THERE SHE WENT AGAIN: Maureen Dowd was left for dead by a sneering Mary Matalin during that Meet the Press session. Have we actually reached this point—where Dowd will now be presented as the voice of liberals? We actually like some of Dowds work, but she is plainly, completely not up to this task. Liberals ought to scream and complain about this absurd bit of booking.
Before being left for dead on Sunday, Dowd blundered typically in Saturdays column. She engaged in her standard fatuous word-play—and made a typical factual error:
DOWD (2/18/06): It was at the end of his interview with Brit Hume, when Shooter [Dick Cheney] talked about Scooter, that his eagerness to share important facts with the press and public—a well-concealed trait in recent days, years and decades—burst forth. He pronounced himself a Great Declassifier.But Libby has not testified that superiors had authorized him to leak classified information on Valerie Plame. As was made clear in the news reporting on this matter, Libby testified that his superiors authorized him to discuss classified material from the National Intelligence Estimate. This did not involve Plame. Does Dowd ever know what shes talking about? Does she ever bother with elementary background work? A person who is so undisciplined is unlikely to make a strong liberal spokesman—a fact that became amazingly clear when Dowd was devoured on Sunday.
Asked by the Fox News anchor if a vice president had the authority to declassify secrets, Mr. Cheney replied that there's an executive order giving him that power, adding: ''I've certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions.'' This neatly set up a defense for Scooter, who testified that ''superiors'' had authorized him to leak classified information on Valerie Plame.
Of course, it isnt just Dowd who is making this error. Last Monday, Newsweeks pompous parson, managing editor Jon Meacham, made this same misstatement on the Imus program. The week before, Chris Matthews implied that Libby made this statement during a session of Hardball. These people are paid gigantic salaries—and theyre too lazy to get basic facts straight. In Dowds case, the price we pay for this studied indolence became fairly clear Sunday morning.
Epilogue: That pledge to Charles Carroll!
(NOT MUCH) MORE ON DEASY: Last Friday, we discussed the front-page, lead story in the Washington Post—Nick Andersons report on the hiring of John Deasy to head the Prince Georges County (Maryland) schools. (Prince Georges is one of the nations largest majority-black school systems.) And we noted a problem with Andersons profile (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/06). According to Andersons report, Deasy has pledged to close the black-white achievement gap that shadows schools in Prince George's—but Anderson failed to say a single word about the way Deasy plans to do this. Deasy is well versed in urban educational issues, Anderson wrote. But he failed to say what those issues are—and he failed to say what Deasy thinks about them.
We hope Anderson will push, in future reports, to learn about Deasys real ideas, we wrote. Result? On Sunday, Anderson wrote a lengthy, follow-up profile of this important new superintendent. And uh-oh! Despite the benefit of a lengthy interview with Deasy, the Post reporter did it again! He failed to say a single word about Deasys educational ideas. He failed to say a single word about what Deasy wants to do in the classroom.
So it goes as the Washington Post fawns again to Prince Georges leaders (note below). So it goes as the Post lets us know it doesnt give a flying flip about the future of low-income kids.
Go ahead—try to find a single word, in this lengthy profile, about Deasys actual ideas about classroom procedure. Anderson does go on, at length, about Deasys approached to raising revenue. But what are his ideas on education? We simply cant find the first word.
Annoyingly, there are several false starts in this piece. At one point, a school board member gushes about Deasys performance in his current California district, the Santa Monica-Malibu schools:
ANDERSON (2/19/06): School board President Julia Brownley said Deasy was hired in 2001 on a unanimous vote and has kept his board "fundamentally unified" since then.All right! According to Brownley, Deasy is an incredibly knowledgeable and innovative educator. But what exactly were his innovations? And what is he so knowledgeable about? Anderson doesnt tell us. At another point, we read a comment from the head of the teachers union—and we get a glimpse of the issues Deasy considers important:
"He has a spectacular relationship with the board," member Jose Escarce said. "He's remarkably visible in the community, knows everyone, is an incredibly knowledgeable and innovative educator. I don't think there's anything negative to be said.
ANDERSON: Harry M. Keiley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, said in an interview that he had numerous differences with the superintendent.What exactly are the issues that are really important to Deasy? According to this part of Andersons report, he wanted to revise his districts report cards! Well suggest that this will not fulfill the pledge Deasy made to Charles Carroll Middle (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/17/06). Well suggest that pursuit of such important issues will not close the black-white achievement gap that shadows schools in Prince George's.
"He likes to go 75 to 80 miles per hour on issues that are really important to him," Keiley said. "And we've had to slow him down."
At one point, Deasy supported a proposed public charter school. But the union was lukewarm to the idea, and it died at the school board. Deasy and the union also clashed over his plans for revising report cards and teacher evaluations. They compromised after taking more time than Deasy would have liked.
It may be that Deasy does have good ideas—that he comes east prepared to tackle Prince Georges daunting problems. But if Deasy does have good ideas, you wont hear about them in the Post! This is Andersons third report on this major new player. And its clear that Anderson has no interest in what will go on inside Prince Georges classrooms. Anderson shows no sign of caring about Deasys ideas—or about Prince Georges kids.
For the record, this is exactly how the Washington Post greeted Prince Georges previous superintendent—with uninquisitive, boosterist journalism. That superintendent took a fairly predictable fall (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/10/05). But you couldnt predict that fall from reading the Post, because the Post had pandered in its reporting. The paper fawned to the countys political leaders—and it simply played the fool with the lives of the countys schoolchildren.
John Deasy may have superb ideas—but we wont likely learn it from reading the Post. Andersons profile is a lazy puff piece. Wed have been better off without it.
