WELL ALWAYS HAVE FINLAND! Obama praises our lowest-performing schools. Sirota flies to Finland: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JULY 13, 2011
The occasional fact/And the Dowd that wont stop barking: Once in a while, despite the press corps best efforts, a few small facts do swim into view. If you read all the way to the end of David Leonhardts new column, you get rewarded with this:
Returning to the Clinton tax rates would solve roughly one-quarter of our long-term deficit problem? From our past reading, we would have thought it was more. But then, do you have any idea where you can go to look this up? (We would have to start hunting around.) Whatever your general views on the budget might be, this is one of the basic facts which permit a general understanding of the overall budget and deficit situation. In the Times, a fleeting treatment of this fact briefly appears today on page B5, in the next-to-last paragraph of an analysis column. (This is not a criticism of Leonhardt.)
Would you have any idea where to go for a fuller treatment? Dont try the Times news pages!
Elsewhere, the Times biggest stars have different things on their minds.
On Sunday, Maureen Dowd mused about Liz and Dick. Today, she discusses Hitlers thoughts about dogs. If we might borrow a term from her column, heres the way the barking mad New York Times columnist starts:
First of all, look whos talking! But as she continues, Dowd rather daringly shares her thoughts about the worlds biggest nut-cakes. From Caligula to Nero to Qaddafi, dictators are often not just cruel and evil, but lunatics, she informs. So we shouldnt be surprised by news reports suggesting the Führer was batty beyond even Mel Brookss satire.
Have we mentioned the insouciance of the New York Times biggest stars? Youd never know a disaster was on from reading Dowds loopy columns. This morning, she isnt intrigued by Hitler himselfits more about Hitlers view of dogs. As we read the following passage, we thought of a modern parallel:
An Airedale was considered a leading intellectual? In this country, a columnist whos a visible crackpot was once given a Pulitzer prize!
Such columns never end well. As usual, Dowd ends her piece with some sexy-time sex talk. Oh what the heck! Here it is:
French hookers! And blow-up dolls! Who gives a fig about tax rates?
Like Dowd, those comical dolls were an imitation of life.
German soldiers were embarrassed by their imitations of lifebut the New York Times just keeps publishing Dowd. She has been a highly visible fool for a very, very long time. This dates at least to the night, in 1984, when she saw that Walter Mondale wasnt sure if he should hug Geraldine Ferraro (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/10).
Mondale made a famous statement that night about taxes, about telling the truth about taxes. Twenty-seven years later, taxesand telling the truth about taxesremain at the heart of our political debate. The high elites at the New York Times still seem to find the subject too boring to report.
Dowd has been barking loudly for a very long time. An era of journalism is captured in the following fact: The high elites at the New York Times have never been able to see this.
PART 3WELL ALWAYS HAVE FINLAND (permalink): Alas, the suffering public schools! Is there any major topic about which we speak more nonsense?
Almost all our public discussions are highly Potemkin; that is to say, almost all our public discussions are counterfeit, staged, mainly phony. But when we talk about public schools, we really take the cake.
Sometimes, the nonsense about public comes to us straight from the top.
How silly can the narratives get? Here was President Obama, praising a Denver school in this years State of the Union address:
Were not big fans of Diane Ravitch, the reinvented liberal education guru. But this time, regarding this speech by Obama, Ravitch was basically right.
A bit of background: Obama praised the Bruce Randolph School on January 25, calling it an example of what good schools can dopraising it as a school which shows what's possible for our children when reform isn't just a top-down mandate. As is the norm in these puzzling moments, everyone was moved.
Ten days later, Vincent Carroll told the rest of the story in the home-town Denver Post. Carroll applauded the progress which has occurred at Bruce Randolph. But then, he cited some data:
It seems this school was completely out of control at one time; now, a much stronger sense of purpose prevails. (Needless to say, the school got a special dispensation from various union rules as it reorganized itself.) But the school is still one of the worst schools in Colorado, to judge from measured academic results. Were sure that many people have worked very hard to bring this school back from a state of chaos. But whatever progress may have occurred, this school still records very low achievement rates.
Within our highly Potemkin culture, such facts cant defeat preferred narratives. Even after Carrolls piece appeared, Obama made similar remarks about Bruce Randolph in a pair of speeches in March. On June 1, Ravitch provided a bit more detail in a New York Times op-ed column:
In reading, the school was in the first percentile! (On the middle school level.) You might say this isnt Bruce Randolphs fault; presumably, many of its deserving kids were far behind when they entered the school. But truly, your nation has virtually lost its mind when a school which scores in the first percentile on reading is held up, in a State of the Union address, as an example of what we can achieve when we institute thoughtful reform.
