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The Many Lies of Waiting for Superman, Beating Terrorism, Disney’s Epic Mickey: Live Wire, Dec. 8

| December 8, 2010

If Dickens could shoot: ‘Ice Train to London’ (© Glynne Hather)

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The Lies of “Waiting for Superman”

“Waiting for Superman,” the film directed by Davis Guggenheim (of “An Inconvenient Truth” fame) has generated a good bit of excitement, especially for people excited about charter schools. The documentary is being shown at Palm Coast’s Epic Theater daily at 2:10, 4:30 and 7 p.m. The movie is a terrifically effective bit of public-school teacher-bashing, union-bashing propaganda.

As Diane Ravich wrote in an essay on the movie for the New York Review of Books, “Some fact-checking is in order, and the place to start is with the film’s quiet acknowledgment that only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic. It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond (the wife of Hanushek). Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent.Why did Davis Guggenheim pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money? Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting? The propagandistic nature of Waiting for “Superman” is revealed by Guggenheim’s complete indifference to the wide variation among charter schools. There are excellent charter schools, just as there are excellent public schools. Why did he not also inquire into the charter chains that are mired in unsavory real estate deals, or take his camera to the charters where most students are getting lower scores than those in the neighborhood public schools? Why did he not report on the charter principals who have been indicted for embezzlement, or the charters that blur the line between church and state? Why did he not look into the charter schools whose leaders are paid $300,000–$400,000 a year to oversee small numbers of schools and students?

Guggenheim seems to believe that teachers alone can overcome the effects of student poverty, even though there are countless studies that demonstrate the link between income and test scores. […] According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.

[…] Perhaps the greatest distortion in this film is its misrepresentation of data about student academic performance. The film claims that 70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level. This is flatly wrong. Guggenheim here relies on numbers drawn from the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years, and I know how misleading Guggenheim’s figures are. NAEP doesn’t measure performance in terms of grade-level achievement. The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B. The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade. The film assumes that any student below proficient is “below grade level.” But it would be far more fitting to worry about students who are “below basic,” who are 25 percent of the national sample, not 70 percent.” […] Guggenheim ignored other clues that might have gotten in the way of a good story. While blasting the teachers’ unions, he points to Finland as a nation whose educational system the US should emulate, not bothering to explain that it has a completely unionized teaching force. His documentary showers praise on testing and accountability, yet he does not acknowledge that Finland seldom tests its students. Any Finnish educator will say that Finland improved its public education system not by privatizing its schools or constantly testing its students, but by investing in the preparation, support, and retention of excellent teachers. It achieved its present eminence not by systematically firing 5–10 percent of its teachers, but by patiently building for the future. […] Waiting for “Superman” is the most important public-relations coup that the critics of public education have made so far. Their power is not to be underestimated. For years, right-wing critics demanded vouchers and got nowhere. Now, many of them are watching in amazement as their ineffectual attacks on “government schools” and their advocacy of privately managed schools with public funding have become the received wisdom among liberal elites. Despite their uneven record, charter schools have the enthusiastic endorsement of the Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Dell Foundation.” Read the full essay.

The trailer:

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Friends Winning War on Terror

This is from one of those secret cables Wikileaks revealed, from the American ambassy in Saudi Arabia, excerpted from a section of the cable called “David Letterman, Agent of Influence”–which tells how you silly it is that so many of these cables would be considered somehow secret or not necessarily informative to the wider world. It’s reproduced here exactly as it was in the original:

“11. (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX said the American programming on channels 4 and 5 were proving the most popular among Saudis. A look at the December 17 programming menu for MBC channel 4 reveals a 24-hour solid block of such programs as CBS and ABC Evening News, David Letterman, Desperate Housewives, Friends and similar fare, all uncensored and with Arabic subtitles. Channel 5 features US films of all categories, also with Arabic subtitles. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that this programming is also very popular in remote, conservative corners of the country, where he said “you no longer see Bedouins, but kids in western dress” who are now interested in the outside world.

12. (S) Over coffee in a Jeddah Starbucks, XXXXXXXXXXXX, and XXXXXXXXXXXX elaborated on the changes in the Saudi media environment. “The government is pushing this new openness as a means of countering the extremists,” XXXXXXXXXXXX told Riyadh press officer. “It’s still all about the War of Ideas here, and the American programming on MBC and Rotana is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that ‘Al Hurra’ and other US propaganda never could. Saudis are now very interested in the outside world, and everybody wants to study in the US if they can. They are fascinated by US culture in a way they never were before.”

