The readers are worse than the writers

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… at least judging by the readers' comments on Stephanie Banchero, "Students Fall Flat in Vocabulary Test", Wall Street Journal 12/6/2012.  Banchero's article seriously misunderstands and misrepresents an already-misleading account of American schoolchildrens' knowledge of vocabulary — see "Journalist Falls Flat in Comprehension Test", 12/8/2012, for details. But the 127 readers' comments suggest that the paper knows its readers, and enjoys a comfortable symbiosis with them, feeding them confirmation of the attitudes that it helps to create and maintain.

I mean, can you believe the uncritical credulity of adults today? The knee-jerk reactive interpretation of everything in terms of cherished and irrelevant prejudices? I'm shocked, I tell you, shocked!

Many of the WSJ readers' comments are, unsurprisingly, excoriations of the modern world from the right. A few examples:

No surprise in this, at least to anyone who has glanced at a range of blogs.

And former VP Gore predicted some 15 years ago that putting a computer in every child's hands would instantly make them literate.

I would expect poor test results if we gave the test to the teachers who protested in Madison Wisconsin a few years ago.

The best way for students to add to their vocabulary is to read LITERATURE. The new Obamacore standards eliminate the good literature from the curricula. Students shouldn't be forced to learn vocabulary as if English is a second language.

Maybe that is the intention of the dumbed down curriculum, even the outcome, put natural English speaking students on the same level as the English as a second language students.

Having listened, via news reports covering their recent strike, to the speech patterns Of some Chicago teachers, I'm not in the least surprised.

The new Obamacore standardized curriculum eliminates the study of literature from the public schools. Reading literature had already been minimized in many of the schools on the west coast, but I am sure that this is new to the East coast schools.

Vocabulary is not the only area in which American students are deficient. We've been dumbing down education for decades, steadily reducing emphasis on the basic skills of reading, writing, mathematics and basic science in favor of revisionist history, new math, social studies and any other subject that various special interest groups have managed to add to the curriculum. Example: In CA, graduating students won't be able to understand English, construct a sentence above grade-school level skill or add three numbers together, but they'll know gay history.

Shocking. But then in a country where the president thinks "fat cat" is anyone with a job, does not know the difference between billion, trillion and a quadrillion, and says he will cut deficit by increasing stimulus by $50Bn, 8th graders are likely to be puzzled, er confused..

A result the unionized public school system.

This is what happens when unions and liberalism "permeates" the indoctrination system causing over half the voters to be "puzzled" when others don't want to secede more of their wallets to the system as it stands. Maybe the results of this test give insight into why some teachers don't want such testing. After all it would be just TERRIBLE if kids were being taught vocabulary just to pass some silly test!

The Dept of Education was created under Pres Carter because the public schools were failing to educate youth. As a result, there are 3 levels of bureaucracy above a teacher's level. Teachers are given the rules, and a 7th/8th grade teacher friend told me her rules were 'Keep the kids entertained, the parents happy and don't give any failing grades.'…….Politics didn't help the students despite Carter's belief that government could cure what government destroyed…..Maybe it's time to try a different model, like school choice via vouchers….Competition might find the solution where monopolies failed.

The problem for libs in teaching the classics is that kids would grow up privy to the shenanigans being perpetrated on them. As it stands now, they can just blame everything on those "white geezers" who wasted their time reading the classics. What is Socrates? is that some kind of disease?

As mentioned above regarding the "1984"-zation of language, students are increasingly being deprived of access to the good writing of the ages because let's face it: virtually all the classics of literature and human thought (philosophy, good history books, religion) are completely un-PC and do not contribute to the great project of the Left: a populace of ignorant air heads that will instinctively follow the party line of disdain for Western civilization and the gospel of "egalitarianism".
The perversion of education is a pre-requisite for the neo-totalitarian state to come.


More useful idiots for Barry's Zombie Nation.

With they way the youngsters are voting for Obama's failed policies, it is obvious that our education system is broken.

Twice the money for half the results thanks to 60 years of liberal-led education reform. Now we have the head incompetent in office. Good call by the 53% that voted for more of the same decline.

Just as long as they know how to use condoms by 5th grade, that Johnny has three moms, and that the recycling bin is the green one.

The least Common Denominator standard!! If EVERY STUDENT IS BACKWARD AND IGNORANT then NO CHILD IS LEFT BEHIND!! We have spent TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS on K-12 education since Bush was conned into No Child Left Behind and we have been ROBBED by Teachers Unions and banal cynical little people who administer and fail at their jobs Deliberately!!

