Kevin Drum names journalist's name!


But doesn't go far enough:
Kevin Drum did something constructive today. He named a journalist's name.

The journalist is Mary Hagen, of The Hill. Drum quoted her writing this:
HAGEN (9/28/16): Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized the media for saying online post-debate polls “don’t mean anything,” as he continues to brag about winning the surveys many consider unscientific and unrepresentative.

At a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the GOP presidential nominee cited online polls from Time magazine and the conservative Drudge Report that showed him leading Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton following Monday night’s presidential debate. “I’m winning all of these polls, hundred of thousand of votes,” Trump said. “I have to sit back and you have to sit back and hear these polls don’t mean anything.”
"I love how reporter Lisa Hagen carefully says that 'many' think online polls are unscientific," Drum writes. "I think the phrase she's searching for is 'everyone with a three-digit IQ.' These polls are clickbait, nothing more."

Drum is right, of course. And he actually named the reporter's name, something liberals almost never do.

Darlings, it simply hasn't been done! Over the course of the past thirty years, this is one of the (many) ways we got in our current mess.

That said, Drum didn't go far enough. This is what an honest reporter would have said in The Hill:
HAGEN, REWRITTEN: Donald Trump on Wednesday criticized the media for saying online post-debate polls “don’t mean anything,” as he continues to brag about "winning" some of the on-line surveys which are, in fact, unscientific and unrepresentative.
It isn't that many people say they're unscientific. It isn't that everyone says they're unscientific.

Such surveys are unscientific, full stop! We were glad to see Drum name a name. But why all the joshing around?

Top journalists lay out the facts about Flowers!


An "affair" to misremember:
On paper, Alyssa Rosenberg had all the advantages.

Rosenberg writes for the Washington Post. Not long ago, she graduated from Yale, Class of 2006.

(Dad is editor of Harvard Magazine. Mom is executive director of the Lexington Historical Society, a nonprofit organization in Lexington that works to preserve buildings from the Revolutionary War.)

Earlier this week, Rosenberg was explaining what was up, back in the day, between Bill Clinton and Gennifer Flowers. She was reacting to blustery threats from Donald J. Trump. But even after all these years, this is the best they can do:
ROSENBERG (9/26/16): Gennifer Flowers is probably not coming to the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tonight, but that's not really the point. When Clinton invited Mark Cuban, a businessman and sharp critic of Trump, to the debate, Trump responded (whatever his campaign says now) not by inviting someone who questions Clinton's credentials to be president, like Patricia Smith, whose son died in Benghazi, to join him. Instead, he suggested that he might bring along a woman who had an affair with Clinton's husband. The point wasn't to debate Clinton but to reduce her, yet again, to being nothing more than Bill Clinton's wife.
According to Rosenberg, Gennifer Flowers is "a woman who had an affair with [Hillary] Clinton's husband."

Does Rosenberg know if her statement is true? If we're all still speaking the English language, we'd have to suggest that she doesn't.

Other scribes at the Washington Post have been saying such things about Flowers. Mary Jordan is a Pulitzer winner. On Monday, she began a report in the Post by saying this:
JORDAN (9/26/16): Donald Trump's threat to seat Gennifer Flowers, who had an extramarital affair with Bill Clinton, in the front row at Monday night's presidential debate focuses new attention on Trump's own history of infidelity and could further weaken his support among female voters.
You're right! It's the same thing Rosenberg said!

Other writers at the Post have sliced the baloney with slightly more care. Yesterday, Aaron Blake described Flowers as someone "with whom Bill Clinton in 1998 acknowledged having extramarital relations in the past." On September 25, he had described Flowers as someone "who revealed a sexual relationship with Bill Clinton in the 1990s."

On the front page of this morning's Post,
Shawn Boburg's writing almost seemed to be slightly "Clintonesque." He described the matter as follows:
BOBURG (9/29/16): Hillary Clinton's support for her husband [in 1992] was crucial, and she sat by his side during a crucial "60 Minutes" interview, saying she was not like the victim in Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man." Campaign pollster Stan Greenberg said at the time that the public would disregard the allegations if they believed he had been truthful to his wife.

Six years later, Bill Clinton acknowledged a sexual encounter with Flowers.
According to Boburg, Bill Clinton "acknowledged a sexual encounter with Flowers." He seemed to be picking his words with great care. We'll guess that he may know the facts, such as they actually are.

Last week, Donald J. Trump threatened to bring the eternal Flowers to the first presidential debate. As a result, our "journalists" began making feeble attempts to explain who Flowers is.

Words like "affair" and "mistress" were thrown around. Our question: How many of these flyweights knew what they were talking about?

In our view, there is no evidence—none at all—that Clinton and Flowers ever had an "affair." There is no evidence that Flowers was Clinton's "mistress." (These statements are based on the presumption that we're all speaking English.)

That said, our "journalists" have always loved the juicier story. And when our journalists love a tale, that tale will never expire.

It seems to us that Boburg was choosing his words with great care. We thereby get the impression that he may even know what he's talking about, even if he isn't trying real hard to let Post readers know.

It seems to us that Rosenberg and quite a few others were basically spouting this week. Tomorrow, we'll quote a few other accounts of this matter, and we'll post the source of what's actually known about this famous "affair."

