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Daily Howler: Broder typed a standard script--a script which is highly high-minded
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TYPE THE RIGHT THING! Broder typed a standard script–a script which is highly high-minded: // link // print // previous // next //

More from the brain invaders: On Saturday, we asked if you are really sure that they aren’t a gang of space invaders (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/09). But their nonsense continued over the weekend. We wondered again and again:

For the “Outlook” section’s page-one piece on the marvels of Barbie, click here. (Synopsis: “I took off all her clothes and sent her looking for love. My Barbie got AROUND.”)

To see what’s on a Slate editor’s mind, just click this. (Warning: This editor loses her buzz in fancy hotels—when she’s asked if she’ll volunteer to use towels more than once.)

For the New York Times’ requisite piece about Barbie, just click here. (“Why did my Barbies end up dismembered, naked, pierced and slashed in the toy-dregs mausoleum of dusty closet crates?”)

(Note: This is Barbie’s fiftieth anniversary. The press corps uses every such milestone as an excuse for such blather. In 2004, it was Ken’s demise. Two years later, it was Ken’s resurrection.)

To see Maureen Dowd devote her whole column to Michelle Obama’s arms, just click this. (“In the taxi, when I asked David Brooks about her amazing arms, he indicated it was time for her to cover up.”)

(As we’ve often noted, it’s endlessly clear that Dowd is out of her mind. But are you sure the “press corps” is human? It’s clear that they never will notice.)

Those four pieces all came from the press corps’ ladies, as your world was melting down. Sheer nonsense spilled from the gentlemen too, a point we’ll explore as the week progresses. About that New York Times op-ed page: Today, it includes a giant presentation on Barbie, complete with a very large visual. (The piece consumes roughly half the page.) Two weeks ago, on the morning of Obama’s address to Congress, it filled a very large hole with a searching piece about the way Obama says “I” when he ought to say “me.” This piece carried a large illustration too. It took two people to write it.

Also from the land of the invaders, these comments about earmarks from yesterday’s shows. The first excerpt comes from Meet the Press, the second from Fox News Sunday:

DAVID GREGORY (3/8/09): I want to get to an important debate this week, and that's about this spending bill, this omnibus spending bill that's full of pork, full of pet projects. Senator McCain, on the floor of the Senate this week had some choice words:

MCCAIN: (videotape.) It is the president of the United States' business to do what he said, and his pledge last September, President Obama said, during the debate in Oxford, Mississippi, “We need earmark reform, and when I am president, I will go line by line to make sure we're not spending money unwisely.” So what is brought to the floor today? Nine thousand earmarks! So much for the promise of change.

GREGORY: Now, as Senator McCain pointed out, this is a bipartisan disease—forty percent of the earmarks are from Republicans, that $7 billion. Should the president veto this bill?

CHRIS WALLACE (3/8/09): Is there a practical case to be made that with all the things that President Obama wants to get through Congress, he shouldn't get into a fight over this?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, he—if, if he wants to set a standard and wants to set a path, then absolutely he should be in this. He absolutely should be in it, because we're talking about $480 billion [sic] of taxpayers' money loaded down with $8 billion worth of earmarked, pork-barrel projects.

Needless to say, McCain misstated his larger figure. But let’s think about the figures he used. Does anyone know how a $480 billion bill could be “loaded down” with $8 billion of something? Returning to Gregory: Does anyone know how a bill is “full of pork, full of pet projects” when the projects in question constitute less than 1.9 percent of the bill? (When no one has made any real attempt to show how much of that 1.9 percent is actually wasteful?)

The smarter folk wasted their time on earmarks; the laggards talked about Barbie, and towels. Then, there was that remarkable “Conversation With James K. Glassman!” (Tune in tomorrow.) Are you sure how you want to answer the question we so incomparably posed?

When they aren’t kings: On CNN, John King framed the earmark question thusly:

KING (3/8/09): Much more of our conversation with Peter Orszag when we come back in a moment. And among the topics, a rodeo museum in South Dakota, pig odor research in Iowa—the kind of pet projects candidate Obama promised to get rid of. So why is the president set to sign a bill packed with thousands of earmarks? We'll let Peter Orszag explain, next.

