Ever so slowly our journalists turn!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 31, 2016

Yglesias talks about narrative:
To answer the question we most frequently get:

Yes, we had a surge protector! As with the pocket protectors of old, it seems they don't always work.

Moving right along:

We've spent the past few weeks living in 1980 (or before). We still had a working radio and a daily hard-copy newspaper, but not a whole lot else.

In some ways, the experience could be seen as cleansing. This Monday night, we started watching cable news again. When we did, we were struck by its practiced foolishness even more than before.

That practiced foolishness isn't necessarily restricted to cable. As we start our labors again, we have a substantial list of topics we'd like to explore.

Let's start with a major policy area. That back-to-school piece in last Sunday's Washington Post was a (highly familiar) piece for the ages. For our previous post, click here.

As we've endlessly noted down through the years, data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggest major achievement gains by all major parts of our student population. Black and Hispanic students have persistently recorded score gains. White students have been recording score gains too.

On Monday, we posted the score gains recorded by black and Hispanic fourth graders in math since the 2000 testing. These score gains seem to be large, but very few people have ever heard about them, or about the larger set of score gains (dating to the 1970s) of which they're just one part.

Based on their repeated performance, the New York Times and the Washington Post would rather shut down operations than tell the public about those persistent score gains. Instead, we're persistently told that nothing is working in our schools—that our schools are an ungodly mess.

Down through the years, we've developed a counter-intuitive term to describe this type of journalistic behavior. Brace yourselves, because here it comes:

"Not recognizably human."

Not recognizably human! How can it be that our major news orgs refuse to report these persistent score gains? Cynics could postulate theories, of course. But we'd have to say that the basic journalistic behavior is not recognizably human.

Understandably, some people are put off by that characterization. We think their reaction is understandable. But in its essence, we think their reaction is wrong.

Not recognizably human! That characterization enters our head when we see such basic information persistently disappeared. And please understand: Everyone agrees that the NAEP is "the gold standard" of domestic educational testing. Our big newspapers cite NAEP data quite routinely. But they only cite the achievement gaps; they refuse to cite the persistent gains which have been recorded by all major demographic groups.

(When all major groups record score gains, the so-called achievement gaps remain, though at a higher level. For the record, the gaps are smaller today than they were in the past.)

They report the gaps, disappear the gains! At some point, we'd have to say that this journalistic conduct is not recognizably human.

A cynic would tell you that our news orgs are adhering to a certain "narrative," or preferred elite story-line, when they pick and choose their basic facts in this otherwise puzzling way. For many years, we've told you this:

Our mainstream journalism tends to be narrative all the way down. That's true in the coverage of public schools. It's also true in the coverage of candidates.

From 1999 on, we've begged the rest of the liberal world to challenge the way the mainstream press constructs controlling story-lines about presidential candidates. A cynic would tell you that career liberal journalists have refused to do this because their career paths run through the major newspapers and broadcast news orgs which have engaged in this conduct.

Have journalists refused to heed our cry in service to their own careers? Such behavior would be human, all too human! At any rate, ever so slowly, it seems to us that a few liberal journos have started to turn. Tomorrow, we'll start with a new piece by Matt Yglesias, a piece which appears beneath this headline at Vox:

"Colin Powell’s foundation and Hillary Clinton’s are treated very differently by the media"

Yglesias' piece concerns the type of journalistic narrative we've been discussing since 1999. We were struck by the salience of the piece, and by the high levels of courtesy it extends toward the unnamed journalists whose work it samples and cites.

Ever so slowly, have we started to turn? On the merits, that Yglesias piece is very important. It also arrives very late in the game, and it's just one highly salient drop in a very deep sea.

Tomorrow: More on the Yglesias piece

Coming this afternoon: Chozick recalls Lewinsky

The Washington Post takes us back to school!

MONDAY, AUGUST 29, 2016

The latest poisonous blast:
In theory, recovery from our thunderclap strike is proceeding apace.

Today, our cable provider's "dispatch team" is coming to get our cable team. Assuming that actually happens, connectivity to the Internet is next!

That said, Baltimore's children are walking back to school as we continue on hiatus. Despite the impressions you may get, this city is full of good, decent kids. Concerning the public schools they attend, you may sometimes be encouraged to gain misleading impressions.

Case in point: This remarkable back-to-school piece from yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section.

The piece was written by "education scholar" Shepard Barbash. It's full of poisonous claims and insinuations about American teachers and schools.

None of these claims is argued for, let alone established. We don't know if we've ever seen a journalistic offering which was less journalistic.

(On line, we note that the piece provides links which may produce evidence in support of some claims. At 35 cents per minute at Kinko's, we can't afford to click those links. The hard-copy version of the piece is argument- and evidence-free.)

What sorts of claims does Barbash advance in his enjoyable "pop quiz" format? He starts by asking these questions:
BARBASH (8/28/16): A new school year brings back all the old questions: What’s wrong with our schools? Why are they so hard to fix? Who is to blame for their failures? Take this test and find out. There are no wrong answers.
The implications are hard to miss. As he continues, Barbash poses questions like this:
BARBASH: 9. Why don't more educators do what works best?
A) They don't want to.
B) They don't have to.
C) They don't know how.
D) All of the above.
Because we've been told that "there are no wrong answers," those sweeping accusations are all presumed to be true.

To what extent is Barbash an "education scholar?" We don't know, and our current state of connectivity leaves us unable to perform a full search.