WHERE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAPS ARE: Large achievement gaps remain!


Part 2 in this series

Part 3—Where the NAEP gaps are: Way back when, in an essay for Slate, Richard Rothstein, an actual education expert, described the "truly spectacular gains" which had been recorded on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), our one reliable domestic testing program.

To all appearances, Rothstein isn't a public relations expert. His remarks appeared in paragraph 15 on an 18-paragraph report. Because of the way our press corps works, few people have heard a single word about these "spectacular gains:"
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): 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...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? "The numbers show elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago?" Was there any possible way that could have been correct?

Rothstein was referring to scores on the NAEP's Grade 4 math test. (In its most widely-cited component, the NAEP tests students in Grade 4 and Grade 8 in reading and math.) And sure enough! As of 2007, black fourth-graders were scoring higher in math than white fourth-graders had scored in math in 1990 and in all the years before that. See our previous report.

Rothstein also seemed to be right in his subjective assessment. Unless something is "wrong" with the NAEP data, black fourth-graders actually had recorded "spectacular gains" over the previous twenty years. That said, very few people have ever heard any such facts, mainly because because of the way the contemptuous, incompetent the press corps handles such facts.

Unfortunately, Rothstein was also right about another fact. Despite the "spectacular gains" recorded by the nation's black kids, "test score gaps had barely narrowed" in the years under review. As Rothstein noted, that was because the nation's white kids had also recorded large score gains in Grade 4 math in the years since 1990.

The black-white "achievement gap" had narrowed in the years since 1990. But because both groups had recorded large gains, the black-white achievement gap had only narrowed a bit. The black-white achievement gap remained, though at a substantially higher achievement level.

If you read the national press, you will be exposed to one part of that story. You'll hear about the achievement gaps. You will hear nothing—nothing at all—about the "spectacular gains."

Did black kids record "spectacular gains" in the twenty years under review? An unpleasant person would say that your national press corps displays contempt for those good, decent kids, and for its adult readers, who are provided half the news about those deserving children.

Very few people have ever heard about those "spectacular gains." To all appearances, Bill Keller had never heard a word about them. In a New York Times column which appeared two weeks before Rothstein's essay, he wrote that the United States had recently experienced "decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education."

Keller's claim was hard to square with Rothstein's account of "spectacular gains." What explains his gloomy claim?

Keller had been executive editor of the Times during much of the period under review. His puzzling account of those "embarrassing decades" reflected the way his paper reports, and also hides, the basic facts about our public schools.

Alas! In a remarkable sleight-of-hand, the New York Times, like other news orgs, reports the gaps—but disappears the gains! Readers are told about the persistence of the gaps; their persistence is said to show that the public schools have failed.

Readers aren't told about the "spectacular gains" which underlie this dynamic. In an era of script-driven "journalism," this constitutes one of the mainstream press corps' most striking sleights-of-hand.

Make no mistake! Yes, the score gains have been large. But the achievement gaps are large and very important too. The gaps represent only one part of a two-part story. But if we care about all our kids, those gaps are a very important part of our world.

How large are the achievement gaps? The achievement gaps are large. Below, you see the average scores recorded by our three largest student groups in the most recent administration of the NAEP. For simplicity's sake, we'll show you Grade 8 only.

For all NAEP data, just click here. You'll have to proceed on your own:
Average scores, Grade 8 reading, 2015 NAEP
White students: 273.12
Black students: 247.17
Hispanic students: 252.53

Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2015 NAEP
White students: 291.06
Black students: 259.85
Hispanic students: 269.47
For people who want all our kids to succeed, those gaps are distressingly large.

According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten or eleven points on the NAEP scale is often equated to one academic year. We regard that as a very rough rule of thumb, but it gives us the start of a rough idea concerning the size of those gaps.

Those gaps persist despite the gains which all three groups have shown. If we want all kids to succeed in school; if we want all kids to feel good about themselves in school, then those gaps define a yawning social problem, a problem which persists today, though at a higher achievement level than in the past.

Other types of achievement gaps are defined by the NAEP data. Below, you the see the gaps which obtain between lower-income and higher-income kids—between kids who qualify for the federal lunch program and kids who don't:
Average scores, Grade 8 reading, 2015 NAEP
Higher-income students: 276.36
Lower-income students: 252.55

Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2015 NAEP
Higher-income students: 295.75
Lower-income students: 267.97
Those are large achievement gaps too. In the United States, as in other countries, academic performance tends to correlate with family income.

(Who qualifies for the federal lunch program? Roughly speaking, a student's family income must be less than twice the federal poverty line.)

We're going to show you a third set of gaps. These painful numbers display the size of the achievement gaps which obtain between higher- and lower-income kids of the three population groups:
Average scores, Grade 8 reading, 2015 NAEP
Higher-income white students: 279.06
Lower-income white students: 260.89

Higher-income black students: 259.07
Lower-income black students: 243.75

Higher-income Hispanic students: 264.58
Lower-income Hispanic students: 249.00

Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2015 NAEP
Higher-income white students: 298.32
Lower-income white students: 275.94

Higher-income black students: 273.58
Lower-income black students: 255.82

Higher-income Hispanic students: 282.24
Lower-income Hispanic students: 265.86
Those numbers describe a painful reality, in which lower-income white students slightly exceed the average scores of higher-income black kids.

