"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Mathews Tries Misleading Honestly

I was glad to see Jay Mathews move over to the Editorial Page in his latest Williams-esque opinion piece for the Adminstration's education policy based on public school death by testing. It is the most honest misleading thing he has written since his last op-ed, whenever that was. Now, at least, we get Mathews unfiltered and unplugged from his buds at the right-wing sludge tanks or the ed industry support groups, who are the usual go-to guys for “facts.”

Unfortunately for the readers of the Washington Post education pages (which could just as easily be the Washington Times), Mathews is no less wrong in his opinion piece assignments than he is in his truthy news stories, as yesterday’s homage to the virtues of testing shows. This piece begins and ends in intellectual territory that has been cleared by our dull chain-saw wielding President, who, too, remains mystified by how anyone can argue that teaching to the test can be anything but good. Not only does Mathews show off the same rapier-like intellect that the President regularly displays when confronting tough issues, he demonstrates a similar disconnect with what is going on in the real world, in real schools, everywhere. Try this em-bubbled version of how today's empowered teachers keep things on track in terms of what is best for kids:
There are, of course, ways to teach to the test that are bad for kids and that occur now and then in schools . . . . But there is no evidence that this happens often. Strong teachers usually raise a ruckus, administrators back down and everybody goes back to the traditional lesson reviews that all good teachers use.
Which school planet is Mathews living on? The protected outposts of Arlington’s gated communities where schools have no poverty or diversity to bring down their test scores or their optimism? Or is he talking about the new chain gang schools of DC, where behavioral control has replaced intellectual pursuit, where teachers learn their lines instead of making lesson plans, where children parrot rather than think, where order is maintained by strange salutes and posted messages written in a language that the children can’t understand. I wonder.

I will have more to say on Mathews, the ed-opiner a bit later.


  1. Jay Mathews has a singular agenda: the promotion of Jay Mathews. Although he often refers, in a "homespun" manner, to his own lack of intellect, it never stops him from a good, long, illogical rant.

    Consistent in his dedication to anything that promotes NCLB and it's associated policies of test and measurement, the AP explosion, and ultimately the privatization of the whole public school system, he is able to accomplish at once both a parade of support for Kaplan/Post and a commercial aimed at his own line of propoganda.

    Don't ever try to explain the truth or reality behind your argument with him. He steadfastly refers to his tired, same old, dated, and poorly supported references, ultimately using any opportunity to sell his own books.

    No matter how you support your argument, statistically, scientifically or anecdotally, he is as predictable as the sun in always ending the debate with: "show me the proof."

    Jay Mathews is the poster child of proof that anyone, no matter how limited in ability, how limited in reason, how limited in knowledge, can aspire to become a world-class opinionate--and make a fortune in the process.

  2. The next time Jay Mathews appears for an online chat, or on a call in show, ask him if he has school-age children and what school they go to. It's my understanding that his kids go to Sidwell Friends, the utra-selective DC prep school that has schooled the likes of Chelsea Clinton. It's almost laughable that Matthews admits that his Challenge Index is a meaningless measure (Matthews' metric of dividing the number of graduating seniors by the number of students who take an AP test is like dividing the distance to the sun by the number of people in each nation on earth; it doesn't get us any closer to the sun, yet it, too, produces a ratio that can be benchmarked and tracked over time, and just for a moment consider the effect that immigration from Mexico to the US can have on the ratio), but he defends it -- with a straight face -- as important because it's easy to grasp. Last Friday on “To The Point” (WBUR in Boston) they interviewed the principal from the school that ranks #1 in the 2006 CI; it's a school with 197 students, teacher pupil ratio of 1 to 13, and the principal gets to hand-pick his teachers. The principal attributes their success to class size, and not his own genius or the CI. So what's the point of pushing students into AP courses and the test? Look in the introduction to any of the college guides, and they will state upfront that the value of the AP test is diminishing; colleges don't want to give kids credit for classes they took in high school, they want them to take the courses at their school. So, let's stress the kids, the teachers and the system to mollify the real estate developers and Superintendents looking for an easy metric with Jay Matthews' CI, which he himself admits measures nothing. If I were more cynical, I’d suggest that the fact that the Post’s most profitable unit (the paper itself loses money) is Kaplan, which just happens to provide classes and prep materials for the AP tests, provides a mighty big incentive to push for the value of AP classes; note that Matthews discounts "honors" classes because they aren't evaluated through an independent test. At the least, Jay Matthews (and the Post) should fully disclose this connection when hawking their favorite hobby horse.

    Concerned Parent in Montgomery County