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Daily Howler: The Post says one county's black kids are failing--but key data have been left behind
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DATA LEFT BEHIND! The Post says one county’s black kids are failing—but key data have been left behind: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 2006

DON’T GO THERE, PROFESSOR: Doggone it. This morning, Paul Krugman pens another important column—this time, concerning the Bush Admin’s misstatements about its tax cuts. But doggone it—professor, don’t go there! Krugman starts his important column with a pointless bit of embellishment:
KRUGMAN (4/14/06): Now it can be told: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney based their re-election campaign on lies, damned lies and statistics.

The lies included Mr. Cheney's assertion, more than three months after intelligence analysts determined that the famous Iraqi trailers weren't bioweapons labs, that we were in possession of two ''mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox.”

Was Cheney “lying” when he said that? We’re not sure, but that’s not our point. As Krugman notes, this statement was made “more than three months” after experts determined that those famous trailers hadn’t been used to produce WMD. But Cheney’s statement was made on Meet the Press on September 14, 2003. Was that part of the Bush re-election campaign? No, not really—and this week’s Post report offers no record that Bush or Cheney made this claim after that.

So here’s a question for the logicians: Can an election campaign be “based on” a statement which isn’t made in the election campaign? The slow slide into reflexive embellishment has damaged the work of the activist web. Krugman has been a giant for years. Professor, this is pointless! Don’t go there!

TRISTERO—AND JUDITH MILLER—GET IT RIGHT: Speaking of the pointless (and sometimes nasty) embellishment which now defines parts of the activist web, let’s review a delicious point which Tristero noted in this excellent post. Yesterday, the T-man offered a quick review of press response to Bush’s claim that those famous trailers were WMD-linked. We ourselves noted that Bush’s claim was met with instant eye-rolling (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/13/06). But Tristero went us one step semi-better. And get a load of his delicious first cite:

TRISTERO (4/13/06): Now, when did suspicions surface publicly that [Bush’s statement] was hogwash? Within days.

June 7, 2003. From the New York Times, in an article co-authored by Judith Miller no less, “American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs.”

Delicious! In our own post, we cited an eye-rolling New York Times editorial from June 1, 2003—and we captured Bob Novak dissing Bush’s claim on that very same day. But six days later, the Times published a lengthy, page-one report which aggressively challenged the Bush Admin’s claim—and yes, the lead author was one Judith Miller! Of course, all around the activist web, you’ve been handed endless screeds about this demonic scribe’s soiled soul. Why, you’ve even seen her slimed on a sexual basis. Yes, it’s true; trashing women on a sexual basis has now become a “progressive” value—if you know the right lakes to go jump in. (Swimmers, look out for the pond scum!) That’s why we emitted low chuckles when we read Miller’s Bush-scalding report—a report she penned just days before her famous chats with fellow demon “Scooter” Libby. And that’s why we thought you deserved to read a good solid chunk of Miller’s report. The next time you’re handed a childish screed about the demonic soul of this scribe, you might recall what she managed to type on this important occasion:
MILLER (6/7/03): American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs. In interviews over the last week, they said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.

"Everyone has wanted to find the 'smoking gun' so much that they may have wanted to have reached this conclusion," said one intelligence expert who has seen the trailers and, like some others, spoke on condition that he not be identified. He added, "I am very upset with the process."

The Bush administration has said the two trailers, which allied forces found in Iraq in April and May, are evidence that Saddam Hussein was hiding a program for biological warfare. In a white paper last week [on 5/28/03], it publicly detailed its case, even while conceding discrepancies in the evidence and a lack of hard proof.

Now, intelligence analysts stationed in the Middle East, as well as in the United States and Britain, are disclosing serious doubts about the administration's conclusions in what appears to be a bitter debate within the intelligence community. Skeptics said their initial judgments of a weapon application for the trailers had faltered as new evidence came to light.

Bill Harlow, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, said the dissenters "are entitled to their opinion, of course, but we stand behind the assertions in the white paper."