On their face, those are terrible gaps. You've never seen these numbers laid out in this degree of detail. That's because, if the truth be known, the national press corps shows little interest in the lives of the nation's black and Hispanic children.

(In fairness, indifference about this state of affairs isn't limited to the the mainstream press. Judging from appearances, liberal and progressive journalists would rather jump off the Golden Gate Bridge than spend their precious time on the daily school lives of black and Hispanic kids. You've never seen these topics discussed on MSNBC, the corporate pseudo-liberal channel. You've never seen its multimillionaire hosts stoop to consider these topics.)

The gains have been large, but the gaps are large too. If you read the New York Times, you'll encounter one part of this story. You'll read about the very large gaps. The "truly spectacular gains" will be disappeared.

Even at that, the gaps will sometimes be sensationalized, in familiar ways. In that recent New York Times report about the Bridgeport schools, readers were instantly handed an anecdotal claim about the way the city's (black and Hispanic) fifth graders "often read on kindergarten level."

As we noted in Part 1 of this week's report, the data from a serious study seemed to show that Bridgeport kids in grades 5-8 are, on average, working 1.7 grades below traditional grade level. That would suggest that the city's fifth graders are, on average, working on traditional third or fourth grade level.

The anecdote about "often reading on kindergarten level" gave readers an instant exciting jolt. It also came from a very old, highly disparaging playbook.

Black kids have shown "spectacular gains" on the NAEP over the past twenty years. They also stand on the minus side of some large achievement gaps.

Why do those large gaps exist? Various possible explanations exist, involving our brutal racial history and a range of current practices.

For today, we wanted to sketch the size of those gaps, gaps which persist in spite of the gains. In Part 4 of this week's report, we'll return to the international scene for detailed applications.

Next—part 4: The international achievement gaps, on both the TIMSS and the PISA

The gods are laughing at us on Olympus!


What we "humans" are like:
Donald J. Trump's debate performance was truly amazing. Suggested reading:

In this morning's featured editorial,
the Washington Post details Trump's astounding cluelessness, his "ludicrous assertions," about an array of foreign policy matters.

In this essay at Vox, Ezra Klein explains how clueless Trump is about NAFTA, and about trade in general. (Key statement: "It’s a simple fact that none of this is true.")

In this column in today's New York Times, Jim Dwyer explains how clueless Trump is about stop-and-frisk, and about the whole recent history of crime in New York City.

Trump's cluelessness is astounding. It extends to a wide array of deeply serious topics. A great many misstatements and misconceptions are waiting to be untangled. And what is being discussed on cable? Whether it was nice, twenty years ago, to call a young woman "Miss Piggy."

Answer: No, it wasn't nice! But Anderson Cooper would crawl on his knees over broken glass for the chance to spend hours with ludicrous guests discussing this powerful topic. What will Kayleigh say?

Just for the record, it wasn't nice to call that young woman "Miss Piggy." It also wasn't nice to call her "Miss Housekeeping."

This morning, Mika was pretending to be extremely upset about the fact that Trump did that. Of course, she kissed his ascot all last year. What did she think her idol was doing during the birther years?

The hustlers and grabbers you see on TV are terrible, horrible people. Meanwhile, the gods are laughing about how stupid we are as they lounge on their hill.

We'll also have fun with this: Meanwhile, Howard Dean to the rescue—to the rescue of Trump. The gods are laughing very hard at how unimpressive we are.

Has Krugman been alive on the planet?


Both sides have a point:
We continue to be amazed at Paul Krugman's recent reports on the press corps' campaign coverage.

For the most recent example, see this blog post from yesterday. In his headline, Krugman asks a highly sensible question:

"How Did The Race Get Close?"

For liberals, that's the key question of the age, but Krugman's answer makes almost no sense. Has Krugman been alive on the planet? Opinions differ. Here's part of what he wrote:
KRUGMAN (9/27/16): [H]ow did the race get so close? Why, on the eve of the debate, did polls show at best a narrow Clinton lead? What happened to the commanding lead Clinton held after the conventions?

You might say that Clinton ran a terrible campaign—but what, exactly, did she do? Trump may have learned to read from a TelePrompter, but was that such a big deal?

Well, my guess is that it was the Goring of Hillary: beginning in late August, with the AP report on the Clinton Foundation, the mainstream media went all in on “abnormalizing” Mrs. Clinton, a process that culminated with Matt Lauer, who fixated on emails while letting grotesque, known, Trump lies slide.
What happened to Clinton's commanding lead? Such things are hard to measure. In large part, we would be inclined to say that the "commanding lead" was built upon ludicrous conduct by Trump, especially his war with the Khan family.

When he fired Manafort and brought on Conway, these deeply ludicrous episodes largely stopped. The polls crept back to their pre-convention status.

Is that what happened to Clinton's lead? It's always hard to say. But surely, any sentient human being can see how crazy this analysis is:

"My guess is that it was the Goring of Hillary: beginning in late August, with the AP report on the Clinton Foundation, the mainstream media went all in on 'abnormalizing' Mrs. Clinton."

Can Krugman possibly be serious?

Once again, Krugman uses his recent analytical term, "the Goring of Hillary." The term suggests an obvious fact—the treatment to which Krugman refers didn't begin in late August!

