(Not that far) down Maine: Christmas falls on the 25th. Well be spending the day with our sister et al. This calls to mind cummings musings (click here). Small trees should not be afraid:
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
In fact, it probably wont be like that. On the other hand, the Celtics are on.
We may post on New Years Eve. The best to you and yours.
Special report: Mr. Potters minions!
PART 5KRUGMAN AND MINION (permalink): Its instructive to see the types of reform pursued by todays education reformers. The editorial board at the Washington Post provided a recent example.
In fairness, these editors salaries are paid by proceeds from Kaplan Inc., an educational testing concern. With that in mind, we might forgive them if their preferences regarding reform run in a narrow direction. But last Saturday, the editors penned an editorial, The Worst Schools, discussing the recent meltdown at Washingtons Dunbar High. Soon, they were discussing various ways to intervene at the nations worst-performing schools:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (1/18/10): The meltdown at Dunbar comes amid new attention devoted to turnaround efforts at the nation's worst-performing schools. A report released this week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looked at more than 2,000 of the worst-performing district and charter schools in 10 states from 2003 through 2009 and found only about 1 percent making significant improvements. One reason for those disappointing results was the tendency of schools to make timid adjustments rather than take bold steps. That's why the Obama administration gets credit for sticking its neck out to support places willing to make drastic changes such as replacing teaching staff and shutting down schools and reopening them as charters.
The editors favor drastic changes and bold steps as opposed to those timid adjustments. More suggestions followed:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (continuing directly): Education Secretary Arne Duncan is devoting an unprecedented $3.5 billion to a campaign to fix the country's lowest-performing schools. The department is encouraged by reports showing a willingness to make hard decisions. The Post's Nick Anderson, for example, recently reported on 150 schools where principals and at least half of the staff were replaced. Equally encouraging is that some of these efforts were undertaken without opposition from the teachers unions.
When it comes to bold steps and hard decisions, the editors ideas run the gamut! Their suggestions range all the way from firing half the staff at these schools to shutting these schools altogether.
Who will teach these struggling students then? The editors didnt say.
If this werent such a serious matter, an observer would just have to laugh. Forty-five years after low-income schools came center stage in our public debate, this is the best our reformers can do; the only approach they can even imagine involves canning boatloads of teachers! It may well be that certain teachers should be fired at certain schools, of course; it may well be that those teachers unions may have been less than wise on occasion. But a stunning poverty is on display in this editoriala poverty of imagination. Much like the gods of reform whom they endlessly pimp, the editors dont have a word to say about instruction or curriculumabout the ways low-income kids fall further behind from their first days in school, about the ways such kids fall behind their middle-class peers before entering school at all.
But then, its just as well that these know-nothing droogs chose to say nothing about instruction. If they had, they would have said this: Plainly, we need higher standards!
Again and again, it seems true: People who pimp education reform seem to know nothing about education! One such person was Chris Matthews, bellowing, wailing and playing the fool as he spoke with Michelle Rhee last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/10). Matthews misstated various facts about international testsand treated Rhee like a god of reform. Needless to say, he trashed Americas public school teachers, along with their infernal unions.
Before he was done, Matthews even managed to ask the dumbest question ever asked on cable TV. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/23/10. Prepare to avert your gaze.
That said, Matthews did ask one important question: Why dont American students do better on international tests? Although Matthews overstated the problem, American students dont score at the top of the world on such measures. Matthews referred to the newly-released scores from last years Program for International Student Assessment (the PISA), a program which tests 15-year-old students. Last years testing focused on reading literacy. Just to establish the lay of the land, these are the average scores attained by the 34 member nations of the sponsoring agency, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD):
Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009:
New Zealand 521
United States 500
United Kingdom 494
OECD average 493
Czech Republic 478
Slovak Republic 477
As you can see, the U.S. finished tied for 12th, with Iceland and Poland, among the 34 member nations. The U.S. outperformed such well-known nations as Germany, France, the U.K.
The U.S. finished lower in the other two subjects tested as part of the PISA. American students finished seventeenth out of 34 in science literacy, 25th out of 34 in mathematics literacy. Well focus on reading because it was last years featured subject. As such, its the only subject for which the Department of Education provided a demographic breakdown in its public report (click here).
A quick note: For ourselves, we think its somewhat surprising that the U.S. scores this high in reading. Within the American student population, we have a rapidly growing number of deserving, delightful immigrant children. Many of these deserving kids come from low-literacy, low-income backgrounds; they may not even speak English, presenting an educational challenge for their American schools. Beyond that, we have a uniquely American situation based on our brutal racial history. Uh-oh! Among those 34 OECD nations, only the United States spent centuries aggressively trying to stamp out literacy among a major part of its population. The legacy of that benighted history lives with us today, although our reformers work very hard to avoid such painful discussions.
Weve sometimes referred to the Three Americas in this context. (John Edwards miscounted when he said two. For an earlier discussion of this matter, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/4/10.) But only a nation in rapt denial would choose to avoid such discussions when answering Matthews questionthe question which had him directing Big Major Fury at teachers. Why dont American kids score at the top on international tests? Our brutal history is part of the answer, as is the immigration policy we maintain so people like Matthews can pay low wages to the people who care for their homes.
