Arizona Republic: Wet Streets Cause Rain

May 2, 2019

Image result for wet streets

The Republic’s crack team of reporters have determined that the above streets caused a major rainstorm.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Brother Matt’s takedown of the Arizona Republic’s absurdly erroneous and biased reporting reminds me of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, a concept identified by author Michael Crichton:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

The Republic had its own “wet streets cause rain” moment recently when it claimed that Arizona copied its education savings account (ESA) legislation from model legislation at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In fact, as Ladner points out, the reverse is true: ALEC’s model legislation was based on Arizona’s law.

Indeed, as Ladner details, the Republic’s “reporting” on “copycat legislation” suffered from several other flaws, including but not limited to the following:

  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as unusual and nefarious when actually it’s commonplace and banal, a tool used across the political spectrum since the late 1800s.
  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as a particularly right-wing plot but excluded all the model legislation from the older and larger left-of-center National Conference of State Legislatures.
  • The Republic hid the fact that only 1% of the bills they analyzed were based on model legislation.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Republic’s “reporting” is that it wasn’t really reporting. Had they any real interest in ascertaining the truth, there are any number of individuals and organizations in Arizona that could have provided them with accurate information had they asked. But they didn’t.

Indeed, their “Gaggle” podcast did not interview anyone from the pro-school choice side. They repeatedly used inferences to determine their “real” motives instead of just, well, asking.

Sadly, this is a part of a longstanding pattern. When the Goldwater Institute’s Matt Beienburg detected some serious flaws in the Republic’s award-winning “reporting” on charter schools, he brought it to their attention but they ignored him. He then wrote about it publicly and one of their most vociferous anti-choice advocates, Craig Harris, personally attacked him rather than engage in any substantive defense of their advocacy piece “reporting”:

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As I noted to Harris, if you add two green apples plus two red apples plus two oranges and get six apples, the math is right but the answer is wrong. Beienburg wanted to know if the Republic had inappropriately included certain schools in its data set when calculating graduation rates (e.g., a school that only serves students through grade 9, or another school that had been closed for two years), but Harris merely insulted him, claimed his math was wrong (without offering any proof) and then stonewalled any public debate.

For weeks afterward, Harris simply ignored any public questions about their reporting — though I know that privately, his team has admitted that they had done exactly what Beienburg had suspected. However, they have still refused to publicly correct their error, demonstrating a complete lack of intellectual honesty or journalistic integrity.

The Republic’s Gaggle podcasters also let their journalistic mask slip with numerous biased statements posing as neutral facts. For example, they claimed that Arizona lawmakers filed at least three ESA “expansions” that all “clearly went against the will of the voters” who rejected Prop 305. First, only one of those bills (making ESAs available to victims of bullying or abuse) was a clear expansion. The others were mere clarifications of existing eligibility categories that would have had a tiny effect on ESA enrollment. For example, students with disabilities are eligible for an ESA if they are entering kindergarten, but the Arizona Department of Education denied children who were age 6 (reading the law the allow only 5 year olds) so the legislation clarified that incoming kindergarteners could also be age 6. To call that an “expansion” is ludicrous, but the anti-ESA group Save Our Schools declared it such and advocates posing at journalists at the Arizona Republic and elsewhere took their side.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear what the “will of the voters” was. They rejected Prop 305, which expanded ESA eligibility to all students but also imposed a cap of about 30,000 ESA students. Some pro-school choice groups that support ESAs, like the American Federation for Children, opposed Prop 305 because it would effectively set the 30,000-student cap in legislative stone (requiring a supermajority to change it due to the Voter Protection Act). Is it the “will of the voters” that they want a universal ESA without a cap? And even if the majority of “No” votes opposed universal expansion, that does not at all imply that the majority of voters oppose, say, expanding ESAs to victims of bullying. To pretend that we can know the true “will of the voters” is sophistry at best. To make such claims as a supposedly neutral journalist is laughably absurd.

It’s time to stop treating the Republic as a neutral journalistic institution. They are openly advocating for one side, and they aren’t even letting the truth get in the way of their agenda. Let’s not let media amnesia make us forget it.


The Two-Minute Hate or Race to the Tap?

May 22, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Oceania of Orwell’s 1984 made use of a daily “two-minute hate” to whip people into a frenzy against enemies of the state. As wikipedia explains:

Within the book, the purpose of the Two Minutes Hate is said to satisfy the citizens’ subdued feelings of angst and hatred from leading such a wretched, controlled existence. By re-directing these subconscious feelings away from the Oceanian government and toward external enemies (which may not even exist), the Party minimizes subversive thought and behaviour.

So about now you are wondering to yourself “why are you flashing me back to junior year English class?” Good question- I guess it came to mind because of things like this and this.