See Also:

  • Wikileaks’ Website

End of National Security Journalism

Adam Serwer in the American Prospect, by way of Andrew Sullivan: “If WikiLeaks is prosecuted under the Espionage Act as it currently exists, then no journalistic institution or entity is safe. The idea that anytime that a journalist obtains a document that has “information related to the national defense” that could be used “to the injury of the United States” they could be subject to prosecution would destroy national-security journalism as it currently exists. Also frightening is the reality that government officials looking to skew public debates one way or another regularly leak information to the press, so the government would really only be prosecuting people for publishing leaked information they didn’t want leaked. […] I think there’s this idea that because the New York Times and the Washington Post are treasured journalistic institutions the government wouldn’t dare engage in the kind of coercion it has leveled so effectively against Assange, and that even if he were prosecuted under an archaic unconstitutional law like the Espionage Act, he’s a scary foreigner and there’s no way that Americans would be treated the same way. But it really wasn’t that long ago that Republicans like Bill Kristol and Rep. Peter King were talking about the NYT in the same kind of language they’re using to describe Assange.”

See Also:

Why No One Gives A Crap About The Jobless

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones explains the chart: “this chart largely explains why sky-high unemployment hasn’t produced any real sense of urgency in our political class. It’s because unemployment is high among people who don’t vote and low among people who do. If the stock market were crashing or corporate profits were down, that would be one thing. But unemployment? It’s just not that big a deal.”

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Another Failure in the Mideast

From the Christian Science Monitor: “The collapse of the Obama administration’s Middle East peace initiative – direct talks launched between the Israelis and Palestinians in September that were to have resulted in an accord within a year – has spawned a scramble for a “Plan B.” For the moment there doesn’t seem to be one – but might one be in the works? […] Suggestions of how the administration plans to proceed are expected to come Friday, when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum on Middle East policy in Washington. […] Between the two unacceptable options of “imposing a solution” and “simply throwing in the towel” remains what [Aaron David] Miller calls the “middle option” of going back to indirect talks “that are focused on the two least hopeless issues on the table, and those are borders and security.” The US would engage with each side on these two issues, and at the end of perhaps three months of talks offer the “bridging proposals” needed to bring the two sides together.” The full story.

See Also:

The Truth About Suicide Bombers

From the Boston Globe: “The traditional view of suicide bombers is well established, and backed by the scholars who study them. The bombers are, in the post-9/11 age, often young, ideologically driven men and women who hate the laissez-faire norms of the West — or at least the occupations and wars of the United States — because they contradict the fundamentalist interpretations that animate the bombers’ worldview. Their deaths are a statement, then, as much as they are the final act of one’s faith; and as a statement they have been quite effective. They propagate future deaths, as terrorist organizers use a bomber’s martyrdom as propaganda for still more suicide terrorism. But [Brian Williams, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth] is among a small cadre of scholars from across the world pushing the rather contentious idea that some suicide bombers may in fact be suicidal. At the forefront is the University of Alabama’s Adam Lankford, who recently published an analysis of suicide terrorism in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior. Lankford cites Israeli scholars who interviewed would-be Palestinian suicide bombers. These scholars found that 40 percent of the terrorists showed suicidal tendencies; 13 percent had made previous suicide attempts, unrelated to terrorism. Lankford finds Palestinian and Chechen terrorists who are financially insolvent, recently divorced, or in debilitating health in the months prior to their attacks. A 9/11 hijacker, in his final note to his wife, describing how ashamed he is to have never lived up to her expectations. Terrorist recruiters admitting they look for the “sad guys” for martyrdom.” The full column.

See Also:

The Way to Speak of Gay Marriage

This is Illinois Senator Ricky Hendon speaking on the floor of the Illinois Statehouse, in favor of a civil unions bill, which was subsequently approved, 32-24:

See Also:

Disney’s Epic Mickey

From Wired: “Mickey Mouse wasn’t always a squeaky-clean do-gooder in white gloves. Frankly, when he debuted in 1928, he was kind of an asshole. He guzzled beer, forced smooches on Minnie, and swung a cat around by its tail just to hear it yowl. But within a year, he settled down to become the upstanding fellow we know today. “Mickey quickly went from anarchist to young adult,” says Warren Spector, lead developer on the new game Epic Mickey. Out November 30, the game attempts to capture both sides of the seminal animated rodent.” The full post, and watch the video on Mickey’s evolution, from the old Oswald:

See Also:

Excitement Over Paul McCartney’s Funeral

From the best news source around:
Excitement Growing Among Beatles Fans For Paul McCartney’s Funeral

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