Can we talk? The Goring of Gore began in March 1999. The Goring of Hillary Clinton started in 1992, perhaps with Pat Buchanan's famous convention speech about the fiendish "Clinton and Clinton."

Can anybody possibly think that the abnormalization of Hillary Clinton somehow started in late August with that AP report? We ask our basic question again: Has Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist, been alive on the planet?

In its current iteration, the press corps' hunt for Hillary Clinton was well underway by the summer of 2014, with the Washington Post's astounding "coverage" of her speaking fees. That AP report to which Krugman refers was extremely small potatoes compared to the earlier ludicrous report about the scary uranium deal—an astounding, 4400-word report which appeared in Krugman's own newspaper, the New York Times.

We understand that the great professor doesn't want to damage his immediate interests; self-dealing has always been like that. But the idea that anything started with that AP report is a notion a skilled careerist would have to pull out of his ascot.

Might we review the history here? The Goring of Gore began in March 1999. From that day to this, self-dealers like the lofty Krugman have refused to pursue the truth about their guild's astounding behavior during this episode.

All of a sudden, Krugman has been throwing this concept around—referring back to journalistic misconduct which occurred in 1999. But as Krugman certainly knows, the Goring of Gore—and he now admits that there was such a thing!—emerged from the earlier Goring of Clinton and Clinton. As Krugman surely knows, the Goring of Hillary in this campaign is just the latest manifestation of this very old, deeply destructive, demented press corps campaign.

The Goring of Hillary Clinton! Telling the truth by half measures so late, Krugman should be ashamed.

(He blames it on the vile AP, thus letting the Times slip away.)

A truly pitiful tweet: In this truly pitiful tweet, Krugman explains why he failed to discuss the press corps' cataclysmic Goring of Gore until September 5 of this year.

No one would have listened to him! He wanted to speak, but just couldn't! (Commenters buck him up, unaware of the ways they've been played.)

Truly, that's pathetic. The truth? For reasons of social connection and career, the entire pseudo-liberal world let this important journalistic history go. Now it may be about to happen again, and people like Krugman are scared.

Not scared enough to tell you the truth. But deeply scared nevertheless.

WHERE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAPS ARE: American students against the world!


Part 1 in this series

Part 2—The international gaps: On major international tests, how well do American students perform, as compared to their peers from around the world?

How well do they do in reading and math? How well do they do as compared to their peers in the major developed nations?

If you read the American press, you're treated to a steady stream of gloomy accounts. In May 2011, you may have read the passage shown below in the Washington Post.

It appeared beneath a suitably gloomy headline: "Is the U.S. doing teacher reform all wrong?"

Originally, Dana Goldstein posted her gloomy piece at her own site under a fuller headline ("Is the U.S. Doing Teacher Reform All Wrong? Lessons from Finland and Shanghai"). At each location, readers were quickly handed this gloomy assessment:
GOLDSTEIN (5/31/11): [M]any American education reformers spent the past decade demanding that districts and states get tough with teachers and provide them with more prescriptive advice on how to improve their practice...

But what if the United States is doing teacher reform all wrong?

That’s the suggestion of a new report from the National Center on Education and the Economy, a think tank funded mostly by large corporations and their affiliated foundations. The report takes a close look at how the countries that are kicking our academic butts—Finland, China and Canada—recruit, prepare and evaluate teachers.
According to Goldstein, three countries—Finland, China and Canada—were "kicking our academic butts." It was the latest gloomy account in the Washington Post, an anti-Wobegon publication where our American kids are persistently below average.

Readers of our major news orgs are persistently handed such gloomy accounts. But that very same year, students in Canada and the U.S. participated in one of the world's two major international testing programs.

Students in the neighboring countries took part in the latest administration of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), one of the two major testing programs in which the world's developed nations take part. Canada didn't participate on a national basis, but three of its provinces—including its two most populous provinces—participated as independent entities.

The United States, and miraculous Finland, did participate on a national basis. Nine states from the U.S. also participated as independent entities.

Did the brilliant Canadian kids "kick our academic butts?" How about the Finns? In truth, American butts did not get kicked. These were the average scores recorded in Grade 8 math:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSS
Massachusetts: 560.58
Minnesota: 544.73
North Carolina: 536.90
Quebec: 531.56
Indiana: 521.51
Colorado: 517.79
Connecticut: 517.62
Finland: 514.03
Florida: 513.30
Ontario: 511.63
United States: 509.48
Alberta: 505.14
California 492.62
Alabama 465.93
Did Finland "kick our academic butts?" Actually no, it didn't. On the TIMSS scale, a 4.5 point difference in average scores amounts to a minor blip.

Did Canada kick our butts? Ontario, Canada's largest province, barely outscored the United States; it did so by the tiniest sliver. The U.S. slightly outscored Alberta, Canada's fourth largest province.

Meanwhile, states like Massachusetts and Minnesota came close to kicking Finland's butts! The score differentials were rather large. Massachusetts came very close to kicking the butts of Quebec. (Five years later, you've never heard a word about these results.)

Final question: Was the country of China kicking our butts? Then as now, China had never taken part, on a national basis, in any international test. In lemming-like fashion, Goldstein was responding to the very strong scores recorded by kids in the city of Shanghai, which had participated as an independent entity in the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), the world's other major international testing program.

