DOES FRED HIATT ACTUALLY CARE? Fred Hiatts column in todays Post raises an obvious question: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MARCH 6, 2006
WELL BE HOWLING WITH JAY, NOT AT HIM: Sorry! On Friday, we noted that the Posts Jay Mathews had responded to our series on Maury Elementary—the public school in Alexandria, Virginia which was praised atop the Posts front page as a study in pride, progress (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/6/06) But on Friday, we failed to include the link which took you to Mathews new report. Jay has spoken to Virginia education officials, and he tries to explain the anomalies we discussed in our original series. If you want to read his new report, you can, at long last, just click here.
But uh-oh! Tomorrow, well start a week-long report on the things Jay says he has learned. In this series, well be trying to howl with Jay, not at him; we share the old school system tie with the scribe, and for us, that tie runs deep. But for those of you who are reading ahead, Jays new report misstates the explanations we were given for Maurys odd test scores—and we note that Jay clearly misstates the Virginia state policies which he directly quotes. Is Maury a study in pride, progress, as the Posts front-page headline said? Or is Maury a school with extremely low scores—scores which actually declined last year? This week, well review this puzzling case once again—and our confusion has only deepened as a result of Jays new report.
Why do we return to this topic? Because this topic matters. In fact, this topic matters quite a lot, for reasons well explain as we go. It matters whether schools like Maury are recording good scores. It matters if Virginias reporting of such scores is fake or in some way inaccurate. It matters if No Child Left Behind is producing results (or not)—and it matters how the major papers like Post reports such important issues. The discussions well post this week are important. These are the kinds of discussions which would occur, on a daily basis, in a world which actually cared about its low-income kids.
Whats the truth about Maurys scores? Well begin to puzzle that out tomorrow. But one thing has apparently changed as a result of our original series; the state of Virginia has now taken down those absurdly flawed school report cards which we criticized. No, we never got the time to go back and review their astonishing flaws point by point. And well never be able to do so now; just click here to see their absence. Temporarily unavailable—thank you for your patience, a posting at Virginias official web site now reads. Do you want to look up Maurys scores? At present, Maurys scores arent available. And neither are anyone elses.
Maury is a very small school; few children are directly involved in this story. But this incident lets us explore a range of important topics. What is really going on in low-income schools? How are states running their test-and-report programs? And how does the progress of schools like Maury get reported in major newspapers? This story takes us many places we need to go—if we care about low-income kids, as some readers have sworn that they do. Mathews new report raises many major issues. Were sure that these readers commitment to low-income children will keep them returning for more.
DOES FRED HIATT ACTUALLY CARE: Good Lord! In this mornings Post, Fred Hiatt discusses a interview with DC superintendent Clifford Janey, who has just released his new master plan for the Districts public schools (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/06). Early on, Hiatt discusses the administrative chaos Janey found when he came to DC. When he arrived 18 months ago, he found 10,000 problem checks—paychecks or legal judgments the system had neglected to pay, step increases that hadn't been calculated—each of which took hours to resolve, Hiatt writes. Then, Hiatt records Janeys reaction—and quotes a remarkable statement:
HIATT (3/6/06): It was all "much more of a mess" than he had expected, "beyond some of the broken indicators," Janey says, though presumably he knew how many superintendents had rotated through in the years preceding his arrival. The biggest surprise? "The way lying has reached an art form. They lie effortlessly. They just look you in the face and lie. I've come to accept that as standard.Say what? Lying has reached an art form, Janey says. They just look you in the face and lie. From context, it seems that Janey may be discussing his own school systems lower administrators! But Hiatt, typing directly from Neptune, seems too distracted to care. He quotes Janey making a startling statement—and never says who Janey means. Who has been lying in Janeys face—lying so often he accepts it as standard? Theres no way to tell from Hiatts report. It makes us wonder whether Hiatt even cares.
