IN SEARCH OF THOSE FAMOUS THREE Rs! The Post reviewed DCs charter schoolsand committed a statistical blunder: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2008
Stanley misses the sex: Darlings, Alessandra has been at it again, purring her views from inside the palace. I miss the sex, she purred at the start. No one could sensibly doubt that:
We werent familiar with the word doxies either. (Just click here. We assume she isnt referring to dachshunds.) But then, we dont missor obsess onthe sex, as Villagers frequently do.
Darlings, these matters remain a big joke in these realms. But then, you may have understood that. Just keep reading:
Burnett achieves Job One: In the Village, they simply love typing their favorite novelsand the old-fashioned Major Dem scandal tale is a time-honored winner. On yesterdays Meet the Press, NPRs Michele Norris teamed with NBCs Erin Burnett to show us how a favored old tale can be easily conjured.
And sure enough! In the process, they accomplished Job One! They got us back to the sex!
At issue was a new classic question: Will the Blagojevich matter somehow involve or harm or discredit Obama? When David Gregory threw out the question, Norris reacted quickly. And as she did, she displayed a Key Novelist Skill: She repeated something Obama has said, then imagined what it may have been better for him to have said. The difficult situation has been created by the Obama team in part, she of course said:
It may have been better to have said something else, Norris mused, to Gregorys satisfaction. And this is where the mind-reading started. Yes, Norris knew what Obama had actually said. But so what? Through her cohorts unexplained powers, she somehow knew what the public had heard:
The novelist is a clairvoyant. In reality, Obama had said there was no inappropriate contact between his team and the Blagojevich office. But being clairvoyant, Norris knew what people had actually heard: Obama had said there was no inappropriate contact, but people had heard something different! Norris, like the rest of her mind-reading cohort, seemed unembarrassed as she announced this key fact.
And then, the discussion hit rock bottom. After a bit more mind-reading by Norrisafter a display of lurid imagination by Gregorya second fiddle jumped in the stew, haplessly saying this:
Sorry, but no: You cant get dumber. Norris novelization was sad. But this was sheer inanity.
In this utterly hopeless passage, Burnett seems to say, several times, that she doesnt know what the word inappropriate means! And apparently, she had been missing the sex, just like her sad neighbor, Stanley. Its embarrassing to see this national figure making such an inane presentationbut it did allow her to do the thing her Village cohort loves best. It let her recite the string of words these life-forms prefer to all other words: I did not have sex [sic] with that woman! By the magic of novelization, Obamas uncontradicted statementhis staff did nothing inappropriate, he saidhad returned us to that woman, Miss Lewinsky, the one woman these life-forms ever loved.
(No, thats not what Bill Clinton actually said, almost eleven years ago. But people! The pundits were typing a favorite talea novel telling the one sad story these sad, empty ciphers can love.)
The panel may have been missing the sex. A skilled scribe provided great pleasure.
IN SEARCH OF THOSE FAMOUS THREE Rs: Our world would be a better place with a more competent public education discussion. Often, editors grouse about schoolchildrens low reading scoreswhile failing to show much competence with those famous Three Rs themselves.
Consider one part of this Washington Post editorial about DCs charter schools. The editorial appeared in Saturdays paper; the editors were reacting to a two-part news report which had appeared on the Posts front pages (links below). As they started, the editors made a truly significant judgmenta judgment which strikes us as badly flawed, a point well review tomorrow.
But on the simplest level, how well do our journalists read, write and cipher when they discuss the public schools? At one point, the editors said this:
Good grief. According to The Post's analysis, students in middle-school charters scored 19 points higher than their peers in regular schools on national reading tests and 20 points higher in math? Yes, this is a relatively minor part of a longer editorial. But this presentation by the Post is barely coherent. Readers should avert their gaze, out of embarrassment for the Posts eds.
For starters, the editors are simply wrong on a basic factual point. According to the Post analysis in question, it was actually low-income students in DC charters who outscored than their low-income peers in traditional schools by the specified amounts. By leaving that qualifier to the side, the editors missed the entire focus of their papers news report. That report focused on DCs low-income students, not on DC students generally. This point was made again and again in the news reportbut somehow, the editors missed it. When it comes to this basic point, the editors dont seam to have red their own newz report reel wel.
But a second part of that highlighted statement had our analysts shaking their heads. According to The Post's analysis, [low-income] students in middle-school charters scored 19 points higher than their peers in regular schools? That statement doesnt say much of anything at allunless you say what test is involved, and unless you explain how big a gap in reading achievement that 19 points may represent. Duh! On some reading tests, a 19-point score differential will suggest a large gap in reading achievement; on other tests, a 19-point gap might be quite minor. It all depends on the scale of the test; until the test has been named and described in some way, the editors numbers mean nothing at all. A 19-point score gap may be fairly minoron a combined SAT score, for example. On some other test, a 19point gap may be quite significant.
So the editors attempt at quantification told us nothing at all. But sure enough, thats exactly the way this information was presented in the Posts original news report, which was quite lengthy (more than 3000 words). Dan Keating and Theola Labbe-DeBose had penned the front-page report. And uh-oh! This was paragraph 9 of their 75-paragraph effort:
If you study one of the accompanying graphics, you might be able to deduce that the test in question is the (highly-regarded) National Assessment of Educational Progressthe so-called nations report card. (You might also see that were talking about 2007, the most recent year for which NAEP results are available.) But good grief! Keating and Labbe-DeBose were no more helpful than the editors when it comes to explaining those score differentials. Do the score differences suggest big gaps in reading and math achievementor are those 19- and 20-point gaps relatively insignificant? It all depends on the scale of the testand in the actual text of their lengthy report, Keating and Labbe-DeBose didnt even name the national test, let alone offer any hint about what those score gaps might suggest.
This is a striking bit of statistical illiteracya blunder so striking that well assume it was made by unnamed editors, not by Keating and Labbe-DeBose themselves. But five days later, the editorial board discussed this news reportand the editors committed the same basic blunder. The board put those numbers into its piecebut by themselves, without explanation. those numbers tell us nothing at all. Its like saying a child weighs 122" without saying if thats kilograms, or maybe pounds, or maybe about some other unit of weight altogether.
Charter school kids scored 19 points higher? All by its lonesome, that number tells us nothing at all! But so it goes when our biggest news orgs discuss low-income education.
Whats the truth about those score gaps? If our understanding of the NAEP scale is correct, those gaps, if accurate, would be quite substantial. Indeed, such score differentials would suggest that low-income kids in DC charters were doing much better in reading and math than their peers in regular schools. Indeed, those score differentials would be so great that theyd deserve a headline all their own. Lets state the obvious: The Post should have explained what those score gaps suggest. And if they suggest what we think they suggest, a great deal more should have ensued.
The Post should have explained what those score gaps suggest. But that sort of thing would occur in a different world, a world whose discussion of public ed is vastly different from our own. The editors looked like a bunch of chumps when they failed to explain what those score gaps suggest. But so it often goes in our world: News orgs lament the way schoolkids read, write and cipher, while failing to show elementary skill in their own use of those Three Rs.
Tomorrow: The editors seek to explain why charter schools are doing better.