What's the problem? Given enough time, the public schools and the teachers' unions will get the scores all the way down to zero. Just give them a little more time.

Great news we are almost there glad to see that 50+ years of radical social engineering is starting to bear fruit. Pretty soon the middle class will be wiped out and our children will be happy to work in sweat shops like in China and Central America. We all love you Bill Ayers, Billy Clinton and most sacred spiritual master Obama..

Oh well, just aniother crop of owebamaites being schooled by the far=left teachers. Nothing new, America has been on a slippery slope since liberal secular progressives have become de rigeur. Can't you visualize mooochell and barry grinnibng ear to ear at this. I know it warms the cockles of axelrod and jarrett's heart.

Thank the unions and the archaic non-competitive work rules.

Decades of mind manipulation. propaganda and political correctness has corrupted the minds and souls of generations. Students are too superficial and can't speak proper English. In fact many wealthy suburban kids speak ghetto ebonics lingo and they can easily name every celebrity and what they threw up after partying too much but they can't name all the amendments to the US Constitution.

Perhaps the Education Department should stop focusing on Unionista social issues and more on the fundamentals— like a real education. We spend a lot of money on education in this country and the end results should surpass that of any other country. What a waste of potential talent.

Calif state law now mandates that grades K-12 must teach the contributions of the "Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender communities".

There just isn't going leave to enough time left to teach stuff like critical reading and writing. That's so 1970s.

And unless the students later attend a bonafide STEM college — increasingly difficult after a K-12 like that — they're going to be compelled to sit through various "grievance" and "identity" "studies".

After all, How can they hope to compete in the modern world unless they're well-versed in "Post-Modern Lesbian Latina Feminist Studies" ?

Think, people. Read between the lines written by careful reporters. The blame lies squarely with parents (present or absent) in the black and Latino communities who do not focus children on education, just as they themselves grew up largely uneducated. We all know this, right? The safest way to put this is to call it a "cultural" thing.  […]

Now, back to blaming everything else but that…

No wonder this has occurred. The US Government is dictating educational requirements and benchmarks–as opposed to state, county and municipal educators and boards of education. US students are not even in the top 10 in the world in any category. We need to get the government out of our schools. It's killing our business presence domestically and internationally–not to mention the dumbing down of our students. Eight years of Obama is a testament to the dumbing down of the US.

And there are a few similarly-irrelevant reactions from the left, more or less:

Reading books is not "cool". Typing LOL's and sexting and bragging about the "apps" on one's portable gadget is what's in. What do you want those poor and struggling Capitalists that sell unlimited text messaging plans and iPhone 5's to do ? Forgo their profits and starve in the dark ? This is Capitalism baby. It's about the bucks, not about what your merchandise does to impressionable minds. Freedom of speech or something like the comes to mind.

Your forefathers wanted cotton picked for free. Enjoy the benefits.

The the same country where dimwits like Palin almost become VP's, right ? The same nation where people who can't even fix their rotten teeth vote for those who want to privatize their retirement and medical care ? See how easy it is to put an ideological spin on ignorance ?

In 1984 Orwell commented on how destruction of the language would eventually make it impossible to express certain thoughts & feelings. The society could then be more easily controlled.

Sounds like the US is well on it's way.

What's wrong with the sweatshops of China and Central America ? We get all our shoes and iPads and underwear made there at a great profit to our Capitalist gods. That's all that matters, that someone makes a good profit. Welcome to the "greed is good" philosophy. Why have second thoughts now ? Our kids will happily assemble electronic gadgets for 99 cents per hour when they grow up, and when they grow too depressed with what they do and want to jump out of the 10th floor work camp dorm window, we will install nets to catch them and return them to the factory floor to finish their shift. It worked for the Chinese at Foxconn, in Chengdu, it will work for American kids as well. Look at your entitlement. Look at how easily you lose sight of the profits to be made. Rather Marxist, I would say.

Yes. We should replace those "far-left" teachers with Perry and Palin and Bachmann and Barnour of Mississippi. And build more nationwide "Liberty University" campuses across the nation. So that in a few short decades, when we look at the sky, we will once again think that those lights are punctures in God's firmament, beyond which Romney's three heavens await us as soon as we expire of some tooth infection treated with a garlic elixir prepared by that invisible hand that so caressed our civilization for tens of thousands of years. Close Berkeley down, enough of those snobbish characters writing equations on boards and drinking weird named coffees. It is time for the patriots of this land to take control of their destinies and "study" the Bibke some more.

