Tag Archives: Dana Goldstein

Talkin’ About Adding The Value

Grace Snodgrass at Huffington Post:

One day soon, my name and performance evaluation could be printed in your morning newspaper. It will tell you that I’m a teacher who has clear strengths and weaknesses in helping my students advance academically.

But as valuable as my so-called “Teacher Data Report” is in helping me identify these areas, it really doesn’t say much about the overall quality of my teaching. And printing the results — as an NYC judge just gave the city the right to do — will do little to make me, or any of my colleagues, better teachers. At least, not right away. What will help is the Department of Education and the teachers’ union putting aside their differences and improving these reports so that teachers like me receive good information about our performance and clear steps towards achieving our classroom goals.

As an educator, I want to be evaluated. I know that my students’ success hinges on the quality of my teaching. The Department of Education is actually on the right track with the “value-added” method it uses to calculate the impact teachers have on their students’ academic growth. Value-added compares a student’s predicted performance on standardized assessments with how he or she actually performs.

Dana Goldstein and Megan McArdle on Bloggingheads

Jim Manzi at The Corner:

Recently, Megan McArdle and Dana Goldstein had a very interesting Bloggingheads discussion that was mostly about teacher evaluations. They referenced some widely discussed attempts to evaluate teacher performance using what is called “value-added.” This is a very hot topic in education right now. Roughly speaking, it refers to evaluating teacher performance by measuring the average change in standardized test scores for the students in a given teacher’s class from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, rather than simply measuring their scores. The rationale is that this is an effective way to adjust for different teachers being confronted with students of differing abilities and environments.

This seems like a broadly sensible idea as far as it goes, but consider that the real formula for calculating such a score in a typical teacher value-added evaluation system is not “Average math + reading score at end of year – average math reading score at beginning of year,” but rather a very involved regression equation. What this reflects is real complexity, which has a number of sources. First, at the most basic level, teaching is an inherently complex activity. Second, differences between students are not unvarying across time and subject matter. How do we know that Johnny, who was 20 percent better at learning math than Betty in 3rd grade is not relatively more or less advantaged in learning reading in fourth grade? Third, an individual person-year of classroom education is executed as part of a collective enterprise with shared contributions. Teacher X had special needs assistant 1 work with her class, and teacher Y had special needs assistant 2 working with his class — how do we disentangle the effects of the teacher versus the special ed assistant? Fourth, teaching has effects that continue beyond that school year. For example, how do we know if teacher X got a great gain in scores for students in third grade by using techniques that made them less prepared for fourth grade, or vice versa for teacher Y? The argument behind complicated evaluation scoring systems is that they untangle this complexity sufficiently to measure teacher performance with imperfect but tolerable accuracy.

Any successful company that I have ever seen employs some kind of a serious system for evaluating and rewarding / punishing employee performance. But if we think of teaching in these terms — as a job like many others, rather than some sui generis activity — then I think that the hopes put forward for such a system by its advocates are somewhat overblown.

There are some job categories that have a set of characteristics that lend themselves to these kinds of quantitative “value added” evaluations. Typically, they have hundreds or thousands of employees in a common job classification operating in separated local environments without moment-to-moment supervision; the differences in these environments make simple output comparisons unfair; the job is reasonably complex; and, often the performance of any one person will have some indirect, but material, influence on the performance of others over time. Think of trying to manage an industrial sales force of 2,000 salespeople, or the store managers for a chain of 1,000 retail outlets. There is a natural tendency in such situations for analytical headquarters types to say “Look, we need some way to measure performance in each store / territory / office, so let’s build a model that adjusts for inherent differences, and then do evaluations on these adjusted scores.”

I’ve seen a number of such analytically-driven evaluation efforts up close. They usually fail. By far the most common result that I have seen is that operational managers muscle through use of this tool in the first year of evaluations, and then give up on it by year two in the face of open revolt by the evaluated employees. This revolt is based partially on veiled self-interest (no matter what they say in response to surveys, most people resist being held objectively accountable for results), but is also partially based on the inability of the system designers to meet the legitimate challenges raised by the employees.

Noah Millman at The American Scene:

I do want to add a few additional points of my own:

1. Evaluations establish the principle that there is such a thing as performance in the first place. A great deal of discussion nowadays in education revolves around the idea that what we need to “fix the schools” is great teachers. But if that’s what we need, we’ll never do it. What we need, instead, are mechanisms for getting marginally better performance, year after year, from a teaching pool that remains merely adequate.

One bit of low-hanging fruit for achieving that goal, meanwhile, is the ability to dismiss the bottom 5% of teachers in terms of performance. Not only are these teachers failing comprehensively in their own classrooms, but their mere presence has a corrosive effect on an entire organization – on the teachers, on the students, on the management of the school. But right now, firing these teachers is essentially impossible. For all the difficulty of doing a rigorous evaluation in order to improve teaching performance across the board, I suspect it is a whole lot easier to identify the worst teachers in the school. If that could be done, the pressure to be able to terminate them would be significant, and that could do a lot to improve school performance right there.

2. Value-added metrics wind up punishing perfectly good but not spectacular schools with above-average student bodies. It may be that these schools should suffer reputationally, because the staff is not actually delivering as much value as they should. But high-stakes standardized testing actually pushes these schools to destroy themselves, wiping out the programs that actually do deliver value to these high-aptitude students and instead focusing on teaching to the tests.

That’s not an argument against using value-added metrics as such. It’s an argument that they need to be used intelligently, with some understanding of what “value-added” means at different points on the performance spectrum. But that, in turn, would require admitting that different standards are needed for students with different aptitude, which, in turn, is extremely difficult for our education system to admit. (And, admittedly, it’s a problem in corporate cultures that cross widely different customer bases as well. How well would Wal-Mart manage Tiffany?)

3. Nobody goes into teaching “for the money” – that is to say, teachers in aggregate make significantly less than people with their educational credentials and academic aptitude could make in other professions. So monetary rewards are useful primarily going to prove useful as signaling devices. There’s a lot of evidence coming in from high-performance charter schools suggesting that a monetary reward system tied too closely to evaluations actually degrades performance, because it gets teachers focused on the evaluations rather than on the performance. The evaluations should primarily be used as a diagnostic, to identify correctable deficiencies in teacher performance so they can be corrected through staff development, and to identify gross deficiencies in teacher performance so the teachers in question can be dismissed.

4. Similarly, across a system, what evaluations are useful is for research purposes and to drive market discipline. Evaluations of a school should be very useful to parents seeking to select a school for their child. Schools that consistently achieve high valuations (particularly for value-added metrics) should be objects of study by administrators and others looking to replicate that performance in lower-performing but still basically well-run schools. The least-important use of the evaluation is to directly “reward” or “punish” a school bureaucratically – and, indeed, if that becomes the primary use then the school is likely to start focusing overwhelmingly on the evaluation process and lose sight of actual performance. I’ve seen this happen over and over in New York City schools; it’s not a theoretical question.

Conor Friedersdorf at Sullivan’s place:

And it helps explain the inherent tension between teachers unions and the rest of us. Unions exist to protect the interests of their members. Even in the best case scenario, that means lobbying for an evaluation system that maximizes fairness to the people being evaluated. As citizens, our primary goal should be creating the best education system possible, even if doing so sometimes means (for example) that the teacher most desserving of a bonus doesn’t get one. Saying that there is a conflict between the common good and the ends of teachers unions isn’t a condemnation of the latter. It’s just a fact. And everyone seems to understand the basic concept if you talk about prison guard unions.