As readers may recall, Obama isnt alone in offering words of praise to schools which are doing quite poorly on basic academic measures. In February 2006, the Washington Post hailed a local elementary school right at the top of its front page, calling it a study in pride [and] progress. But how well was this school really performing? Only two grade levels, 3 and 5, had been tested the previous year. In one of those grades, the school turned out to have the second-lowest reading score in the whole state of Virginia! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/20/06.)
Theres a word for discussions like these. That word would be Potemkin.
Ravitch was right to challenge Obamas statement; in her op-ed piece, she noted other such statements by Obama and education head Arne Duncan concerning a few other schools. But when Ravitch spoke about these strange statements, the world of education reform came crashing down on her head.
At this point, does the power elite perhaps enter the picture? Jonathan Alter wrote this piece, battering Ravitch all around for her lack of faith in reform. (Ravitch is the education worlds very own Whittaker Chambers, he said.) For many years, Alter wrote for Newsweek. But today, hes with Bloomberg News, a giant news org which takes its name from a certain billionaire mayor, an apostle of the religious school known as education reform.
Well assume that Alter believes what he wrotejudgments which follow the line of the man who pays the bills. But then, education reform is pushed by many people with ties to the billionaire mayor. For three years, weve wondered why Charlie Rose staged that truly awful interview with Teach for Americas Wendy Kopp, a session we described at the time as perhaps the worst interview ever (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/08). Early this year, we learned of Roses financial and personal ties to the billionaire mayor. According to this fascinating 2009 profile in Fortune, Michael Bloomberg provided Rose with a free studio and office space all the way back in 1991, an arrangement which had continued right through the time of the profile; Bloombergs largesse helped Rose fund the [Charlie Rose] show himself and therefore own it. Beyond that, Roses long-time social companion, Amanda Burden, is a department head in the Bloomberg governmentand a member of the International Best Dressed List, we might as well add.
Obviously, theres nothing wrong with being a Bloomberg department head. But something was grotesquely wrong with that interview with Kopp, a Gotham-based darling of Bloomberg-style reform. Do Roses ties to the billionaire mayor help explain the worst interview ever?
We have no idea. Moving along:
In the wake of the Alter piece, David Sirota staged a debate between Alter and Ravitch on his Denver-based radio show (click here to listen). Sirota did a nice job hosting the segment; Ravitch and Alter both made some fair points, though Alter added some Potemkin moments by praising Bruce Randolphs stunning improvements, specifically noting that the school has gone from a five percent proficiency rate in math all the way to 14 percent. (Yes, he actually said it.)
Sirota did a nice job hosting the segment. But then, in Salon, he came up with this, the latest trip to the Finland Station. Why cant we be more like Finland, Sirota asked, like so many others before him. He even offered this odd comparison:
Good lord! Will we never stop pretending that Finland has solved the public school riddle? Sirotas citation of the inherent parallels between Finland and the United States was especially striking, since the two societies are so different. We dont know where that 15 percent second-language figure comes from; it substantially differs from the figures weve seen everywhere else. But if that statistic gave you the impression that Finlands schools have lots of poverty-level, second-language immigrant kids, just the way our public schools do, you might want to think again. Based on our previous reading, most Finns who dont speak Finnish are the so-called Swedish-speaking Finns, who predominate in two small sections of the country. Children who grow up in these homes are native, middle-class Finns. This group has been an integral part of Finland since about the twelfth century.
Sirota did a nice job hosting that segment. But Finland aint like the U.S.
Is there any subject about which more abject nonsense is spoken? Is there any other subject where our intellectual standards are quite so Potemkin? Our discourse about public schools is conducted inside a mazeand its found at the end of a long hall of mirrors. Next:
Our newspapers fiddled as Atlanta burned. To this day, no one has asked the most obvious question.
Comingpart 4: Atlanta cheated its keister off. But only on its own statewide tests.
What makes Charlie Rose run: We think that Fortune profile of Rose is well worth reading (click here). We were most struck by David Kaplans portrait of Roses income and social classthough Jim Lehrer is richer than Rose, as Charlie keeps protesting.
Here are a few of those excerpts. Inside the piece, youll find more:
Not that theres anything wrong with it! Until you watch that disgraceful session with Kopp, at which point you may start to wonder.
By the way, Smiley fawns to the Bloomberg crowd too, as we noted a few months ago. For the record, Fortunes title was this: Why business loves Charlie Rose.