Milbank speaks on behalf of one of his tribes!


A truly sobering column:
As Election Day draws near, cable pundits continue to burn their days away speculating about what will happen two weeks hence.

Every new poll provides a new way to kill some time while pretending to be performing analytical service.

If we simply wait two weeks, we'll actually know who won each state! But for cable pundits, professional joy seems to consist in the endless killing of time.

As cable stars burn their days away, columnists and other print journalists are offering some interesting thoughts about how to proceed post-election. We're especially interested in emerging attempts to understand Trump voters.

We plan to explore such musings next week. For today, we're chastened by Dana Milbank's column in the Washington Post.

It's always stunning when major pundits buy into the flimsy idea that the "generations" are fundamentally different one from the other. In his new column, Milbank adopts this flimsy theory full-and-complete freakin' bore.

We jotted a note as we read his column. It's "genuinely dumb," we opined.

Milbank seems to be pretty sure that his generation contains the thoughtful good wise intelligent people, some other generations not nearly so much. We've never seen his analytical skills put to so little use.

Milbank is especially peeved with the baby boomers. They "expanded entitlement programs," he scoldingly says, apparently not realizing that many people would regard such expansion as a boon. He says the boomers "are now poised to bankrupt such programs."

Maybe yes, maybe no. In this context, the scary term "bankrupt" has long operated as a form of fuzzy math.

People who believe "generations" are tribes say the darnedest things! (We believe Art Linkletter said that.) Milbank proves this time-honored point in this remarkable passage:
MILBANK (10/26/16): Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding. When they got power, they created polarization and gridlock from both sides. Though Vietnam War-protesting boomers got the attention, their peers on the right were just as ideological, creating the religious right. Boomers are twice as likely to identify as conservative than liberal, a figure that hasn’t changed much in two decades. And Trump captures his generation’s selfishness: his multiple draft deferrals, his claim that he’s “made a lot of sacrifices” by building buildings, his vow not to cut Social Security but to have huge tax cuts and massive military investments.
"Boomers, coddled in their youth, grew up selfish and unyielding?" It's hard to believe that anyone could write such a silly sentence, let alone an upper-end journalist who graduated from Yale. Skull and Bones!

"Trump captures his generation's selfishness?" Not unlike the aforementioned Trump, Milbank seems to be out of mind.

Might we continue? In that passage, Milbank seems to say that boomers who protested the Vietnam war "were just as ideological" as those who created the religious right. In fairness, he has clearly earned the right to snark at Trump's "draft deferrals" [sic] given his own medal-festooned, heroic service in his nation's subsequent wars, where he served under General Mitty.

(Trust us. During Vietnam, no one would have fought for draft deferrals [sic] with any more fervor than Milbank.)

That column is stunningly dumb. It's hard to believe that anyone traffics in such manifest twaddle, but our upper-end mainstream press corps rather transplendently does. This column reminds us of what can happen when they stop frisking their polls.

Full disclosure: We share the old school system tie with William Strauss of "Strauss–Howe generational theory" fame. He attended Burlingame High while we were at Aragon.

Bill Keller was down the Alameda at Serra. As best we can tell, all these fellows found a way out of the draft.

Did Hillary Clinton root for the Yanks?


The World Series made them do it:
The Cubs are in the World Series this year. This made the New York Times do it.

It made them ask the age-old question. When she was growing up in Chicago, did Hillary Clinton really root for both the Cubs and the Yanks?

That said, now that Dylan has won that prize, it seems the Times, it may be a-changin'! Jonathan Mahler's piece got relegated to the sports section in our hard-copy paper today. And he actually seemed to say that yes, she really did root for the Yanks:
MAHLER (10/26/16): Mrs. Clinton has pointed to ample evidence, including interviews from the early 1990s, that as a young girl in Chicago, she followed the Yankees in addition to the Cubs because she “needed an American League team,” and “in our neighborhood, it was nearly sacrilegious to cheer for the rival White Sox,” as she wrote in her 2003 memoir, “Living History.”

As a 7-year-old, Mrs. Clinton recalled in a speech in 2011, she dressed up as Mickey Mantle for Halloween, adding, “I have the picture to show you and to prove it.”

And in a lengthy 2007 profile, “Growing Up Rodham,” the respected Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins had corroborated this claim: “By age 10, Hillary was a tomboy obsessed with baseball, especially the switch-hitting Mickey Mantle.”
"Mrs. Clinton has pointed to ample evidence?" Is Mahler allowed to say that?

Second question: To what extent is New York Times coverage rigged against poor Trump? After all these years, they're even willing to cop to the truth about this!

For years, Clinton was assailed as The World's Biggest Liar (Not Counting Gore) for her disgraceful claim about the Cubs and the Yankees. How stupid and ugly was this endless campaign? Right before the passage we've posted, we'll let Mahler refresh you:
MAHLER: The source of suspicion about Mrs. Clinton’s baseball loyalties is another set of facts: In 1999, only days after announcing that she was forming an exploratory committee to run for the Senate from New York, she and her husband, President Bill Clinton, welcomed the Yankees to the White House for a visit. Mrs. Clinton donned a Yankees cap given to her by the team’s manager, Joe Torre.

The resulting photographs fueled scorching criticism for years.

“She went to the Yankees so that she could run for senator from New York,” Chris Matthews said in 2007
on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” “It’s so obvious. Why is she—doesn’t she know she looks like a fraud?”
"It's so obvious," Matthews said, just before calling Clinton "a fraud." He was still saying this eight years later!

Eight years earlier, we'd quoted those profiles from the early 1990s, the yellowing profiles which had described young Clinton's love for the Yanks. But so what? In those days, information never quite reached the horrific Hardball host, whose savaging of Candidates Clinton and Gore had made him a Trump-before-Trump.