Shanghai's scores went off the charts on the 2009 PISA. In response, American journalists staged their latest gloom-ridden nervous breakdowns. But it soon emerged that Shanghai's schools serve a highly selective student population. For that reason, Shanghai's scores provide no indication of what is actually happening "in China."

Actual experts eventually said that China's nationwide schooling falls far short of that provided in Shanghai. But not before our journalists had penned their latest mandated gloomy tales, in which our hapless kids are constantly getting their butts kicked by their peers from around the world.

Let's be clear. The 2011 TIMSS was just one international test. For the most part, such testing can only give large, imprecise indications of the academic achievements of students in the world's developed nations. But no one kicked our academic butts on that Grade 8 TIMSS math test—at least, no one in the three countries Goldstein hailed.

What general picture does emerge from international tests? Before we answer that general question, let's make sure we're clear about the two testing programs in question.

The TIMSS (the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) has been in operation since 1995. As such, it's the grand-daddy of them both. Systematic international testing is a fairly new critter.

The TIMSS tests students in Grade 4 and Grade 8 in both math and science. (An affiliated program, the PIRLS, tests fourth-graders in reading.) It operates on a four-year cycle. Results from the most recent testing, in 2015, haven't yet been released.

The PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment) was first administered in the year 2000. As such, it's the new kid on the international testing block.

The PISA tests 15-year-old students in reading, math and science. It operates on a three-year cycle. As with the TIMSS, so too with the PISA: Results from last year's testing haven't been released.

No nation is required to take part in these testing programs. That said, the United States has regularly participated in both. Other developed nations take part in one or the other or both.

Finland shot to international stardom as a result of its strong results on the inaugural 2000 PISA. In 2011, it took part in the TIMSS for the first time, with results which were less impressive.

What general picture emerges from the TIMSS and the PISA? Let's break our international tournament down into two heats:

Asian tigers versus the world: Without question, a set of Asian nations tend to outperform the world on the TIMSS and the PISA. We refer to three major nations—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—and to a pair of smaller entities, Singapore and Hong Kong.

These Asian polities do tend to kick the academic butts of the rest of the world. At one point, Finland seemed to be in their class. All in all, that no longer seems to be true.

Students in those Asian states do "kick our academic butts" on these international tests. That said, they kick everyone's else's butts too.

It's worth noting the facts that a price may get paid for this kind of academic success. South Korea's education minister has begged the United States not to emulate his country's manic education culture, in which kids go to school all day, then spend all night in their evening academies. We'll have more on this next week.

United States versus everyone else: Students in those Asian states do "kick our academic butts" on international tests. That said, American kids actually don't get their butts kicked by the rest of the world's developed nations. That is especially true if the United States is compared to large, diverse developed nations, rather than to smaller middle-class boutique states.

At the start of the century, a journalistic tulip craze formed around miraculous Finland. Journalists flew off to enjoy their free week in the enjoyable middle-class nation, then returned to spout the nostrums they'd been successfully fed.

Finland is a small corner of Europe; especially on the PISA, it has tended to outscore its larger European neighbors. That said, Massachusetts is a larger corner of the U.S., and in the most recent test administrations, Massachusetts tended to outscore Finland on the TIMSS, match it on the PISA.

Our journalists have fed the nation a steady diet of propaganda about international tests. In next week's reports, "Where the Con Games Are," we'll consider the provenance of these ubiquitous story-lines.

The gloom and doom have been general over the past many years. Americans have been trained to think that our students' performance is embarrassing, as compared to the performance of their international peers.

We're supposed to think, in knee-jerk fashion, that something is horribly wrong with our schools. For ourselves, we often wonder what's wrong with other countries' schools when we examine the full range of scores on the TIMSS, the PIRLS and the PISA.

On the international scene, the achievement gaps can be large. But that's mainly true if we look at the gaps between those Asian nations and the rest of the world.

When we compare our kids to the rest of the world, the gaps just aren't that big. Often, there are no gaps at all. Often, the United States is on the winning side of the gaps, although you'll simply never hear that from our gloom-ridden, script-typing press corps.

Massachusetts kids kicked Finland's butts on that TIMSS math test! Minnesota kids pretty much kicked their butts too. We'll return to the international gaps in part 4 of this week's report. Tomorrow, though, we'll bring it on home in a sobering way:

We'll look at where the achievement gaps are on our domestic tests.

Tomorrow: Where the gaps are on the NAEP

New birther claim which is flatly untrue!


Trump on what Solis Doyle said:
Did Hillary Clinton and/or her campaign start the birther movement?

Inevitably, that seemed to be what Donald Trump told Lester Holt last night. Through Holt, he told the nation. Below, you see Trump's response to Holt's first question about his five-year reign as the nation's Birther King:
HOLT (9/26/16): Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation's first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks, you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years: The president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?

TRUMP: I'll tell you very— Well, just very simple to say. Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and close, very close friend of Secretary Clinton. And her campaign manager, Patti Doyle, went to—during the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard, and you can go look it up, and you can check it out, and if you look at CNN this past week, Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. Blumenthal sent McClatchy, highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it. They were pressing it very hard.

