THIS JUST IN FROM THE BACKWATER! Courrégés superlative work made us stop and ponder: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2008
Campbell Brown, playing the fool: Astounding. Last night, it was Campbell Brown making a fool of herself over the deeply troubling way Obama has handled the Blagojevich matter.
At the start of her program, Brown played tape of Tuesdays Q-and-A between Obama and John McCormickthe troubling exchange in which Obama told McCormick (again) that hed have to wait until next week to have his questions answered. Then, Brown made an utter fool of herself with an utterly silly commentary, in which she lectured Obama about the very ideals you promoted during your campaigndirectness, honesty, candor, transparency, openness. Poor Brown! You were the one who embraced openness, she piously said. You could stand to be a little more open to it.
Browns commentary was utterly foolishbut her panel segment on this matter seemed designed to make her look even worse. Roland Martin and Jeffrey Toobin triedmuch too politely, in our viewto show her how silly her whole posture was. But Steven Hayes was clowning too, about this super-trumped question.
We wont even attempt to capture how foolish Brown was all through this discussion. But good God! When it came time to move along from this trumped-up topic, she laughingly responded to Martin, who was openly mocking her focus on this bogus matter:
By now, Brown was clearly trafficking in high irony. To our ear, it was fairly clear that she understoodthat she was acknowledginghow foolish this whole bag of bullsh*t is. Shorter Brown: We wont just waste time on the one-week delaywell waste your time with Caroline too! But so it now goes in the cable news world, a world which has never seemed phonier.
Remarkable. You live at a time when institutions are crumbling all around youbut seven-figure cable news stars cant think of real news topics they can discuss! Its hard to believe, but its perfectly true: Were not sure when weve ever seen them play the fool to quite this extent. Last night, we thought it was fairly clear that Brown knew this was all bogus too.
Late Tuesday, Steve Benen captured this unfolding gong-show, as many liberals have done on the web; he described the pimping of this pseudo-issue as a week of bizarre reporting, and a bizarre effort on the part of many outlets and media personalities to draw a connection that doesn't exist. Indeed, the clowning has truly been something to see since December 9, when Patrick Fitzgerald announced that Obama hadnt done anything wrongand read the transcript of Blagojevich complaining about that very fact. Well admit it: We ourselves have been very surprised to see the press corps clown so hardto see them working so wondrously hard to suggest that Obama has done something wrong. Yesterday, Digby authored her latest must-read post about this remarkableand objectively evilnonsense. Well only say this: You know youve hit the Village rock-bottom when the very correct and prim Ms. Stoddard adds her very fine cant to the mix. Do they make her remove her hat and white gloves before she deigns offer comment?
Many liberals have pushed back skillfully against this truly remarkable nonsense. But readers: Which of your fiery nominal allies have somehow managed to hold themselves back? Weve been asking that question all week. Tomorrow, despite the attendant heartache, well finally give you an answer.
The cultureand cultof the palace: Here was Matthews, chirping and chittering last night about Dear Caroline:
A recurrent thought: Its very hard for regular people to come to terms with the nonsense involved here. People can fathom the broken-souled culture of palace eliteswhen we talk about life in the real Versailles. But heres something thats hard for most people to see: This is the same sort of addled culture, among the same addled elite.
Matthews is paid $5 million per year to offer cotton candy like that. He was put in his post by GEs Jack Welch, one of our wealthiest corporate players.
Part 3This just in from the backwater: Do Malcolm Gladwell and Amanda Ripley know squat from squadoodle about public schools? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea. Within the past week, each scribe penned a major education piece for a major American magazine (for The New Yorker and Time, respectively.) But theres little sign that either writer has any background in educational issues, and in each case, their presentations sometimes seemed suspiciously murky. In particular, Ripley wrote about Michelle Rhee, the hard-hitting new head of DCs public schools. Given the school system Rhee now heads, did Ripley understand how shaky this particular feel-good tale sounded?
We dont know why Ripleys so sure that an average 8-year-old...will be scoring well above grade level by the age of 11, if she gets effective teachersthe kind who rank among the top 15 percent of all teachers. But working in DCs public schools, Rhee is dealing with lots of delightful kids who simply arent average 8-year-oldsif were talking about these childrens educational profiles. What sorts of approaches will work best for them? Ripley didnt seem to realize that this question was raised by her formulation. But duh! For many kids in DC schools, being a year and a half below grade level would count as a major academic success! We saw no sign, at any point, that Ripley really knew squat from squadoodle when it came to so basic a fact.
But then, mainstream writing about public schools is often less than expert. In part for that reason, mainstream scribes may be inclined to accept whatever conventional wisdom may be chic and current. Somewhat oddly, Ripley and Gladwell both cited the research of Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institute. Hanusheks research may be of great value; we know of no reason to think it isnt. But Hanushek isnt a world-famous fellow, and yet, for some unexplained reason, both these scribes were citing his research last week, though neither stated his claims in ways which struck us as fully clear.