Reihan Salam:

Part of what makes me nervous is that productivity varies dramatically within industries. It is very common for comparable factories at the 90th percentile produce four times as much as factories at the 10th percentile. Moreover, the scorecards and shortcuts used by factories at the 90th percentile wouldn’t necessarily work for those at the 10th percentile. Managerial insights are usually embedded in a complex tangle on personalities and practices that can’t easily be replicated. This is natural, and I’d say that I’d much rather see a few firms race ahead than allow all firms to remain mired at the low end of the productivity spectrum.  Suffice it to say, this is not the ethic that governs how we generally think about public schools.

In a time when at least half of the political spectrum is deeply troubled by inequality, i.e., by the fact that some firms, individuals, and households are racing far ahead of others, what at least some education reformers are saying is that we want to unleash a few inventive, well-managed schools to start deploying the same per pupil resources to much greater effect. That is, we want to, in the short run at least, make the K-12 educational landscape more unequal, in the hope that leading schools will identify instructional methods, e.g., effective virtual instruction, that will prove scalable.

Much depends on how one interprets the fact that some firms, individuals, and households are racing ahead of the others. I take what I think of as a nuanced view. Generally speaking, some firms, individuals, and households race ahead of others due to a combination of luck, opportunity, and smart investments in organizational capital. In some cases, we see rent-seeking, tax and regulatory arbitrage, etc. But whereas Simon Johnson and many of my friends on the left see this as the dominant narrative, I see it as a significant but nevertheless relatively small part of the wage dispersion story.

Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen have written a neat essay in the Journal of Economic Perspectives on how effective management practices spread. I was struck by many of their observations, including some that will be familiar to those of you who see organizational capital as very important (“firms that more intensively use human capital, as measured by more educated workers, tend to have much better management practices”).

The United States has a commanding lead in terms of the quality of management in firms. This is very interesting considering our relative weakness in terms of educational attainment at the median in the prime-age cohorts. And I suspect that this feeds back into wage dispersion as well as assortative mating, family breakdown, and other sources of “stickiness” at the low end of the income distribution. For a variety of reasons, our economy is rewarding people with managerial skills, and, in a crude sense, one might be able to extrapolate the ability to manage a wide range of tasks in the workplace to the ability to maintain constructive relationships in other domains. The obvious objection is that many hard-charging executives neglect their families and personal lives, etc. But it could also be true that the that neglect of parental responsibilities is somewhat more common among those marginally attached to the labor force, due to the greater prevalence of substance abuse and other risky behaviors.

Jonathan Chait at TNR on Manzi:

That’s an interesting insight into the general problem with quantitative measures. Here are a few points in response:

1. You need some system for deciding how to compensate teachers. Merit pay may not be perfect, but tenure plus single-track longevity-based pay is really, really imperfect. Manzi doesn’t say that better systems for measuring teachers are futile, but he’s a little too fatalistic about their potential to improve upon a very badly designed status quo.

2. Manzi’s description…

evaluating teacher performance by measuring the average change in standardized test scores for the students in a given teacher’s class from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, rather than simply measuring their scores. The rationale is that this is an effective way to adjust for different teachers being confronted with students of differing abilities and environments.

..implies that quantitative measures are being used as the entire system to evaluate teachers. In fact, no state uses such measures for any more than half of the evaluation. The other half involves subjective human evaluations.

3. In general, he’s fitting this issue into his “progressives are too optimistic about the potential to rationalize policy” frame. I think that frame is useful — indeed, of all the conservative perspectives on public policy, it’s probably the one liberals should take most seriously. But when you combine the fact that the status quo system is demonstrably terrible, that nobody is trying to devise a formula to control the entire teacher evaluation process, and that nobody is promising the “silver bullet” he assures us doesn’t exist, his argument has a bit of a straw man quality.

Manzi responds to Chait:

My post wasn’t about if we should use quantitative measures of improvement in their students’ standardized test scores as an element of how we evaluate, compensate, manage and retain teachers, but rather about how to do this.

Two of the key points that I tried to make are that the metrics themselves should likely be much simpler than those currently developed by economics PhDs, and that such an evaluation system is only likely to work if embedded within a program of management reform for schools and school systems. The bulk of the post was trying to explain why I believe these assertions to be true.

An additional point that I mentioned in passing is my skepticism that such management reform will really happen in the absence of market pressures on schools. Continuous management reform, sustained over decades, that gets organizations to take difficult and unpleasant actions with employees is very hard to achieve without them. There’s nothing magic about teachers or schools. The same problems with evaluation and other management issues that plague them arise in big companies all the time. It’s only the ugly reality of market discipline that keeps them in check.

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Filed under Education

But Viagra For Free, Right?

Dana Goldstein at Daily Beast:

Could prescription birth control—whether the pill, an IUD, or a diaphragm—soon be free of cost for most American women?

Polls suggest the majority of Americans would support such a policy. But the Daily Beast has learned that many conservative activists, who spent most of their energies during the health-care reform fight battling to win abortion restrictions and abstinence-education funding, are just waking up to the possibility that the new health care law could require employers and insurance companies to offer contraceptives, along with other commonly prescribed medications, without charging any co-pay. Now the Heritage Foundation and the National Abstinence Education Association say that, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, they oppose implementation of the new provisions.

The conservative groups are particularly worried that a birth control coverage mandate could include teenage girls and young women covered under their parents’ health insurance plans. “People who are insured don’t want to pay for services they don’t need or to which they have moral objections,” said Chuck Donovan, senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation. “Parents want to have a say over what’s covered and what’s not for their children.”

Currently, 27 states require insurers to cover birth control, but federal health reform has the potential to go much further—mandating that prescription birth control be offered to consumers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia free of “cost-sharing,” or payments at the pharmacy counter.

Reproductive-rights advocates are openly lobbying the Obama administration to enact the birth control changes quickly, citing the United States’ high rates of teenage and unintended pregnancy—the highest in the developed world.

“It would be a disaster for women’s health” to exclude contraception from the new requirements for insurers, said Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based research organization.

Amanda Marcotte at Double X:

Co-pays on birth control currently run anywhere from a reasonable $15 a month to upwards of $50 a month. While this may not seem like a huge deal to many, sadly there are a lot of women who find that birth control pills are priced out of their range.  The Guttmacher Institute found that 18 percent of women on the pill in households that make less that $75,000 a year have resorted to inconsistent pill use to save money.  Of course, if you’re in a position where a $50 co-pay stresses your finances that much, you’re probably even less likely to be up for having the baby if you get pregnant, and that much more likely to get an abortion.  There’s a reason that the United States has the highest teen pregnancy and abortion rates in the developed world, and that’s because we’re just not as good at using consistent contraception.  And that it’s a major hassle and expense to get it is a big part of the reason.

The increasingly standard pro-choice adage—anti-abortion groups, when given a choice between preventing abortion and punishing female sexuality, will choose the latter every time—holds up once again.  I’m almost embarrassed for them at this point, since the bait is offered and they can’t help but take it.