She failed to get the birth certificate. When I got involved, I didn't fail. I got him to give the birth certificate. So I'm satisfied with it.
As far as we know, Trump was speaking in English. Also, we've checked the transcript against the videotape. That's what Trump actually said.

Anyone who watched that exchange would come away with a certain impression. That viewer would think that Solis Doyle told Blitzer last week that Blumenthal, a close Clinton friend, got McClatchy News to send someone to Kenya to check out the birther claim.

Anyone who watched that exchange would have gotten that clear impression. Omigod! Solis Doyle, Clinton's (former) campaign manager, went on CNN and said it was true! "Patti Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened!"

Trump made similar jumbled claims in his next few exchanges. We thought you might want to see what Solis Doyle actually said to Blitzer on the program in question.

In fact, Solis Doyle said nothing about Blumenthal at all when she spoke with Blitzer. He was never mentioned. Nor did she somehow admit that Clinton or the Clinton campaign started the birther lunacy. In essence, she said precisely the opposite.

Go ahead! Read what Trump told Holt again. Then, read this, the transcript of what what Solis Doyle (and Blitzer) actually said:
BLITZER (9/16/16): Let's get reaction from Patti Solis Doyle, Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign manager back in 2007 and 2008. Patti, thanks for joining us.

DOYLE: Thanks so much for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. You just tweeted a couple tweets. Let me put them up on the screen. "Hillary Clinton or her '08 campaign did not start birther movement, period. I was there." Then another tweet, "I fired the rogue and I called David Plouffe to apologize for said rogue."

What does that mean? You fired someone in the campaign, someone supporting Hillary Clinton was trying to promote this so-called birther issue? What happened?

SOLIS DOYLE: So absolutely, the campaign nor Hillary did not start the birther movement, period, end of the story there. There was a volunteer coordinator, I believe in late 2007, I think in December, one of our volunteer coordinators in one of the counties in Iowa, I don't recall whether they were an actual paid staffer, but they did forward an e-mail that promoted the conspiracy. Hillary—

BLITZER: The birther conspiracy?

SOLIS DOYLE: Yeah. Hillary made the decision immediately to let that person go. We let that person go. And it was so, you know, beyond the pale, Wolf. And so not worthy of the kind of campaign that certainly Hillary wanted to run or that we, as a staff, wanted to run that I called David Plouffe, obviously managing Barack Obama's campaign, in '07, to apologize, and basically say that this is, was not coming from us. It was a rogue volunteer coordinator and this was not the kind of campaign we wanted to run. And David graciously accepted my apology.

BLITZER: What about Mark Penn, the Democratic pollster that a lot of us know here in Washington? What was he promoting in the memorandum he put forward?

SOLIS DOYLE: I don't— can you be specific about the memorandum you're talking about? He wrote many memorandum.

BLITZER: A memorandum that was supposedly raising not necessarily the birthplace of then-Senator Barack Obama, but raising other questions about his religion, stuff like that. It was sort of a dark-filled memorandum circulating at the time. You know Mark Penn?

SOLIS DOYLE: I do know Mark Penn very well. Obviously, a chief strategist for the '08 campaign. We worked together on the '08 campaign. I don't know what he wrote but certainly the '08 campaign never promoted the birther conspiracy. Whether we took whatever advice was in the memorandum is clear by the campaign we ran. We did not use it at that time.

BLITZER: Yeah. Everything I have looked, I've looked into this pretty thoroughly. There's never a reference to the birther issue as all in that memorandum. There are other dark things. By all accounts that memorandum never went anywhere and was rejected and no one in any serious capacity in the Hillary Clinton campaign started or circulated or tried to promote the birther issue. That's a very sensitive issue, because you hear the Donald Trump campaign now saying this whole thing started with your campaign, and you're flatly denying that?

SOLIS DOYLE: Absolutely. And the one person who did promote it, again, it was a volunteer coordinator, and I can't even speak to the fact whether that person was on actual payroll. Hillary made the decision to let that person go immediately.

BLITZER: Patti, thank you so much for joining us.

SOLIS DOYLE: Thank you so much.
Blumenthal was never mentioned, not one way or the other. (He has flatly denied this claim.) Despite what Donald J. Trump said to Lester, Blumenthal was never mentioned at all.

Far from "saying that this happened," Solis Doyle flatly denied the campaign's involvement in birtherism, except for some behavior by an Iowa volunteer who was instantly fired. As a simple matter of fact (remember facts?), Solis Doyle didn't "say that this happened" at all!

If we were NBC multimillionaire Holt, we wouldn't be happy with the idea that we'd been handed such a giant pile before tens of millions of viewers.

Will Holt perform a fact-check tonight? Does the public deserve to be told how bogus Trump's bogus claim was?

Why did Trump keep playing birther games?


Holt never quite managed to ask:
All in all, we'll agree with Isaac Chotiner. Lester Holt didn't knock it out of the park, but he also wasn't a world-class clown.

Given the way our press corps functions, that was a bit of a triumph.

(Chotiner: "Holt’s performance, like Hillary Clinton’s, was not a total knockout. But like Clinton’s, it was more than adequate. And in a year like this one, that counts as a victory for a beleaguered press corps.")

That said, we were struck by the several questions Lester Holt failed to ask. This is part of a wider observation concerning the remarkable lack of journalistic skill within our celebrity press corps.