In all, at least three teams of Western experts have now examined the trailers and evidence from them. While the first two groups to see the trailers were largely convinced that the vehicles were intended for the purpose of making germ agents, the third group of more senior analysts divided sharply over the function of the trailers, with several members expressing strong skepticism, some of the dissenters said.

In effect, early conclusions by agents on the ground that the trailers were indeed mobile units to produce germs for weapons have since been challenged.

"I have no great confidence that it's a fermenter," a senior analyst with long experience in unconventional arms said of a tank for multiplying seed germs into lethal swarms. The government's public report, he added, "was a rushed job and looks political." This analyst had not seen the trailers himself, but reviewed evidence from them.

The skeptical experts said the mobile plants lacked gear for steam sterilization, normally a prerequisite for any kind of biological production, peaceful or otherwise. Its lack of availability between production runs would threaten to let in germ contaminants, resulting in failed weapons.

Second, if this shortcoming were somehow circumvented, each unit would still produce only a relatively small amount of germ-laden liquid, which would have to undergo further processing at some other factory unit to make it concentrated and prepare it for use as a weapon.

Finally, they said, the trailers have no easy way for technicians to remove germ fluids from the processing tank...

The report continued, through 1500 words (to read it in full, just click here). Miller didn’t seem to know about the classified May 27, 2003 report whose existence the Post revealed this week. But in her lengthy front-page report, she directly challenged the Bush Admin line—quickly, when it actually mattered. In our own cursory search, we find no similar work in other big rags at this time. Presumably, that’s why Tristero cited Miller first. She was quick to take on the Bush line.

Yes, the irony here is simply delish—and it might serve as a bit of a warning about the childish bedtime tales you’re sold in various swamps. By the way: Let’s also enjoy a bit of irony at CIA spokesman Bill Harlow’s role here (see paragraph 5 above). Remember how we were all instructed to venerate Harlow when he took his shots at Novak over the Valerie Plame affair? (Harlow was the CIA spokesman to whom Novak spoke about Joe Wilson.) Because Harlow was taking our side in that matter, we were supposed to elevate him straight to sainthood—and we were told that, if the CIA says it, it just plain flat-out must be right. But uh-oh! Here, we see Harlow defending what was wrong—and we see Miller and Novak saying what’s right. Bedtime stories don’t work this way—but the reality-based world often does.

Of course, skilled rube-runners in wet locales will stay away from such mixed bags. They’re busy handing you tales about Hardball’s Chris Matthews, that famous “unmitigated GOP whore.” In fact, Matthews’ work is often a mess—and at one time, he was an unalloyed disaster for Dem Party interests. But today? We find it amazing—and truly disgraceful—when you’re handed such unmitigated crap at these waterfront sites. Last Saturday, we said we’d soon address this characterization; tomorrow or Monday, we still plan to do it. As with Miller, so with Matthews; his whoredom may have a good deal more mitigation than soggy rube-runners are willing to tell you. But then, such runners live to treat you like fools—and some out there live for this treatment.

KEY DATA LEFT BEHIND: How well are black kids doing in the largely suburban Fairfax County, Virginia schools? This morning, Maria Glod pens a fascinating, front-page report in the Washington Post on this subject. As Glod notes, “[t]he Fairfax County schools are among the most respected in the country, and their quality has long been a draw for families.” But black kids don’t seem to be sharing in all that success. Here are Glod’s opening paragraphs:

GLOD (4/14/06): Black students in Fairfax County are consistently scoring lower on state standardized tests than African American children in Richmond, Norfolk and other comparatively poor Virginia districts, surprising Fairfax educators and forcing one of the nation's wealthiest school systems to acknowledge shortcomings that have been masked by its overall success.

Even within Fairfax schools, black elementary school students are outperformed on reading and math tests by whites and some other students, including Hispanics, poor children and immigrants learning English.

Glod’s report is fascinating, in various ways. We’ll likely spend time on it next week. But what do citizens have to do to get some relevant data around here? To some extent, Glod seems to have her thumb on the scale as she makes her claims about Fairfax. And it’s hard to judge some basic claims because of the data she omits.