Kate at Feministe:

On the one hand, I’m amped to hear that the new health care plan could mean free birth control as a “preventative” medication. On the other, I hate being reminded of the power that these fringe anti-birth control groups wield.

Thankfully, there’s some good news. Goldstein reports that unlike America’s split on abortion rights, public opinion roundly supports birth control. So even if the Heritage Foundation and NAEA manage to get the support of someone like a Bart Stupak, it would be unlikely to gain as much traction.


Of course, access to birth control is supported by nearly 80% of the public and most people think it’s nuts to even think about making it difficult to obtain. But these people take the long view about about such things and will move those goal posts slowly as long as abortion rights are in play — which they most certainly are.

But, never fear, the goal is clear:

“I don’t want to overstate or understate our level of concern,” said McQuade, the Catholic bishops’ spokesperson. “We consider [birth control] an elective drug. Married women can practice periodic abstinence. Other women can abstain altogether. Not having sex doesn’t make you sick.”

I’m thinking that maybe the Catholic Bishops ought to think twice about that particular argument. After all, there is some evidence that for a fair number of their clergy, celibacy does contribute to sickness. Serious sickness. The Church isn’t exactly a credible voice on these issues anymore.

John Cole:

I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of a debate over birth control in the year 2010. Do these religious nuts not have anything better to do than to fight battles they lost decades ago? How about a stirring debate on heliocentrism or phlogiston?

Although I guess we should appreciate the irony that the wingnuts spent the last two years screaming that Obamacare would cut your benefits and lead to rationing, and then after it passes, the first thing the religious nutters try to do is… cut the benefits of half the nation.

Steve Benen

Matthew Yglesias:

Politically speaking, I think this is the fight progressives have been wanting to have for some time now—something that would highlight the deeply reactionary and anti-woman ideology that drives the main institutional players in the anti-abortion movement. But will it be possible to get people to pay attention? These non-abortion reproductive health aspects of the Affordable Care Act got very little attention from either side.

Kevin Drum:

But I wonder how much help we’ll get from President Obama? His desire to avoid hot button culture war issues is almost obsessive, and it’s unlikely that he’ll choose this as a hill to fight for. So it’ll mostly be up to HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and my guess is that she’ll try to keep the whole thing very low key.

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Filed under Families, Health Care

In Between Hot Wings And Cold Beer…

Gary Bauer at Human Events:

The most striking aspect of the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad controversy is that critics of CBS’s decision to run the commercial seem unable to decide exactly why they are so offended.

Some are upset that the ad was sponsored by Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, scourge of cultural liberals. Others are calling it a breach of the so-called separation of politics and Super Bowl. NOW condemned the as-yet-unseen ad as “extraordinarily offensive and demeaning” and “hate masquerading as love.” The Feminist Majority Foundation launched a campaign to get the “anti-choice super bowl ad removed.”

But if the 30-second ad were really as distasteful as the liberal activist groups are making it out to be, it never would have made it past CBS’s Sales Department.

The real reason for their outrage is exactly the opposite: that the commercial is so inoffensive and, in fact, so inspiring that they worry it might actually win hearts and minds for the idea that all human life is sacred.

In the ad, Tebow and his mom, Pam, tell the story of his birth. While pregnant with Tim and in the Philippines doing missionary work, Pam became ill. A physician encouraged her to abort or risk dying or delivering a baby with a disability. Instead, Pam chose to trust God and bring her baby to term.

William Saletan at Slate:

Pam’s story certainly is moving. But as a guide to making abortion decisions, it’s misleading. Doctors are right to worry about continuing pregnancies like hers. Placental abruption has killed thousands of women and fetuses. No doubt some of these women trusted in God and said no to abortion, as she did. But they didn’t end up with Heisman-winning sons. They ended up dead.

Being dead is just the first problem with dying in pregnancy. Another problem is that the fetus you were trying to save dies with you. A third problem is that your existing kids lose their mother. A fourth problem is that if you had aborted the pregnancy, you might have gotten pregnant again and brought a new baby into the world, but now you can’t. And now the Tebows have exposed a fifth problem: You can’t make a TV ad.

On Sunday, we won’t see all the women who chose life and found death. We’ll just see the Tebows, because they’re alive and happy to talk about it. In the business world, this is known as survivor bias: Failed mutual funds disappear, leaving behind the successful ones, which creates the illusion that mutual funds tend to beat market averages. In the Tebows’ case, the survivor bias is literal. If you’re diagnosed with placental abruption, you have the right to choose life. But don’t be so sure that life is what you’ll get.

Placental abruption is rare. The detachment from the uterine wall can range from partial to total. By most accounts, it occurs in fewer than 1 percent of pregnancies. The more broadly it’s diagnosed, the less fatal it is on average, since the subtlest cases are also the least dangerous.

Christine Wicker at Politics Daily:

Those who oppose the ad suspect CBS is playing favorites (Ria has pointed out the hypocrisy of CBS’s position as arbitrator of what we should be allowed to see). Regardless, I like this ad.

Palin gives good advice on her Facebook page: “concentrate on empowering women, help with efforts to prevent unexpected pregnancies, stay consistent with your message that for too long women have been made to feel like sex objects in our ‘modern’ culture and that we can expect better in 2010.”

She’s right, despite some inconsistencies. As the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins notes, the ad shows one side of choice. And Pam Tebow says that Philippine doctors advised her to abort her fetus because it was likely to be stillborn, which might not be accurate, since abortion was against the law in the Philippines. But so what? That’s how she remembers it. Lots of people get mixed up about what doctors are saying. And the Tebows are making a bigger point.

The point is: Many forces push women to abort fetuses, rather than carry them until they develop into lovely, live, wonderful babies. Nonetheless, the Tebows are saying: Have the baby, woman. He might grow up to be a handsome, wonderful young man like Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy-winning University of Florida quarterback, soon to turn pro.

Nothing wrong with saying that. It’s true. Choice has consequences. You gain something and you lose something. Most women who have abortions know that quite well. Those who don’t ought to.

I have one quibble. Palin speaks only to “these groups who are inexplicably offended by a pro-woman, pro-child, pro-life message airing during the Super Bowl.”

Why stop there? Why not address those people who are most likely to be influenced by her opinions? The people who want to outlaw the right to abortion.

Dana Goldstein at The Daily Beast:

The major broadcast networks have avoided political advocacy ads for years, so CBS’s decision to air the Tebow ad caught abortion rights advocates off guard. But Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based conservative Christian group founded by Dr. James Dobson, says that it has actually been working closely with CBS executives for months on the ad’s script.

“There were discussions about the specific wording of the spot,” said Gary Schneeberger, spokesperson for Focus on the Family. “And we came to a compromise. To an agreement.” Schneeberger declined to comment on exactly how CBS changed the ad’s message.

CBS has said that in the last year, in an acknowledgment of “industry norms,” it loosened previous restrictions on advocacy advertisements, accepting ads that pushed for health reform and environmental activism.

But pro-choice advocates complain the network didn’t publicize the policy change and hasn’t applied it consistently, citing a rejected Super Bowl ad from gay dating Web site ManCrunch.com. According to Schneeberger, Focus on the Family was not aware of an explicit policy change inside the network, either. “It was only last week that they indicated that they changed any policy,” he said.