BY CONTRAST: To see some brilliant education reporting, read this detailed work by Duke Helfand, in the January 30 Los Angeles Times. (We hope that Helfand will have to make room on his mantle for a Pulitzer Prize.) Tomorrow, well start a five-part report on this piece—a piece which goes deep inside the Los Angeles schools and reports on whats actually happening.
NO PSEUDO-ANALYSIS LEFT BEHIND: Does Deasy have a strong track record as he comes to the Prince Georges Schools? Last Friday, Anderson made a peculiar claim, as we noted:
ANDERSON (2/17/06): Deasy began his career as a biology and chemistry teacher and became superintendent of a small system in Coventry, R.I., in 1996. He has led Santa Monica-Malibu Unified since August 2001 and says he has raised achievement there significantly for Latino and black students, taking two high-poverty schools off a state watch list.Deasy says he raised achievement there significantly for Latino and black students? Surely there must be data, we said. In Sundays profile, Anderson returns to this theme. Heres his full—his woeful—analysis:
ANDERSON (2/19/06): Over breakfast, Deasy showed detailed student achievement statistics to support his claim that he knows what it takes to raise minority test scores in a system that is 10 times as large as the one he runs.That analysis is pleasing, but woeful. Here are a few reasons why:
Evaluating test scores is difficult because they are heavily influenced by student demographics and academic standards that vary from state to state. But Deasy's system appears to measure up well under California's academic performance index. With a student population that is more than a third Latino and about one-tenth black, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified has posted solid and sustained gains in reading and math.
On a scale of 200 to 1,000, with the statewide target being 800, the system is rated at 806 on California's index. That is nearly 100 points ahead of the state as a whole. From 2002 to 2005, data show, Latino and black students in the system made larger gains than non-Hispanic white students.
Statement: Santa Monica-Malibu appears to measure up well under California's academic performance index. But that is hardly surprising. Anderson seeks to impress us with those data about the districts minority students—but those numbers are low by Golden State standards. Is Santa Monica-Malibu more than a third Latino? In the 2003-04 school year, the corresponding statewide number was 46.7 percent! You wouldnt know this from Andersons presentation, but youd expect Santa Monica-Malibu to exceed state averages based on these demographics. By the way: Wed guess that this district is substantially wealthier, on average, than the typical California district. Those numbers are harder to find, but Anderson doesnt even consider this basic variable.
Statement: Santa Monica-Malibu Unified has posted solid and sustained gains in reading and math. But were given no numbers, and a quick perusal suggests that the systems recent score gains tend to match those of the state as a whole. There is no way to tell if these scores represent real gains in achievement, or if they are merely artefacts of easier statewide tests. Consider fifth-grade reading, for example. In 2002, 58 percent of Santa Monica-Malibu fifth graders scored advanced or proficient on the states reading test. By 2005, that had risen to 68 percent. But this gain roughly matched that of the state as a whole; statewide, the rate went from 31 percent in 2002 to 43 percent last year. In each year, Santa Monica-Malibu outperformed the state, as one would expect. But are those numbers improving because of real gains in achievement? Or are the states tests just getting easier? Without laborious analysis, theres no way to say. Did achievement levels rise under Deasy? Its hard to say. Test scores rose—but they seem to have risen at roughly the rate observed statewide. This hardly establishes Deasys genius. If this is the standard, the typical California superintendent could have been hired for Prince Georges schools. (By the way: In 2001, before Deasy arrived, Santa Monica-Malibu exceeded the state on this measure by a comparably wide margin—54 percent to 28,)
Statement: On a scale of 200 to 1,000, with the statewide target being 800, the system is rated at 806 on California's index. That is nearly 100 points ahead of the state as a whole. Again, this doesnt seem surprising. Deasys district has fewer minorities than the average California district, and its most likely more wealthy. Youd expect this district to score better than the state as a whole.
Statement: From 2002 to 2005, data show, Latino and black students in the system made larger gains than non-Hispanic white students. This is the only claim that is relevant to Deasys pledge—the pledge to close the black-white achievement gap that shadows schools in Prince George's. And this claim is offered as an afterthought. What data show these larger gains? And how much larger were the minority gains? This is the matter which ought to be studied. But in Andersons report, its buried under several layers of irrelevant and misleading claims.
Last fall, we saw these same facile types of analysis throughout a two-hour PBS special, Making Schools Work. Alas! Its fairly easy to make schools (seem to) work—and the nations big new orgs seem to love providing the service.
Did Deasy have real success at this previous post? Does he know how to help minority kids? We dont have the slightest idea. But if the Post really cared about Prince Georges kids, it would make a real attempt to find out—and it would examine Deasys actual ideas about urban educational issues.
A LOW, MORDANT CHUCKLE: Can Deasy raise minority achievement in Prince Georges, as he allegedly did in California? We had to laugh when Anderson continued his analysis:
ANDERSON: On a scale of 200 to 1,000, with the statewide target being 800, the system is rated at 806 on California's index. That is nearly 100 points ahead of the state as a whole. From 2002 to 2005, data show, Latino and black students in the system made larger gains than non-Hispanic white students.Can Deasy boost minority achievement in Prince Georges, the way he did in Santa Monica? Maybe not—hell have to keep track of all those buses! Try to believe that this is how the Post reviews those urban educational issues.
Whether he can replicate that in the 133,000-student Prince George's system is an open question. There are plenty of operational challenges in the county that Deasy does not face [in Santa Monica-Malibu]. For instance, his system does not provide bus service for most students. In Prince George's, more than 90,000 students ride buses every day—a major operation that the schools chief must monitor closely. In Prince George's, the annual schools budget is $1.4 billion. Here, it's about $100 million.