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Print view: Diane Ravitch keeps toying with facts. It's time for her to go
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DIRECT FROM THE CHERRY ORCHARD! Diane Ravitch keeps toying with facts. It’s time for her to go: // link // print // previous // next //

Just this side of insane: Wow! Someone at the New York Times can look at an iconic photo from the integration of Little Rock’s Central High and offer this astonishing caption:

“In 1957 in Little Rock, Ark., the shirtwaist became a symbol of stoic resistance in a battleground over segregation.”

On-line, that caption has been cleaned up (click here). But in our hard-copy paper, the fact remains—to someone at the New York Times, the Little Rock Nine are remembered today for making a type of fashion statement! That said, Maureen Dowd’s new column is crazier still—goes even farther in helping us see the soul of a truly deranged “journalistic” upper class.

For years, it has been fairly clear that Dowd is just this side of crazy. Today, she shouts this fact from beginning to end. As she starts, she quickly descends into her familiar old world—the world of broken-souled gender obsession, with broken old boy/girl tropes drawn straight from the 1950s:

DOWD (3/23/11): They are called the Amazon Warriors, the Lady Hawks, the Valkyries, the Durgas.

There is something positively mythological about a group of strong women swooping down to shake the president out of his delicate sensibilities and show him the way to war. And there is something positively predictable about guys in the White House pushing back against that story line for fear it makes the president look henpecked.

Dowd is back to her compulsive portrait of the “delicate” Obama—the former “diffident debutante,” who today may look a bit “henpecked.” By paragraph 6, she is quoting Rush Limbaugh on the subject; two grafs later, she is stroking herself and purring to think that Rush is “on the same side” as fearsome Samantha Power. Her piece is disordered from its start to its end. Might this be the height of her lunacy?

DOWD: When President Obama listened to his militaristic muses, it gave armchair shrinks lots to muse about. As one wrote to me: “Cool, cerebral president chooses passion and emotion (human rights, Samantha, Hillary, Susan) over reason and strategic thinking (Bob Gates, Tom Donilon). Is it the pattern set up by his Mom and Michelle—women have the last word?”

Good God. Most “journalists” play the armchair shrink without explicitly endorsing the process. Not Dowd! She’s proud to quote an unnamed amateur friend, who quickly wonders if the Libya bombing comes to us straight from Obama’s late mother. And yes—at one point, Lady Dowd even finds a way to bring Obama’s daughters in. But then, Dowd has always been like this—as have her inane friends.

From beginning to end, Dowd’s piece is just this side of insane—but see if your favorite “career liberals” tell you! (See if you hear it on Hardball! See if Joan blurts the truth!) You live in a world where one of our most famous journalists has been bat-crazy out of her gourd for years. But inside the halls of Versailles, the great gods Career and Advancement hold sway. Editors wave Dowd’s lunacy into print; the other denizens frolic and play. When they see photos of the Little Rock Nine, they think about the fashion statements those brave high school students were making.

Go ahead—look around today! Maureen Dowd is out of her mind. See how many folk tell you.

Special report: He was the son of a teacher, man!

INTERLUDE—DIRECT FROM THE CHERRY ORCHARD (permalink): Wow! What else can a person say?

In the past, we’ve often mentioned the way Diane Ravitch tends to cherry-pick (and distort) data. For years, she performed these tasks in support of No Child Left Behind, working as a Bush White House aide.

And then, at some point, she switched her teams, offering a weird account of the reason she flipped (see link below). Today, Ravitch cherry-picks (and distorts) data in opposition to NCLB and to the general educational regimen it represents. For this reason, she has become a hero in the liberal world—at least, in those restricted parts of that world which pay attention to public school matters. In that sense, Ravitch is part of the burgeoning trend we have decried—the trend in which our emerging “liberal” world apes the conduct of Fox.

We’ve written about this problem with Ravitch’s data before. But yesterday, Ravitch posted this massively misleading piece at—where else?—the Daily Beast.

Wow! What else can a sane person say?

Where once she pimped No Child Left Behind, the thoroughly repurposed Ravitch now boldly speaks against “Obama’s War on Schools.” But old Bush White House habits die hard. We pitiful rubes don’t have to read far before getting conned in this manner:

RAVITCH (3/20/11): The theory behind NCLB was that schools would improve dramatically if every child in grades 3 to 8 were tested every year and the results made public. Texas did exactly this, and advocates claimed it had seen remarkable results: test scores went up, the achievement gap between students of different races was closing, and graduation rates rose. At the time, a few scholars questioned the claims of a “Texas miracle,” but Congress didn’t listen.

