Cherry picking OK at Washington Post

by John Quiggin on March 2, 2009

The blogospheric response to George Will’s recycling of long-refuted talking points on climate change (a good summary here) has produced lots of insights into the way the mainstream media (particularly the Washington Post) works, and some reasons to be less regretful about its seemingly inevitable demise.

I was particularly struck by the opening statement in the latest contribution of WP Ombudsman Andy Alexander who states:

Opinion columnists are free to choose whatever facts bolster their arguments.

Really? Where I come from, citing supporting evidence and ignoring the existence of directly contrary evidence is called “cherry-picking” (when we are being polite).

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Scrapping Lotteries?

by Harry on March 2, 2009

The Telegraph reports that Ed Balls suggests that school admissions lotteries may be scrapped because they are unfair. I’ve dug around to find the actual speech, but can’t find it anywhere, and don’t entirely trust the report (or the Observer report, which makes him seem less hostile to lotteries) to have gotten the issues exactly right. The “twins” argument (that lotteries split up twins into different schools) is terrible — it is easy to build a sibling rule into a lottery (and that is what, for example, the Milwaukee voucher program lotteries have). This argument is pretty bad too:

“The issue of lotteries is causing some concern to parents around the country,” he said. “I have sympathy with the view that a lottery system can feel arbitrary, random and hard to explain to children who don’t know what’s going to happen and don’t know which children in their class they’re going on to secondary school with.

It is having the kid rejected, and having her go to a school other than her friends, that is the problem here, not the lottery — it’s an inevitable feature of school choice, and in fact has been with us since 1944 (the 11-plus lottery was abolished in lots of places after a while, but even in comprehensive LEAs friends got split up to go to religious or single sex schools, or just to some other school that had a nicer swimming pool, at the whim of their parents).

Can anyone point me to the whole speech, or explain what is really going on?

(It’s nice to see, by the way, that the Tories plan to abolish the lotteries — give power back to the state provider, where it belongs, that’s what I say.)

Beating the Odds

by Harry on March 2, 2009

How do schools with disadvantaged populations beat the odds? England’s Chief Inspector of Schools just released a report examining a group of schools that do and analysing what they have in common:

* They excel at what they do for a high proportion of the time
* They prove constantly that disadvantage or not speaking English at home need not be a barrier to achievement
* They put students first, invest in their staff and nurture their communities
* They have strong values and high expectations that are applied consistently and never relaxed
* They provide outstanding teaching, rich opportunities for learning and encouragement and support for each student
* They are highly inclusive
* Their achievements happen by highly reflective, carefully planned and implemented strategies
* They operate with a very high degree of internal consistency
* They are constantly looking for ways to improve further
* They have outstanding and well-distributed leadership.

This is exactly what you’d expect from the school improvement and effectiveness literature. I’ve been reading a lot of this lately, and what is surprising is how much convergence there is on this. You might think that having achieved such a high level of consensus it would be easy to move into some sort of policy promoting such schools. But it’s not so easy.

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