Today, Candidate Trump has established himself as reigning king of the stupid and ugly. Back then, Matthews, Jack Welch's overpaid Trump-before-Trump, had been cast in that stupid destructive role.

You'll never hear anyone say that, of course. Dearest darlings, it just isn't done!

How stupid and ugly was it: In July, we revisited this stupid and ugly old game. In real time, a long string of embarrassing, disgraceful pundits took turns at the plate.

For the background to the story, click here. Ro revisit the vile pundit fury, click this.

This is the way the game has been played down through these stupid vile years.

WHERE THE CHALLENGES ARE: Why Bill Keller said what he did!


Part 2 in this series

Part 3—Possible sources of bias: Earlier in this extended series, we noted an interesting pair of remarks—a pair of remarks which appeared in the press at back-to-school time in 2011 and 2013.

One remark was made by Bill Keller, a major figure at the New York Times throughout his journalistic career.

Bill Keller isn't dumb in any way. Bill Keller is perfectly decent. In an op-ed column for the Times, Bill Keller said this in August 2013:

"[T]he Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable."

For whatever reason, Keller believed that this country had just experienced "decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education."

Two years earlier, Richard Rothstein, an education specialist, had written an essay for Slate about certain types of "education reform." Deep in his piece, he wrote this:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): Central to the reformers' argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago. (There has also been progress for middle schoolers, and in reading; and less, but not insubstantial, progress for high schoolers.) The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels. The causes of these truly spectacular gains are unknown, but they are probably inconsistent with the idea that typical inner-city teachers are content to watch students wrestle on the classroom floor instead of learning."
Say what? Two years before Keller's gloomy pronouncement, Rothstein had cited actual data from the NAEP, our one reliable domestic testing program. He referred to "truly spectacular gains" on the NAEP during the period in question. This created a strange double vision:

According to the education specialist, "public school performance had skyrocketed" in the previous twenty years. According to the major journalist, those same two decades had been a period of "embarrassing decline in K-12 education."

As we noted earlier in this series, Rothstein was right about those NAEP data. Beyond that, he was right about the one specific advance he cited. As of 2007, black fourth graders were scoring higher in math on the NAEP than white fourth graders had scored in 1990.

On its face, that was a spectacular gain. Two years later, why did Keller, a highly accomplished mainstream journalist, have such a jaundiced view of that same period?

Earlier in this series, we suggested a possible answer. Keller may have had his gloomy perspective because he reads the New York Times! As we noted yesterday, our major news orgs have long betrayed an unrelenting bias as they report on the public schools—a bias which favors the denigration of our students, our teachers, our schools.

Almost surely, Bill Keller had never heard about the score gains Rothstein cited. Within the world of the mainstream press, such data have persistently been disappeared. To this day, have you ever heard, in the mainstream press, about the truly spectacular score gains to which Rothstein referred?

Of course you haven't! Neither has anyone else; it simply isn't done.

Within the realm of the mainstream press, the score gains to which Rothstein referred have persistently been disappeared. Almost surely, Bill Keller's peculiar remark that day represents the poisoned fruit of such journalistic misconduct.

Yesterday, we cited four sleights-of-hand concerning test scores which are routinely observed in the press. These sleights-of-hand—let's not use the unpleasant term, "cons"—constitute a vast offense against public understanding and knowledge.

Below, we'll list a series of sleights from a recent, critically-acclaimed book—a book which lamented the way our pitiful kids stack up against the rest of the world. That book might stand as Exhibit A in the way the establishment press puts its thumbs on the scales in reporting "where the test scores are."

Before we list that book's set of sleights, let's ponder the origins of the press corps' rather obvious preference for denigration of our teachers and schools. Why on earth would the mainstream press hide those spectacular gains?

For starters, let's be fair. Every journalist thinks he or she knows that Bill Keller's statement must have been right. They think this because they constantly read such statements in our major mainstream news organs.

Such statements follow a series of scripts which constitute current conventional wisdom. What forces are driving this powerful narrative? Briefly, we'll consider four:
Standard human foolishness: Innocently but dumbly, we humans may tend toward an innate belief that we were smarter, back in the day, than These Kids Today. We walked ten miles to school every day. It was snowing hard all year. The road was uphill both ways.

Corporate interests: Presumably, corporate interests have played a role in fashioning the gloomy scripts our journalists persistently obey. There's a lot of money to be made from "privatizing" schools in various ways. Presumably, the corporate players involved in this world have worked to promote the gloomy scripts about public school failure which favor certain types of "education reform."

Political interests: Increasingly, the conservative world has adopted the view that government can do nothing right. This has led to poisonous scripts about our "government schools." Presumably, conservative opposition to unions is also a factor here. The denigration of American schools leads to the denigration of teachers. This frequently leads to ardent declarations about the way their infernal unions have ruined those government schools.

The role of the "billionaire boys club:" As has been noted in samizdat, a small group of billionaires have become deeply invested in "education reform." This includes Bill and Melinda Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg and the Walton Family, along with several others whose names are less familiar. As has been widely noted, these players have lavishly funded education research on all points of the spectrum, helping produce the type of consensus which is so rare in our politics today. If you want to know why gloomy scripts about public schools get recited so widely, you may want to "follow the money."
One final point must be noted—our journalists' abiding love of robotic recitation.

As is clear in a wide array of areas, the modern journalist is only happy when he or she is repeating What Everyone Else Has Just Said. This preference for copying off neighbors' papers helps explain why so few objections are raised to the standard sleights-of-hand (let's not use the unpleasant term "con games") which drive our education reporting, leading decent people like Keller to think what Keller said.

Here as elsewhere, a fairly small number of billionaires have been driving our discourse. Their motives may be perfectly pure, but they have likely never heard about those "spectacular score gains" either.

