THE SHAPE OF POTEMKIN DISCUSSION! The Washington Post praised the PG schoolsand presented a phony discussion: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2011
Hacking the queen/Who needs basic facts: Good grief! Were British tabloids hacking Queen Elizabeth? If so, they created a wonderful emblem of the breakdown in journalistic procedures which mark the current age.
But then, that breakdown is all around. Consider some hopeless examples.
In yesterdays Washington Post, Robert Samuelson wrote a column for the ages. A lazy type of modern journalism must always insist on a basic premise: Both sides are equally guilty of X! Yesterday, Samuelson may have produced the dumbest example of this script we have ever seen.
Grover Norquist wont allow any revenue increases of any kind, Samuelson noted. Whatever you think of Norquists stance, its thoroughly uncompromising. And Norquist plays a powerful role in modern Republican politics.
Samuelson went on to claim that Norquist engages in deception in the way he promotes his anti-tax views. For our money, Samuelsons claim of deception was extremely weak. But by the tenets of Hard Pundit Law, this meant that Samuelson needed a match on the left.
Who has engaged in deception on the left? In a hopeless piece of work, Samuelson picked Robert Greenstein:
Whatever you think of Norquists stance, its completely uncompromisingand it drives a good deal of Republican politics. Samuelson matched Norquist with Greenstein, complaining that Greenstein has never presented a fully balanced budget. Our question: Does Greenstein even support the need for a fully balanced budget? As far as we know, most liberal economists do not. In the current situation, they want to get deficits under control. But they dont think that deficits must be eliminated.
Dont liberal economists generally think that modest deficits are a good thing?
Samuelsons claim that Norquist engages in deception strikes us as extremely weak; his matching claim about Greenstein may be even dumber. But good god, this is horrible work! Perhaps the nation is better off when the New York Times lets Maureen Dowd prattle on about Liz and Dick!
Samuelsons piece struck us as hopeless. But consider the nonsense which has emerged in the past few days from the hopeless and pitiful pseudo-liberal web site, TPM.
Can the people at TPM be this dumb? They have offered endless, inane reports about the deeply troubling way Paul Ryan drank some expensive wine on one recent occasion. (For one example, click this.) The sheer stupidity of this reporting should be apparent to allas should the fact that this type of reporting is designed to excite us gullible rubes, giving us a tribal thrill and helping us get very angry. But good grief! Paul Krugman, the liberal worlds MVP, has now made two snarky references to this brain-dead pseudo-issue.
This morning, on page A13, Ezra Klein presents some of the basic facts which inform the ongoing budget debate. As weve noted, these basic facts have not appeared on our nations major front pages as we slide toward a possible debt ceiling debacle. Well guess that most Americans, whatever their political views may be, have never seen such basic facts discussed or reported at all.
For the record, Ezras logic is weak in several places today, even as he presents basic facts. But across the pond and over here, a cultures elites have lost their minds. Intellectual procedures lie in ruins. As in the most destructive moments in human history, tribal poo-flinging is all.
Across the pond, theyre hacking the queen! In our view, its a wonderful emblem of the general breakdown which may send us all to the deep.
PART 2THE SHAPE OF POTEMKIN DISCUSSION (permalink): What do we mean when we say that our press corps tends to create Potemkin discussions? A Potemkin discussion would be a fake discussion (click here), not unlike the discussion Joel Klein created in the Washington Post just last month.
Who is Joel Klein? Until last year, Klein was chancellor of the New York City schools under Mayor Bloomberg. As such, he became known around the country as a leading education reformer. Last year, after a major statewide testing scandala scandal which wasnt treated as sameKlein left his post and took a job working for Rupert Murdoch.
Last month, the Post enlisted the fraudulent fellow to explore his brilliant vision of education reform. Kleins piece appeared on the June 12 op-ed page. It included this Potemkin piddle, in which he marveled at an outcome which wasnt shocking at all:
You might give Klein a gentlemans D for that second highlighted passage. But can a person of Kleins background really be that dumb?
Whats so dumb about Kleins presentation? According to Klein, a bunch of black and Hispanic kids attended KIPP charter schools in New York and Houston. Thirty-three percent ended up graduating from college; this exceeded the ten percent rate one would have expected for the broad range of black and Hispanic kids from their low-income backgrounds.
Assuming Kleins numbers are correct, these kids outperformed the wide range of black and Hispanic kids from similar backgrounds. But these werent typical black and brown kids, pulled at random from their cities public schools. These were kids who volunteered to subject themselves to the highly demanding KIPP program.
