Was Bridget Kelly telling the truth?


Some journalists seem self-convinced:
Did Bridget Kelly tell the truth during her "Bridgegate" trial?

We don't know if she did! But at New York Magazine, Andrew Rice says her story "had a convincing ring."

That's a rather fuzzy affirmation. At any rate, this is Rice's summary, in which he affirms "the petite mother of four" and seeks to hang vile Christie:
RICE (10/27/16): The consensus among courtroom observers seems to be that Kelly, the petite mother of four who allegedly ordered the closures, came off sympathetically, while Baroni, the square-jawed politico who was reputedly nicknamed “Phony Baroni” by colleagues when he served in the State Senate, didn’t appear as credible. No one needed to argue, though, about who came off looking the worst. “Mr. Christie remained the offstage villain, the Mephistopheles of Trenton,” the Times wrote in a sulfurous editorial this morning, “but it was impossible for even casual trial observers not to discern, from witness after witness, the evident viciousness and grubbiness of the governor and his administration.”

Three years ago, when the bridge-closing conspiracy first came to light, investigators asked the time-honored question: What did Governor Christie know, and when did he know it? More than a month of testimony in the case has offered ample evidence that the most plausible answers to those questions are: everything and early. Under oath, some of Christie’s closest advisers were forced to admit that the governor lied about what he knew—baldly, and repeatedly. But it was Kelly, the defendant, who offered perhaps the most damning account. Over several days of sometimes teary testimony, she claimed that the governor—a boss she said “petrified” her and even once hurled a water bottle at her in fury—was fully aware of Wildstein’s activities, until he had what Kelly delicately called a “memory issue.” While Christie has denied the allegations, and Kelly is trying to save herself from prison, her story had a convincing ring.
Does Kelly's story "have a convincing ring?" Her story could even be true, but it certainly doesn't seem "convincing." Except, perhaps, to the type of observer who is self-convinced.

Kelly's story could always be true, but on its face, it certainly isn't "convincing." For starters, Kelly claims she had no idea that there was a political motive behind the lane closings.

She says she believed that David Wildstein was proposing a legitimate traffic study. That claim could always be true, of course. But given the tone of the various emails she proceeded to send, it certainly isn't convincing.

Kelly's story should seem especially shaky to Rice, who wants to hang Christie high. This is why we say that:

According to Kelly, she didn't even know that anyone in Christie's orbit was angry at Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich. Indeed, according to Kelly's story, even vile Governor Christie himself didn't seem to know that!

According to Kelly's story, Kelly told Christie that Wildstein wanted to run a traffic study, but that it would cause congestion in Fort Lee. According to Kelly, Christie only asked her how relations were with the mayor; she had to admit she didn't know. According to Kelly's convincing story, even Christie himself didn't seem to know that people were angry with Sokolich!

Kelly's story could always be true, but on its face, it doesn't seem super-convincing. Much later in his piece, Rice acknowledges this fact.

"Now, there are some less-than-believable elements to this account, chief among them Kelly’s contention that she didn’t know the true motives behind the 'traffic study,' ” Rice eventually writes. We agree—but, for better or worse, that claim lies at the heart of Kelly's "convincing" story!

Can we talk? Andrew Rice doesn't seem to believe that Kelly was telling the truth at her trial. Most of all, though, he deeply wants to disbelieve Christie. For that reason, he thrashes about, pretending that Kelly's story is "convincing."

Sorry—that it "had a convincing ring." Within the mainstream press, there was a time when feathered distinctions like that would be scorned as "Clintonesque."

For ourselves, we've always found it hard to believe that Christie would be dumb enough to affirm a plan which seemed to carry so much obvious risk. Clearly, Wildstein was dumb (and crazy) enough. Was Christie that stupid too?

Of one thing you can be certain. Absent external evidence, there's zero reason to believe anything these people say. And by the way, the prosecutors don't believe Kelly's convincing story. The prosecutors don't believe "it had a convincing ring."

In Wednesday's New York Times, Kate Zernike described the way the prosecutors pounded Kelly when they got to question her on the stand. They could be wrong in what they think, of course. But plainly, the prosecutors think Kelly is lying about key parts of her tale.