The first question that didn't get asked? It concerned Trump's five-year reign as King of the Birthers.

Holt did raise the topic, of course. He started off like this:
HOLT (9/26/16): Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation's first black president was not a natural-born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks, you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years: The president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?
To peruse the whole transcript, click here.

Holt almost asked the obvious question. Why did Trump keep promulgating his bogus claim so long? More precisely, why did he keep playing birther games even after Obama released his "long-form" birth certificate in 2011?

In his "answer" to Holt's first question, Trump wandered the countryside. He made false claims about what Patti Solis Doyle, a former Clinton aide, recently said on CNN. More generally, he threw up handfuls of gorilla dust, creating balls of confusion.

Eventually, Holt broke in for another try. This time, his question was a bit more precise. He also made a bit of a factual error:
HOLT: I will let you respond. It's important. But I just want to get the answer here. The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You've continued to tell the story and question the president's legitimacy in 2012, '13, '14, '15, as recently as January. So the question is, what changed your mind?
In fact, Obama released his official birth certificate in June 2008. That was the so-called "short form" birth certificate. It's the official way a Hawaiian-born person proves his place of birth. (The so-called long-form document is no longer used.)

There was never any reason to doubt what that official document showed. But so what? Like so many other stars, Holt made it sound like Obama didn't release proof of his birth until 2011, when he released the so-called "long form" document.

This suggestion fits the Trump story line, according to which the marvelous Trump finally forced Obama to give us proof of his birth. Given the way our TV stars work, we'll assume that Holt didn't know about the original release of the official document back in 2008.

Let's set that blunder to the side. The bigger problem involves Trump's refusal to answer Holt's basic question, which the lumbering multimillionaire star never quite managed to state.

Here's the basic question, the question Holt never quite asked:

According to Trump, he forced Obama to release the certificate in 2011, thereby settling the issue. Why then did he keep saying and suggesting that the matter hadn't been settled right through January of this year?

Trump never answered that question, and Holt never made him. Indeed, Holt never even managed to state that question straight out.

Trump's story doesn't make any sense, but so what? Holt lacked the skill, the smarts or the nerve to pose that basic question to Trump:

If you solved the problem in 2011, why did you keep playing birther games right through the start of this year?

Alas! Our major, multimillionaire "journalists" possess almost no journalistic skills. To all appearances, it has been so long since they actually tried to nail down a fact they have no earthly idea how to go about it.

Lester Holt failed to ask the key question about Trump's birther reign. He let Trump wander all about, then moved on to a new topic.

Holt also failed to ask the key question about Trump's refusal to release his income taxes. Here you see the other dog which haplessly failed to bark:

Why don't you release your past income tax forms, the ones from the years preceding your current audit?

That may be the world's most obvious question. Holt never managed to ask.

It's hard to tell when our stars are acting in good faith. In truth, they seem to have few journalistic skills. Those muscles disappeared long ago.

But beyond that, they tend to be a bit on the cowardly side, except when pimping approved story-lines. We'd have to say that, as a group, they aren't obsessively honest.

WHERE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAPS ARE: A somewhat extreme but important case!


Previous report in this series

Part 1—The gaps of Fairfield County: In line with best practices for the classroom, let's start with a quick review.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is our most reliable public school testing program. In its best known component, the federal programs tests students in Grade 4 and Grade 8 in both reading and math.

The NAEP tests a nationwide sample of students. It also tests samples of students from all fifty states, and from 24 urban school districts.

The NAEP has been in operation since roughly 1970. Throughout its history, and in recent decades, substantial score gains have been recorded by all major population groups.

You almost never hear that fact from our big mainstream news orgs, but it's a fact all the same. These are the score gains recorded by our largest student groups in Grade 8 math since 1996:
Grade 8 math, NAEP
Gains in average scores, 1996 / 2015

White students: 12.16 points
Black students: 20.57 points
Hispanic students: 20.25 points
Asian-American students: 17.91 points (2000 / 2015)
According to a rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often equated to one academic year. We regard that as a very rough rule of thumb, but those are the "truly spectacular gains" to which educational specialist Richard Rothstein referred, though only in passing, in this essay at Slate.

On their face, those score gains seem very large. But very few people have ever heard about those "spectacular" gains. With amazingly few exceptions, you never learn about those gains when you read the New York Times or the Washington Post. Instead, you're told about the "achievement gaps," which are also large and important.

With amazing regularity, our big news orgs report the gaps but disappear the gains. In the process, the American public is vastly misled about a widely-discussed, important topic:

Where the test scores are.

That said, the gaps are also important! For that reason, in this, the third week of our four-week report, we'll examine another important question:

Where the achievement gaps are.

Within our American public schools, large achievement gaps obtain between different groups of kids. Although these gaps have been growing smaller, they remain large for a maddening reason: when all population groups record score gains, the achievement gaps tend to remain, though at a higher achievement level.

Those achievement gaps are important. Two weeks ago, the New York Times published a front-page report about a pair of neighboring school districts, in a state whose public schools have recently been in the news.

The state is Connecticut, which is currently involved in a court case about public school funding. The front-page report in the New York Times was written by Elizabeth Harris and Kristin Hussey, a pair of reporters with little experience in public school reporting.

