AGREEING WITH DIGBY! A conservative writer at Sullys site agreed with Digbys perspective: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2011
Our elites cant reason well either: The truth hurtsbut its also true: At present, our journalistic elites arent smart enough to let us succeed in the world.
This gloomy thought was occasioned by this front-page report in Tuesdays New York Times. Sharon Ottermans murky report concerns graduation rates in New York States public schoolsand a new push on the part of state officials to improve student performance.
From Ottermans opening paragraphs, we can glean the few bits of semi-clear information she and her editors managed to provide:
Huh! Less than half the students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers. (Later, Otterman seems to place the number at 41 percentalthough she introduces confusion through a change in her earlier wording.) In New York City, only 23 percent of students meet this testnot counting special-education students.
(Later, Otterman explains how this statistic was gleaned; 23 percent of the citys students achieved a 75 on the English Regents [exam] and a 80 on the math Regents [exam]. According to the Board of Regents, these scores roughly predicted that students would get at least a C in a college-level course.)
In fairness to Otterman and her editors, they were merely reporting about a reporta new report by the state Board of Regents. But the Times ran this piece on its front page, giving it more than 1300 words. We were struck by how murky, confused, unenlightening it wasby how badly it bungled its topic.
What was wrong with Ottermans report? Lets start with a secondary bungle. Yesterday, Kevin Drum noticed the obvious problem lurking in this brief passage:
Good God, thats awful! Whatever you think of charter schools, Otterman has likely constructed an apples-to-oranges problem. To read Kevins post, just click here.
The other problems with Ottermans report were more global. As everyone knows, graduation and drop-out rates are famously hard to compile and define. What does Otterman mean when she says that New York Citys current graduation rate is 64 percentthat the corresponding rate for the state is 77 percent? (Statewide, 77 percent of students graduate from high school.) To tell you the truth, we dont know. Does this mean that 77 percent of high school seniors in 2009 ended up getting a diplomain part by passing the state Regents exams with the required scores Otterman described? Does it mean that 77 percent of freshmen from 2005 ended up getting diplomas four years later? Presumably, this would make a large difference, since many freshmen will have dropped out before they reach that senior year. But Otterman cruises through 1300 words without explaining the basic statistic which drives her report. And she skips right over that early qualification, in which she says that these data dont include special-education students.
How many students are thus excluded from these overall numbers? Are numbers the same all over the state? It didnt occur to our greatest newspaper that they perhaps might ought to say.
Ottermans report is larded with datadata which are hard to interpret or define. Even worse was her what, me analyze? approach to the Boards overall report.
We have no idea why Otterman seems surprised to learn that many kids graduate from high school without being ready to do well in college. When did any school district ever claim that a high school diploma meant that its holder had been thus prepared? Putting that basic point to the side, the Board of Regents is apparently engaged in a push to realign state standards with college performancea push to raise the percentage of high school graduates who are ready for college work. Incredibly, these are the ways the Board is apparently planning to do this:
The bulk of that is laughable nonsense; some of it seems to fly in the face of the basic goal which is being reported. One idea is to simply report a college-ready graduation rate as an aspirational standard and leave it at that? What kind of reporter is willing to describe that offering from this menu of options as an idea?
Who knows? Perhaps some students will study harder if theyre required to get a 75 on the Regents math exam (instead of the current 65). It truly might help if students were required to take four years of math, instead of the current unstated number. But if we think were discussing a serious problem, these ideas seem tinylaughable even. And good God! Otterman didnt bat an eye when the time came to tell us this:
Plainly, the lunacy will never end! It isnt enough that principals are held accountable for the scores their students attain while actually in the principals schools. Now, principals will be held accountable for what their former students achieve in the years to come! (Might principals have their salaries dunned if former students get parking tickets?) Otterman then quotes New York Citys chief academic officer, who seems to have no academic ideas. That said, she records few ideas from the Regents, or from anyone else, about how instruction might actually be improved. But she describes this absurd extension of the current pressure the teachers and principals approach without even batting an eye.