We thought of Rachel Maddow when we read that news report. Last Friday, she handed viewers a gong-show account of what Kelly had said on the stand that day. She didn't even tell her viewers that Kelly was the defendant in the trial, was charged with a serious crime. Maddow was trying to hang Christie too, perhaps like Andrew Rice.

When prosecutors pounded Kelly this week, Rachel didn't discuss it. A certain cable star understands what we the viewers want.

Krugman and Brooks stage a powerful day!


Rachel meets Crazy Eddie:
In this morning's New York Times, Paul Krugman has an instructive column about the current Obamacare problem.

We're assuming his column is accurate. But this is what we had in mind when we said that Rachel Maddow should stop entertaining us with the latest profusion of polls and should start informing us about important matters instead.

We were also struck by David Brooks' new column. Sitting across the page from Krugman, he caught our eye with this account of the lunacy of modern pseudo-conservatism:
BROOKS (10/28/16): The conservative intellectual landscape has changed in three important ways since [the 1980s], paving the way for the ruination of the Republican Party.

First, talk radio, cable TV and the internet have turned conservative opinion into a mass-market enterprise. Small magazines have been overwhelmed by Rush, O’Reilly and Breitbart.

Today’s dominant conservative voices try to appeal to people by the millions. You win attention in the mass media through perpetual hysteria and simple-minded polemics and by exploiting social resentment.
In search of that mass right-wing audience that, say, Coulter enjoys, conservatism has done its best to make itself offensive to people who value education and disdain made-for-TV rage.

It’s ironic that an intellectual tendency that champions free markets was ruined by the forces of commercialism, but that is the essential truth. Conservatism went down-market in search of revenue. It got swallowed by its own anti-intellectual media-politico complex—from Beck to Palin to Trump.
Later, Brooks delivers another blow. "As conservatism has become a propagandistic, partisan movement it has become less vibrant, less creative and less effective."

For ourselves, we were never fans of the conservative movement to start with. That said, Brooks clearly describes the crackpot mercantile forces which have turned the conservative movement into the lunatic enterprise it is today.

He's even willing to name the names of the media figures—Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Coulter, Breitbart, Beck. At this point, the downward spiral is even leading to the utter craziness of the utterly crazy, or deeply mercantile, Alex Jones, whose lunacy is going unexplored within our major news orgs.

Brooks describes the way the crackpots have crazified the right. We couldn't help thinking of Maddow as we read this.

We single her out because her success at selling herself has made her the face of the mercantile, corporate pseudo-left. The relentless dumbing-down of her TV show matches a process which has occurred all over the web and the cable left.

All over the money-making web and cable left, we meant to say.

Maddow's program has been hugely dumbed down. In the process, it has been turned into an entertainment vehicle. It has also become the Vatican City of The Cult of Maddow.

On October 13, she opened her show with maybe ten minutes of pointless recollection about the dimwitted old TV show in which Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone's vault. As usual, we the viewers got hear her talking about herself.

("It was a two-hour special that aired April 21st, 1986. I had just turned 13 and I remember watching it. And honestly, it's not that weird that I watched it, because statistically speaking, basically everybody watched it....I read one report, they also found a stop sign down there? Maybe, but I don't remember that from when I watched it from when I was 13...It was, in its own way, it was totally, nihilistically awesome.")

"I I I I I I I," our analysts cry at such points.

That was the evening of the Geraldo/Al Capone reverie. This Monday, she opened with maybe five irrelevant minutes about the old Crazy Eddie TV ads.

("Starting in 1975 and running through the end of the 1980s, there were more than 7,000 of these various, deliberately manic, low-fi, screaming Crazy Eddie ads. They all end with that tag line, 'His prices are insane!'")

In fairness, this topic had special appeal for Maddow, since the story ended with Crazy Eddie going to prison.

We thought of this relentless dumbing-down when we read Brooks' column. He describes the way grifters of the corporate right have, in the fullness of time, turned conservatives into lunatics.

You may think it couldn't happen Over Here. For what it's worth, Brooks almost seems to be saying that it already has:
BROOKS: This is a sad story. But I confess I’m insanely optimistic about a conservative rebound. That’s because of an observation the writer Yuval Levin once made: That while most of the crazy progressives are young, most of the crazy conservatives are old. Conservatism is now being led astray by its seniors, but its young people are pretty great. It’s hard to find a young evangelical who likes Donald Trump. Most young conservatives are comfortable with ethnic diversity and are weary of the Fox News media-politico complex.
Could we in our own brilliant tribe possibly get our brains turned to mush by the efforts of people like Maddow? In our view, it's already happening, to a deeply unfortunate extent.