Jonathan Haidt describes the mind as an elephant (instinct) and a rider that serves the elephant (reason). The rider serves the elephant by seeking out information that confirms pre-existing beliefs, and avoids contradictory information. Individuals are thus not trustworthy in reasoning in support of their beliefs, but are pretty good at knocking down the theories of others. If however you find yourself isolated in an ideologically homogeneous tribe no one is likely to point out glaring flaws in your thinking as they either cannot or don’t want to see them any more than you do.

The problems with the above pieces seem entirely obvious to me, but apparently were invisible to the Republic. I knew this article was heading in a bad direction when I saw a former campaign manager for David Garcia described as “former BASIS parent.” Both of these descriptions are true…but one is incomplete without the other. The reporter’s effort in establishing whether the CMO management fee was reasonable given the services provided more or less ended with an assurance from a professional charter skeptic that it wasn’t. Well, can’t much argue with that…

Now for the record I don’t know the percentage of K-12 funds typically spent on the services provided by the BASIS CMO either. Given the outputs BASIS produces, I’ll confess to being broadly indifferent as to whether districts spend more or less. The Reporter’s elephant wanted to believe it was high, and sure enough he found someone to make this claim. Neither of them produced any evidence, or a rationale as to why we should care.

The two-minute hate moves into throw your shoe territory when our intrepid reporter reveals that the founders of the CMO put down a down payment on a condo in New York City…which is near private schools they operate…which charge approximately four times the amount provided by Arizona taxpayers to provide the same education that Arizona children receive free of charge. In an organization including charter schools in Arizona, Texas and D.C. and private schools in China, Silicon Valley and NYC that the highest ROI part of the operation would be in the modestly funded but very high performing AZ charter schools. The Republic reporter’s elephant lumbered off in the opposite direction however, with his rider helping to raise a vague concern that somehow Arizona taxpayers were being short-changed er somehow. In other pieces we see assertions that BASIS gets more funding per pupil than district schools in Arizona. A quick trip to the JLBC however reveals this to be false- charter schools get less total public funding per pupil than district schools in Arizona.

It is also common to see an organization critical of charter schools, the Grand Canyon Institute, described as “non-partisan” in the pages of the Republic. Having spent a few minutes on their website, I could detect no overt attachment to any political party, but the philosophical leanings of the group are entirely obvious (left of center).

I spent a number of years at the Goldwater Institute, and we spent years in public disputes and filed lawsuits challenging both Republicans and Democrats. Perhaps the memory fades, but I don’t recall the Republic referring to GI as “non-partisan.” When the GCI put out a report critical of charters, one of the paper’s columnists wrote that GCI “supports charter schools.” Things had just become soooo bad that they had no choice but to offer sharp but constructive criticism you see. GCI is run by a former official of the Janet Napolitano administration, and when I asked one of his former Napolitano colleagues about this assertion the reaction I received was “That’s absurd. George has always hated charter schools.” Again I assume that someone from GCI claimed to support charter schools, and it fit into what the columnist wanted to believe, but it isn’t terrible hard to check up on such things.

Now to be fair, the Republic does have some ideological diversity on the opinion page, which is approximately evenly split between a hard-left wing and an assortment of writers varying degrees to the right of Bernie Sanders. Center-right columnist Bob Robb has supported increased K-12 funding for years, but is an equal opportunity offender taking everyone from RedforEd to Governor Ducey to task. Centrist Joanna Allhands very helpfully noted for instance that er, guys, all schools raise money from parents, not just BASIS.

It’s not like the non-Bernie columnists challenge everything questionable put out by Team Bernie. If they did, they wouldn’t have much time to do anything else. The worst of it is that the news page seems be serving the elephant of the Bernie wing of the opinion pages: investigative pieces translate effortlessly into two-minute hate type opinion pieces.

For instance, when the Republic published a giant nothing-burger of a front page above the Sunday fold story about FOIAed emails between the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona Department of Education concerning the administration of the ESA program. Now if any of these emails were any more exciting than Jonathan Butcher writing to the Department to say “Guys there are ESA parents out here who haven’t had their accounts funded on time and they are getting very upset about it” I assume the Republic would have shared them with us. Gleefully. Instead, the Reporter’s elephant went in search of someone who would confirm that there was something very naughty going on:

“This is almost an iron grip-level of influence from the beginning of the process on,” said Thomas Holyoke, an associate professor of political science at California State University-Fresno, who studies interest groups and lobbying.

“This sounds like a full-service operation; it wasn’t just writing the legislation,” he added. “You have elected officials, who are supposed to be repositories of the public’s trust, who are pushing legislation and probably building careers off of big, high-profile bills that have some potentially extremely far-reaching effects.

I won’t rehash the glaring flaws in this story here, but will ask a very basic question: if the Goldwater Institute had an “iron grip” on the administration of the program, isn’t it reasonable to think that accounts would be funded on time, proper records kept, etc?