In fact, the “Texas miracle” never happened. On federal tests, the state’s reading scores for eighth-grade students were flat from 1998 to 2009. And just weeks ago, former first lady Barbara Bush wrote an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle opposing education budget cuts on the grounds that Texas students ranked in the bottom 10 percent in math and literacy nationally. After two decades of testing and accountability, Texas students have certainly not experienced a miracle when judged by the very measures that were foisted on students across the nation.

Wow! The use of the clueless Barbara Bush is simply breath-taking. (Wow. You’ll note that Ravitch doesn’t claim that Bush’s statements were actually accurate. Details below.) But whatever one thinks of No Child Left Behind—whatever one thinks of Race to the Top—those highlighted passages are baldly misleading.

We’re being polite when we say that.

Those highlighted passages represent a fraud on the public. They represent an importation of the Bush White House techniques in which “reality” is laughed at. “We live in fictitious times,” Michael Moore said. Those passages show what he meant.

What is wrong with what Ravitch said? Let’s start with the serial cherry-picking. The “federal tests” to which Ravitch refers are the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the widely-heralded “gold standard” of educational testing. The NAEP produces four different scores—fourth grade reading, fourth grade math, eighth grade reading, eighth grade math.

Ravitch cites scores from eighth grade reading because it’s the only score in which she can even begin to pretend that Texas students haven’t made major progress. And even there, her claim that scores “were flat from 1998 to 2009” is at best grossly misleading. More precisely, her claim is just wrong.

What do Texas scores look like in the time frame under discussion? As a rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often said to represent one academic year. Keep that rough rule of thumb in mind as we run through the data. What follows is all from Texas:

Fourth grade math: Black students in Texas gained eleven points from 2000 to 2009—eighteen points, if we start in 1996. (The NAEP didn’t test math in 1998.) White students gained twelve points in that nine-year period. Hispanic students gained ten points.

Those are very large gains.

Fourth grade reading: Black students gained 22 points from 1998 to 2009. White students gained only two points. Hispanic students gained ten.

Eighth grade math: Black students gained 22 points from 2000 to 2009. White students gained 14 points. Hispanic students gained fifteen.

Those scores reflect very substantial gains. The gains would tend to get a bit larger if we adjusted further for low-income status.

It’s fairly obvious why Ravitch cited eighth-grade reading while skipping these other three areas. For the record, eighth-grade reading has been the area in which schools across the country have made the least progress on the NAEP; this is true in almost all states, not just in Texas. But were Texas scores “flat” in eighth grade reading? We’re sorry, but no. Not really:

In eighth-grade reading, low-income black students in Texas gained five points from 1998 to 2009. Low-income white students gained seven points; low-income Hispanics gained three. It would of course be a better world if Texas students had advanced farther. But white and black low-income students made substantial gains during that period—and we’ll remind you that the Hispanic student population has changed in ways which present substantial educational challenges, due to the number of deserving kids who have come in from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds in other countries. As the student population has changed, the challenges have grown for our teachers.

Can we talk? Looking at those data, we’d say that Texas teachers seem to have done a very good job in the past dozen years. It’s amazing to see the way a mind like Ravitch’s works—praising teachers from one side of the mouth, denying them their success from the other. Whatever one thinks of No Child Left Behind, major score gains have been recorded in Texas during this period, on the very testing program Ravitch chose to cite.

Beyond that, gaze in wonder at Ravitch’s use of the well-meaning but utterly clueless Barbara Bush, a former first lady who doesn’t know squat about educational data.

“Just weeks ago, former first lady Barbara Bush wrote an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle opposing education budget cuts on the grounds that Texas students ranked in the bottom 10 percent in math and literacy nationally.” So Ravitch types, completely correctly, failing to give any reason to think Bush knows what she’s talking about. In fact, Barbara Bush doesn’t know squat, squadoosh or even squadoodle about public schools or educational testing. (There’s no reason why she should.) This is the relevant passage from her bungled piece:

BUSH (2/5/11): The education of our children is a partnership—a partnership among the schools, the parents, businesses, churches and the rest of the community.

Right now that partnership is failing. Our schools are in crises:

• We rank 36th in the nation in high school graduation rates. An estimated 3.8 million Texans do not have a high school diploma.

We rank 49th in verbal SAT scores, 47th in literacy and 46th in average math SAT scores.

• We rank 33rd in the nation on teacher salaries.