We're getting sold a lot of crap by people making a lot of money. Maddow has been lunified by the process right before our eyes. In fairness, many people lose their way when they're saddled with giant barrels of money and with cult-level fame.

How far could this dumbing-down process extend? We have no idea. But we thought of Maddow once again when we read this post at New York Magazine.

As they say on cable: "And that's next."

WHERE THE CHALLENGES ARE: Disaggregating Massachusetts!


Epilogue—Bay State confidential:
When American journalists report domestic test scores, they typically "disaggregate."

They compare white kids' scores to the scores of black and Hispanic kids. They announce that the "achievement gaps" remain large.

They fail to report that all three groups have recorded large score gains. Gloomily, they announce that nothing has worked.

That's what happens when our journalists report domestic test scores. But when they report international scores, they almost never "disaggregate." (We're not sure we've ever seen an American journalist do that.)

They present the American aggregate score, then fashion gloomy thoughts about the way our students, teachers and schools compare to those in admirable countries like Finland.

They fashion sweeping gloomy thoughts. All our students, teachers and school get thrown under the bus.

In the past two weeks, we've shown you how it looks when you disaggregate American scores on international tests. In one way, the results are horrific and painful. In another way, American public schools, full stop, don't look quite so bad.

Our white students stack up pretty well as compared to the rest of the world. Our Asian-American students stack up substantially better. That said, gigantic achievement gaps appear between those two groups of kids and our black and Hispanic kids. In our view, those painful data help us see where our educational challenges are.

What explains those large gaps? What could we do to erase them? Different people will have different ideas. In the weeks and months ahead, we will try to sift through them, although the dirty secret is this:

(There's no sign that anyone cares.)

In our view, disaggregated international scores show where our challenges are. They also tend to undercut the sweeping denigration of our teachers and schools which comes from the types of propagandists who have tended to write the scripts for our contemporary journalism.

According to those propagandists, we're supposed to look at international scores and declare how awful our public schools are, full stop. For ourselves, we often reach a different conclusion. After we disaggregate international scores, we're often struck by how mediocre the outcomes are in a middle-class, unicultural nation like Finland.

Today, let's extend a comparison we started yesterday. Let's extend our battle of the small, unrepresentative corners. Let's compare Finland, a small corner of Europe, to Massachusetts, a small corner of our own more complex land.

By all accounts, Finland is a wonderful place to live. That said, how do its public schools perform on international tests as compared to the public schools of Massachusetts? Today, we'll disaggregate Bay State scores to let you consider that question more fully.

Once again, we think you'll see where our nation's educational challenges are. But we think you'll also see the problem with those sweeping denigrations of American teachers and schools, full stop. In our view, those sweeping denigrations almost resemble a form of propaganda.

Let's start with results on the PISA, the international test on which Americans kids have performed less well.

On the most recent PISA, here's the way Massachusetts kids performed, as compared to their peers in the world's public school super-powers. As we disaggregate Massachusetts scores, we create a Bay State confidential:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2012 PISA
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 584
Massachusetts, white students: 540
Japan: 538
South Korea: 536
Massachusetts: 527
Finland: 524

Taiwan: 523
Massachusetts, black students: 476
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 475

Average scores, Math Literacy, 2012 PISA
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 569
Taiwan: 560
South Korea: 554
Japan: 536
Massachusetts, white students: 530
Finland: 519
Massachusetts: 514

Massachusetts, black students: 458
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 446
Even in the aggregate, our own small corner matched their small corner on these international tests. (On the PISA scale, 39 points is considered the rough equivalent of one academic year.)

Even in the aggregate, Bay State kids matched miraculous Finland! But when we disaggregate Bay State scores, the story becomes more complex.

On the one hand, you see the giant achievement gaps which show us where our challenges are. On the other hand, you may gain a new perspective on miraculous Finland, even on the three Asian tigers.

White kids in Massachusetts outscored Finland on both these measures. Asian-American Bay State kids outscored Finland by a lot; they even outscored all three Asian public school super-powers. Somehow, these results emerged from our ratty public schools with their lazy, unionized staffs.