KING: Welcome back to State of the Union. We continue our conversation now with the White House budget director Peter Orszag. I want to get to the specifics in a second, but there is a huge spending bill—got held up in the Senate a little bit—but expected to make it to the White House by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. The president has said he would sign it. It is full of—maybe 8,000, 9,000 of these so-called earmarks, many of them, people would say, pork-barrel spending.

According to King, the “huge” spending bill was “packed with” earmarks. (Was “full” or earmarks.) Semantic question: Can a bill really be “packed with” X when X comprises less than 1.9 percent of the bill? CNN viewers didn’t have to ask—they weren’t given the overall numbers.

By the way: Did Obama “promise to get rid” of all such projects? That statement is fact-challenged too.

Final note: King didn’t say these projects were “pork-barrel spending.” “People would say” that, he said. Soon, he spoke for us all:

KING: Well, you say move on. But the American people don't like some of this. I want to show some of what's in this bill. There's $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa, $819,000 for cat fish genetics research in Alabama, almost $200,000 for the Buffalo Bill historical center in Cody, Wyoming, $238,000 for deep-sea voyaging program for Hawaiian youth, $209,000 for blueberry production in Georgia. Let's assume for the sake of this conversation they are all worthy projects. At this moment in time, when 651,000 Americans lost their jobs last month, unemployment is as high as it's been since 1983, should federal dollars be going to those projects at this moment in time?

“The American people” don’t like some of this, King said, trying hard not to overstate.

TYPE THE RIGHT THING [permalink]: David Broder will do and say anything about public schools—as long as he’ s voicing a High-Minded Scripts. Three years ago, he even got conned into this, in the Washington Post (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/27/06):

BRODER (2/26/06): A year ago, I visited—and wrote about—the Gateway to College program run by Portland (Ore.) Community College (and also funded by the Gates Foundation). There, I saw 14 teenage dropouts discussing the writings of Plato and Malcolm X—college-level work.

I quoted the leaders of the voluntary program, in which students accepted strict discipline barring absences or blown assignments, as believing it demonstrates that “even for the hardest cases—teenagers with few credits, low grade-point averages and a host of personal problems—the challenge of a tough curriculum, backed by skillful teaching in small classes and plenty of personal counseling, can be a path to success."

That is also the essence of what the dropouts in this report suggest would rescue and reward them—and their millions of counterparts.

Of course! Millions of kids drop out every year—because they aren’t assigned enough Plato! But so it goes when our mainstream press keeps agreeing to “type the right thing.”

Yesterday, Broder was at it again; this time recalling the Post’s recent session with new Ed Sec Arne Duncan. What Broder typed was high-minded again. But did he have the slightest idea what he was talking about?

BRODER (3/8/09): Arne Duncan has an opportunity to do more for a generation of youngsters than any education secretary in history, and my strong sense is that he is going to make the most of it.

The 44-year-old former Chicago public schools superintendent, a basketball buddy of President Obama's, has been handed a fortune—$100 billion or more in the economic stimulus bill—not imagined by any of his predecessors since the department was created by Jimmy Carter.

Most of that money will go directly to states and school districts to help them avoid the teacher layoffs and college tuition hikes this sickening economic slump is forcing on almost everyone....

But then, he says, in phase two he will have a chance to use the remainder of his allocation—probably $15 billion or more—to begin leveraging the school reforms that could lift the prospects for an entire generation of kids.

Important! According to Broder, Duncan may “begin leveraging the school reforms that could lift the prospects for an entire generation of kids.” That was our emphasis—here’s our question: Does The Dean have any idea what he’s talking about?

Frankly, we doubt it. Soon, he was typing a famous old script—a script which sounds good, but makes little sense. (Of all Pundit Scripts, it’s simplest to type.) You see, The Dean supports lofty standards—more specifically, “the kind of national educational standards most other advanced countries employ:”

BRODER: Ever since the "standards revolution" began two decades ago, when the first President Bush was in office, the traditional American preference for local control of the schools has blocked serious consideration of the kind of national education standards most other advanced countries employ. When the second President Bush passed his landmark education bill, No Child Left Behind, he said that each state should decide for itself what constituted "competence" in its high school graduates.