Why dont Americans students score at the top? Here are the scores from that same reading test, broken down into demographics. Warning: When these test scores are rendered this way, were forced to look at the painful backwash of our brutal history:
Average score, reading literacy, PISA, 2009:
[United States, Asian students 541]
[United States, white students 525]
New Zealand 521
United States (overall) 500
United Kingdom 494
OECD average 493
Czech Republic 478
Slovak Republic 477
[United States, Hispanic students 466]
[United States, black students 441]
Good God! Those test scores, broken down that way, depict a vast American tragedy. They also reflect some effects of recent immigration policy, however one may judge that policy overall.
Lets summarize: If Asian-Americans students were viewed as a separate nation, they would outscore every OECD nation. (Somehow, those infernal unions havent screwed them upyet!) White students trail only two nationsKorea and Finland, whose educational output suddenly doesnt seem quite so miraculous. For the record, Korea and Finland didnt spend centuries aggressively trying to stamp out literacy within one part of their populations. Neither nation has a significant immigrant populationa population of delightful, deserving kids who dont even speak the language.
Those test scores represent a national tragedy. But so does the inane conversation between Matthews and Rhee last Wednesday. When you see those test scores rendered that way, it may perhaps get harder to think that Americas international standing is caused by a bunch of sleeping teachers, with their infernal unions. It becomes easier to see where the educational disaster is actually occurringeven after several decades during which test scores by black and Hispanic kids have risen, to a substantial degree.
Here at THE HOWLER, when we look at those painful scores, we think of all the beautiful kids who will show up for kindergarten next year, already behind their peers. And we think of the worthless talk which tends to fall from a famous ex-chancellors lips. This was the star reformers reply to historys dumbest question:
MATTHEWS: So my daughter went to a very good Catholic school in Washington, Georgetown Visitation. She goes to the University of Pennsylvania and realized shes ahead of the kids there, at a great Ivy League school. So how come the Catholic schools can do better than the public schools?
RHEE: Well, I mean, I wouldnt just say its the Catholic schools. We have lots of public schools that do a great job too. We have lots of public charter schools that do a great job. So I dont think its about the sector that the school is in. I think that its the ability to have a great principal, to have that principal have a great staff of teachers.
And if you talk to some the best schools, whether theyre private schools or charter schools or private schools, what theyll tell you is that it is all about teacher quality.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Is [sic] the teachers unions of America, are they for education or for the teachers?
RHEE: Well, look, you know, people want to give teachers unions a hard time right now and the people are saying, Well, why arent the unions coming along? Why dontwhy dont we get them to change? Why cant they embrace reform?
But the bottom line is, the purpose of the teachers union is to protect their members. Its to maximize the pay and the privileges of the teachers. So the teachers unions arent really the problem. Theyre just doing their job and theyre doing an excellent job of that.
Rhee issued a sneering assessment of teachers unions, whose purpose is to maximize the pay and the privileges of the teachers. Beyond that, lets be frank: This god of reform had nothing to say! Asked to explain our failing schools, she said we need better teachers!
A fifth-grade child could toss off such papif she were given fifteen seconds to dream up some sort of reply.
Why dont American students score better? In large part, the answer is drawn from our brutal history, a history reformers dont like to discuss. Beyond that, a brutal poverty stalks the landa poverty of imagination and insight among our reformers and journalists. Few of them show the slightest sign of having set foot in a low-income school. (Rhee herself spent three years in such schools, then fled for Harvard and Gotham.) Few of them seem to have any ideas how to serve low-income kids from the first day they show up at kindergarten. Few of them discuss the need to intervene within low-income homes, long before these deserving children ever set foot in a school.
Their solutions run the gamutall the way from firing half the teachers to shutting these ratty schools down!
This morning, Paul Krugman discusses the way our corporate elites spread their various humbugs around. How do their humbugs spread through the land? Krugman describes the process:
KRUGMAN (12/24/10): The answer is that theres a well-developed right-wing media infrastructure in place to catapult the propaganda to rapidly disseminate bogus analysis to a wide audience where it becomes part of what everyone knows. (Theres nothing comparable on the left, which has fallen far behind in the humbug race.)
In our view, the left is rapidly catching up, but thats another sad Christmas story. But at present, everyone knows a set of things a loud, ugly minion was pimping last weeka set of things about American schools. Heres what everyone doesnt know:
With all due respect, Michelle Rhee seems to be one the most clueless people on earth. She seems to have few ideas about low-income schoolsmuch like the assortment of hustlers and fools who have taken to blaming those infernal unions for the brutal history they themselves are too lazy and dumb to address.
With that question about his daughters prep school, one minion reached a new level last week. But just look at that Washington Post editorial, then examine Rhees vapid answer.
Uh-oh! Todays reformers have no real ideasalthough they have a large group of minions willing to pimp their humbugs, along with their vast greatness.
Final note: The left will not discuss these topics. We quit on black kids long ago. Ceding the field to Matthews and Rhee, our grimy, disgraceful intellectual leaders refuse to discuss black children today.
Why are American test scores that low? Whens the last time a liberal asked?