They may truly believe that our public schools are a mess, full stop. But as they spread their money around, grateful recipients may feel the need to advance the derogatory scripts and claims which make these funders glad. (This is pure speculation, of course.)

Do these factors explain the ubiquitous denigration of our schools, our students, our teachers? We can't answer that. But when you read mainstream reports which tell you where the test scores are, you're constantly handed highly selective data and information.

They discuss the gaps, disappear the gains. They discuss the PISA, but ditch the TIMSS. They sometimes disaggregate scores, but only in service to gloomy conclusions.

Beyond that, they simply refuse to stop flying to Finland! This leads us to the peculiar place we'll describe as "Rothstein v. Keller."

It also leads us to The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley's ballyhooed 2013 book about the way our pitiful kids stack up against the rest of the world.

The book was highly readable. In certain respects, it was even instructive—for example, when Ripley described what South Korean kids endure on the way to their very high international test scores.

That said, Ripley was quite selective in the data she chose to use, starting with her decision to disappear the TIMSS altogether. Did we say "altogether?" In fact, Ripley did cite a few results from the TIMSS, though only in selective fashion, in service to certain mandated claims about certain types of "reform."

That said, the TIMSS was never cited by name at any point in the book. Readers of Ripley's book were never told that there are two major international tests in which the developed nations take part.

They were told about the PISA, on which American students have scored less well. They were never told about the TIMSS, on which American students have scored better.

In our view, Ripley's highly readable book is strewn with sleights-of-hand. This includes selective information about the way our hapless white kids score in math; about Minnesota's allegedly brilliant success once it instituted certain types of "reform;" most strikingly, about Finland's allegedly brilliant success with its immigrant kids.

In our view, quite a few thumbs were on several scales in the course of Ripley's book. Does this keep the funding flowing? It certainly led to ecstatic reviews within our script-friendly press.

Mostly, though, Ripley's book extended the beloved tale about the wonders of Finland. For roughly the past dozen years, our journalists have been flown to that small corner of Europe to help us see how pitiful our own public schools really are.

They keep reciting a set of scripts. You might say they're pulling a Keller.

Do their familiar scripts make sense? Tomorrow, our series will end in the streets of Methuen, but also in Fall River and Worcester—and in the streets of Bridgeport, a challenging part of one small corner of the United States.

Tomorrow: Two small corners of the U.S. v. one small corner of Europe

The nothing-burgers continue to flow!


The New York Times moves them along:
Even we were surprised by what the New York Times did this morning.

In this report on Donald Trump's day, Nick Corasaniti pushes the latest nothing-burger along. He simply repeats Trump's latest claim, without making the slightest attempt at clarification or challenge:
CORASANITI (10/25/16): [Trump] furthered his attack, citing a report from The Wall Street Journal that found that the political organization attached to Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia, a key Clinton ally, donated more than $465,000 to the 2015 State Senate campaign of Jill McCabe, the spouse of Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I. The donation was among many made that year by the group in an effort to win back a Democratic majority in the Virginia Senate.

“So the man that was investigating her from the F.B.I., his wife runs for office, and they give her more than $675,000 to run,” Mr. Trump said of Mrs. Clinton, as the crowd began to boo. “And it just came out. They just figured it out.”

It is evidence the whole system is geared against him, Mr. Trump said...
It one sense, this report is accurate. Trump really did say those things yesterday on the trail.

On the other hand, Trump's story was utterly bungled. At the Washington Post, Trump has already received four Pinocchios for this latest nothing-burger. For whatever reason, the Times decided to write it on up, just exactly the way Trump said it to the booing crowd.

Full stop.

As Corasaniti continued, so did his weird stenography. This time, he simply repeated what Trump had said about all those phony polls:
CORASANITI (continuing directly): It is evidence the whole system is geared against him, Mr. Trump said, and any polls showing him behind, he told his supporters, are not to be believed.

“What they do is they show these phony polls where they look at Democrats, and it’s heavily weighted with Democrats,
and then they’ll put on a poll where we’re not winning, and everybody says, ‘Oh, they’re not winning,’” Mr. Trump said at the round-table event Monday morning.

Toward that end, Mr. Trump’s campaign will begin airing its own form of programming on Facebook Live, offering daily reports from campaign officials on what it says is the real state of the race.

His anti-polling and anti-news media message is quickly catching on with his supporters.

“There’s no way any of those polls are real,” said Bill Stelling, 44, a real estate agent from Jacksonville, Fla. “If you’ve gone around throughout the country and seen what’s going on, you go through any neighborhood and see how many Trump signs there are and how many Hillary signs there are, and I guarantee you it’s not even going to be close. It’s not even going to be close.”

It is a message that Mr. Trump has been highlighting at his rallies, repeatedly predicting victory and encouraging his supporters to embrace early voting, which began in some Florida counties on Monday.
In this instance, Corasaniti simply repeated Trump's claims about all those phony polls, the ones which are heavily weighted with Democrats.

Is there any truth to Trump's claims about the phony polls, the claims his supporters find so convincing? Did the Trump campaign offer any evidence that phony polls are being heavily weighted with Democrats, whatever exactly that is supposed to mean?

Corasaniti made no attempt to say. He simply wrote what the candidate said, with no attempt at providing context, evidence, clarification, fact-checking, possible words of caution.

This seemed like one of the laziest news reports we had seen in some time. In fairness, Corasaniti had seemed to start with a slippery shot which cut against Candidate Trump.

This slippery shot concerned what Trump had said about Jessica Drake, the latest woman to accuse him of being perhaps a bit grabby. To our ear, Corasaniti's slippery play had occurred here:
CORASANITI: Ms. Drake, an actress in pornographic films, is one of several women to accuse him of unwanted aggressive sexual advances after the release of a 2005 recording in which Mr. Trump boasted of being able to sexually assault women without consequence.

Mr. Trump has called all of the allegations lies and has said that he does not know the women.