Thank Bible-thumping anti-science know-nothings who want to teach "Creationism" in Biology classes. Science is a science people. If you want to teach your faith, then do it in a theology class and leave science and math classes alone.

Your idiocy even bleeds into history books. Just because you don't like that Jefferson created "a wall between church and state" that doesn't mean that you have the right to write Jefferson out of history books. No other competitive nation has a chorus of religious vapor heads who try their hardest to fill their own history books with non-sense.

And of course, plenty of murmurs from the "Kids Today" amen corner:

Forget the blogs. This is no surprise to anyone who looks around: when was the last time you saw a kid with a book?

Many parents today stick some kind of a video game/device in their kids hands as young as 3 years old to keep them quiet and out of their hair. After a few years these kids who spend hours everyday on these cute little pacifiers are mind numbed video zombies. I see kids as young as 7-8 years old with smart phones. It should be no surprise that they can't read and have lousy vocabularies.

First, most students do poorly in math. Now, in vocabulary. It seems more and more students don't know how to read, write, and do math. The GOOD NEWS is so long as our students have very high self-esteems, there is nothing to worry about. Everything will be fine and dandy!

Reading the timeless classics instead of playing video games makes a difference.

Maybe refusing to buy your kids a cell phone unless they can demonstrate their ability to actually write something more cogent than: "B C'n U". I don't care, my vocabulary is multiples over the average Amercan (100,000+ words, versus the 10,000 to 15,000 that the average American understands), and clearly I can write and speak in complete sentenses. But then again, most of the media can't get people to watch anything that requires more than an 8th grade education, so maybe they get it from their parents (gasp, blame anyone but the parents).

this article is so, like, whatever.

Is this a surprise? Children rarely communicate is standard English anymore or actually speak to their friends. Perhaps the test should have been in texteguese…

How many years have these kids spent parked in front of televisions?

A few of the comments appear to be ironic, though the serious ones are so cartoonish that it's hard to tell:

Not surprising. I live here in Western Kentucky where most people don't know half the words that my wife and I use. It's getting harder and harder to communicate because you have to explain or define common words like "vicarious" or "inundated" or "fabricated" or "oxymoron" or "metaphor." I could go on and on…but it's getting to where we have to consciously talk like "Dick and Jane" books and use more simple words to communicate around here on a daily basis.

Out of 127 comments, I count 2 sensible ones:

Who expected the average score to be 500 out of 500 (other than the author)? I am no expert on educational testing, but this looks like a very poorly written article. The WSJ should be embarrassed.

They [poorly educated students of today] seem ideally suited to be editors for the WSJ.


  1. Derrick said,

    December 8, 2012 @ 10:59 pm

    It starts to make Mr. Pullum's policies and theories about comments seem near-genius. See the last paragraph:

  2. John Lawler said,

    December 8, 2012 @ 11:03 pm

    I thought I had heard that the News Co. had bought the WSJ.
    The News Co. already owns Fox News, right?
    Why is anybody surprised?

  3. Eugene said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 12:53 am

    What a fantastic collection of hysterical rants! I'm dumbstruck.
    However, I'd really like to talk to the guy in western Kentucky who sprinkles his daily conversation with words like "vicarious," "inundated," "fabricated," "oxymoron," and "metaphor." I'll bet the neighbors love him.

  4. Chris said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 6:51 am

    "the paper knows its readers, and enjoys a comfortable symbiosis with them, feeding them confirmation of the attitudes that it helps to create and maintain."

    All newspapers do this, all the time. As do all other mass media outlets. They have done since their beginnings in the nineteenth century. It is absolutely central to their nature.

    Some do it more brazenly than others, that's all.

  5. Karl Weber said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 8:21 am

    The ignorance of the reporters and readers is an appalling sign of our society's decadence! The question is who to blame, Obama or Fox News?

  6. Wesley Kerfoot said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 9:54 am

    I would comment on the original article with some statistics smackdown for Banchero, but it appears you have to pay to be a member, oh well. However I deplore the complete lack of statistics understanding in almost all journalists today. How hard is it to realize that these test scores are *designed* to be normally distributed? I love how so many of these hypocritical journalists complain about the state of education, and then they go and make statistical fallacies day in and day out. Maybe they should stop complaining that 47% of kids don't know what permeates means, and start complaining that 99% of teachers probably don't know what the base rate fallacy is? Which one do you think is more likely to help you in your life?

  7. glitch said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 11:50 am

    Argh. This sort of thing is the reason why "don't read the comments" is practically a motto in certain circles of the internet.