Does Fred Hiatt care about DCs schools? In recent decades, big newspapers like the Post have sometimes made it seem that they dont. And thats the vibe we get today from Hiatts attempt to review Janeys plan. As we noted last week, Janeys new plan is most remarkable for what it doesnt include; if one can trust the Posts reporting, this master plan doesnt say a word about what will change in the Districts elementary schools. How will first-graders be taught to read? Janeys plan has nothing to say about that. As we noted, his plan will create new elite high schools. But it doesnt seem to say a word about how hell create elite students.
But so what? Hiatt is there, as big scribes often are, to pander to Janey, then book. Heres his take on the Janey plan—the plan which doesnt say a word about how to teach reading to DCs struggling children:
HIATT: The master plan released last week, intended to guide school reform in coming years...is so comprehensive that it raises a question of which changes are Janey's priority—or whether any are. Janey responds that school reforms have foundered when they single out one aspect of the schools and expect the rest to fall into place—as in, if only we could fix the middle schools, or offer universal pre-K, or institute annual testing or ramp up after-school programs or ban social promotions.To Hiatt, Janeys plan is so comprehensive that it suggests that the super is doing too much! Later, Hiatt calls it an ambitious reform plan—and he closes with a stirring quotation. It'll take more than a couple of years, Janey tells Hiatt. I'm not a four-year person. I think that our kids really deserve a once-and-for-all approach. According to Janey, this is all that she wrote. There wont be any stronger plans coming.
Good God! Well grant you this; most likely, Hiatt knows little about public education, and he probably doesnt spend much time inside DCs low-income schools. But Hiatt does know how to read—and a simple perusal of the Posts report last week would show that Janey made no proposals for improving teaching in grade schools. But uh-oh! Hiatt has found a key hidden point. We mordantly chuckled as we read it:
HIATT: What might be among [Janeys] most far-reaching reform proposals is barely hinted at, in two paragraphs on the 91st page of a 122-page report. There Janey holds out the possibility of giving more "flexibility and autonomy" to high-performing or improving schools. Other systems (most famously Edmonton's, in Canada) have found that this can work: Make the principal responsible for progress, then free the principal from the downtown bureaucracy. If the school can fix its own broken windows faster and more cheaply, let it. If it wants to hire an extra music teacher in place of a guidance counselor, go for it.Thats what we most often find; we often find that administrators bury their most far-reaching proposals in two paragraphs on the 91st page of a 122-page report. By the way: If you think that Hiatt knows anything at all about the operation of the Edmonton schools, well sell you a bridge from there to the new Plato Middle in St. Johns, Newfoundland. According to Hiatt, what is going to reform DCs schools? Principals will be empowered to hire an extra music teacher in place of a guidance counselor. Were fairly sure that this wont suffice—and were hardly surprised that such sweeping proposals were found in those two buried paragraphs.
What would we have wanted to know about the way Janey will run DCs schools? We would have asked questions like these: What happens to low-income DC kids on Day One of kindergarten? If they come to school lacking readiness skills, is that lack of skills assessed and addressed? Or are they pushed ahead through standard development arcs—through standard programs devised with reference to the skills that are typical in middle-class children? (The Center for American Progress: Young low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, such as recognizing letters and counting.) What happens to kids on Day One of first grade? If they arent ready for standard reading instruction, do they get it pushed at them anyway? (As Gabriela got pushed into Algebra 1 before she was actually ready.) And what happens to kids in the fourth and fifth grades, kids who may be years below grade level? (The Center for American Progress: By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind non-poor students.) Are they given a range of textbooks and supplementary materials they can actually read and learn from? Or are they handed books they cant read? Or perhaps, handed no books at all?
No, it isnt fair to expect such questions from Hiatt. Presumably, he hasnt spent much time in low-income schools and doesnt know much about what goes on there. But presumably, he is a trained journalist—and anyone who read last weeks report could see that Janeys master plan isnt especially comprehensive at all. According to the Posts reporting, the master plan doesnt contain a word about the teaching of reading in elementary schools—but Hiatt rushed-to-gush all the same. Heckuva job, Janey! he seemed to enthuse, as big scribes have tended to do for decades. And as we read this, we couldnt help asking: Does Fred Hiatt actually care about DCs low-income schools?
