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Daily Howler: Few folk have ideas about low-income schools. Today, the Post's editors prove it
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BRONX CHARTER EPILOGUE! Few folk have ideas about low-income schools. Today, the Post’s editors prove it: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 10, 2006

KING FOR A DAY: With Bush’s numbers falling through the mid-30s, a lot of formerly timorous journalists suddenly have their thumbs on the scales. This weekend was a riot of conflation and confusion. We’ll likely examine cases all week. Today’s let’s start with Walter Pincus, in this morning’s Post.

Pincus shortens an even more jumbled account by brave Barton Gellman in yesterday’s Post. But today, here’s how Big Pinc tells it:

PINCUS (4/10/06): Some of Libby's comments about the NIE that he made to reporter Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, on July 8, 2003, were inaccurate. Libby said one "key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure' uranium." That was not an NIE key judgment, and the CIA officials who wrote the document disputed that statement. The “vigorously trying to procure” quote came from an unconfirmed Defense Intelligence Agency report from early 2002 that had caught Cheney’s eye.

Libby also inaccurately described the CIA report on Wilson's trip, saying the former ambassador reported information about an Iraqi delegation visiting Niger in 1999 that was "understood to be a reference to a desire to obtain uranium." In fact, Wilson said he was told that a Niger official was contacted at a meeting outside the country by a businessman who said an Iraqi economic delegation wanted to meet with him. The Niger official guessed that the Iraqis might want to talk about uranium because Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger in the mid-1980s. But when they met, no talk of uranium took place.

Like many of President Bush’s past statements, Pincus’ claims aren’t exactly wrong—but they are selective and highly misleading. For example, did the NIE say that Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure uranium?” Pincus is right in one narrow way—that wasn’t listed as a “key judgment” in the National Intelligence Assessment. But this statement does come from the NIE (fuller text below)—a fact you surely won’t understand from this misleading presentation by Pincus. Meanwhile, the “key judgments” section did include this: “Although we assess that Saddam does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them.” And the next “key judgment” said this: “If Baghdad acquires sufficient fissile material from abroad it could make a nuclear weapon within several months to a year.” In short, it was a “key judgment” of the NIE that Iraq was seeking uranium/fissile material from abroad. And the NIE did say that Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake” —it just didn’t include this precise statement in the “key judgments” section. (Pincus isn’t even willing to provide that full quote). Pincus is slicing it very thin in that passage from today’s paper.

Meanwhile, Pincus offers a tortured account of that 1999 Iraqi delegation—but then, everyone has had his thumb on the scale regarding that particular matter. Pincus under-plays the matter today; on Sunday, a Post editorial vastly over-stated the significance of this matter. But remember—your press corps lives to spin and misstate, and with Bush’s numbers falling fast, many brave fellows have their thumbs on the scales. They’re doing exactly what Bush has done; they’re presenting selective material in the attempt to mislead you. Of course, we tend to approve of such behavior—when we’re misled in a way which we like.

Yes, the National Intelligence Estimate did say that Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake.” And yes, the NIE did say, as a “key judgment,” that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from abroad. Pincus is slicing it very thin—as he attacks Libby for doing the very thing in which he is so plainly engaged. This morning, Pincus is King for a Day. He gets to play games just like Bush.

By the way, one last point: Note the way Pincus seems to quote Libby. But Fitzgerald’s filing only presents a paraphrase of what Libby said to Miller. Pincus doesn’t know exactly what Libby said. But so what? He pretends to quote anyway.

More tomorrow. The clowning has been vast—and for many, it’s been vastly enjoyable.

FULLER STATEMENT FROM THE NIE: Here’s the fuller text from the National Intelligence Estimate. No, this isn’t from the “key judgments” section. But it is from the NIE:

Uranium Acquisition. Iraq retains approximately two-and-a-half tons of 2.5 percent enriched uranium oxide, which the IAEA permits. This low-enriched material could be used as feed material to produce enough HEU for about two nuclear weapons. The use of enriched feed material also would reduce the initial number of centrifuges that Baghdad would need by about half. Iraq could divert this material—the IAEA inspects it only once a year—and enrich it to weapons grade before a subsequent inspection discovered it was missing. The IAEA last inspected this material in late January 2002.

Iraq has about 500 metric tons of yellowcake and low enriched uranium at Tuwaitha, which is inspected annually by the IAEA. Iraq also began vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake; acquiring either would shorten the time Baghdad needs to produce nuclear weapons.

As we’ve noted, the NIE does say, in its “key judgments,” that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium from abroad. Pincus cuts it amazingly thin. It’s great work—if you can get it.