“We’ve worked with [CBS] almost since the beginning,” Schneeberger added. “Our senior vice presidents talked to CBS executives throughout the process. It was a very cordial, very professional, fruitful relationship.”

CBS declined to comment on the details of its work with Focus on the Family on the Tebow ad, but said such cooperation is not unusual. Abortion rights advocates see it differently. If CBS did vet scripts for the ad, the cooperation is “appalling,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “If true, CBS is not just selling ad time for profit, but has been affirmatively working hand-in-glove—in secret—to promote Focus on the Family’s agenda. When you recall that Focus on the Family wants to overturn Roe v. Wade…this revelation is extremely, extremely disturbing.”

Jake Simpson at The Atlantic with a round-up of sports columnists. Here’s two: Mike Bianchi at The Orlando Sentinel:

Tim Tebow will be the President of the United States someday.

Go ahead and laugh if you want. They used to laugh, too, at the notion that another charismatic, conservative former college football player could become president. You might have heard of him.

His name was Ronald Reagan.

“If Tim Tebow wanted to be a political candidate, it’s his for the taking,” says Orlando attorney John Stemberger, who heads Florida Family Policy Council, a politically connected conservative religious organization. “He would be a political rock star. … He’s handsome, he’s humble and he has character and integrity. … This young man could be the next Ronald Reagan or Jack Kemp if he wanted to be.”

Stemberger’s organization is the local affiliate of the national organization – Focus on the Family – that is airing Tebow’s controversial right-to-life commercial. The Super Bowl ad transcends anything Tebow has ever done on the football field. It transforms him from football player to political figure and aligns him with Focus on the Family — the most politically powerful evangelical organization in this country.

Think about it: What better “family values” candidate for Focus on the Family to align itself with in 2028 than Tebow — a charismatic and telegenic former football star; a compassionate missionary who travels to impoverished foreign lands to provide food and medical care to Third World children; a self-described virgin who is saving himself for marriage; an ardent pro-life supporter who was born because his sick mother shunned a doctor’s recommendation to undergo an abortion.

How in the name of James Carville are the liberals going to dig up even a speck of dirt on Tebow? This guy is more wholesome than a glass of buttermilk.

And Jay Mariotti at Fanhouse:

There is a time and a place for serious crusades about life issues. A commercial during the NFL‘s championship game, our national holiday of fun and frolic and heavy drinking and heavier gambling, is not one of them. We’re all impressed by the fascinating story of Pam Tebow, who was advised by a doctor in the Philippines to have an abortion in 1987 because of a life-threatening illness. She had the baby anyway during a mission trip, and, wonders be, her son grew up to become a Heisman Trophy winner, a two-time national football champion and one of the most inspirational collegiate athletes ever. But just as you don’t have a Boy Scout convention in a casino, you do not take sides on a volatile issue — pro-life — during the Super Bowl.

Furthermore, you certainly don’t do it when you’re Tim Tebow and you’re in the process of convincing NFL franchises why to draft you. Much as we crack on high-profile athletes for not expressing strong views on social issues — hello, Tiger Woods, wherever you are — I’m thankful no one else has decided to take a controversial stand and buy a $3 million commercial on Super Bowl Sunday. Tebow is raising eyebrows across the NFL, where league and team executives must be conscious of public relations within their communities. When kept in a proper context and equilibrium, the missionary and humanitarian work done by the Tebow family is breathtaking. But to grandstand on the biggest stage in the world makes me wonder if Tebow is more interested in crusading than playing the game. And if that is the case, doesn’t he risk becoming a civic distraction, especially if he’s drafted by a team in a town where an abortion debate might heat up outside a stadium? It’s one thing to scrawl a religious passage on his eyeblack, quite another to advise women to have babies when they don’t want to be told to have babies.

UPDATE: John Hinderaker at Powerline on the AP’s report of the ad

Ed Morrissey


Filed under Abortion, Sports, TV

Teach Your Children Well


Dana Goldstein in Tapped:

One of the major developments in education policy this year has been the Obama administration’s continued, focused attention on the issue of merit pay, despite a lack of strong evidence linking such programs to increased student achievement. On Sunday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared on “Face the Nation” and reiterated this agenda.


After looking at North Carolina schoolchildren for 11 years, Jackson found that students’ test scores improved when a high quality teacher taught in their grade-level — even if they were not themselves in that teacher’s class. Why? The positive impact comes not because teachers are competing with another for merit pay rewards, but because they are working alongside more competent colleagues, who are improving their skills.

“If it’s true that teachers are learning from their peers, and the effects are not small, then we want to make sure that any incentive system we put in place is going to be fostering that and not preventing it,” Jackson told Education Week. “If you give the reward at the individual level, all of a sudden my peers are no longer my colleagues—they’re my competitors. If you give it at the school level, then you’re going to foster feelings of team membership, and that increases the incentive to work together and help each other out.”

Matthew Yglesias:

Indeed, for all the controversy around differential pay schemes at some level I don’t think even the most old-school of teacher’s union leaders seriously dispute this logic. After all, it’s extremely common for collective bargaining agreements to offer enhanced salaries to teachers who have more educational credentials. The logic here, presumably, is that more educated teachers are more effective teachers and thus it makes sense to pay extra to retain them. The diplomas, in other words, are a proxy for quality. Similarly, veteran teachers get paid more than brand new teachers on the theory that a more experienced instructor is a better instructor. The principle that it makes sense to pay extra for quality isn’t seriously in dispute. The problem is that diplomas and time served turn out to be bad proxies for quality: “Recent research, however, suggests that such paper qualifications have little predictive power in identifying effective teachers.”

The reform proposal, ultimately, isn’t all that radical. Rather than paying extra for very weak correlates of effective teaching, why not just pay extra for effective teaching? To the extent that such a compensation scheme creates incentives for teachers to improve their own performance, that will be nice. But the real benefit to paying for quality is that, over time, it will encourage effective teachers to keep teaching while encouraging ineffective teachers to find jobs to which they’re better-suited, thus improving the overall quality of the instructor pool.

Kevin Carey at The Quick And The Ed:

To recruit and retain good teachers, schools need a lot more than merit pay–they need strong leadership, good facilities, safe working conditions, and the right kind of organizational culture. You can’t paper over the lack of those things by simply tacking on a salary bonus, even a big one, to the existing steps-and-lanes pay scale. That’s what most most “merit pay” plans have been, historically, and that’s why they haven’t worked.

Instead, we need to scrap the steps-and-lanes pay scale altogether, along with near-automatic tenure, absurd job protections and the like, and let districts and schools pay their employees the way all successful organizations that rely on professionals involved in creative work pay their employees: through a combination of subjective managerial judgement and hard data, including standardized test scores.  We can’t bribe or force-march great people into hard-to-staff schools, we need to build schools great people want to teach in, and that means fully recognizing their value in all ways, including pay. It also means ensuring that the other teachers in the school, along with the principal and larger management, see things the same way.

Will at The League:

I’m not opposed to experimenting with different incentive structures, so rewarding schools collectively may be worth trying. But it occurs to me that across-the-board opposition to certain reforms is precisely the wrong way to go about fixing our public schools. As E.D. says, all education is local, and foreclosing district- and state-level experimentation on the grounds that it may not work or that it offends members of your ideological coalition seems pretty silly. Maybe there’s something to Goldstein’s collective rewards program (then again, maybe not). Maybe correlation doesn’t equal causation and merit pay is a false hope. To return to the DC example, however, we’re talking about a school system that spends a ton of money and is still ranked as the worst in the country. So why not give merit pay a shot?