Let's be fair! Massachusetts is a small, unrepresentative corner of the United States. But Finland is an even smaller, unrepresentative corner of Europe.

As a unicultural nation with very little immigration, Finland's students are almost all "majority culture." In our own small corner of the U.S., our own "majority culture" kids outscored Finland, even on the tests which made Finland famous.

On the TIMSS, the Bay State does even better. But the challenges remain.

Within the Bay State's disaggregated scores, the large achievement gaps are there for all to see. On the other hand, you might start to see how silly it is to denigrate American schools, full stop, while praising the wonders of Finland:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSS
South Korea: 613
Taiwan: 609
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 599
Massachusetts, white students: 572
Japan: 570
Massachusetts: 561
Massachusetts, black students: 516
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 514
Finland: 514

Average scores, Grade 8 science, 2011 TIMSS
Massachusetts, white students: 587
Massachusetts, Asian-American students: 576
Massachusetts: 567
Taiwan: 564
South Korea: 560
Japan: 558
Finland: 552
Massachusetts, black students: 514
Massachusetts, Hispanic students: 494
We can't give you a rule of thumb to apply to those score differentials. But especially in math, Bay State kids, even in the aggregate, outscored miraculous Finland by a lot.

On both these tests, our small corner, in the aggregate, beat Europe's small corner straight-up. In science, Massachusetts, in the aggregate, even outscored all three Asian public school powers. The Bay State outscored them straight up!

That said, we still confront those very large internal achievement gaps. In our view, we face two major challenges:

On the one hand, we face an educational challenge. It's defined by the large achievement gaps which appear whenever we disaggregate American scores.

That said, we also face a journalistic challenge. Our journalism has been driven by simple-minded, propagandistic story-lines about our hapless public school teachers and our embarrassing schools. In sweeping fashion, these story-lines denigrate all our teachers, students and schools. Full freaking stop!

Those propagandistic story-lines are poorly aligned with reality. They're neatly aligned with certain corporate and pseudo-conservative perspectives, interests and themes. But they fail to capture the complex, appalling lay of the land within our public schools.

For whatever reason, our journalists have rushed to endorse those simple-minded tales. Perhaps in perfect good faith, the billionaires have been aggressively pushing those tales. Our press corps has rushed to recite them.

In our view, the truth is much more difficult, vastly more daunting. It's also much more complex.

Our small corner beats their small corner! Isn't it time for the press to expand its small, silly story-lines?

To access all data: To access all data, you'll have to click here. From that point, you're on your own.

Expert advice on profusion of polls!


Rhodes scholarship at its finest:
She could have been explaining the latest news about the Obamacare premium increases.

She could have been explaining the contents, or the lack of same, of the latest WikiLeaks dump.

That said, it's as we told you yesterday. The cable news of today is all about the blizzard of polls which swoops down out of the north each day. So Rachel Maddow, Our Own Rhodes Scholar, decided to tackle that problem.

She teased the segment not once, but twice. This was her first preview:
MADDOW (10/26/16): You know, they say, thanks to cable news, that the news cycle is now 24 hours long, which is ridiculously short. You're welcome.

Today, I would say though, is a little different. Today, we got the news cycle so tight and so fast it was more like whiplash than it was an actual cycle, particularly on the issue of polling and who is now winning the presidential race.

We're going to need some expert help to figure out some of what happened today.
What of it makes sense, what of it's important, and what of it you can disregard.

We've got that expert's decoding help coming up tonight. Stay with us.
The analysts were thrilled.

Finally! the youngsters happily cried. Finally, we'll get some help—decoding help, from an expert, no less!—concerning the profusion of polls!

When she returned from commercial break, Maddow killed a segment with pointless piddle about Candidates Perot and Dole in 1996.

After another commercial break, she burned another short segment with piddle—this time, she worked Walter Mondale in—then teased her expert again:
MADDOW: ...But one poll is just one poll. And just as we were digesting that mammoth new lead in that AP poll with Trump down by 14 points, just as we were digesting that, we got another poll from Fox News.

And Fox News, of course, editorially, is conservative, but their polling is for real.
And tonight, the new Fox News poll says, yes, Hillary Clinton is leading nationally by only by 3 points. And that's in a poll with a 2 1/2-point margin of error. So she's winning nationwide by 14 points, she's winning nationwide by 3 points.

