If there are joys associated with having the editor nameplate on your desk at your publishing office, I'd guess that getting to write the op-ed column is right up there with such other perks as directing your staff, balancing your budget, and pleasing your board of directors.
Unlike reporters-who are supposed to report objectively but frequently suppress inconvenient facts which don't match the desired correct-think purpose (see last week's column on this subject)-editors are fully free, under Fourth Estate code of conduct rules, to opine as they see fit.
Even so, an editor can enter a credibility danger zone if the facts cited don't match facts ignored to support an opinion. Then the editor's opinion is unsupported and becomes subject to the laws of intellectual gravity just as Newton's apple fell to earth as proof of the laws of physical gravity.
Case in point: in a recent editorial in one of Vermont's weeklies, the editor argues that yes, Vermont spends more, per-pupil, than most other states in public education, but (advertising slogan) "we're worth it." (Identifications are redacted as a professional courtesy.)
"Products that have a high value cost money," according to the editor, referring to the K-12 product in Vermont (and citing the 2009 per-pupil cost of $15, 175).
"Pity the states at the bottom of the heap--Utah ($6,356), Idaho (($7,092), Arizona ($7,813), Oklahoma ($7,885), Tennessee ($7,897) and Mississippi ($8,075)...," he continued, arguing that these cheap states "...will likely have to increase per-pupil spending significantly if they are to offer their youth the best possible education."
Vermont we often hear is the Education State. Indeed, public-education advocates in Vermont frequently cite the state as no. 1 or no. 2 nationwide as measured by federal (NAEP) test scores.
What they know but never cite are the unpleasant demographic/achievement score truths underlying those scores-
Of the three major minority groups, two always post scores substantially lower than the third and the white majority, and most States (Vermont is a nearly unique exception in this respect) have substantial minority enrollments; this fact therefore produces total averages noticeably lower than the one or two which don't.
All these achievement-by-demographic-cohort stats, for each state, are published in the annual National Digest of Educational Statistics, which you can request (usually no charge) from your favorite Congressional politician's office.
There you'll find, for fourth grade reading, that statistically all-white Vermont posts a student test score of 229, while the U.S. average for the white cohort is 230. And how "high value" is a 229 score? Hint: it's less than halfway up the 0-500 score scale.
When Vermont claims, on the basis of state total-enrollment averages, to have the best schools in the K-12 neighborhood that's because the overall neighborhood isn't even middle-class (pun intended) achievement-wise.
The states at the bottom of the heap spending-wise get there primarily via larger class sizes. Utah, for example, has an average class size twice that of Vermont's and a cost-of-direct instruction half as much per pupil. All the others are similarly more efficient than Vermont-class-size and instruction-cost-wise-and controlling for the test-score depressing effect of their minority enrollments, they all post reading scores quite close to those of the Education State.
Here they are, for white fourth graders in 2007: Idaho 223, Mississippi 208, Tennessee 216, Utah 221. These four average at 217, 12 below Vermont-that's 5 percent.
The per-pupil spending of the four states is about 50 percent below Vermont's. The four states also post eighth grade reading proficiency percentages in the three-out-of-10 range-meaning that in the four low-cost states, seven out of ten students can't function at grade level in reading.
In high-cost Vermont, the proficiency rate was 42 percent, meaning that almost six out of ten were sub-proficient in eighth grade reading.
So Vermont's proficiency advantage is one-out-of-ten.
All states are required to get almost all students to "proficient" by 2014. None is even close and even the Education State has protested that No-Child-Left-Behind Law of 2001 requirement and claims that it just won't be able to do it.
Vermont claims it's an illegal, unfunded federal mandate which the Education State could meet if it wanted to-it just needs a lot more money.
So, we're left with the editor's anti-gravitational opinion-unsupported by facts- that a Vermont education is "quality" and the contrast with the dismal proficiency stats, about the same in all states.
We're also left with his assertion headlined thus "ranking fifth in per pupil spending is good news"; there's no explanation for a spending level twice as large as that of the cheap states producing only a 5 percent difference in reading scores.
A skeptic might well ask whether it's all worth it. And we chuckle with this most curious opinion: "Vermont's challenge is not to reduce spending, but rather to hold the current level..." and so on.
Gloriosky, Zero, I'd have thought that the challenge ought to be one of teaching all the teachable students (a few aren't) how to read and how to master some of the basic skills or facts?
The question which the editor chooses not to address: how can it be that a K-12 system which was the pride of the nation only a few decades ago now isn't? What happened?