But in a radio interview on WGIR’s “New Hampshire Today,” it was clear that Mr. Trump was aware of Ms. Drake.
"But it was clear that he was aware of Drake?" Was that supposed to suggest a contradiction? That's how it sounded to us.

This was a miserable news report. Our smartest and brightest American newspaper can be extremely lazy.

WHERE THE CHALLENGES ARE: Where the con games are!


Part 2—Four paths to denigration:
Even as we worked on this series, the New York Times published a front-page report concerning the educational challenges confronting the Bridgeport, Connecticut schools.

We were struck by several aspects of that front-page report. We drew a general conclusion:

Even as we face educational challenges within our public schools, we face daunting journalistic challenges concerning the way our public schools get portrayed, discussed, reported.

What was "wrong" with that front-page report? It started with a derogatory, yet highly familiar, portrait of Bridgeport's pitiful students. It also suggested an obvious question—a question which went unmentioned.

The derogatory portrait of Bridgeport's students was almost wholly anecdotal. Here's how that front-page report began:
HARRIS AND HUSSEY (9/12/16): The two Connecticut school districts sit side by side along Long Island Sound. Both spend more than the national average on their students. They prepare their pupils for the same statewide tests. Their teachers, like virtually all the teachers in the state, earn the same high marks on evaluations.

That is where the similarities end: In Fairfield, a mostly white suburb where the median income is $120,000, 94 percent of students graduate from high school on time. In Bridgeport, the state's most populous and one of its poorest cities, the graduation rate is 63 percent. Fifth graders in Bridgeport, where most people are black or Hispanic, often read at kindergarten level, one of their teachers recently testified during a trial over school funding inequities.
Do fifth-grade students in Bridgeport, Connecticut "often" read at kindergarten level?

It all depends on what the meaning of "often" is! At any rate, that's what one teacher said!

That anecdotal portrait was good enough for the second paragraph of a news report on the front page of the Times. It painted a very familiar portrait of those pitiful black and Hispanic kids.

Middle-class subscribers have been exposed to that familiar portrait at least since the 1960s. They encounter the same portrait when Donald J. Trump offers his hyperbolic account of life in today's "inner city."

(Key difference: When Trump offers his hyperbolic account, it's treated as the latest example of his ugly racism. When the New York Times presents such an account, it's regarded as the soul of our empathetic education reporting.)

Do fifth-grade students in Bridgeport, Connecticut "often" read at kindergarten level? The statement is so imprecise that it has no real meaning. Let's try to work from some actual data instead.

Based on data compiled by Stanford's Sean Reardon, it looks to us like the average student in Bridgeport is something like two years below traditional grade level when he or she enters the sixth or seventh grade. The average student in nearby, affluent Fairfield will be something like two years above grade level.

That's a very large "achievement gap"—a very large gap between the kids in Bridgeport and their peers in Fairfield. That said, we were struck by the fact that the New York Times never used Reardon's actual data, which the paper had presented and tried to discuss just four months before.

Instead, the Times offered a derogatory, anecdotal account which painted Bridgeport's black and Hispanic kids in the least flattering light.

That said, we were struck by something else as we read that front-page report. We were stuck by the presence of a large dog—a dog which didn't bark that day, and pretty much never will.

An obvious question popped into our heads as we read that report: Given the astonishing achievement gap portrayed by that front-page report, how could the Common Core, or any set of "grade-level standards," possibly be relevant to the kids in both those school systems?

Think of it! In one of these school systems, students in the fifth grade "often read at kindergarten level." (In other words, they can't read at all.) Later, we're told that "[s]ome students arrive at [Bridgeport's] Harding High School reading at a third-grade level." That vague, anecdotal report is attributed to an assistant principal.

In Bridgeport, fifth-graders "often read at kindergarten level," we were told. Beyond the high graduation rate, no attempt was made to quantify the achievement of students in Fairfield's schools. But we were told that a "yawning disparities in results" obtains between the neighboring districts.

Given those yawning disparities—given the haplessness "often" found among Bridgeport's black and Hispanic kids—how could any set of grade-level "standards" make sense for both groups of students? This must be the world's most obvious question, even if we restrict ourselves to the (roughly) four-year "achievement gap" suggested by Reardon's data.

It's a blindingly obvious question. But this basic question will never be raised in our education reporting, which often seems to be provided by the journalistic equivalent of the "Sweathogs" who came to fame in the Welcome Back, Kotter sitcom.

In truth, our education reporting often seems to come from the lovable but slowest kids in the school. Even when our brighter journalists wade into the realm of the public schools, they often seem determined to prove their lack of basic skills.

We think of this recent pro-charter essay by Jonathan Chait, in which he fails to come to terms with the possible effects of one unavoidable but obvious form of "creaming." ("The difference was spectacular," Chait writes. For what it's worth, we support the existence of well-regulated charter schools.)

We think of the Washington Post's annual attempt to draw gloomy conclusions from the decline in average SAT scores. (Even though the College Board encourages scribes to do this, this involves an obvious misuse of statistics.)

We think of the Post's persistent attempt to pretend that Washington's recent cheating scandal never occurred, and to disappear the thought that such conduct could imaginably have happened somewhere else.

We think of those well-intentioned trips to Estonia, or in this case to Denmark, in search of the secrets of the world's greatest schools. We think of endless attempts—from the left, the right and the mainstream or the center—to mangle educational statistics to "prove" some preferred partisan point.

We think of endlessly bungled education reporting in the New York Times. We think of the complete indifference observed at for-profit "progressive" sites, starting with MSNBC, whose hosts would sooner jump off the Golden Gate Bridge than discuss the needs and challenges facing low-income children in school.

It often seems the Sweathogs have been placed in charge of our education reporting! It may seem that a second group of these lovable losers has been serving in the role of our "education experts."