That said, a great deal of mainstream ed writing pimps CWand a great deal of current mainstream CW involves the need to replace or augment the current stock of teachers. This strikes us as a perfectly reasonable approach, but it also tilts the discussion in the direction of union-bashingthe kind of old-school conservative impulse which can be found in current debates about both the public schools and the Big 3. No, the ongoing struggles in low-incomes schools arent simply a function of poor teacher quality. But you might have thought otherwise when you read Nicholas Kristofs recent column, in which he advised Obama:
Kristof offered three ideas, all of which are perfectly valid; but all three ideas involved teacher quality. For the record, this seems to be the study to which he referred; the same study was specifically cited in Gladwells piece, once again driving home the point about mysterious uniformity of outlook. The studys authors make five formal suggestions; in our view, all five suggestions are well worth pursuing. But can teacher quality be the only correctable problem facing struggling, low-income schools? You might think so if you were to judge from recent mainstream journalism, where you constantly hear tales from the likes of Rhee and Wendy Kopp about the miracle cures that can result if the right sorts of people are sent into urban schools.
Tomorrow, well return to one such tale, as told (again) in Ripleys profile. Today, though, lets link to an excellent piece of ed writing, by Adam Nossiter, from the front page of the New York Times. The piece appeared on Halloween, and for good reason: It concerned the kinds of ghosts and goblins which often will get overlooked in mainstream educational journalism.
Uh-oh! Inspiring Story of Success at Charleston School Gives Way to Suspicion and Hurt, the front-page headline said. Nossiter described a heralded elementary school in Charleston, South Carolina, whose miraclous test score gains now seem to have been a fraud. For ourselves, well skip the name of the (former) principal, who has denied wrong-doing. But here is the heart of the tale:
Nossiter goes on to describe the process by which the state of South Carolina decided that something was wrong at this school. In short, exam sheets at the high-scoring school sported an unusually high number of erasureswith the erasures all turning wrong answers to right. (Thats not the normal pattern.) If we were to fault Nossiters piece, wed only say thishe failed to put this unfortunate story into a larger historical context. As we told you years ago, this particular type of (outright) cheating has been well-known for decades now (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/31/00)though its rarely discussed in the mainstream press, which so loves tales of those miracle cures. Indeed, after reading Nossiters piece, the question we would ask is this: Why did it take the state so long to realize that something seemed wrong at this school? In Washington, why did the award-bestowing Department of Ed behave like a perfect mark?
Nossiters front-page work was goodbut someone elses work has been truly superior. That person is Diette Courrégé (all links here), who began reporting this story in the (Charleston) Post and Courier on September 10 of this year. After reading the full account of this mess, one might perhaps fault the Post and Courier for not getting on the story sooner. But since September, Courrégé has produced a stream of superior stories, reporting this matter in a type of detail that is simple never, ever found in the mainstream American press. Try to believe that readers got to peruse a report which started out like this:
Say what? The Post and Courier uncovered this gap after requesting test scores from the school district? The gap didnt likely occur by chance, according to a statistical analysis requested by the newspaper? Its truly inspiring to see a newspaper engaging in such careful technical work. And to see Courrégé provide this type of detailed background about this long-standing problem:
In todays post, we cant begin to do justice to the detailed work Courrégé has done on this matter. Suffice to say that this is the kind of work youd sensibly expect a journalist to doand that its the kind of work you simply never see in your major newspapers.
Nossiters piece was a step in the right direction; Courrégés serial effort has been truly superb. That said, lets tie this back to a question that came to our heads when we reviewed that sensible, intelligent Hamilton Project studythe one which Kristof cited.
Early on, Courrégé began giving her readers some background on the general shape of this problem. On September 14, she began one of her many informative reports with some awkward info:
Well edit Courrégé on one point. In fact, cases of educator-led cheating have been cropping up across the country for decades, ever since scores derived from teacher-administered tests began to be used as accountability measures. And uh-oh! We have no idea if those data from Freakonomics are representative of national conduct. But we thought about this Charleston school when we read that intelligent Hamilton Project study, the one Kristof recommended. You see, that study turns on the use of test scores from the Los Angeles schoolspre-existing data derived from teacher-administered tests. If five percent of those data are bogus, the studys utility may well be affected. But we rarely see any sign that major researchersor educational writersever consider such matters. As a result, you recently had the Washington Post praising an elementary school at the top of page onea school with the second-lowest reading score in the whole state of Virginia! And when we discovered that test scores for every school in Virginia had been bogus for several yearswhen the head of the state school board said we were rightyour extremely high-minded Washington Post didnt even bother reporting this small, minor, non-newsy fact.
Kristof cited an intelligent study, one whose suggestions are well worth considering. But what about Courrégés superlative work, down in a little backwater paper? Do researchers allow for possible problems like the ones shes been discussing? We dont know the answer to that. But weve often wondered when weve read certain studies, like some of the studies which are now CW wherever press outlooks are sold.
Tomorrow: Back to Rhees uplifting tale.