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Thompson: Summertime and the Opinions are Hazy

Makingthemost Responding to the question of why Michelle Rhee disregarded the instructions of the D.C. Council to cut $9 million from summer school, Jay Mathews wrote "Anyone who has looked at the data on summer learning loss would have to say Rhee was right, and the council was wrong." What?!?! Because high-quality, engaging summer programs are valuable, Mathews did not need to question the effectiveness of D.C.’s summer schools before proclaiming Rhee is right? When commenters complained that D.C.’s summer schools were still the same old test prep, fig leaf for social promotion, Mathews responded "I know it (summer school) has been bad in the past, but I was told that the plan was to do better in 2010. ... If it turns out to be a zoo, then you are right, I'm an idiot."

Sounds like low expectations for Op Ed writers to me. If I believe that Rhee has plans to improve summer learning, then I can believe that Rhee believes the incredible testimony that she provided to the Council. (Follow the link and see what it really takes to stem summer loss.)

Worst, Mathews explained away alleged age discrimination based on

"two dozen leaders of KIPP public charter schools ... [who] told me that the more experienced teachers they hire out of urban systems have difficulty raising their expectation for children to the high level that KIPP demands."

The expectation that the rule of law and the sanctity of contracts will be honored is not some potted plant to be discarded by "reformers."

Later, Mathews changed the subject to a couple of potential crown jewels in D.C., and said "Rhee and the people around her, if I am hearing them correctly, want to give the neighborhood schools that power to innovate." If I am hearing Mathews correctly he thinks we should not believe the vast majority of Rhee’s take-no-prisoners, top-down, proclamations.

I often winced at the anger expressed by commenters going overboard, accusing Mathews of bias. I certainly intend to take a higher road ...

No I’m not! Mr. Mathews, see what it feels like to have your integrity challenged over a difference of opinion. To paraphrase your commenters, how would you feel if the Post sought to drive out journalists of your generation, denying that it was age discrimination, but arguing that writers of your era are lacking in moral character - or worst. Would you want that legal argument cross-examined in a court of law? Would you dismiss the rules of evidence as something that won’t help readers?  Would you show some skepticism about the argument that the destruction of the rights of journalists is the way to improve journalism?

By the way, I loved the comment in the Post about "Narcissa Rhee." I believe I am not violating the law because I believe in improving summer learning, and I believe in placing kids first, so people who believe in defending their legal rights do not believe in helping children, and besides they never believed in "Expectations" either, or they would never have challenged me. It would be hard to top that logic demonstration of the narcissism that pervades data-driven "reformers." - John Thompson

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You are completely right -- i've been hoping for years that the Post would have an ombudsman or an editor with common sense to stop Mathews from screaming his head off about something with no knowledge.

They need to either make him a columnist or reporter - he cant be both -- to have opinion pieces appear next to "Stories" that cover the same content is ridiculous -- it's false dualism. Mathews and the Post are jokes.

I have to admit to a soft spot for Mathews, who is susceptible to evidence and respectful to those who don't agree with him--and I often don't agree with him.

He made a bit of a gaffe on summer school, and he seems willing to own up to it. (I support summer school, though only GOOD summer school, so I might be a bit biased here myself.)

Still, blanket statements about young people being more devoted than people with more experience are very, very dangerous. It's always troubling to argue by anecdote, but that one opens a huge can of worms.

Claus,

I'm hoping that people can tell the difference between my "ragging" on Mathews while opposing his opinions, and the attacks on his integrity. My dad taught me to only "kid" people who you like.

John, I think people will tell the difference. A little civility was never a bad thing.

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