As such, these kids were different coming in. It shouldnt come as a major surprise when they outperform the norm.
Were glad that these kids challenged themselves in this way; were happy that KIPP was there to drive them. But it shouldnt be a major surprise when the more ambitious slice of some population does better than that population as a whole. Nor does it mean that all black and Hispanic kids from poverty backgrounds would prosper from the demanding KIPP program. It doesnt tell us what would happen if all kids from similar backgrounds were sent to KIPP-style schools.
And most importantly, no: It doesnt tell us that it's long past time to stop blaming educational failure on poverty and its attendant disadvantages, whatever that pile of words from this fraudulent hustler was ever intended to mean.
Anyone with an ounce of sense could see the flaws in Kleins reasoning. But the Washington Post has been engaged for some time in creating these types of Potemkin discussions concerning education reform. Were sorry to be the ones to tell you: But the big news orgs of our power elite seem to love these bogus discussions, which have a Potemkin feel.
How often does the Post play Potemkin? Consider the papers recent editorial about the Prince Georges County schools.
Prince Georges County is a large, majority-black Maryland county which borders DC to the northeast. According to Wikipedia, the county was named for Prince George of Denmark (16531708), husband of Queen Anne of Great Britain and brother of King Christian V of Denmark and Norwaybut nobody seems to care about those royals any more. At the Post, the editorial board does seem to care about this countys public schoolswhich can of course be used to show the wonders of Post-style education reform. On July 3, the editors wrote an editorial about the countys new test scores, saying that these test scores show the countys reform-fueled progress.
To read the whole editorial, just click here. We were most struck by the highlighted passage. Its the work of a lazy, D-minus studentor of an A-plus propagandist:
In fact, the gains in passing rates were fairly small in Prince Georges County this year, as you can see from reviewing the full editorialbut thats neither here nor there. Reading the editorial, we were struck by the editors treatment of those large score gains since 2003and by the way they attributed those gains to the reforms that began when the state replaced PGs school board.
Has PG County improved the performance of its schools since 2003? We would assume that it hasthat a lot of hard work by a lot of people has gone into that change. But passing rates have jumped all over the state of Maryland during that same period; in Baltimore City, another majority-black jurisdiction, passing rates have jumped in ways which rival the jumps in Prince Georges County. As they always do, the editors take those passing rates at face value, pretending that weve learned nothing about statewide testing in the eight years under review.
In this way, they earn the D-minus grade we would give to their lazy work.
Duh. Since 2003, a string of scandals have afflicted major testing programs around the nationalthough you might not know that fact if you read the Washington Post. Just last year, the state of New York threw out years of rapidly improving test scores, acknowledging that its statewide tests had gotten easier during those years. (This is the major scandal in which the wonderfully clueless Joel Klein was involved.) If statewide tests gets easier down through the years, that states passing rates will of course improvebut the gains in passing rates may not reflect real gains in academic achievement.
Beyond that, there have been several massive cheating scandals in the past few years. One of those scandals took place in DC, right under the editors famously smell-no-evil noses.
People who care about public schools will be concerned by these situations. Journalists who care about public schools will work hard to explore their implications. The Washington Post has taken a different approach, an approach which is largely propagandistic. To this day, it has essentially never told readers about the scandal in the state of New York; as a result, readers wont be inclined to wonder if something similar could have happened here. And last Saturday, its editors presented an absurdly misleading account of the amount of cheating which may have transpired in DC itself (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/11/11). This continued the newspapers general policy of deep-sixing cheating scandals.
Were Marylands statewide tests in 2011 as difficult as its tests in 2003? Like you, we have no earthly ideain large part because the Washington Post has worked quite hard down through the years to avoid exploring such questions. (By normal standards of the testing industry, technical manuals should exist. In theory, they should settle such questions.) But then, the paper has also worked quite hard to avoid filling readers heads with knowledge about the problems of cheating. Last Tuesday, a major report by the state of Georgia described massive cheating on statewide tests in Atlantas schools over a number of years. The New York Times reported this major story in a stand-alone news report (click here).
The Washington Post did not. But then, what else is new?
We would assume that Prince Georges students really are doing better. Wed like to know how much better. But the Washington Post has worked quite hard to avoid the eras biggest storiesand to avoid exploring their implications. But then, it has ever been thus among the laziest students.
In public schools, the less ambitious kids sit in the back of the class, trying to get by with the absolute minimum. In the case of the shiftless Post, lazy editors clown along, pretending to care about public schools, creating Potemkin discussions.
Tomorrow: Some liberal Potemkins
Thursday or Friday: As Atlanta burned