As Harris and Hussey started, they sketched the outlines of a large and challenging set of gaps—the gaps of Fairfield County. Headline included, this is the way they began:
HARRIS AND HUSSEY (9/12/16): In Connecticut, a Wealth Gap Divides Neighboring Schools

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.
The town of Fairfield and the city of Bridgeport are communities in Connecticut's larger Fairfield County, one of the nation's wealthiest counties. The town of Fairfield is a high-income suburb of Bridgeport, a low-income city.

As they start, Harris and Hussey present a striking set of contrasts between Fairfield and Bridgeport. That said, thhe most depressing statement in that opening passage is anecdotal:

How many fifth-graders in the Bridgeport schools are actually reading "at kindergarten level?" Harris and Hussey never say. It all depends on what the meaning of "often" is!

We're going to guess that the actual number would be quite small. That said, another depressing claim occurs a bit later in the Times report. This claim seems to involve ninth-graders at Bridgeport's Harding High, which serves grades 9-12:
HARRIS/HUSSEY: Some students arrive at Harding High School reading at a third-grade level, said Aresta Johnson, an assistant superintendent who oversees the district’s high schools. And in many cases, she said, students simply have not attended school consistently enough to learn how to read fluently.

“We face a huge issue with chronic absenteeism,” she said. Cuts to athletic programs, which are a big draw for some students, have only made the situation worse.
That claim is also anecdotal. How many kids enter Harding High reading at a third-grade level? It all depends on the meaning of "some!"

Aside from the graduation rates, Harris and Hussey provide no actual data about the achievement levels of the students in these neighboring school districts. We're handed a pair of vague assessments and left to imagine the rest.

That said, a statistical assessment can be drawn from a graphic which appeared in the Times in April. The graphic accompanied a multiply bungled report by education reporter Motoko Rich. We refer to the top graphic here.

Inevitably, the headline on the New York Times graphic misstates what it actually shows. The graphic was based on data collected by Stanford professor Sean Reardon. Reardon's data record achievement levels for public school students in grades 5-8 in the nation's many school districts.

According to that graphic, the average child in the Fairfield School District, grades 5-8, scored 2.0 grades above grade level. (That's the town of Fairfield, not the entire county.) By way of contrast, the average child in the Bridgeport School District scored 1.7 grades below.

Inevitably, the Times didn't say if those average scores were for reading, or for math, or perhaps for an average of the two subjects. That said, those scores demonstrate a large "achievement gap," on average, just by the middle school years:

On average, the achievement gap for students, grades 5-8, is a walloping 3.7 years in those neighboring districts. Presumably, this would mean that the average student entering seventh grade in Bridgeport is working at something like fifth grade level. His or her counterpart in Fairfield would be working at ninth grade level.

According to the Reardon data, those challenging achievement gaps coincide with a large family income gap. According to the Times graphic, these were the median family incomes for the students Reardon assessed:

Bridgeport: $40,000
Fairfield: $158,000

According to the Reardon data, the two school districts are also quite different demographically. The Fairfield students studied by Reardon were 84% white, according to the Times graphic. The Bridgeport students were 48% Hispanic, 41% black.

A basic fact should be noted. The Harris/Hussey front-page report examines a fairly extreme case. Several towns in Fairfield County are actually wealthier than the town of Fairfield, but Fairfield is wealthier than the average American suburb. Its juxtaposition to low-income Bridgeport creates a somewhat unrepresentative case.

As noted, Harris and Hussey don't have much experience in education reporting. Harris, who's eleven years out of college, was moved to the Times K-12 beat in July 2014. Hussey describes herself as a freelance reporter based in Connecticut.

This lack of experience in education reporting may explain some of the shortcomings which appear in the Harris/Hussey report. The writers brought little skepticism or savvy to their treatment of the judge in the ongoing court case, who seems to have made the kinds of assessments and recommendations which will often seem to make sense to people who have no experience with low-income public schools. (Let's outlaw social promotion!)

They also may have their thumbs on the scale a tad at some points concerning the funding of Bridgeport's schools. As a general rule, cities with pre-existing transit bus systems don't operate separate school bus systems for their high school students. At one point, the writers seem to treat this state of affairs in Bridgeport as a sign of the city's failure to provide basic public school services.

That said, a very large achievement gap obtains between these neighboring districts. People who want all our kids to succeed, and to feel valued, should be disturbed by this state of affairs.

No, Virginia! Most fifth-graders in Bridgeport's schools aren't "reading on kindergarten level!" That's the type of exciting fact which may substitute for full information when big newspapers wallow in their favorite subject, the alleged, often wildly exaggerated failures of our schools.

That said, large achievement gaps do exist within our domestic NAEP scores. On the international front, some substantial achievement gaps do obtain between the students in the public schools of the world's various developed nations.

In newspapers like the New York Times, a cruel, inexcusable practice has long obtained. We're constantly told about the gaps, sometimes in slightly embellished form. But we're never told about those large score gains. The gains are disappeared.

On the international front, we're told that small corners of Europe outscore our public schools. We aren't old that larger corners of the U.S. outscore those small corners of Europe.

Those practices constitute a journalistic con, a point we'll consider again next week. This week, though, let's try to establish some basic facts about a key subject:

Where the achievement gaps are, foreign and domestic.

Tomorrow: The gaps in the international scores