In light of these statistics, can we afford to cut the number of teachers, increase class sizes, eliminate scholarships for underprivileged students and close several community colleges?

Plainly, Ravitch refers to the highlighted passage when she paraphrases Bush—when she has Bush say that Texas students “rank in the bottom 10 percent in math and literacy nationally.”

Question: Is there any end to the various ways Ravitch will toy with facts?

News flash: Presumably, Barbara Bush doesn’t know squat about educational data. Presumably, she doesn’t understand the many reasons why SAT scores are virtually useless for comparisons of this type. Presumably, Ravitch does understand that Bush fumbled badly in this presentation. But presumably, Bush’s “analysis” served her end, so she typed it up—failing to say if she agrees with the things Bush said.

Must we explain the various reasons why SAT scores aren’t used for this purpose? Good! Instead, we can return to the “gold standard” data from the NAEP, in which we’re able to share some good news with Mrs. Bush: Texas students score above the national average on almost all relevant measures; on most relevant measures, Texas students score well above the national average. In reality, it would be hard to find a single measure where Texas students are at the bottom of the nation. Even in eighth-grade reading, black kids in Texas score 3.4 points above the national average for their peers. Hispanic kids beat the national average by 3.5 points.

In eighth-grade math, the news is better. Black kids in Texas outscore their national peers by 12 points. Hispanic kids in Texas outscore their peers by 11 points. White kids are up by eight.

Someone should give Mrs. Bush the good news: Texas kids, and Texas teachers, aren’t at the bottom of the heap! In fact, they aren’t even close to the bottom. Presumably, Ravitch understands this. Why did she play us this way?

Can we talk? Whatever one thinks of No Child Left Behind; whatever one thinks of Race to the Top; whatever one thinks of “Obama’s War on Schools;” whatever one thinks of the state of Texas; surely, liberals can all agree that discussion of the nation’s schools, school children and teachers should start with real information. Among liberals, the Bush years are remembered as a time when basic facts were thrown down the drain—as a time when our masters inside the White House laughed about the liberal world’s devotion to “reality-based” thinking. Unless she’s as clueless as Barbara Bush, Ravitch seems to have emerged from the Bush hellhole trailing this culture behind her.

Or who knows? Maybe she really doesn’t know how to gather data from the NAEP—from the testing program she herself chose to cite. Maybe she doesn’t know why you can’t use SAT scores as Bush did.

What’s wrong with using the SATs that way? For one thing—though there are other problems—those SAT scores aren’t adjusted for income; they aren’t adjusted for race and ethnicity. Texas has a lot of deserving minority kids, and it has a lot of deserving low-income kids—many more than you will find in quite a few other states. Presumably, Texas teachers work hard every day to give them their shot at the apple. When Ravitch lets Bush makes those hapless claims, she takes us back to the world teachers have rightly rejected—the world in which urban teachers get trashed because their students don’t score as well as middle-class kids in the suburbs.

Duh! In a world where those teachers are easily trashed, it’s easy to defund their schools—to fire them, to replace them with low-wage kids, to unseat their infernal unions.

No, Virginia. Texas students do not score at the bottom of the nation. They don’t score anywhere near it. Even if you don’t adjust for income, race and ethnicity, they score right around the national average—a few points above the average in math, a point or two below it in reading. When we do adjust for those factors, Texas kids score extremely well. According to the data Ravitch chose, Texas schools and Texas teachers seem to be doing considerably better than the rest of the nation.

Presumably, Barbara Bush doesn’t know this. What’s the matter with Ravitch?

“We live in fictitious times,” Michael Moore said. Ravitch, published by Tina Brown, is showing us what Moore meant.

This latest performance is simply disgusting—unless you don’t care about black kids, unless you don’t give a flying fig about what happens in their actual schools. In that case, by all means! Let’s frolic and play! Let’s use those kids’ lives to create pleasing claims, thus driving our own tribal pleasures.

That’s what Michelle Rhee has persistently done. Why do we like it from Ravitch?

Why Ravitch flipped: Why did Ravitch switch teams regarding No Child Left Behind? Why did she go from cherry-picking in support of the program to cherry-picking against it?

In The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch describes the day she suddenly flipped. “My support for NCLB remained strong until November 30, 2006,” she writes. “I can pinpoint the date exactly because that was the day I realized that NCLB was a failure.”

Last year, NPR excerpted that part of Ravitch’s book (click here). As a test of your basic BS meter, see if you believe a word she said.

We’d call that task a major challenge. But then, as Michael Moore once said, we live in fictitious times.