Team Bernie on the opinion pages lapped it up. Worse still, when the Goldwater Institute asked to publish a response, the Republic chose not to publish it.  This sort of thing has led to a large number of right of center Arizonans to angrily mutter about how they cancelled their subscriptions years ago, that the Republic is hopelessly biased, they only hung on for as long as they did to read Robb, etc.

I wouldn’t be writing this post if I were willing to join this line of thinking. I believe that keeping some common institutions to be of unspeakable importance. Checking out to entomb oneself in a comfortable echo chamber is a path to hopeless polarization. A few years ago the Arizona Chamber of Commerce began a “Race to the Tap” event with the hope of getting people from different K-12 silos at least occasionally talking to each other.

I’m pretty sure that Geoff Esposito pictured here with yours-truly makes Laurie Roberts look like a second coming of Barry Goldwater. I’m fairly confident that Geoff helped to draft the catastrophic mistake of a soak the rich tax initiative the Invest in Ed ballot initiative that would raise Arizona incomes taxes to New Jersey levels. Geoff and I don’t agree on much related to K-12, but we do listen to each other, which is an art that Americans are losing much to our detriment. Arizona could use a good deal more tap and less two-minute hates.

 


Remarks to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce: More Than This

June 20, 2016

Friedman award

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry held an awards breakfast last Friday, where they recognized a number of worthy recipients including friends serving in the legislature like Senator Debbie Lesko and Senator Steve Pierce and Representative Paul Boyer.  They also however chose to recognize a rather dubious character with whom you will be all too familiar by bestowing upon him the Milton Friedman Award, Obviously I was deeply touched to receive an award named after one of my heroes.

At the request of the Chamber, I prepared the following remarks:

I am deeply touched to receive this honor, but I must say that I feel a bit like Jack Ryan. You may recall the scene in the Hunt for Red October when Ryan exclaims “Me?!? I’m just an analyst!”

Arizona is sailing into history!

While I am deeply appreciative of the award, it is I should honor you. The groundwork for what I am about to describe was already in place when I arrived in Arizona in 2003. You as long-time business and civic leaders in Arizona should take great pride in what I will relate.

It was recently reported that Arizona ranks number two in job growth. I am happy to relate to you that Arizona ranks number one in K-12 academic gains.  The National Assessment of Educational Progress gives academic exams to 4th and 8th graders in all 50 states every two years. When you follow the academic progress of 4th graders in 2011 to when they became 8th graders in 2015, you find that Arizona students made more progress than any other state. Given everything this state endured during the Great Recession, this is a remarkable tribute to the resiliency of our students, educators and policymakers.

NAEP Math cohort gains with AZ charters

This progress is across the board and includes both district and charter schools. In addition our charter school students did something truly extraordinary. On the same 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Arizona’s charter school students scored comparably to the highest performing states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire. This is all the more impressive when you consider that Arizona charter schools are funded far more modestly, and have student bodies far more diverse, than the schools in New England.

These results are remarkable. How did this happen? What is the secret sauce? There is no single explanation and there are many ingredients in the Arizona K-12 reform gumbo. You made the mistake however of giving me an award named after the great Milton Friedman and then the even larger mistake of giving me the microphone, so I am going to talk about parental choice. It seems clear to me that parental choice has been a major contributor to Arizona’s improvement.

Parental choice is controversial. Some people believe that parental choice is about some schools being “good” while others are “bad.” Those who believe this however are mistaken. Parental choice is about the fact that every single child deserves to have access to a school that is a good fit for them. Good fits between students and schools are very powerful, and we cannot replace it with any other source of improvement.  Without giving parents the ability to match the needs and interests of their child with the particular strengths of a school, the public education system will never reach full potential.

During the campaign, Governor Ducey quite rightly placed an emphasis on Arizona students sitting on wait lists at our high demand district and charter schools of choice. These students only have one shot at their K-12 education, but they find themselves stranded by the inadequacies of our policies, waiting for the opportunity to attend their good fit school. Meanwhile the sand continues to run through their hourglass. 

Our challenge includes this, but it is also more than this.

Tens of thousands of Arizona students sit on wait lists, but hundreds of thousands of Arizona parents never even considered some of our highest performing district and/or private schools. These schools may have been great fits for the needs of their children, but they didn’t even cross the radar screens of these parents for consideration. Why not? Because they have effectively been priced out of consideration. Parents either cannot afford the high price of real estate for the district schools, or else cannot afford to pay tuition in addition to their taxes. Many sadly see these schools as being for someone else, but not for them. It doesn’t however have to remain this way. We have it in our power to make our educational opportunities more inclusive. The blessings of liberty should not remain the privilege of the few, but rather the birthright of all.

I fell in love with Arizona because of our innovative spirit and I believe that we have been richly rewarded for it. If Dr. Friedman were still with us, I believe he would be proud of what we have done, and would encourage us to do more. Arizona is a state with big horizons, where the sky is the limit. May we always remain so.

I genuinely am deeply appreciative of both the award, and the opportunity to work with great people on these issues in Arizona.