Our reporters and experts have a nearly unblemished track record. They seem to have missed every significant event in the operation of our public schools, including the cheating scandals which recently rocked school districts in several major cities.

On a simple technical basis, our reporters and experts may seem to be an underwhelming bunch. But more than anything else, they seem to display a potent group bias:

They love to paint derogatory portraits of our students, our teachers, our schools.

Tomorrow, we'll inquire into the possible source of this persistent bias. For today, let's list four basic sleights-of-hand at which these purveyors of gloom excel.

Let's not use the term "con games." Let's say sleights-of-hand instead:

They report the gaps, disappear the gains: Large achievement gaps persist on the NAEP, our one reliable domestic testing program. The gaps are smaller than they once were, but they're still quite large.

The persistence of these gaps is routinely reported, as is completely appropriate. What doesn't get reported?

Of course! The large score gains which help explain the persistence of these gaps!

It's true! Large achievement gaps exist between white kids and their black and Hispanic peers. But over the course of the past several decades, all three groups have shown large score gains on these highly regarded tests.

Because all three groups have shown large gains, the large gaps persist. But they persist at a higher academic level. Again and again and again and gain, this highly encouraging fact somehow goes unexplained.

Persistently, the public is told exactly half the story—the gloomier half. It should be taken as one of our journalistic challenges:

You simply can't report the gaps without reporting the gains.

They report the PISA, disappear the TIMSS: Nations of the developed world participate in two international testing programs. American students have tended to do better on the TIMSS, less well on the PISA.

For whatever reason, our education reporters tend to tell exactly half the story—the gloomier half. They tend to report results from the PISA, disappear the TIMSS.

It should be taken as a journalistic challenge. Absent some sort of explanation, you can't report results from the PISA while ignoring results from the TIMSS.

They disaggregate the NAEP, give aggregate scores from the PISA: Quite routinely, our education reporters "disaggregate" results from the NAEP, as is completely appropriate. They tell us how our black and Hispanic kids performed as compared to their white counterparts.

Although the data are available, this is virtually never done when reporting international tests. This deprives the American public of extremely basic information. For reasons we'll explain by the end of the week, it also tends to reinforce preferred gloomy tales about our international standing.

It ought to be adopted as a journalistic challenge. If you disaggregate scores on domestic tests, you ought to disaggregate score on international tests as well.

They won't stop flying to Finland: Over the past dozen years, education writers have persistently taken the trip to Finland, a small, middle-class, unicultural corner of Europe. Upon their return, they reliably churn preferred, gloomy tales about our pitiful teachers and schools.

In part 4 of this week's series, we'll take a final look at the foolishness of this ubiquitous practice. It ought to be a journalistic challenge:

Let's stop making silly international comparisons designed to push gloomy conclusions about our teachers and schools.

Within our education reporting, there exists an obvious bias in favor of gloom-and-doom tales. Tomorrow, we'll discuss the possible sources of this obvious preference.

After that, we'll take a final look at the miracle schools of Finland, which are probably perfectly good. We'll compare test results in that distant corner of Europe to test results in two corners of North America—Massachusetts and Connecticut.

When we do, we'll disaggregate the American scores. We'll look at results from the PISA and at results from the TIMSS.

Will the trips to Finland ever end? Probably not.

The Sweathogs seem to like it there. For whatever reason, their editors seem to like their gloomy conclusions.

Tomorrow: Possible sources of mandated doom-and-gloom

Sanest statement in modern history!


What Bernie Sanders said:
Some should make every one of our childish "journalists" memorize what Bernie Sanders has said.

We read it here at TPM. Matt Shuman did the reporting:
SHUMAN (10/24/16): “Trust me, if they went into our emails—I suppose which may happen, who knows—I’m sure there would be statements that would be less than flattering about, you know, the Clinton staff,” Sanders told the Washington Post on Monday. “That’s what happens in campaigns.”
Duh. And also, Hurrah!

The Washington Post is full of reporters who should be forced to memorize that. (The New York Times is worse.)

You can file Sanders' remarks under "nothingburger, definition of." It's a dish our childish pseudo-reporters simply love to prepare.

Maddow's report about what Kelly said!


Mother Superior knows:
Bridget Kelly is testifying again today. She's doing so as part of a federal trial in which she's charged with criminal conduct in the "Bridgegate" matter.

She's testifying in her own defense. Just that quickly, we've told you things you were never told on last Friday's Maddow Show.

For ourselves, we aren't in favor of throwing everyone in jail. Beyond that, we don't know why Kelly did the things she did, or if she really did anything you actually knew to be wrong.

That said, we are in favor of reasonably honest journalism. By way of contrast, Maddow often seems to like hanging the people she knows to be Bad.

Watching cable last Friday, we saw a lot of bad reporting of Kelly's first day on the stand. Maddow's treatment was the worst we saw. Now that the transcript has been posted, let's run through some of the problems with the way Maddow's viewers got spun.

(In a few cases, we've corrected the transcript through use of the videotape, to which we can't give a link.)

Let's start at the beginning. You can't sensibly evaluate Kelly's testimony if you don't understand a basic fact: Kelly is testifying as part of a federal trial in which she in which she is the defendant. Along with Bill Baroni, she is charged with serious crimes in this ongoing criminal trial.

Maddow's viewers were never told that! Maddow and her journalist guest kept referring to Kelly as "[Christie's] deputy chief of staff."

They didn't even bother saying former deputy chief of staff. Trust us: The majority of Maddow's viewers had no idea, as they watched, that Kelly is on trial, charged with criminal conduct. Almost surely, many viewers received the impression that Kelly was simply a Christie staffer who was giving testimony about Christie's behavior.

They were never told an extremely basic fact—if Kelly's explanations don't wash, she could end up going to jail. Unless we're all living on some alternative planet, this means that Kelly has a large incentive to misremember or lie.