More Yglesias:

When I wrote yesterday that it would make more sense to pay more money to more effective teachers, Steve LaBonne responded in comments that “Merit pay is a way for ‘reformers’ to try to fellate teacher-bashing conservatives. I would have thought that was obvious.”

I think that’s really nonsense, and the implication that the idea that pay should be differentiated based on effectiveness constitutes “teacher-bashing” is bizarre. When it comes to compensation, it seems to me that there’s an easy way to distinguish between people who have a favorable attitude toward teachers and people who have a negative attitude toward teachers. If I were interested in “teacher-bashing” I would think our society should dedicate a smaller quantity of aggregate resources toward paying teachers. In fact, I think we should dedicate a larger quantity of resources toward paying teachers. That’s because I think education is important and evidence suggests that teacher quality is among the biggest non-demographic factors in determining student achievement. Under the circumstances, it makes sense to invest a lot of money in hiring and retaining teachers.

That said, once we’ve hit upon a given pot of money to spend on teacher compensation, a question arises of how it should be divided up. One way to divide it up would be evenly—each teacher could make the same salary. That would, however, be a bit weird and we don’t do it that way. Instead, we pay teachers more the more experience they have, and we also pay them more when the acquire master’s degrees. As I said yesterday, I think the only way to make sense of these forms of differentiated pay is that they’re already a system of “merit pay.” The point of paying higher salaries to people with advanced degrees has to be the belief that teachers with advanced degrees are more effective than teachers without advanced degree. It turns out to be the case, however, that research says this is wrong. I don’t think it’s “pro-teacher” to be giving teachers financial incentives to essentially waste their time acquiring advanced degrees that don’t help them. This is simply an irrational way of divvying up the compensation pot.

Megan McArdle:

This is one of those odd areas where Matt and I are in total agreement.  We should pay teachers much more than we do.  Right now, they take a substantial portion of their “pay” in the form of near-total job security.  People like this benefit.  But in most cases, they shouldn’t have it, because it has predictible effects on performance–particularly when it is coupled with a pay scale that relies on measurable but not very useful traits like advanced degrees (totally useless) and seniority (the benefits of experience eventually level off).  The only thing teachers have a financial incentive to do under this system is keep their butts in the teacher’s chair, and acquire useless degrees from programs that mostly teach students how to sit through long and pointless classes.

The obvious thing to do is to strip the protections and up the pay, while using merit metrics to determine how that pay is allocated.  But the union has very good reasons to resist this.  For one thing, depending how you implement it, you’ll substantially reduce the role that the union has in setting salaries, and thus its value to the membership.  For another, more than 50% of their membership are, definitionally, average or below-average.  Merit pay is probably not a good deal for them.  Especially if they’ve spent valuable years of their lives acquiring useless M. Ed. degrees.

On a life-cycle basis, merit pay is only good for the minority of teachers who can produce outstanding results early and often.  The rest used to have the comfort of knowing that they would eventually get to the top if they just ground away long enough.  Hopefully, we can overcome this if we throw in enough money to sweeten the deal–as we should, anyway, if we want to attract great teachers.  But it’s a grinding battle everywhere it’s been fought.

More Will

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We’ve Been Talking Indoctrination All Week


Steve Benen has had his eye on the Texas Board of Education:

Benen Post #1:

The Texas Board of Education has put together a six-member committee to help develop new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. It’s not going well.

The board picked, among others, an evangelical minister named Peter Marshall to help shape the standards, as well as Republican activist David Barton, a pseudo-historian and religious right celebrity who gives speeches about the United States being founded as a “Christian nation.”

One of their first tasks: downplaying the contributions of civil rights leaders.

“Civil rights leaders Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall — whose names appear on schools, libraries, streets and parks across the U.S. — are given too much attention in Texas social studies classes, conservatives advising the state on curriculum standards say.

“To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin” — as in the current standards — “is ludicrous,” wrote evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state as it develops new curriculum standards for social studies classes and textbooks. David Barton, president of Aledo-based WallBuilders, said in his review that Chavez, a Hispanic labor leader, “lacks the stature, impact and overall contributions of so many others.”

Marshall also questioned whether Thurgood Marshall, who argued the landmark case that resulted in school desegregation and was the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, should be presented to Texas students as an important historical figure. He wrote that the late justice is “not a strong enough example” of such a figure.”

This is bound to help Republicans with their outreach to minority communities, right? It’s quite a message to voters in Texas — Vote GOP: the party that thinks civil rights leaders get too much credit.

Barton went on to say the state curriculum should ignore the contributions of Anne Hutchinson, a New England pioneer and early advocate of women’s rights and religious freedom, and argued that Texas social studies books should discuss “republican” values, not “democratic” ones.

It’s unclear how successful the far-right activists will be in shaping the eventual policy, but remember, what happens in Texas doesn’t necessarily stay in Texas. Textbook publishers are reluctant to create different materials for different states, and when one big customer makes specific demands, the frequent result is changes to textbooks nationwide.

Benen Post #2:

By way of Lee Fang, it seems the board is still hard at work, and moving in the wrong direction.

“Texas high school students would learn about such significant individuals and milestones of conservative politics as Newt Gingrich and the rise of the Moral Majority — but nothing about liberals — under the first draft of new standards for public school history textbooks. […]

The first draft for proposed standards in United States History Studies Since Reconstruction says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.””

A Democratic state lawmaker said, as it stands, Texas students would get “one-sided, right wing ideology.” He added, “We ought to be focusing on historical significance and historical figures. It’s important that whatever course they take, that it portray a complete view of our history and not a jaded view to suit one’s partisan agenda or one’s partisan philosophy.”

That certainly sounds reasonable, but this is the Texas Board of Education we’re talking about.

Benen #3:

Board members — 10 Republicans to 5 Democrats — have recommended downplaying the contributions of civil rights leaders, minimizing an “emphasis on multiculturalism,” and trying to “exonerate” Joe McCarthy.

And let’s also not forget that these indoctrination efforts may have broader implications. As we talked about in July, what happens in Texas doesn’t necessarily stay in Texas. Textbook publishers are reluctant to create different materials for different states, and when one big customer makes specific demands, the frequent result is changes to textbooks nationwide.

Dana Goldstein adds that this reinforces the value in national curriculum standards, an idea pushed by the National Governors’ Association and supported by the Obama administration. “If 46 states can come together around core standards, it means a populous, outlier state like Texas will have less influence over textbook manufacturers,” Dana noted.

As for those deeply concerned about the politicization of America’s classrooms, I’m sure the right-wing critics of the president’s stay-in-school message will be quick to denounce the conservative efforts in Texas. Any minute now.

Justin Elliot at TPM:

The first draft of the standards, released at the end of July, is a doozy. It lays out a kind of Human Events version of U.S. history.

Approved textbooks, the standards say, must teach the Texan student to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority.” No analogous liberal figures or groups are required, prompting protests from some legislators and committee members. (Read an excerpt here.)

The standards on Nixon: “describe Richard M. Nixon’s role in the normalization of relations with China and the policy of detente.”

