About that, we’ll admit we have major doubts. But Agruso, a very pleasant woman, unwittingly shows us what’s wrong with this method. Teachers make decisions every single day about what skills their students have mastered. The Drill-Down, at best, only helps them three times each year. It simply can’t give you “that information immediately.” But so what? Within moments, Superintendent Eric Smith puts his thumb on the scale a bit too:
SUPERINTENDENT ERIC SMITH: It’s the old model of education in America versus the new model. The old way, you know, we’d wait a year and we’d retain a child. Give him another year at it, then retain him again. Things went in increments of a year. If we know we’re not doing the job in Week One, we have an obligation, I think, to move immediately and correct that. And so that was the sense that we had; we had to take immediate action on issues. Kids lives and their academic success depends on our ability to be fluid and dynamic and to be able to be responsive to their success or their failure.
“If we know we’re not doing the job in Week One, we have an obligation, I think, to correct that,” Eric Smith says. Indeed, he’s quite correct about that. But the Drill-Down can’t possibly help until Week Ten—a matter Hedrick Smith doesn’t mention. The superintendent’s claims for the Drill-Down are overtly embellished. But as we’ve said, you may know this old drill.

Some may say: Well, at least the Drill-Down provides some help in Week Ten! But as a former teacher, we’re not hugely convinced. At one point, Hedrick Smith asks further questions about the Drill-Down. (He speaks with Jovetta Dennis, an assistant principal in a Charlotte elementary school.) But we averted our gaze in frustration and embarrassment when this exchange occurred:

HEDRICK SMITH: When you look at these results and it says the group is not mastering whatever it is—multiplication, fractions, decimals—what’s that saying that you’ve got to do?

DENNIS: The report lets me know who mastered it, who partially mastered it and who did not master it at all. If, say, 80 percent did not master it that tells us, “Okay, teacher, you go back and teach it to everyone.” And those children that did not master it at all, make sure they’re in tutoring or in small group. Hit it again with them.

Eek! Hedrick Smith is no teacher—and it shows. “Fractions,” dear reader, isn’t a skill—it’s a broad branch of elementary school math, encountered at every grade level. Many, many specific skills fit inside this broad rubric. Can a quarterly test really measure all those skills with the degree of precision suggested here? Can it really tell you which students have mastered a skill—or have only “partially mastered” it? Without getting too technical here, it wouldn’t seem that a test of this type could possibly have enough test items on it—and Dennis’ answer to Smith’s halting question doesn’t seem too inspiring either. According to Dennis, if eighty percent of the class haven’t “mastered it,” (Haven’t mastered what? Some skill? Some broad subject area?), we go back and “teach it again.” But should a teacher really wait nine weeks to learn that eighty percent of her class is confused? To us, that sounds like nightmarish teaching—although it may sound good to an amateur. Are we learning about individuals here—or are we just making broad group assessments? And what if no one in the class has mastered any skills? Somewhere, this must be happening too (more tomorrow). What does the Drill-Down say to do then? What happens in extremely weak classes?

For readers who haven’t been classroom instructors, it will be hard to convey a basic idea here. It will be hard to convey how crude a measure the Drill-Down actually seems to be; how weak an instrument it seems to be for fulfilling its stated purpose. (Meanwhile, Dennis’ vague reply to Hedrick Smith doesn’t seem very reassuring.) Indeed, it’s just as Superintendent Eric Smith says: If you’re teaching math to urban fourth-graders (or to anyone else, for that matter), you need to be testing in your classroom right from Day One to see if kids have mastered what’s taught. You don’t want to go plowing ahead, day after day, trying to teach the kids more advanced skills if more basic skills are still hazy—if eighty percent of your class didn’t get it. Given this very elementary context, waiting till Week Ten for data (from a modest, crude measure) doesn’t seem likely to change the world—and judging from those test scores in Charlotte, the Drill-Down has created no “small revolutions” in the world of public ed.

How are Charlotte’s kids actually doing in reading math, two subjects included in the Drill-Down? On the 2005 statewide “end-of-grade tests,” Charlotte’s black students (grades 3-8) did exactly as well as black kids statewide in both subject areas. In that 2003 NAEP trial exam, Charlotte’s low-income kids scored fourth in reading, out of ten districts tested, at both the fourth- and eighth-grade levels (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/05). In math, Charlotte’s low-income eighth-graders tied for third/fourth in math, out of ten school districts tested. (Low-income kids in Houston and New York scored somewhat higher. Boston’s low-income kids scored just as well. Charlotte was the least “urban” district.) By current standards, there’s nothing wrong with these kinds of achievement, but there’s no sign of a “small revolution” here either. But you’d never know it from Making Schools Work—from hearing the Drill-Down praised to the skies. But then, it’s often this way in this sort of report. If you’ve followed American education reporting, you may feel you know this drill—a drill which is forty years old.

Sorry, but no: To our own experienced ear, the Drill-Down didn’t sound like a revolutionary measure. And how exactly does the method work inside Charlotte’s high-poverty, inner-city schools—the schools where kids may be years behind by the start of fourth grade? It’s in such schools that America’s educational disaster has long been occurring. How do such schools really work inside Charlotte? For our money, Hedrick Smith didn’t seem to know what to ask—and we were surprised by some of the things superintendent Eric Smith seemed to say. How are kids taught in these low-income schools? More on this topic tomorrow.

TOMORROW—PART 3: Is everyone on the same page in the text? To us, the notion seems puzzling.

SUCCESS AT GRADE 4 MATH: How did Charlotte’s low-income kids do on that NAEP trial measure? In 2003, fourth- and eighth-graders from ten “urban” districts were tested in both reading and math. (Charlotte-Mecklenburg was by far the least “urban.”) In reading, Charlotte’s low-income kids (recipients of free or reduced lunch) finished fourth out of ten at both grade levels (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/05). And as we’ve seen today, Charlotte tied for third/fourth out of ten in eighth-grade math. There’s nothing “wrong” with results like this. But they suggest no revolution.

In fourth-grade math, though, Charlotte’s low-income kids scored best among the ten districts tested. Does this mean that, among low-income kids, Charlotte is teaching math more successfully at this level? Other explanations are possible. But this seems to be Charlotte’s greatest success in the various measures cited by Making Schools Work. Point of caution: Other urban districts finished first in grade 4 reading, in grade 8 reading and in grade 8 math. Despite the alleged brilliance of the Drill-Down, Charlotte’s low-income kids finished fourth (or tied for third/fourth) on all these other measures.