Did Kelly lie or misremember last Friday? We have no way of knowing! But before we look at the things Maddow said, let's get clear about what Kelly is trying to explain in her testimony.

Kelly is trying to explain why she wrote certain emails before, during and after the now-famous "Bridgegate" mess. That includes the famous email from August 2013, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." It includes some emails she wrote during the September 2013 lane closings, when she seemed to be snarking with "mastermind" David Wildstein about the giant traffic mess.

Those emails make it seem that Kelly was party to Wildstein's nefarious political motives, which made his conduct a crime. (Wildstein has already pleaded guilty to criminal conduct.) Kelly is claiming that she didn't know that Wildstein had a nefarious motive when he engineered the lane closings. She's claiming that she thought the lane closings were part of a legitimate traffic study.

If Bridget Kelly can't sell that story, she may be going to jail. But Maddow's viewers were never told that Kelly is on trial. They were never told that she has an obvious incentive to misremember or lie. Instead, Maddow encouraged sympathy for the poor misused victim of the evil Christie. Here's the way she teased Kelly's testimony in an initial three-minute segment:
MADDOW (10/21/16): [Christie's] deputy chief of staff also testified herself today. She says before she sent that e-mail that said, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," before she sent that e-mail, she testified she got the okay to do so from Governor Christie himself, personally and directly. She ran it by him.

She also testified that she is personally physically afraid of Governor Christie. She broke down in tears on the stand while she recounted him swearing at her and throwing stuff at her.

And that's next.
From that, a viewer might have thought that Kelly "ran [the actual text of the email] by" Christie. Kelly didn't say that. She merely said that she told Christie that a traffic study would be taking place. Maddow tends to play this way when tackling those she dislikes.

More significantly, Maddow started by encouraging sympathy for the tearful "deputy chief of staff." After a commercial break, Maddow returned with WNYC's Andrea Bernstein as her guest.

This is the embarrassing way they began their discussion of Kelly:
MADDOW: There are no cameras in the courtroom, so we count on excellent reporters to read us out on what happened.

Dude, what happened here? Joining us now is Andrea Bernstein for WNYC News. She was there in the room. Andrea, thank you for being here.


MADDOW: I know throwing the water bottle thing isn't necessarily central here. But, what's up with throwing the water bottle?

BERNSTEIN: So, throwing the water bottle was meant to show that Christie, she was afraid of Christie.

MADDOW: This is his deputy chief of staff.

BERNSTEIN: It is his deputy chief of staff, and the incident was at this event, where she had organized some businesses and commissioners and she was briefing him beforehand. She said, "Governor, I think you should welcome everybody, then let the commissioners talk to the businessmen who have just lost everything again for the second time." And he said, "What do you think I am, an F-ing game show host," according to testimony, and threw the bottle. She was just sobbing throughout this.

I mean, she was mostly composed. There were times when she choked up during her testimony. But she was just crying right to the jury when she said this.

MADDOW: She also testified that, before she sent what is the most famous piece of evidence in this scandal, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," that email, she said she ran it by Governor Christie.
If Kelly's defense attorney had actually bribed these "journalists," they couldn't have done a better job reciting his company line.

Maddow started by noting the relative irrelevance of the (alleged) bottle-throwing incident. She then built the whole first part of her discussion around the (alleged) act.

Bernstein referred to the (alleged) incident as if it is known to have happened. But it isn't known to have happened! It represents an allegation by Kelly. (We can't help noting that Bernstein kept forgetting to say "alleged.")

Bernstein then focused on the way Kelly was sobbing and crying as she discussed an (alleged) event whose basic irrelevance Maddow had started by noting. Maddow then seemed to repeat the (inaccurate) claim that Kelly said she that had shown Christie the text of the email which got her charged with a crime.

That's journalism as it's taught in the nation's clown colleges. And as the "journalists" continued, they kept assuming the accuracy of Kelly's various claims:
BERNSTEIN (continuing directly): She did. She said it was a very poor choice of words. That she had been parroting David Wildstein, who was the mastermind behind all of this, and who is cooperating with the prosecutors.

She said—he had raised the idea that he wanted to do a study and it was going to cause big traffic jams and could she tell the governor. She said she was afraid not to, that if there was a problem, it would be blamed on her. She went to the governor that day and said that David Wildstein wanted to do a study in Fort Lee and it was going to cause traffic jams and he said, "OK, fine. What's our relationship with the mayor?" And she said she was embarrassed because she actually didn't know what the relationship at that time was with the mayor of Fort Lee.

MADDOW: So what this means, in terms of sort of culpability on who knew what when, is that Christie knew ahead of time that there were going to be traffic problems in Fort Lee—


MADDOW: That they were man-made traffic problems.

BERNSTEIN: Correct. Which is contra to everything he said.
Hanging judges, please! Might we state the obvious?

Kelly's statements mean that Christie "knew ahead of time" only if her statements are accurate. But there's another obvious possibility, a possibility which was never brooked on this "cable news" program:

Kelly's story may be false! She may have invented this story in an attempt to beat the criminal charges with which she stands accused—criminal charges which never got mentioned in Maddow's eight minutes of discussion.

Did Kelly ever speak with Christie in the way she described? Aside from her testimony, there's no evidence to that effect. Her story may be true, of course. But it could be totally false!

Throughout this segment, Maddow and Bernstein never brooked the possibility that Kelly's testimony was bogus. Here's the problem with that highly selective treatment:

Every part of Kelly's story serves to paint her own conduct is the most favorable light. But since Maddow never told her viewers that Kelly is fighting for her freedom, it may not have occurred to those viewers that Kelly may be choosing to lie about what occurred.

Maddow played the "sobbing frightened woman card" as she went after Christie, painting him as a liar. She forgot to describe the type of conduct Kelly will have to explain.