  8. Mary Apodaca said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

    NPR reports that France is reforming its educational system because says "Peter Gumbel, author of a scathing report" on French education:

    "The French are discovering — to their horror — that their performance internationally has been declining over the last 10 years. The French actually are performing [worse] than the Americans in reading and science," he says.

  9. Matt McIrvin said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 12:13 pm

    This is the first I ever heard the word "Obamacore", but it seems to be a right-wing political meme already.

  10. Michael P said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 2:12 pm

    What makes the last two quoted comments sensible? Especially given that the average scores across eight years of schooling all fall in an 80-point range, it makes no sense to conclude that "about half of what they were expected to know" means any group was expected to score perfectly.

    If eighth graders got, on average, half of the "eighth-grade level" words correct, then the lede would be correct and the comment would be entirely illogical. The clarification (that only about half of eighth graders knew what "permeates" mean and half of fourth graders knew "puzzled") suggests that the article's literal text is much closer to being correct than the comment.

  11. Mona Williams said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

    I'm so glad I didn't secede any of my wallet to the WSJ.

  12. Sili said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

    A few of the comments appear to be ironic, though the serious ones are so cartoonish that it's hard to tell:

    Poe's Law strikes again.

  13. Dan Hemmens said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

    If eighth graders got, on average, half of the "eighth-grade level" words correct, then the lede would be correct and the comment would be entirely illogical.

    Not really.

    This would be true only if we define "eighth-grade level words" as "words of which eighth-graders are expected to know 100%" but this would be an absurd definition of eighth-grade level words. Students at any level have a range of abilities, and it would – ironically – be evidence of a shocking decline in standards if the only things that were considered "eighth grade level" were things that even the weakest eighth-grade student should be able to do easily.

    To put it another way, yes, the article is correct that eighth-graders only got half of the eighth-grade level words correct, but it is not correct in its assertion that this is evidence of a shocking failure in the education system, rather than being a feature of the way standardized testing works.

    It's basically a more plausible, but ultimately equally ridiculous version of the old complaint that "half of our nation's students are below average".

  14. Keith M Ellis said,

    December 9, 2012 @ 6:12 pm

    @Michael P and others, while the NAEP's test results in general and the reading test specifically both include scores related to "achievement level" (that is, the "what students are expected to know" that Banchero described), the vocabulary subsection does not (link to Vocabulary Results From the 2009 and 2011 NAEP Reading Assessments, pdf):

    NAEP vocabulary results are reported as the percentages of students who correctly answered vocabulary questions and as average scores on a 0–500 scale for grades 4, 8, and 12. While vocabulary results cannot be reported in terms of the NAEP achievement levels (Basic, Proficient, and Advanced), scores are reported to show patterns in results for students performing at lower (10th and 25th), middle (50th), and higher (75th and 90th) percentiles.

    As far as I can tell, with regard to the vocabulary test, the journalist's assumption that this score signals achievement of expected proficiency is false.

    Furthermore, the 0-500 scale upon which these results are reported are neither absolute scores (as some assume) nor merely normalized (as Drum assumes). On the 2011 test, there were 40 fourth-grade vocabulary questions and 56 eighth-grade vocabulary questions. The scale used is the reading scale score, and the vocabulary score is somehow interpreted into it. Here's what they say about the reading scale score (Interpreting NAEP Reading Results, webpage):

    Average reading scale score results are based on the NAEP reading scale, which ranges from 0 to 500. The NAEP reading assessment scale is a composite combining separately estimated scales for each type of reading (literary and informational) specified by the reading framework. When the reading framework was changed in 2009, the way the composite reading scale was defined was changed; however, special analyses determined that the 2009 and subsequent results could be compared to those from previous years. Average scale scores are computed for groups of students; NAEP does not produce individual student scores. The results for all grades assessed are placed together on one reporting scale. In the base year of the trend line, the assessed grades are analyzed together to create a cross-grade scale. In subsequent years, the data from each grade level are analyzed separately and then linked to the original cross-grade scale established in the base year. Comparisons of overall national performance across grade levels on a cross-grade scale are acceptable; however, other types of comparisons or inferences may not be supported by the available information. Note that while the scale is cross-grade, the skills tested and the material on the test increase in complexity and difficulty at each higher grade level, so different things are measured at the different grades even though a progression is implied.

    Nothing in NAEP's documentation and results supports in any way this lede paragraph of Banchero's article:

    U.S. students knew only about half of what they were expected to on a new vocabulary section of a national exam, in the latest evidence of severe shortcomings in the nation's reading education.

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