LIBERAL BLOGGERS WILL POUNCE ON THIS ONE: At any rate, settle back and enjoy the fun! In recent years, Hiatt has become a favorite target of the nations liberal bloggers. You can bet that they will run-not-walk to lambaste this latest weak effort!
SMILE-A-WHILE! JANE RUNS THE RUBES: Do you enjoy being treated like fools? Jane Hamsher—the liberal who gave us Natural Born Killers—has just completed her latest contest, this one concerning Joe Kleins vilest statements. Which of Joes outrageous statements prove that hes a Republican tool? Hamsher worked it down to four. This was one of Kleins troubling statements—part of his quintessential quartet:
I've never seen George Bush lose a debate. He is a brilliant minimalist.Surely, Kleins a Total Tool. And that was a statement which proved it!
Here at THE HOWLER, weve been batting Klein around since the days when bashing Joe Klein wasnt cool. But we couldnt help chuckling as the great Hamsher played her readers like complete clucking idiots. Kleins statement comes from a column in Time; it appeared just before Bush and Kerrys first debate. And uh-oh! Here we see the larger context from which that troubling statement was drawn:
KLEIN (9/27/04): As he rolled across Minnesota last Thursday, Bush told his crowds pretty much the same things he's been saying for months. Saddam was a threat. The world is a safer place now that he's in jail. We must attack the terrorists before they attack us. Freedom has the "transformational power" to make the world a better place. We're not conquerors; we're agents of freedom. As for the current situation, "There's a lot of violence in Iraq, I understand that," he said in Rochester, "but Iraq now has a strong Prime Minister, National Council, and elections are scheduled in January."How big a Republican hack is Klein? If this is one of the top four examples, the answer is—not big at all! In this column, Klein took Kerrys side on the merits, only questioning his ability to counter Bushs disingenuous spinning and hold him accountable for the mess in Iraq. How big a shill was Klein this day? In this column, he called Bushs standard pitch on Iraq a clever distortion of reality. It was a fantasy, constructed of vaporous platitudes, the outrageous Republican shill vilely said. But so what? To people like Hamsher (and her fellow rube-runners), that single cadged statement would be good enough—good enough for rubes like you, that is. Hamsher got the cattle running—then fed them her usual slimy remarks about the physical appearances of women she opposes. (For comparison to Dennis Hastert, click here. Click here for more ruminations on ugly.)
What does Hamsher think of you, that she thinks you seek such slimings? Meanwhile, here at THE HOWLER, we chuckled lowly at that troubling quote. Knowing that some might be missing the joke, we decided to give you the set-up. And yes, this sort of thing goes on all the time with Hamsher. All too often, we enjoy these low laughs.
SAY IT AINT SO: We decided to skip our promised Saturday post, worn out by some readers fragile reactions. But yes—the difference between topped and breached is plainly substantive and major. And yes—the hapless AP made its latest big blunder in its report about those Katrina tapes, in which it dumbly conflated the terms. And yes—its embarrassing when scribes like the Posts Gene Robinson try to finesse this obvious error. (With the emphasis on finesse—note his slick and slippery phrasings.) And yes—one averts ones gaze when Media Matters pimps the wholly irrelevant fact that topping was the cause of some breaching. But omigod! Now theyve even got Krugman! We can no longer link you to Krugmans great columns (his column today is very important). But last Friday, even Krugman fell—drawn to a contradiction that wasnt real, but felt good all the same. Many people have now seen the video of the briefing Mr. Bush received before Hurricane Katrina struck, Krugman wrote. Much has been made of the revelation that Mr. Bush was dishonest when he claimed, a few days later, that nobody anticipated the breach of the levees. But nothing in that videotape contradicts the statement Krugman cites.
Do we liberals and Dems plan to play the fool too, as pseudo-cons have done for so long? Do we aspire to the soul of Sean Hannity? For many, the obvious answer is yes. But Professor! Professor Krugman! Not you!