On Friday, Kelly was trying to explain why she sent that unpleasant-sounding "traffic problems" email. Eventually, she'll also have to explain this unseemly exchange, via today's
SHERMAN AND ARCO (10/24/16): But those are not the only words Kelly needs to explain.

There were the texts she exchanged with Wildstein the week of the lane closures, including one on Sept. 10, 2013—the second day of the massive traffic backups in Fort Lee—after Sokoloich sent a desperate message to Baroni complaining about the situation.

"Presently we have four very busy traffic lanes merging into only one toll booth... The bigger problem is getting kids to school. Help please. It's maddening."

Baroni did not return the message and forwarded it to Wildstein.

"Is it wrong that I am smiling?" Kelly asked Wildstein after he shared it with her.

"No," he responded.

"I feel badly about the kids. I guess," she said.

"They are the children of Buono voters," replied Wildstein, referring to Barbara Buono, then the Democratic nominee challenging Christie in the gubernatorial race. "Bottom line is he didn't say safety."
Wildstein thought that email from the mayor was politically A-OK. The mayor had only mentioned the mmassive inconvenience. He hadn't mentioned the massive safety concerns.

Unlike Maddow, we aren't in favor of throwing all Bad People in jail. We're aren't in favor of sifting the facts to harden a case against the Bad People we oppose—in this case, Christie.

That said, Kelly didn't seem to be sobbing and crying as she discussed these dangerous "traffic problems" with Wildstein in real time. She didn't seem like the fearful wilting flower who sobbed about Christie in court.

In the next few days, Kelly will have to explain her emails. It looks like Maddow will help her. All Maddow has ever seemed to want is a bit of Christie's scalp. It seems she's willing to play her viewers to get it.

Much more was horribly wrong with Maddow's two segments last Friday. This includes her bungled treatment of the testimony of Mike DuHaime, another former Christie staffer.

That said, here's the way Maddow ended her discussion. Finally, at the very end, Bernstein said three magic words:
BERNSTEIN: But [DuHaime's] testimony was eclipsed by the testimony of Bridget Kelly, who has flipped the narrative. And she said, "I was the one without the power here. I was the one who wasn't told this was a retaliatory scheme."

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

BERNSTEIN: "They put me in the position of sending these e-mails and carrying it out, but I didn't know what was going on." And it was the big guys, according to her testimony, the governor, his chief of staff and his campaign manager who were ordering retaliation, and she described in detail a retaliatory scheme against another mayor, the mayor of Jersey City, in which the governor allegedly said he doesn't, he's not entitled to an F-ing meeting. A lot of cursing in the Bridgegate trial.

MADDOW: I'm shocked by—

BERNSTEIN: Shocking.

MADDOW: I'm not shocked by the cursing. I am shocked by the throwing.

BERNSTEIN: If it's true, not only were the governor's top aides involved, but they have participated in a big cover-up of what happened.

MADDOW: And he lied about it directly. Hoo!

Andrea Bernstein, WNYC News senior editor and Bridgegate trial watcher for us this evening. Andrea, thanks for being here.
According to Bernstein, Kelly testified that "the governor was ordering retaliation." In fact, Kelly said no such thing.

Kelly testified that she had been told that the lane closings were an innocent part of a legitimate traffic study. She testified that she approached the governor with that understanding. She described him saying nothing different.

Beyond that, she testified that Christie asked her how relations were with the Fort Lee mayor. She said she told him she didn't know, thereby making herself look innocent of any political retribution.

Of course, this also tends to make Christie look innocent. It we take her story at face value, it sounds like Christie himself didn't know about Wildstein's act of retribution against the Fort Lee mayor. Unless her story is false!

At any rate, Maddow returned to the (alleged) cursing and throwing as she finished her segment. (Once again, she forgot to say "alleged.") "Hoo," she entertainingly said, teaching us to adore her uniqueness more completely and fully. But in the course of that final transaction, Bernstein finally blurted three magic words.

"If it's true," Bernstein finally said, though we'll guarantee that no one noticed. Christie has been contradicted (in one way) if Kelly's claims are true.

This whole bowl of entertaining stew turns on a basic question. Was Bridget Kelly telling the truth last Friday? Were her statements true? Or was she simply making this up, hoping to beat a criminal rap?

Kelly is fighting for her freedom, but Maddow's viewers weren't told that. Mother Superior always knows who the Very Bad People are. She also seems to know what it's good for her own misused children to hear.

Again, our own initial reaction: We've always found it hard to believe that Christie would do something so monumentally stupid.

Such a gigantic risk for so puny a reward? To us, it seems hard to believe that Christie's that dumb. Like Maddow, though, we don't know.

We do know that Kelly's on trial. Maddow's play-toys weren't told.

WHERE THE CHALLENGES ARE: The challenges facing our public schools!


Part 1—Two different types of challenge:
Way back, in early September, we started this series of reports with a back-to-school phone call to C-Span.

The phone call came from a C-Span viewer in Mississippi. He had heard about a magical land, a place which had much better schools.

All across the political spectrum, the caller's beliefs have become quite familiar over the past dozen years. They help define two types of challenge we now face as a people.

The caller started by saying he was "a William F. Buckley conservative." Proceeding from there, he told a familiar tale:
CALLER FROM MISSISSIPPI (9/3/16): I did a quick little research just to find out where in the world is, are schools very successful academically, science, math, reading. And the one that really rose to the top was Finland.

And again, for my conservative brethren, I'm looking over the horizon, you know we go with what works. And I'm just broad-brushing some things here about Finland.

And this is kind of my public school experiences, you feel like you're being warehoused. Finland emphasizes play. It's just interesting that that's part of their, just the way they operate.

They actually don't have very much homework, and it's just— I encourage everybody to just google Finland's education system and look at what works.