I mean, obviously, there isn't a nationwide election. It all comes down to individual states. But still I'm popping numbers from the AP and Fox today and ones that don't make much sense together.

How should we make sense of these numbers? Where exactly are we at right now? We've got expert help on that, next.
We don't know why Maddow felt sure that the new Fox poll was on the level. But by now, she'd burned two segments saying that we'd get "expert help" so we could sift through all these polls.

The analysts were genuinely excited. Finally, they would get some help; Our Own Rhodes Scholar was coming through!

But then, after another commercial break, Maddow introduce her expert. When she did, the analysts' faces fell:
MADDOW: Joining us now is Harry Enten. He's senior political writer for 538.com. He's a young man we've been increasingly turning to for poll interpretation help.

Harry, thanks for being here.

ENTEN: Pleasure.
"Oh no," several analysts cried. "Not the underwhelming Enten!"

Harry Enten is a young man, just as Rachel said. We're not real sure he's an expert. How much help did he offer last night? This was his first expert tip:
MADDOW (continuing directly): What do you make of the AP national poll coming out tonight showing Clinton with a 14-point lead, right before Fox comes out with a national poll showing her with a 3-point lead? How do we absorb that information responsibly as humans?

ENTEN: Well, I would say what I always say, and that's average them, right? We're going to always average the polls....
Enten went on and on from there. But in his first bit of expert advice, he said what he always says, that we should average the polls.

Maddow wasn't finished with her quest for complete understanding. If you're lucky enough to have an expert on hand, you want to ask as many questions as he'll let you cram in:
MADDOW: Based on the way you look at the polls and the data that you look at and your systems for absorbing it responsibly, do you feel like it's fair to say that the race is tightening a bit right now?

ENTEN: If it's tightening, it's barely tightening. The last model had Hillary Clinton with, say, a 7-point lead and now, maybe, it's like 6.3. That's tightening. But if Donald Trump continues to tighten the rice by that much, with, you know, a little less than two weeks remaining, he's just never going to be able to catch Hillary Clinton.

MADDOW: Unless he tightens the race at a faster pace, there isn't enough time left.

ENTEN: That's exactly right.
Is the Clinton-Trump race tightening? Based on the way he looks at the polls and his systems for absorbing the data he looks at responsibly, Enten cited the basic data which anyone, Maddow included, could have accessed at 538.com.

Meanwhile, if we understood the rest of that exchange, Maddow said Trump couldn't catch up unless the race tightens more rapidly.

"That's exactly right," the expert Enten replied.

The expertise continued from there, pushed along by Maddow's unrelenting scholarship. Eventually, Enten advised us to keep an eye on Pennsylvania and Florida.

We're not sure we've ever seen anyone dumb herself down more than Maddow has. On the brighter side, her ratings are up. It's what her owners want.

WHERE THE CHALLENGES ARE: Where the (unrepresentative) test scores are!


Part 3 in this series

Part 4—Massachusetts v. Finland: Certain types of magical quests never seem to end. So it was that these headlines appeared, last June, in the august Atlantic:
Is Estonia the New Finland?
With a focus on equity, the northern European country has quietly joined the ranks of the global education elite.
In one way, tiny Estonia could become the new Finland. It could become the latest small corner of Europe to which American journalists are sent in search of the public school holy grail.

Finland has been cast in that role ever since its students attained high scores on the inaugural PISA, back in the year 2000. Now, the Atlantic had gone to an even smaller corner of Europe, ostensibly seeking the source of its public school success.

In this case, the Atlantic had gone to a tiny corner of Europe. Estonia's population is 1.3 million. By contrast, Finland—population, 5.5 million—qualifies as a behemoth.

Can we learn from the public schools of Estonia and Finland? Presumably yes, we can. And yet, this era of Finland public school chic has been absurd on its face.

You see, Finland isn't just a small corner of Europe. It's a small, unrepresentative corner of Europe—a pleasant, apparently admirable nation whose public schools face a limited set of educational challenges.

For better or worse, Finland is a small, unicultural, middle-class nation. To its great credit, it never created a despised "racial" minority. It didn't spend centuries attempting to eliminate literacy from any such brutalized group.

For better or worse, it has authorized little immigration as compared to its neighbors in Europe. In large part due to its social systems, very few of its public school students come from impoverished homes.