On Reagan: “describe Ronald Reagan’s role in restoring national confidence, such as Reaganomics and Peace with Strength.” (That’s it.)

The Cold War section is rendered as “U.S. responses to Soviet aggression after World War II … ”

The state board of education, made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, has to vote on the standards twice in the coming months before they would go into effect.


Here’s what makes this a national story: what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas, says Diane Ravitch, professor of education at NYU.

That’s because Texas is one of the two states with the largest student enrollments, along with California. “The publishers vie to get their books adopted for them, and the changes that are inserted to please Texas and California are then part of the textbooks made available to every other state,” says Ravitch, who wrote a book about the politics of textbooks.

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute explains it as a simple economic calculation by the big textbook publishers. “Publishers are generally reticent to run two different versions of a textbook,” he says. “You can imagine the headache the expense the logistics, the storage, all of it.”

But don’t start saving for private school tuition just yet. A spokeswoman for the Texas State Board of Education tells TPMmuckraker the board will have to pass the standards first in January, in a “first reading and filing authorization vote,” and then in March in a final vote, before they would go into effect. In an article on the controversy in the Houston Chronicle, one of the conservative leaders on the board actually predicted the standards will pass at least the first vote.

This one bears close watching.

Josh Marshall at TPM

Dana Goldstein at Tapped:

This story reminds us why the new push for national curriculum standards — led by the bipartisan National Governors’ Association and supported by the Obama administration — is so important. Texas, unsurprisingly, is one of just four states choosing not to participate in that project. The others are Alaska, Missouri, and South Carolina. If 46 states can come together around core standards, it means a populous, outlier state like Texas will have less influence over textbook manufacturers. And if this curriculum passes, that will be a very good thing.

Lee Fang at Think Progress

James Moore at Huffington Post

UPDATE: More from Justin Elliott at TPM

UPDATE #2: Mariah Blake at Washington Monthly

UPDATE #3: More Elliott

UPDATE #4: Russell Shorto at NYT Magazine

Doug J

Razib Khan at Secular Right

UPDATE #5: James McKinley in NYT


Pareene at Gawker

UPDATE #6: Henry Rollins in Vanity Fair

Peter Hannaford at Human Events

Polimom at Moderate Voice

Mark Kleiman

Don Suber

UPDATE #7: Sam Tanenhaus at NYT

Daniel McCarthy at The American Conservative

UPDATE #8: Steven Thomma at McClatchy

More Benen

UPDATE #9: Justin Elliott at TPM

UPDATE #10: Huffington Post

Ann Althouse

Jonathan Adler

Mark Kleiman


Filed under Education, Politics

Bad Teacher! Bad Teacher! Go To The Corner And Put The Dunce Cap On


Steven Brill in The New Yorker:

It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

“You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it,” says Joel Klein, the city’s schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago.

Huffington Post

Kevin Drum:

But that’s only a symbol of what reformers think is the larger problem: namely that virtually no one is ever fired for poor job performance after their three-year probationary period is up and they have tenure.

“In seven years […] unsatisfactory ratings for tenured teachers have risen from less than one per cent to 1.8 per cent. “Any human-resources professional will tell you that rating only 1.8 per cent of any workforce unsatisfactory is ridiculous,” [Dan] Weisberg says.”

Is this prima facie evidence that the system isn’t working?  Based on my experience, I’d say yes.  On the other hand, I’d also say that, at least in the places I’m familiar with, virtually everyone who got fired was let go within the first year or two they were with the company.  Very few who had been around for more than three years got fired.  On the third hand, occasional layoffs often provided excuses to get rid of poor performers, so perhaps that shrank the pool of people who would otherwise have eventually been axed.

Megan McArdle:

People who blame the teacher’s union for every single thing that is wrong in urban schools are way off the mark.  But the fact remains that this shouldn’t happen.  The union shouldn’t protect teachers who pass out drunk in their classroom.  Hearings should not take a year to go through.  People should not collect paychecks for doing nothing, simply because they’re too awful to keep teaching.  This is madness.  If Barack Obama is serious about changing this ridiculous reality, he will do wonders for his party, and maybe even for education.

Betsy Newmark:

Read the entire article and it will become clear that this is a system totally devoted to protecting teachers, whether they be incompetent or criminal. The amount of documentation and time required of a principal to try to get rid of such teachers is so onerous that only the very worst are in this situation. The interests of children are not of any concern to the union. Other school systems don’t have rubber rooms. Other businesses can get rid of incompetent employees. And with the damage done to children who spend even one year in an incompetent teacher’s classroom shouldn’t we err on the side of the children rather than on the side of the accused teachers?


UPDATE: Dana Goldstein in Tapped:

All that said, the Brill piece, in its relentless depiction of teachers as bad guys and principals and administrators as good guys, leaves readers with a few misconceptions. It highlights no examples of excellence in teaching, while admitting that only 1.8 percent of New York teachers have been rated “unsatisfactory.” Brill also gives the impression that the Obama administration, under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, maintains an attitude of pure confrontation with teachers’ unions. In fact, the White House has been careful to formulate policies that can earn at least begrudging acceptance from Randi Weingarten, the most influential national teachers’ union leader, and a villain in Brill’s piece. The latest example of such compromise lies in the fine print of the “Race to the Top” education reform grant guidelines: States whose applications include a signed statement of support from a union leader will earn a leg up in the process.

From a public relations perspective, the appearance of this article is certainly disastrous for teachers’ unions. A lot of influential people read The New Yorker, people who may not bother to learn more about the nuances of education policy. And those readers have just been treated to a scathing — though incomplete — review of teacher contracts and the state of urban education.

UPDATE #2: Conor Friedersdorf at American Scene

UPDATE #3: Jennifer Medina at NYT

Sonny Bunch at Doublethink

UPDATE #4: Jennifer Medina at NYT


Filed under Education

The Macho Man Eats Nachos in His Poncho With The Head Honcho

Reihan Salam has an article in Foreign Policy titled “The Death Of Macho:”

As the crisis unfolds, it will increasingly play out in the realm of power politics. Consider the electoral responses to this global catastrophe that are starting to take shape. When Iceland’s economy imploded, the country’s voters did what no country has done before: Not only did they throw out the all-male elite who oversaw the making of the crisis, they named the world’s first openly lesbian leader as their prime minister. It was, said Halla Tomasdottir, the female head of one of Iceland’s few remaining solvent banks, a perfectly reasonable response to the “penis competition” of male-dominated investment banking. “Ninety-nine percent went to the same school, they drive the same cars, they wear the same suits and they have the same attitudes. They got us into this situation—and they had a lot of fun doing it,” Tomasdottir complained to Der Spiegel. Soon after, tiny, debt-ridden Lithuania took a similar course, electing its first woman president: an experienced economist with a black belt in karate named Dalia Grybauskaite. On the day she won, Vilnius’s leading newspaper bannered this headline: “Lithuania has decided: The country is to be saved by a woman.”

Although not all countries will respond by throwing the male bums out, the backlash is real—and it is global. The great shift of power from males to females is likely to be dramatically accelerated by the economic crisis, as more people realize that the aggressive, risk-seeking behavior that has enabled men to entrench their power—the cult of macho—has now proven destructive and unsustainable in a globalized world.