Ottermans front-page report is full of statistics, few of which she explains. She goes apples-to-oranges about charter schools; she fails to tell us what various rates would be if special ed kids were included. But more than anything else, this report stands out for the way the New York Times accept the vast cluelessness of the era.
How might this states schools improve instruction? No one seems to have any ideas. The Times doesnt seem to notice.
PART 2AGREEING WITH DIGBY (permalink): We were pleased and surprised a few weeks ago when Digby took a slightly novel approach to this countrys pathetic political wars (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/8/11). For once in her life, she drew a distinction between two distinct groupsbetween average supporters of the Tea Party and the hustlers who fleece and mislead them:
We liberals get conned a fair amount too, but lets put that to the side.
We assume Digbys highlighted statement is accurate. We assume that many supporters of the Tea Party are sincere in their outlooks and their beliefs; we assume that many of these people have gotten fleeced and conned by a wide assortment of pseudo-conservative types. Many liberals find it hard to swallow such an outrageous notion, preferring to hold to the tribal view in which our tribe includes all The Very Good People and their tribe is composed of The Vile and The Bad. In such childish ways, we blind ourselves to the way the world worksand we make it extremely hard to spread progressive ideas.
Are sincere people getting fleeced and conned by pseudo-conservative leadership types? Thats true of people in the Tea Partyand of many others besides. Tomorrow, we will take a look at this report at TPM, a report which discusses the general publics political knowledgeconservatives, moderates, liberals alike. (Well also review this front-page link to that report by a liberal intellectual leader.) But for today, we thought we might note an interesting fact: Several people have echoed the moral view expressed in Digbys surprising post. They have expressed disgust with the way average people get conned by pseudo-conservative hustlers.
Yesterday, we reviewed a post by conservative writer Richmond Ramsey, complaining about the way his parents have had their brains eaten by Glenn Beck. Today, lets consider a similar post by another conservative writer, Conor Friedersdorf.
Friedersdorfs post appeared at Andrew Sullivans Atlantic site. Before posting a chunk of what Friedersdorf said, lets review a synopsis of his remarksa synopsis offered by a writer at a liberal site. Over at the American Prospect, Mort Dinauer noticed what Friedersdorf wroteand Dinauer said he agreed with Friedersdorfs moral judgment:
Like Digby, Dinauer described the way hustlers like Limbaugh treat their listeners. They believe him, Dinauer saidand he treats them like fools.
This is a massive political problema problem weve been noting for years. But the liberal world has been ineffective in addressing this massive problemin large part, because pseudo-liberals find it hard to see the injustice in this conduct. We simply love to hate The Other; Digby teaches this moral lesson in almost every post. It was a rare day when Digby expressed some sympathy for the average people who get deceived by people like Limbaugh. We thought Friederdorf described this moral problem more pointedly in his fuller post. He posted tape of a ludicrous rant by Beck, then offered this moral assessment:
Like Digby, Friedersdorf identifies Beckand Ailes, and various othersas a gang of manipulative hucksters. Like Digby, he expresses moral outrage at the way they mislead and deceive average people. Well offer one criticism: Friedsersdorf focuses on older viewers, but younger people get fooled too. Indeed, tens of millions of Americans, of all ages and stripes, have been routinely deceived in the past, by a wide range of hucksters.
Digby will often take it upon herself to tell us which of these folk are sincere. In this way, the pseudo-liberal world has practiced to deceive itselfhas practiced to flounder and fail.
We agree with what Digby said in that post; we agree with the moral perspective she stated. A few days later, Friedersdorf expressed a similar view, from the other side of the aisleand Dinauer also signed on, complaining about the way average people get conned and misled by people like Beck. From a more accustomed perch, Digby said it's tempting to say they deserve it. But for once, she managed to say that it still isn't right.
Thats an important moral perspective. Tomorrow, more on this massive problemthis massive moral problem.