Special report—Charter school down!

EPILOGUE—NO REAL IDEAS: Does anyone have any ideas around here? Does anyone have any real ideas about how our low-income schools should be run? As we’ve noted, the answer to that question is quite plainly “no.” For the latest perfect example, we recommend today’s Post editorial.

As is the norm in matters like this, the editors feign high indignation about the state of our low-income schools. “Baltimore’s Disgrace,” the headline screams. “Its public schools are an educational disaster area. Political squabbling won't get them fixed.” And readers, those are just the headlines! Once we reach the editorial’s text, we find the eds in a state of high dudgeon. Baltimore’s students are receiving “an awful education”—and “the need for dramatic action is clear:”

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (4/10/06): The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, but the school's glory days are long gone. Just 16 percent of Douglass students passed an English proficiency exam last year, and just 3 percent passed a geometry proficiency test—and that was after taking a course in geometry. The biology pass rate was barely over 1 percent. The problem is not only that large numbers of Douglass students are unlikely to graduate; they are also doomed by their awful education to dead-end jobs and go-nowhere lives.

That's why the state's effort to remove 11 schools from Baltimore's control, including Douglass High, is long overdue. One can quibble over the process leading up to the state's announcement as well as its timing. But the need for urgent, even dramatic action is clear.

As they continue, the high-minded editors grandstand even further. “[N]o urgent, comprehensive action has been taken” about these low-performing schools, they thunder. “The state and the city have been complacent—and complicit—in their failure.”

We know—that complicit/complacent sentence is grammatically bungled. But when the editors feel their outrage so deeply, sentence structure will sometimes give way. Later, the editors say it once more: “Baltimore’s schools need urgent attention.” To the Post’s high-minded honchos, the need for Big Action is clear.

Let’s note a few ways in which the editors are right. The achievement rates at Douglass High are indeed a total disaster (just like the achievement rates in Washington’s high schools). It’s also true that students who do so poorly in school are often restricted to low-income jobs. (We won’t pass judgment on “go-nowhere lives”—except when we point to the editors.) But have the state of Maryland—and the city of Baltimore—been “complicit” in this longstanding failure? Only if the system’s teachers, principals and administrators actually know how to run their schools better. And though the editors love to denounce the people who run these public schools—it’s been a source of upper-class pleasure for decades—we note one thing about this latest editorial. In today’s piece, the editors don’t make a single suggestion about how to run Baltimore’s floundering schools. They have no proposals; they have no suggestions; they offer no insights; they suggest no initiatives. The editors don’t offer a single idea—not one—about what should be done differently inside Douglass High School’s classrooms. What has been wrong in these classrooms till now? The editors are deeply high-minded. But they make no effort to say.

Yes, the editors thunder about the need for the state to take over these floundering schools. But what will happen when the state does that? Uh-oh! In the second half of their final paragraph, the editors finally reach that point. And they finally notice the problem:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: That’s too bad, because Baltimore schools need urgent attention. In all, 54 of them are classified as low-performing; the 11 schools on the state's takeover list are just the bottom of the barrel. City officials insists they have a plan to reform the failing schools, but it's really too late; they've been failing for too long, and there is no indication the city is up to the task of making significant improvements. The state's own plan is fuzzy; it would seek some third party to take control of the four high schools on its behalf and would compel the city to do the same for the seven middle schools. No real changes in management and supervision would begin for more than a year. But by ordering that the process begin, Maryland has begun to take some responsibility for a disgrace that has been neglected too long.
“Baltimore schools need urgent attention.” But omigod! The state itself has no plan for these schools; it will turn them over to unnamed third parties, and let those parties figure things out! Our question: Is there any reason to think that these unnamed third parties will get better results at Douglass? The editors don’t show the slightest sign of having tried to figure that out. They don’t say who these third parties might be. They offer no information—none at all—about the track records of such third parties. They simply prefer to thunder and roar—to pretend that they care about these matters. They trash the people who now run these schools—although they don’t offer the slightest sign that they themselves have any ideas about how to solve Douglass High’s problems.

What should change in Baltimore’s classrooms? The editors have no suggestions—not one. But then, this same know-nothing attitude has been apparent in the Post’s recent work:

Example: The DC superintendent, Clifford Janey, issues his new “master plan” for Washington’s schools. But uh-oh! When the Post’s Dion Hayes reports on the “plan,” he fails to note its lack of proposals for elementary schools—a simply astounding omission (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/2/06). And when the Post’s Fred Hiatt interviews Janey, he makes no attempt to examine the superintendent’s ideas—or to find out if if Janey has any (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/6/06).