We will say this: In its identity line, the Post says that Barbash is "the author of five books, including Clear Teaching. We note that Clear Teaching seems to be his only book about education, and that it is a book of only 81 (81) pages which seems to advocate a certain teaching technique which has achieved a somewhat specialized, cultish following.

Is there some reason to believe that the teaching technique in question ought to be used more widely? The Post might have asked Barbash to write a column advancing that claim. Instead, the paper published the latest poisonous portrait of our allegedly hapless, ne'er do well, failing schools.

Are the nation's public schools an ungodly, failing mess? The claim is very popular among a class of "education reformers." The claim is also widely advanced within the mainstream press.

That said, we had occasion last week to review the latest NAEP scores. The National Assessment of Educational Progress is a federal testing program which dates to 1970. It is widely regarded as our most reliable domestic testing program, perhaps as our only reliable domestic testing program.

As we've noted a million times, NAEP data show rising test scores among all groups of American kids. As we had occasion to note last week, these are average scores in Grade 4 math for the years 2000 and 2015:
Average scores, Grade 4 math
NAEP, 2000 / 2015

Black students: 202.94 / 223.98
Hispanic students: 207.10 / 229.97
On their face, those are large score gains. We'll offer a very rough rule of thumb: ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year. We regard rhat as a very rough rule of thumb, but NAEP data suggest significant gains by all demographic groups over the past four decades.

All in all, NAEP data are hard to square with the poison which pours from the pens of people like Barbash. That said, newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times virtually never tell their readers about the score gains recorded by American kids.

Regarding the Barbash piece, we have no idea why the Post would publish a back-to-school piece which was so non-journalistic. And no, there was no competing piece painting a different picture of American schools and the good, decent kids within them.

We know of no area where so much data is so systematically withheld from the public. In great detail, we've presented these data again and again. Nothing will ever persuade our mainstream journalists, or our liberal activists, to insist that these data be reported and explored.

We know of no area where so much data is so systematically withheld from the public. Making this pattern more astonishing, the information which is being withheld looks like good, encouraging news.

As Baltimore's kids went back to school, the Washington Post chose to do it again. Supporters of "reform" exchange high fives, but who will inform the public about the rising scores achieved by our good, decent kids?

We'll be on hiatus a few more days!

FRIDAY, AUGUST 26, 2016

But first, these observations:
We'll be on hiatus a few more days as we resolve our post-thunderclap connectivity and equipment replacement problems. But first:

Yesterday, we spent three hours in a workshop with an array of federal managers. This led us to move about the parlous partisan state into which the nation has fallen.

To what extent has our basic functioning broken down? Let's run through the three branches of government:

Due to our current dysfunctional state, the Supreme Court is operating with only eight members. There is no way to break a tie in the event of a 4-4 vote. Nor is there any assurance that there will ever be a ninth member.

It's a very peculiar state of affairs. That said, consider the current state of the Congress, the body which is failing to act on the nomination of a possible ninth Justice:

The Congress is in such a divided partisan state that it's virtually impossible to pass any legislation. This didn't start in the Obama years. It dates at least to the government shutdowns of the first Clinton term and to the subsequent stream of temporary "continuing resolutions" which were need to keep the government functioning.

Presumably, someone will be elected president in November. That said, will that person be able to pass any legislation next year? Evidence suggests that our current state of partisan breakdown makes that an unlikely prospect.

Finally, consider the status of that new president. Alas! The current state of our partisan breakdown means that the two major party nominees carry the highest "unfavorable" ratings of any nominees in modern history.

Whoever ends up in the White House, that person will be widely loathed. For better or worse, all parts of our federal government seem to be in highly unusual states of breakdown.

What explains this state of affairs? Yesterday, we suggested two basic ways in which the press corps has helped fuel this breakdown.

First, the rise of partisan news orgs of the left and the right has flooded the discourse with disinformation and misinformation. Also, with steady streams of messaging designed to make liberals and conservatives fully loathe each other.

If we might borrow from CSNY: Loathe the others well!

This sort of behavior from partisan orgs has fueled the types of division mentioned above. Meanwhile, our big mainstream legacy news orgs have persistently failed to challenge the conduct of such partisan players and orgs. Misinformation and deliberate confusion are routinely ignored—ignored and permitted to stand.

For the last ten years, we've been begging our big mainstream orgs to accept a basic principle: When major players mislead or misinform millions of people, that is in itself a news event, a news event which should be addressed in front page news reporting.

Over the past several decades, our big news orgs have largely ducked this role. In just this past week, the New York Times has finally begun to break out of this mold, challenging some misinformation being sold by Sean Hannity.

Such action is long overdue. That said, we don't expect to see such work done on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the skill level of our big mainstream orgs is often extremely low.

More and more, we resemble a failing banana republic. Players of the left and the right have happily driven this downward cycle. When will big news orgs, and us the people, finally say that the joy of loathing The Other must be subjected to a full frontal challenge?

We offer those thoughts as we start to address our post-thunderclap issues. As a nation, we've managed to achieve a clownishly dysfunctional state of affairs. Gloomily, we offer these thoughts:

Our skills at addressing this problem are few. Beyond that, the spirit seems weak.

Our mainstreamers tend to play along with disinformation and confusion pretty much as they find it. They tend to avoid rocking powerful boats. If you doubt that, listen to any mainstream pundit discussion.

Go ahead! Start with discussions on NPR, as we just (depressingly) did. Then branch out from there!

One final point: We liberals may instinctively claim it's all being done by Them, Over There. In that instinctive claim, we'll be counterproductive and wrong.

Example: We think Paul Krugman is right today. After that, we think he goes wrong!