And the school day is shorter. And again, I look at— You have young people who have a lot of energy and they're being put in these warehouses for, you know, great lengths of time. And they have energy, and that's where you need dynamic presentation and teaching in the school. And then the kids need to be set free.

But again, our system is oriented this way, where you're holding them for a set number of hours, and it's to make the machine work.

C-SPAN HOST: All right, that's Edwin from Jackson, Missippi. And we did show an article on-air just now, I believe it's from, "Why Are Finland's Schools Successful," that looks a little bit deeper into that issue.
The caller was concerned with the shortcomings of our "system." He'd heard that Finland's "education system" is much better than ours.
In terms of public education, he'd heard that Finland is the place you go to "look at what works."

As the caller spoke, C-Span's producers had indeed showcased that Smithsonian article, "Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?" The report had appeared in September 2011, one in an endless stream of reports about that small country's great schools.

That phone call, and that Smithsonian piece, help define two kinds of challenge we currently face as a nation. We'll consider those interwoven types of challenge in our reports this week.

On the one hand, we confront educational challenges—challenges concerning the operation and performance of our public schools.

In at least one major respect, it's fairly easy to define the general shape of our educational challenge. Over the past fifteen years, Finland's reputation has been based on its students' performances on international tests of reading, science and math.

Test scores can only provide a rough measure of a nation's educational success. But it's fairly easy to describe the way American students, in the aggregate, perform on these international tests, as compared to their peers in the rest of the developed world.

In the aggregate, how do American students perform on international tests? For starters, a trio of Asian nations—South Korea, Japan and Taiwan—outperform the United States by a fairly substantial margin.

That said, these Asian tigers also outperform the rest of the developed world. To the extent that test scores are a measure of educational success, these Asian nations have outperformed the world.

The Asian tigers have been leading the world on international tests. But among the rest of the world's developed nations, American students, in the aggregate, have performed reasonably well.

American performance has been better on one set of international tests, The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and on its companion program, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).

American performance has been less impressive on the second major international battery, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). But if we consider both international testing programs, American students, in the aggregate, have performed reasonably well when compared to the rest of the world, Asian tigers excepted.

Over the next few days, we'll be taking a few final looks at these international test scores. But to the extent that we value performance on standardized tests, the performance of the Asian tigers may offer us a type of educational challenge.

That said, a second, daunting educational challenge is easily seen in the results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our most reliable domestic testing program.

What type of challenge appears on the NAEP? Among different parts of our student population, substantial "achievement gaps" appear in the results from these domestic tests. White students tend to score substantially better, in both reading and math, than their black and Hispanic peers. These gaps are smaller than they once were, but they remain quite large.

These substantial achievement gaps can also be seen in American scores on the TIMSS and the PISA. We'll take some final looks at those achievement gaps before the week's reports are finished. But on these results from the most recent PISA reading test, it's easy to spot a daunting educational challenge:
Average scores, reading literacy, 2012 PISA
United States, Asian-American students: 550
Japan: 538
South Korea: 536
Finland: 524
Canada: 523
Taiwan: 523
United States, white students: 519
Poland: 518
Australia: 512
Germany: 508
France: 505
United Kingdom: 499
United States: 498
Italy: 490
Spain: 488
United States, Hispanic students: 476
Russia: 475
United States, black students: 443
According to Amanda Ripley, 39 points on the PISA scale is taken to be the (rough) equivalent of one academic year. For a fuller set of results, click here.

In our view, it's important to keep looking at these "disaggregated" American scores, however unpleasant that assignment may be. In fairness, that's only true if we want to run on a full set of information and facts, rather than on official approved story-lines, scripts and tales.

The large gaps which obtain between different groups of American kids define one of our great ongoing educational challenges. That said, data like these may tend to challenge the general claims which have been relentlessly sold to that C-Span viewer.

On the TIMSS and the PISA, our nation's white students actually score rather well as compared to their peers from the rest of the world. Asian-American students often outperform the rest of the world.

The bulk of our challenge lies in the average scores of our black and Hispanic students. Viewed in this light, our biggest ediucational challenge concerns the large achievement gaps which still exist between our major demographic groups.

There's a good chance that the C-Span caller from Mississippi has heard about our "achievement gaps." He's probably heard that these large gaps have persisted through the years—that our floundering public schools have utterly failed to erase them.

That C-Span caller has heard that line because it offers a gloomy assessment of our "education system." At the start of the current school year, decades of gloomy assessments led him to make his call to C-Span, in which he expressed his own gloomy thoughts about our public schools.

People like the C-Span caller have been assailed in recent decades with deeply gloomy assessments of our public schools. In the past dozen years, the alleged wonders of Finland's schools have frequently been cited in order to heighten that sense of gloom.

Our domestic "achievement gaps" are often cited, heightening the gloom. Our journalists typically disappear one major reason why those achievement gaps persist—the large score gains which have been achieved by all population groups.

It isn't too much to say that people like the C-Span caller have been propagandized. We would say they've been systematically misled about a very basic question:

Where the Test Scores Are.

That C-Span caller has heard certain facts about our test scores, but many other basic facts have routinely been withheld. This helps define a second type of challenge we need to confront as a nation. That second type of challenge is a journalistic challenge. We'll define some constituent parts of that challenge tomorrow.

By the end of the week, we'll be taking a final look at the educational wonders of miraculous Finland. That C-Span caller has been propagandized, and misled, by articles like the one he saw featured on C-Span.

Please come to Boston? "Please stop going to Helsinki," some American singer should cry.

That C-Span caller has been misled by articles like that Smithsonian piece. By the end of the week, we think that point will be clear.

Tomorrow, we'll itemize a basic point about our journalistic challenge. We're going to itemize this point:

Where the con games are.

Tomorrow: Where the sleights-of-hand are