Example: Prince George’s County hires a new superintendent, John Deasy, to run its large, low-income school system. In a series of profiles, the Post’s Nick Anderson notes that Deasy has “pledged to close the black-white achievement gap that shadows schools in Prince George's”—and Anderson says that Deasy “is well versed in urban educational issues.” But in this series of reports, Anderson never says what those issues are; never discusses Deasy’s views on these issues; and never asks Deasy how he plans to eliminate this black-white gap. What are the superintendent’s ideas? The Post doesn’t bother to ask.

What do Deasy and Janey plan to do in their respective school systems? Simply put, the Post doesn’t care. But then, this kind of “reporting” is amazingly common when high-minded journalistic elites pretend to report on our low-income schools. Just consider the reports we’ve most recently examined in the New York Times:
Example: Sam Dillon reports that low-income seventh-graders in Sacramento are taking three reading classes per day (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/27/06). They’re taking no science or social studies to make this odd schedule possible. But what in the world could be going on inside these three daily reading classes? Are these classes just hours of worthless drills? Dillon makes no attempt to say. There is no sign—absolutely none—that he ever observed the classes.

Example: Elissa Gootman reports on a Bronx charter school which will be closing its doors in June (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/4/06). The school’s three-year history is a parade of horribles; this history includes apparent financial irregularities, a failure to perform basic testing requirements, and an odd educational plan which was apparently fake from the start. But what is happening inside this school’s classrooms? There’s no sign that Gootman ever observed any classes. Is anything happening inside this school’s classrooms? Gootman didn’t bother to say.

What’s happening inside those charter school classrooms? Gootman didn’t bother to check. What’s happening in those endless Sacramento reading classes? Dillon didn’t check that either. Meanwhile, what are Deasy and Janey’s ideas? In each case, the Post didn’t bother to ask. Upper-class editors—like those at the Post—don’t soil gloved hands with questions like that. Instead, they thunder loudly, pretending to care about what goes on inside Douglass High. They insist on “urgent, even dramatic action”—then admit that they’re willing to settle for something which is likely quite different.

So it goes as our upper-class news orgs pretend to cover low-income schools. They rarely soil their dainty hands by stepping inside real low-income schools. (Have any of the outraged editors ever set foot inside Douglass?) In part for that reason, they have zero ideas—none; not one—about the way such schools should be run. But then, no one seems to have such ideas. Again, two quick examples:

Example: In Maryland, the superintendent plans to take over eleven schools. But what are her ideas for these schools? She states none! Instead, she’ll turn them over to some third party—and let them figure it out! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/06.)

Example: On the national level, the Bush Admin wants to improve low-income schools. So what are their suggestions for such schools? What do they prescribe for our low-income classrooms? Nothing! Instead, they prescribe putting increased pressure on teachers and principals—and letting them figure out what to do!

In recent weeks, we’ve listed the questions we would ask about the way our low-income schools and classrooms are run. In the next few weeks, we hope to start interviewing in three low-income systems to find out how those system’s administrators would answer our basic questions. (The systems—Baltimore; Prince George’s County; Washington, D.C.). But be our guest: Note how rarely anyone makes specific suggestions for improving low-income classrooms. No, there is no sign that our big news orgs have any ideas about such matters. But then, neither do our highest ed officials! In all their plans, they agree on one thing: They’ll let someone else figure out how to solve these schools’ problems.

POSTSCRIPT: What may be wrong at Douglass High? Let’s review one factual point, then make an obvious suggestion:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL: Just 16 percent of Douglass students passed an English proficiency exam last year, and just 3 percent passed a geometry proficiency test—and that was after taking a course in geometry.
We’ll suggest one obvious possibility. Duh! Those students may be many years below “grade level” in math; they may not have qualified to take that geometry course in the first place! In February, we saw this wholly predictable drama acted out in the case of Gabriela Ocampo (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/2/06). But this fairly obvious thought wouldn’t occur to the Post ed board if we sat around for the next hundred years. Simply put, these dandies have never set foot in our low-income schools—and they don’t waste their sissified time thinking about such grim chores.

AS IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN: In that latest new study, we read the profile of those Douglass geometry students up through their fourth-grade years. In many cases, this is the story behind those miserable test scores:

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...By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind non-poor students.
And by ninth grade, they don’t qualify for high-school geometry! And when they’re put in such classes despite that, they fail—just as the sissified editors fail, every day of their “go-nowhere lives.”