In August 2010, Newsweek went all in. Based on an exhaustive survey, it officially anointed Finland "the best country in the world."

This accolade was announced as part of "Newsweek's first-ever Best Countries special issue." Switzerland was declared second best. Sweden went home with the bronze.

By many accounts, Finland is a wonderful place to live. It's also an unrepresentative corner of Europe.

As a general matter, its public schools don't face the social, demographic and cultural challenges found in the schools of many other nations. Finland has never solved the attendant educational challenges because it has never encountered them.

For these reasons, it never made a lot of sense to send reporters to Finland seeking answers to our country's many educational challenges. Needless to say, this didn't stop the American press from going all in on this game.

As of June, the Atlantic was threatening to extend this quest to an even tinier corner of Europe. In our view, it's time to address this foolishness by taking a fuller look at where the test scores are.

The trips to Finland have long been used to denigrate American students, teachers and schools. As such, the trips have been part of a larger pattern of denigration—a pattern of denigration quite widespread within our press elites.

This punishing journalistic cult was always founded upon Finland's international test scores. Today, let's see how this glorified small corner of Europe stacks up on international tests as compared to two small corners of our own pitiful land.

You've heard of these corners of the U.S.; they're called Massachusetts and Connecticut. In terms of population, one is larger than Finland, the other turns out to be smaller:
Population of three small corners
Finland: 5.5 million
Massachusetts: 6.8 million
Connecticut: 3.8 million
As with Finland, so too with these small corners; in certain ways, they are unrepesentative corners of the United States. That said, their public schools face many more demographic, social and educational challenges than the public schools of Finland, "where the children are all above average."

(Not long ago, the New York Times described a challenging corner of Connecticut. We refer to Bridgeport, a city with lots of immigrant kids, substantial amounts of poverty, and the inevitable backwash of this country's brutal racial history. You can't learn how to address the resulting educational challenges by flying to Finland. In Finland, such challenges barely exist.)

Massachusetts is a relatively advantaged corner of the United States; Finland is a relatively advantaged corner of Europe. That said, how do the test scores of Bay State students stack up against the scores of their peers in Finland? Luckily, we're able to check.

You see, Massachusetts and Connecticut participated as independent entities in the most recent rounds of international testing—the 2011 TIMSS and the 2012 PISA. This lets us compare the two small corners of the U.S. to the one small corner of Europe.

Given our pitiful public schools, how did our small corners stack up? We'll start with results from the PISA, the international test on which American students have performed less well.

Below, you see some average scores from the PISA's 2012 reading test. The PISA tests 15-year-old students. Among the world's developed nations, we're including the three high-scoring Asian tigers, plus Finland and the U.S.

We're also including Massachusetts and Connecticut; we'll highlight scores from Massachusetts alone. Among American scores, we're performing some disaggregation.

These data plainly show us where our national challenges are. They also place ubiquitous claims about Finland in a bit of a wider perspective:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2012 PISA
United States, Asian-American students: 550
Connecticut, white students: 546
Massachusetts, white students: 540
Japan: 538
South Korea: 536
Massachusetts: 527
Finland: 524

Taiwan: 523
Connecticut: 521
United States, white students: 519
United States: 498
United States, Hispanic students: 478
United States, black students: 443
Remember—the PISA is the battery on which American kids do less well. According to a rough rule of thumb, 39 points on the PISA scale is roughly equivalent to one academic year.

On the national level, those data offer a sobering look at where our challenges are. On the other hand, those data seem to belie the ubiquitous claim that something is horribly wrong with our teachers and schools, full stop.

Judging from this international test, our teachers and schools seem to be doing fairly well with our "majority culture" students. White students in the U.S. basically matched their peers in miraculous Finland.

Meanwhile, Asian-American kids outperformed Finland, by a substantial amount. They also outscored the students in all three Asian tigers.

On the national level, different people will see different things when they look at those disaggregated American scores. We see a set of daunting educational challenges. We won't learn how to meet those challenges through sweeping denunciations of our teachers and schools, full stop.

That said, consider the performance of the students in two small corners of our own United States.

For all their relative demographic complexity, students in Massachusetts and Connecticut matched the scores of their peers in Finland on this particular test. White students in those states—students from the "majority culture"—outscored their peers in Finland, a nation where virtually all the kids are "majority culture."