Increasingly, as Duncan said, employers, colleges and students themselves have come to realize that in a competitive world economy, having 50 different standards consigns many youngsters to failure.

That sounds good, but on its face, it doesn’t really make sense. Why are youngsters “consigned to failure” when Delaware’s standards differ from Utah’s? Presumably, Norway’s standards differ from Belgium’s—but Broder says those (differing) standards are helping kids in those lands advance. You can dream up an answer to this question—and for the record, we’d probably favor national standards in reading and math (reason below). But Broder’s presentation doesn’t make massive sense. And Broder doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Soon, though, Broder offered a stronger statement. It isn’t just uniform standards he seeks—it’s higher uniform standards. This formulation always sounds good—but it doesn’t make massive sense either:

BRODER: In recent years, a variety of power centers, including the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Governors Association and, most notably, Achieve, a business-backed school reform group, have been encouraging a movement among the states to set uniform high standards for themselves without dictation from Washington.

That is the trend Duncan hopes to spur to the level of transformation. He said he plans to offer competitive grants to eight, 10 or 12 states that are ready to develop world-class standards for their schools—and measure progress in meeting them.

Broder wants “high” (“world-class”) standards—and he wants to “measure progress in meeting them.” But he doesn’t see the obvious problem with this standard idea.

Could “higher standards” help in some schools? Possibly, though the claim needs explaining. But as everyone knows, our country has a lot of kids who lag way behind current traditional standards—kids who may be reading at third- or fourth-grade level in high school, kids who proceed to drop out. Uh-oh! These kids aren’t close to meeting the standards we already have; how will raising those standards help them? This is the world’s most obvious question. It has never occurred to this Dean.

What good does it do to invent higher standards, if kids can’t meet the standards we have? Long ago, at the start of that “standards revolution,” we asked that question in the Baltimore Sun, responding to the first President Bush’s call for higher standards. It’s like no one can high-jump six feet, we said—and President Bush wants to raise the bar to seven! Eight years later, in the Sunday Sun, we asked the same questions when President Clinton proposed higher standards too:

SOMERBY (2/16/97): But surely we will at least want to seek higher standards; surely, there’s nothing but good in that! It is generally agreed that American high schools are producing many students whose skills are unimpressive. What could be wrong, then, with raising our standards—with setting the bar a bit higher?

Again, let me focus on urban schools, where our educational shortfall is most tragic. When I taught in the Baltimore schools, my fellow teachers knew what the standards were. The problem we had was getting kids to attain them. And nothing the president said in his speech tells me how we will get our students to attain our new, higher standards—how we will meet the wonderful standards that are so easy to discuss in a speech.

For example, one of the goals President Clinton cited is that all students should be able to read by third grade. Ignore the fact that this "goal” is so vaguely stated that, in practice, it means almost nothing. Does anyone think that our teachers—right now—don't have this "goal" for their students? And yet, Texas Gov. George W. Bush Jr. spoke out last week, accusing Clinton of stealing the "goal" from him! In this way, we see how daft our discussion has been—and the extent to which politicians are willing to pander with pronouncements which mean next to nothing.

Setting higher standards always sounds good, but it begs the question of how we will meet them. It’s as if we set the high-jump bar at six feet and found that no one could jump over it. So the president makes a suggestion: Let’s raise the bar to seven!

Yesterday, Broder said we’ll set higher standards, then test to see if kids are meeting them. Did he realize that he had skipped past the key part of this game?

Again, we’d be inclined to favor national standards and tests, at least in reading and math. In part, we’d do so for journalistic reasons. There’s a chance that journalists would be able to critique a single set of national tests. If the tests were dumbed dumb for political reasons, they might even notice the change. With our current fifty-one sets of tests, we don’t have a chance. The public will never know what’s going on with our current blizzard of tests.

But how exactly do “higher standards” help kids who lag far behind current standards? We’ve asked that question for twenty years. Have we ever seen it addressed?

Actually, no—we don’t think we have. But yesterday, Broder typed the right thing. He loftily typed a Standard Script—a script which is highly high-minded.