How poorly are black kids doing in Fairfax? At one point, Glod provides some basic data about the county’s third-graders. To us, the situation doesn’t seem quite as bad as one might think from the tone of this piece:

GLOD: In Fairfax, 59 percent of black third-graders passed last year's state reading test. By comparison, 74 percent of black third-graders in Richmond passed the test and about 71 percent in Norfolk. Statewide, the passing rate for black children was 67 percent. About 79 percent of all Fairfax students passed.
In third-grade reading, Fairfax didn’t match the statewide passing rate—but the difference was hardly gigantic. And third grade looks like the trouble spot. Fifth-graders were also tested in Virginia last year, and judging from a statistic Glod cites in passing, it seems that Fairfax County’s black fifth-graders did substantially better in reading than the state as a whole. (In Fairfax, black fifth-graders “ranked 40th in reading” among the state’s 125 school districts, Glod says.) But wouldn’t you know it? Glod never compares the county’s fifth-grade passing rate to the state passing rate as a whole. We get the facts about third grade, which is slightly below the state norm—and fifth grade, which is high, just gets skipped.

Ugh—we hate it when that happens! But basic data are omitted at one more point in this report. Question: How poor are Fairfax County’s black kids? The county’s third-graders didn’t quite match the state in reading; but are they poorer, or perhaps less poor, than Virginia’s black kids as a whole? We’d be inclined to guess that this county’s black kids are somewhat better off than the state as a whole. But holy trust fund! We tore our hair when Glod discussed that matter:

GLOD: Poverty is one of the key reasons many minority children struggle in school. Children from low-income homes tend to have fewer books and generally are read to less often than those in middle-class homes.

Although poverty is a challenge in Fairfax, it is an even bigger hurdle in Richmond. In Fairfax, 43 percent of black children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, a common indicator of poverty. Overall, 20 percent of the county's students qualify. In Richmond schools, where nearly 90 percent of students are black, about 69 percent qualify for subsidized meals.

Maddening. Richmond has more black kids who are poor. But how does Fairfax compare to the state as a whole? Despite the length of Glod’s report, she omits this basic information.

How well are Fairfax County’s black kids doing compared to black kids across the state? Glod gives the impression that they’re doing quite poorly. But the county’s third-graders are only slightly below the state norm, and the fifth-graders seem to be well above it. And the situation seems to be better at higher grade levels; Fairfax scores below the state “among all age groups except the middle-school grades, but it is most pronounced at the elementary level,” Glod writes. If “the disparity” is “most pronounced” at these grade levels, how bad can it be somewhere else?

On the other hand, it may be that Fairfax faces less poverty among its black kids—and Glod omits that basic information. When the Post writes about low-income/minority schooling, what do citizens have to do to get the relevant data?

THIS JUMPED OFF THE PAGE: What’s most striking about Glod’s report? It isn’t the fact that Fairfax is scoring poorly—it’s the fact that Richmond is scoring so well! Richmond, with substantially more poverty among its black students, is recording better test scores than Fairfax. This is part of what makes this report so intriguing. But uh-oh! In our view, the highlighted passage jumped right off the page:

GLOD: Fairfax school officials readily acknowledge that they don't know how to solve the problem or what has caused it. They even went to Richmond twice last year to study that city's success. While black student performance has shown modest improvement over the past three years in Fairfax, it has risen greatly in Richmond.

But the challenge is different in Fairfax, where there are 17,600 black students, or about 11 percent of the school population. Schools in Richmond and Norfolk are majority black, so helping those students does not require focusing on a particular racial group.

In addition, some educators say they fear that teaching to the test—which Richmond readily acknowledges it does—would not work in Fairfax because the vast majority of students are passing and school officials don't want to give up the creativity that comes with current teaching methods.

According to Glod, the Richmond school system “readily acknowledges” that it has been “teaching to the test” in recent years. In this context, what does that famous phrase mean? We don’t know—but we’ll try to find out.

Special report—The logic of failure!

PART 3—THE LOGIC OF “FAILING” SCHOOLS: Yesterday, we told our education team to go with Glod. Our series resumes tomorrow or Monday.