Indeed, it’s now fair to say that the most enduring legacy of the Great Recession will not be the death of Wall Street. It will not be the death of finance. And it will not be the death of capitalism. These ideas and institutions will live on. What will not survive is macho. And the choice men will have to make, whether to accept or fight this new fact of history, will have seismic effects for all of humanity—women as well as men.

Salam on NPR. Also covered in the Ideas blog at NYT.

Amanda Fortini in Salon:

Let’s assume his premise is correct, that we are witnessing an unprecedented shift in power, from men to women. “As women start to start to gain more of the social, economic, and political power they have long been denied, it will be nothing les than a full-scale revolution the likes of which human civilization has never experienced,” Salam writes. While I’m certainly in favor of the advancement of women, Salam’s assumptions, and the ideas about gender in which they’re rooted, are essentialist and problematic. Men are aggressive, seeking and taking risks, and women are … what? The domesticated opposite? Salam doesn’t say. But his article assumes that women (and the mysterious qualities they possess) will nevertheless reign supreme.

Are we to believe that in this forthcoming female-run world, where women form, say, the majority of the U.S. Senate, the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and the partner class at law firms and on Wall Street, they will behave the same as when they filled the ranks of the service industries? Does it make sense to predict that women with power will act the same as women without? Or that men, shorn of their power, must either get with the revolution by neutering themselves, or roam around pissed-off and drunk? Isn’t this —  to charge Salam with the crime often committed by feminist scholars —  reductive and overly “gendered”? Perhaps it’s not men who are innately aggressive risk-takers; perhaps the institutions themselves engender these qualities. There have certainly been plenty of female leaders who have exhibited aggression and swagger; think of Margaret Thatcher, or Indira Gandhi, or Golda Meir. If women do eventually run the world, as Salam suggests, will the world change, or will running the world change women?

If the recent mistakes of certain men at the highest levels of finance and government have altered our beliefs and opened our minds toward the possibility of more women in power, that’s progress. But to conclude that the mistakes of a handful of men say anything conclusive about the entire gender is wrongheaded. And as for Salaam’s assumption that women aren’t aggressive or daring, well there’s only one word for it, isn’t there? Macho.

Dana Goldstein in Tapped:

Of course, it’s true that 80 percent of all American jobs lost during this recession were held by men. But that is due to occupational segregation; blue-collar men have always had access to better, higher-paying jobs than blue-collar women. The collapse of the American manufacturing sector is ending that stable lifestyle for non-college-educated men and the families they support. But it isn’t clear at all that blue-collar women, who’ve been stuck in service-sector jobs, are benefiting from their husbands’ and brothers’ misfortunes. Instead, the result could be continued rising class inequality, as both working-class women and men get stuck in the service economy with irregular hours, poor pay, and no benefits.

Meanwhile, in many parts of the non-Western world, women remain radically underrepresented in the labor force. In Iran, for example, where feminist frustration is a key driver of the reform movement, only 13 percent of women have paid work outside the home. Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi actually had campaign advertisements promising to help women gain access to the job market. But during times of high male unemployment, women typically have more trouble, not less, finding work. This is doubly true in traditional societies that still have not fully accepted women in public roles.

Courtney Martin in Feministing:

Claiming that sexism is over just because we’re finally paying attention to these issues is like claiming that racism is over just because Barack Obama is president. Sexism has way deeper roots than Zincenko or Salam realize.

I don’t think anyone can herald the “death of macho,” or that men are an “endangered species” (Zincenko), until things actually change. Women still aren’t making equal pay for equal work and still are disproportionately targeted with subprime mortgages. As Dana Goldstein reports in “Pink Collar Blues,” sixty percent of impoverished children are living in female-headed households. The poverty rate is still higher among women than it is among men of any race. One out of six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

As I wrote in my column last week, this sort of men vs. women thinking is all a bunch of unproductive nonsense. Why does it have to be a man’s world OR a woman’s world? Why can’t it be both. This either/or thinking doesn’t acknowledge our interdependence. It just makes for shocking headlines.

Salam in American Scene:

But I think there’s a too-appealing narrative here: right-wing mini-pundit claims that sexism is dead and that men are the new victims. The fact that I don’t believe that sexism is dead — I think it’s alive and well, but that it is actually an increasingly economically destructive force and that the least sexist societies are the ones that will flourish — or that men are the new victims — I tried to argue that men continue to be powerfully advantaged by state economic policies in most of the world, though this is tentatively and encouragingly changing in a few advanced market democracies — is basically immaterial.

You can’t win ‘em all.

UPDATE: Reihan Salam and Chris Hayes on Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Now we’ve got people calling the man-cession a myth. Christopher Swann

Free Exchange at The Economist

Felix Salmon


Filed under Feminism, Go Meta, The Crisis

Richard Nixon and Tupac Shakur: Dead Since The 90s and Yet Still Releasing New Material

The above video is old material, off of “All Eyez on Me.” Charlie Savage reports on some new tapes in the NYT:

On Jan. 23, 1973, when the Supreme Court struck down state criminal abortion laws in Roe v. Wade, President Richard M. Nixon made no public statement. But privately, newly released tapes reveal, he expressed ambivalence.

Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster “permissiveness,” and said that “it breaks the family.” But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases, such as interracial pregnancies.

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding: “Or a rape.”

Dana Goldstein in Tapped:

Well. Being racist is about the worst reason ever to be pro-choice. And about the worst reason ever to be anti-choice. Just saying.

Isaac Chotiner in TNR:

At what point in our future will newly released Nixon tapes no longer bring joy to his enemies? In other words, when will we get to hear recordings that portray the kind Nixon, the caring Nixon, even the politically astute Nixon? It could be quite a while; the latest batch of goodies is full of the typical racist bile and immoral statecraft that solidifies Nixon’s place as our worst president.

Andrew Sullivan:

So the 37th president would have aborted the 44th.

Karen Tumulty in Swampland in Time

Gawker notes another part of the tapes:

He also blamed anti-Semitism on the Jews:

“What I really think is deep down in this country, there is a lot of anti-Semitism, and all this is going to do is stir it up,” Nixon said. At another point he said, “It may be they have a death wish. You know that’s been the problem with our Jewish friends for centuries.”

And Matt Y another:

Richard Nixon’s racist case for abortion is getting all the play in articles about newly released Nixon tapes, but the same tapes also contain an interesting revelation about Ronald Reagan’s strong support for the “Saturday Night Massacre.” Given that Nixon’s reputation is already in the toilet, while Reagan is becoming the subject of bipartisan reverence, this Reagan factoid is probably more memorable. The massacre was an act of pure lawlessness, undertaken by Nixon for personal gain rather than any broad ideological or policy objective.

UPDATE: Allah Pundit

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Filed under Abortion, History, Political Figures

Ils Ne Font Pas Des Notes d’une Falaise Pour Cela


So the French ask different questions on their tests than we do.

Charles Bremner in the Times

The philosophy test, or rather torture, is still the “royal subject” of the baccalauréat, the national high school examination that opens the way to university and adulthood. Apart from students in trades and technical schools, all pupils are obliged to take the philosophy exam.

Literacy may be declining in France like everywhere else but it says something about the intellectual skills still required of the young that about half of all late teenagers in France earn a baccalauréat that includes philosophy.

