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Caveat lector

WHERE’S OUR TRANSCRIPT? As we prepare to give it a rest, we ask Terry Gross: Where’s our transcript?


DUDE! WHERE’S MY TRANSCRIPT? Many e-mailers have taken interest in Bill O’Reilly’s Fresh Air appearance. We’d hoped to speak to one or two points. But dudes! Where’s our transcript? For some reason, Fresh Air hasn’t posted a Nexis transcript for its 10/8 session with Mr. O. All others, including 10/9, are there. Terry Gross! This means you! Where’s our transcript?

At any rate, we ended up reading the transcript of Molly Ivins’ 10/7 session with Gross. We found this passage worth noting:

IVINS: When I wrote about Bush in 2000, during the presidential campaign, I said, Look, you know, this guy’s record is mostly either not impressive or depressing, but there is one bright spot: He really is interested in education, he really understands the issue, and he put a lot of time and energy into it. I didn’t know at the time, and in the new book we report that what had appeared to be significant advances in education in Texas, improving scores and just a general upward trend, turned out to have been, heartbreakingly enough, slightly fraudulent.

What happened was, we were getting higher scores by increasing the dropout rate, which, depending on which study you believe, may be somewhere short of 40 percent, which is really pretty ugly. And what you’re seeing—for example, students have to be tested in fourth and ninth grade, or tenth grade. And so, at the high-school level, you have kids who remain in school for three years as technical ninth-graders. They’re never allowed to advance because they would lower the school’s cumulative score.

And this kind of sort of cheating—for lack of a better word, let’s just call it cheating—was, of course, provoked by these requirements laid on public schools by the state without sufficient funds to back them up. In other words, they were told, “perform, do better,” but not given any wherewithal to do better.

We don’t know Ivins, but we wrote her after her comment in 2000, warning her against putting her faith in those improved Texas test scores. But even now, she seems to lack a full understanding of the problems involved in this matter. Recent reporting has indeed shown that some Texas schools monkeyed with drop-out statistics and policies. But even as Ivins praised Bush in 2000, serious studies had already suggested that those improved Texas test scores may have been a mirage. Those studies didn’t involve the hanky-panky about drop-out rates. Instead, they suggested the possibility of a more general type of cheating in Texas testing—a type of cheating that has been widespread, all over the country, since “accountability” began to be tied to such tests around 1970. (How far back do these problems go? We first wrote about this topic in the Baltimore Sun in the late 1970s. We first warned Sun columnists about fake test scores in 1971.) But as we have noted in past DAILY HOWLERs, it is simply impossible to get American elites to pay attention to these matters. On Fresh Air, Ivins discussed the more recent reporting about drop-out rates. But she still doesn’t seem to have heard about the prior concerns.

“I didn’t know at the time…that what had appeared to be significant advances in education in Texas, improving scores and just a general upward trend, turned out to have been, heartbreakingly enough, slightly fraudulent,” Ivins told Gross. But these problems were being reported in 2000, before Ivins wrote in praise of Bush. Indeed, why not visit our incomparable archives! Simply access our whirring search engines. Enter “RAND” or “KIPP” or “TASS” or “NAEP” or “Cannell” to bone up on these issues.

We’re big fans of Ivins too. But she should have known, back in 2000, that those Texas test scores had been called into question. And she doesn’t seem to know, to this day, on what basis the test scores seemed shaky.

Now: Getting back to Mr. O, let’s say it again. Where’s our transcript?

SABBATICAL: Note the cranky tone of this piece? We’re totally sick of our cranky tone too! For that reason, we’re planning to take a significant break, from which we may not even return! (To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Yes, it’s true…”) But before we break, we plan to spend four days next week on a recent book review—a remarkable review which brings us full circle, back to the topics which helped launch THE HOWLER. Yes, we refer to Larry McMurtry’s bizarre review in the current New York Review of Books. How dysfunctional is American discourse? The fact that McMurtry’s review ever went into print ought to puzzle every American. What could have gone through the minds of his editors? Frankly, we’re puzzled by that question too. But McMurtry’s review really does say it all; we plan to assess it, then break. We’ll name his editors, and then we’ll say this: When your discourse is run by such empty elites, there’s really no point in dissent.

SHOW HER THE MONEY: Ivins continued, focussing on No Child Left Behind. As we’ve said, we’re Ivins fans too. But we don’t think she knows this terrain:

IVINS (continuing directly): And there you are again. It’s exactly the same thing at the national level. I mean, Bush’s first big play was the education bill called No Child Left Behind. And Senator Edward Kennedy worked with the administration on that. And they came up with, you know, a plan to—again, standards, testing, let’s see the results, let’s find out how these kids are doing. And then Bush refused to fully fund what he had committed to with Kennedy in the course of negotiating for that bill. There’s no use demanding higher standards of schools unless you give them something to work with.

GROSS: Now you’re implying that schools are just as happy, that the kids who score low drop out because then the school looks better on the standardized test scores.

IVINS: Yes, I am. I am more than implying that, I’m stating that.

GROSS: And why would the schools want the kids out to make the test scores look better?

IVINS: Well, if you’re the principal of a school that doesn’t meet the standards of the state—you know, a sufficient number of kids pass the test so that you get approval—then, among other things, you’re fired, you’re gone.

GROSS: So how does this system that you’re describing in Texas compare to what’s being put in place in the US?

IVINS: Well, the No Child Left Behind Act, you will find if you talk to educators around the country, is being found to have serious drawbacks and a whole lot of hell is being raised about it on a lot of different levels. But I think, again, it comes back to the fact that you demand more of the schools without giving them any more resources.

Here at THE HOWLER, we spent our first twelve adult years teaching in the Baltimore City schools. The principal problem was not low funding. But our urban schools are a Forgotten Village (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/11/03); liberals haven’t been there in decades. It doesn’t make them bad people, of course, but liberal elites don’t have the first clue on thissubject. Or so we incomparably found ourselves thinking as we read Ivins’ remarks.