Why are our journalists flying to Finland? Why aren't they taking Amtrak to Boston—or to such demographically different locales as Worcester, Fall River, Amherst, Methuen, Lawrence, perhaps Billerica?

Except in the search for denigration, why are they flying to Finland? That basic question even survives the most recent PISA math test:
Average scores, Math Literacy, 2012 PISA
Taiwan: 560
South Korea: 554
United States, Asian-American students: 549
Japan: 536
Connecticut, white students: 534
Massachusetts, white students: 530
Finland: 519
Massachusetts: 514

United States, white kids: 506
Connecticut: 506
United States: 481
United States, Hispanic students: 455
United States, black students: 421
Remember. Of the eight sub-tests in the most recent international testing, this was the sub-test on which American kids scored least well. But even on this worst sub-test, Bay State students matched their counterparts in Finland.

White kids in Massachusetts and Connecticut—kids from the majority culture—outscored their peers from that miraculous land.

Why do journalists fly to Finland? Why not deplane in Boston? The question becomes especially clear when we look at results from the latest TIMSS.

The TIMSS is the international test on which American students tend to score better. Perhaps for that reason, results from the TIMSS are often disappeared in the American press.

We'll use Grade 8 scores instead of those from Grade 4. We can't give you a rule of thumb for interpreting score differentials here.

That said, Bay State students pounded Finland in both science and math on the TIMSS. In science, white kids in Massachusetts even pounded the Asian tigers:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2011 TIMSS
South Korea: 613
Taiwan: 609
Massachusetts, white students: 572
Japan: 570
United States, Asian-American students: 568
Massachusetts: 561
Connecticut, white students: 543
United States, white students: 530
Connecticut: 518
Finland: 514
United States: 509
United States, Hispanic students: 485
United States, black students: 465

Average scores, Grade 8 science, 2011 TIMSS
Massachusetts, white students: 587
United States, Asian-American students: 576
Massachusetts: 567
Taiwan: 564
Connecticut, white students: 562
South Korea: 560
Japan: 558
United States, white students: 553
Finland: 552
Connecticut: 532
United States: 525
United States, Hispanic students: 493
United States, black students: 470
Is something "wrong" with the TIMSS? If so, why do the United States and the Asian tigers participate in the testing? If not, why are journalists flying to Finland in search of a miracle cure?

In the course of this series, we've tried to broaden your understanding of where the test scores are. Test scores are an imperfect way to measure the quality of a nation's schools. But they're widely discussed in the American press, often in ways which serve the goals of a strange, gloomy propaganda.

Certain corporate and political elites have reason to denigrate American students, teachers and schools. Inevitably, American journalists have been prepared to pimp the official elite story-line about our embarrassing schools.

They report the gaps, disappear the gains. They report the PISA, avoid the TIMSS. They disaggregate scores when it advances their themes.

And again and again, they fly to Finland, the miraculous small corner of Europe whose kids get matched and outscored by Massachusetts, a much more complex and challenging corner of the U.S. "Please come to Boston," the folksinger cries. But our journalists hurry on past.

A few years ago, this state of affairs left Bill Keller making an odd pronouncement. Inevitably, he was speaking in favor of one particular type of "reform:"

"[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."

Like so many other people, Keller believed that we had experienced "decades of embarrassing decline" in our public schools. He'd seen it said and implied, again and again, in the organs of the national press. Keller, who is decent and bright, seemed to believe that he was stating an obvious fact.

In all honesty, that isn't where the test scores are. Why have Keller and so many others been so thoroughly disinformed?

Also, PISA science: Below, you see results from the PISA science test. This was Finland's best performance as compared to the Asian tigers and even as compared to our own Massachusetts:
Average scores, Science Literacy, 2012 PISA
Japan: 547
Connecticut, white students: 547
United States, Asian-American students: 546
Massachusetts, white students: 545
Finland: 545

South Korea: 538
United States, white students: 528
Massachusetts: 527
Taiwan: 523
Connecticut: 521
United States: 497
United States, Hispanic students: 462
United States, black students: 439
Advice to editors—save a few bucks! Put them on the train to Boston, or perhaps on the bus to New Bedford, a demographically challenging former whaling town.

Massachusetts achieved its scores in the face of those challenges. Why not drop by that small corner to see how they're doing it there?

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