The bac, with its centralised, simultaneous examinations is a ritual of a rare kind. For weeks the media have built up to the big moment of the bac philo — the opening test — with tips on subjects and handling stress and bac memoirs from celebrities. Today, television and radio are reporting from the school gates.

The philosophy questions have just been released. My son, who’s just 18, was required to dissert on one of the following two questions: What is gained by exchange ? (Que gagne-t-on à échanger) and Does technological development transform mankind?  (Le développement technique transforme-t-il les hommes ?).

Arthur Goldhammer has the questions in French.

Alex Massie provides some of the questions in English

For the Science Stream:

1) Is it absurd to desire the impossible? 2) Are there questions which no science can answer?

Well, is it absurd to desire the impossible?

Matthew Yglesias

And from the science series:

— Are there questions that are un-answerable by science?

The correct answers are no, no, I don’t know anything about Schopenhauer, and yes. Apparently there’s also a question asking if it’s absurd to desire the impossible. I think it is.

Either way, I think it’s safe to say that Barack Obama’s nowhere near turning us into France.

Dana Goldstein in Tapped

Okay, so there is no country quite as philosophique — and, at times, absurd — as France. And to be fair, Le Bac is a college entrance exam, not a high school graduation exam. Still, the majority of French high school students sit for the test. Could you ever imagine the SAT or ACT asking students to write an essay on such complex, intellectual topics? Matt Yglesias spent a semester studying in France as a high school student. He tells me via instant message: “It was hard. Even their English class seemed hard.” And Matt, as you know, is really, really smart.

Michael C. Moynihan in Reason

Well, I certainly hope the average 17 year-old American won’t be asked if “language betrays thought” as a college entrance requirement. But a few points here: Many students sit for the test, but just how well do they do? As London Times correspondent Charles Bremmer notes (his son took his Bac exams today and Bremmer complains that “The French curriculum and teachers are slanted solidly to the left,” demanding that his son tailor answers to political fashions), the tests have been dumbed down (or graded on a significant curve) since the 1970s, when a paltry 20 percent managed to pass. Indeed, if one looks at international ranks from PISA and OECD French scores are pretty mediocre (but still better than American scores), despite massive expenditures on education and the chin-stroking college entrance questions that ask if it is “absurd to desire the impossible.”

Also, is it just me or does Goldstein sounds more like Alan Bloom than a liberal writer at the American Prospect? As Bremmer points out, some critics contend that “The baccalauréat is too elitist” and is unfair to both immigrants and members of the proletariat. Sure, we can use the test as a political and cultural cudgel (“Europeans are so cultured, so smart, so philosophique, compared to us lunk-headed Americans!”), but how would the Prospect brigade react to this uncomfortable statistic, provided by The Times: “Fewer than half the children of working class parents earn the certificate that gives passage to university.”

Julian Sanchez

The common thread I see is that almost all of these  sound rather lofty and, well, French as they are. But they can all be pretty easily paraphrased to sound less highbrow without materially altering the question. Once we’ve done that, they look an awful lot like the essay prompts on comparable American tests: Allowing the brightest students to spread their wings, but also capable of acceptable if rather more workmanlike answers. Now, probably someone like Dana looks at these prompts and immediately starts imagining the kind of complex answer that she, as a college-educated adult, would give to a question like that. Once you make that move, of course, it’s natural to think: “My God, that’s what they expect of their 18-year-olds?”  But it’s probably not—it’s what the question leaves space for the brightest of the 18-year-olds to attempt , not the baseline for an acceptable answer.

UPDATE: John Holbo

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Filed under Education, Foreign Affairs

A Video Camera and A Fifth of Henny For Mr. Coates, Please

Lots of chatter about the above video. I warn you, it is a disturbing video.

Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana made the video. Blumenthal explains:

On the eve of President Barack Obama’s address to the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt, I stepped out onto the streets of Jerusalem with my friend Joseph Dana to interview young Israelis and American Jews about their reaction to the speech. We encountered rowdy groups of beer sodden twenty-somethings, many from the United States, and all eager to vent their visceral, even violent hatred of Barack Obama and his policies towards Israel. Usually I offer a brief commentary on my video reports, but this one requires no comment at all. Quite simply, it contains some of the most shocking footage I have ever filmed. Watch it and see if you agree.


Based on our interviews these people were from high socio economic backgrounds and had developed thoughts about current Israeli politics. The question is why more journalists are not covering this story. All you have to do is walk the streets of Jerusalem and you will find dozens of people that harbor the same beliefs. As a resident of Jerusalem, I can say that the people represented in this video are not members of a fringe group or simply drunk college kids. These people reflect the sentiments shared by many people in this country and this city. These people and their families are the core of the opposition to meaningful peace between Israel and her neighbors. This is what Obama is up against.

Blumenthal about the video being taken down from HuffPo.



But neither do I join with those who think that this is just an irrelevant gotcha, or who think, as some of Gawker’s commenters do, that making this video or finding it interesting is proof positive of anti-Semitism. There’s a bigger point here: ethnic nationalism inevitably breeds extremism. I look at these kids and I see people who have been radicalized by the ideas of ethnic nationalism. The identification of a national project with any particular ethnicity is a disaster for egalitarianism and democratic principles. But worse, it leads to racism and separatism and the worst kinds of identity politics– not the kind where people whine about accusations of racism or affirmative action, but the actual politics of identity, where the world is divided into good people and bad, and the work of government becomes the sorting of one or the other, and the application of aggression against the unfavored.

Scott McConnell at TAC

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

But the greater point about this style of “journalism,” is made by this headline which I came across–“Drunk Americans=Israeli Public Opinion.” Man listen, hand me a fifth of Henny, a video camera, and an hour, and I’ll show you Negroes claiming that God’s messenger lives in a space-ship orbiting the earth.

The Henny is for me. The Negroes can be found, sober, saying anything. As can all people. That’s the point. Bigotry is human. Why would the blacks and Jews be any different?

Ta-Nehisi on Gawker’s commentary

Dana Goldstein in Tapped

Kathy Kattenburg at Moderate Voice

UPDATE: MJ Rosenberg at TPM:

There is hate everywhere. Even here at liberal smart TPM any post on Israel brings out Jewish racists and old-fashioned Jew-haters. But they are always the same people and we pretty much ignore them. They are utterly insignificant.

Israeli racists are significant but Jewish American fratboys in Jerusalem,out on the town to get shitfaced…. I don’t think so. The video’s problem is that these kids are American Jews visiting Israel. And, like all but ultra-Orthodox American Jews, they are totally American. They are full of fratboy American swagga, even using hip hop inflections to spew racist hate.

Simply put, they are not Israelis. And viewing them as representative of Israelis is like filming American kids studying in Berlin, asking them about the holocaust, and using their reactions as saying something about Germany.

This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of Israeli racism. There is at least as much racism there as there is here, maybe more. Especially in Jerusalem and the settlements.

But Obama is standing up to them and a third of Israelis, more or less, support him. The settlements are going. The occupation is going to end. I don’t see how videos like this advance the process. It’s not like we didn’t know there were Jewish haters.

UPDATE #2: Jeffrey Goldberg

UPDATE #3: Michael Totten at Commentary

UPDATE #4: James Kirchick at Commentary

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