Monday, September 8, 2008

Red Meat Radio—Who do you trust more? Politicians or the media?

I first saw the announcement in my UPD update: the legislative Republicans (and they claim Democrats) are going to host their own radio show every Saturday morning from 8-10 to “set the record straight” “for those tired of getting their news filtered by the liberal local media.” Then I saw the Senate Site announcement and this kcpw interview where Senator Stephenson constantly repeats how constantly the local media’s lies distort the truth. Paul Rolly and the Out of Context blog commented, as well as JM Bell (Be ready for some language, but check the comments at the bottom of the post for examples of the legislature winning the spin war). I don’t agree with JM’s politics that often, but this statement is right on:

Republicans in Utah acting picked on and oppressed? With a straight face? Are you kidding me? You guys have no sense of shame, irony or, for that matter, self awareness.

Last Saturday morning, Sep. 6th, was the first show. I had a commitment until just before 9:00, but caught the rest of the show. The first thing I heard was Senator Stephenson interviewing Trent Kaufman, candidate for State School Board District #8. Kaufman was complaining about an article by Lisa Schenker of the Tribune, who often covers education stories. She called him to ask about the disproportionately large amount of money he had already raised for his campaign, much from out-of-state donors. This would be an important angle I think in any political campaign, but especially in a State School Board race contested the year after the huge influx of out-of-state money during the voucher referendum, and hundreds of thousands of dollars during the Utah legislative races in 2004 ($250,000 that year alone) and 2006. (See a bunch of good posts from the Accountability Blog on the subject.) Kaufman said the money came from friends and family and explained that he would never, ever have dreamed that vouchers would come into this. He “could tell” that Schenker really wanted to write a story about how voucher money was coming into the race, and although she quoted him correctly, the subtle feeling was still there. And he thinks she would have written lies about him if he hadn’t spoken with her. Stephenson agreed and pointed out that around 130,000 people live in state school board district and so you need lots of money.

Kaufman may be a potentially great school board member (I 100% agree with his comments about class size at the bottom of his bio), but he kissed up to Senator Stephenson about “all that he does for Utah” and came off to me like he was trying to make an issue out of nothing in order to please the anti-media legislators. I think the fact he’s raised $8000 dollars in a school board race where $15 is the norm is suspicious, and that Schenker’s article covers that without even a whiff of accusation. The fact is stated and the situation itself raises eyebrows. Kaufman’s website alleviates most of my concerns, but I will rightfully be very suspicious of any out-of-state money coming into school board races. That’s all my opinion—see for yourself in the article that was “set straight.” Here’s the relevant half of Schenker’s article that talks about Kaufman. Realize the article was titled “State Board of Education: A new name may go on ballot for school board” and the Kaufman stuff doesn’t start until over halfway though.

Financial disclosures due Tuesday also showed that one candidate has pulled far ahead of the others in terms of money raised.
Trent Kaufman has already raised $7,939 for his District 8 race against incumbent Janet Cannon. That's more than 13 times as much as any of the other 12 candidates for school board had raised as of Tuesday. Most state board candidates haven't raised more than $15.
"The amount I've raised is not quite yet, but close to, commensurate with how serious I am about the need for change on the school board," Kaufman said.
So far, nine of Kaufman's 18 contributors live outside of Utah and $1,344 is Kaufman's own money. Kaufman said all those out-of-state contributors are friends, former co-workers and/or family. He said none of them donated because of vouchers. Kaufman said as far as he's concerned the voucher issue is "off the table."
Kaufman is a former teacher and principal with a master's degree in educational leadership. He said he's also a doctoral candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education in education policy.
Cannon has not yet raised any money to campaign for her seat, according to the disclosure reports. She could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

I wish now I’d taken notes, but the second hour was largely about Utah’s bad math standards and interviews with Oak Norton and Senator Dayton. I don’t know if I agree with their very possible assertion that our math standards are weak (I don’t work with those standards and my kids aren’t in school yet.), but the only media debunking was when they would argue the media was not dissecting and reporting test scores the way they think is the right way. It was more of a bully pulpit for Norton’s new website and the push for Singapore Math to be instituted statewide. I expect to hear a lot more of this as they struggle to find enough dishonest reporting each week and instead turn to just advocating their positions.

Relevant side note: As I said, I’m not in a position to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of math programs, but I see in this movement the same kind of one-sided justification of a favored position I’ve previously written about. Norton’s website has a frontpage headline and link about a study that shows all constructivist studies are wrong. The little I know of the basic concept of Singapore Math seems very interesting to me, but it’s still just one program trying to make money in a crowded market. This homeschooler curriculum review section shows a diversity of opinions and opposite interpretations from people who presumably have no need to mince words or protect a school or specific company. (The first three reviews are all positive, but you get a wide variety of reviews after that.) It’s the exact same curriculum, but it gets attacked for being both too repetitive and not repetitive enough for students to master basic concepts. Some find it entertaining, some “very dry.” Does it cover concepts too slowly or too fast? The same section also has similar reviews of Saxon Math, the beloved curriculum of many area charter schools. The reviews come in mixed as well--it is perfect for some kids and doesn’t work at all for others. I don’t believe there is one sure curriculum and teaching method that will help all students. A comment on their petition page (Use the find function to search for Ofa Moeai’s comment down the list.) expressed the same type of concern. The Board President of Liberty Academy Charter School said she found that Singapore Math was nice, but needed to be supplemented to reach Utah’s state standards, let alone world class standards. The webpage editor then puts in a note that they propose to change the Utah standard to mimic the standards of Singapore Math thus solving the problem. A bit myopic maybe? The Singapore program might be good enough for a large enough percentage of all kids to be worth the shot, but it can’t be the panacea it portrays for all students. I think commentators too often get hung up on their personal silver bullet.

To continue with my rundown, Rep. Urquhart had taped a commentary about Sarah Palin and Sen. Stephenson, our host for the day, summarized something that Rep. Becky Lockhart had planned on calling in about, but was unable to. I was interested more in reading about the math program stuff and don’t exactly remember what that last issue discussed was. I assume they spent the first hour attacking Bob Bernick for his twisting of legislators’ words in a meeting he didn’t even attend.

Beyond my discussion of the specific topics of Saturday’s show, here’s the substantial question: Do you feel this new program addresses a substantive problem? Is the “liberal local media” really distorting the truth as told by our legislative leadership? Who do you trust more? Senator Dayton and Bramble went on and on about this at the public meeting I attended in January, saying we “should be offended” by the ethics accusations in the papers. I think I was too lenient in my post on that meeting and how vehement they were that we not trust the media. I think I could sit and chat with Senator Dayton on some subject not related to politics or education, but I don’t trust her research and judgment on education issues, despite her position as chair of the Senate Education Committee. I certainly don’t trust Senator Bramble or Senator Stephenson. I thought Senator Valentine’s explanation to me during a November voucher meeting about why the $7200 dollar spending figure was “intellectually honest” was intellectually dishonest.

So the short conclusion is that I generally trust the media A LOT more than I generally trust politicians. That’s not saying I trust media a lot, but that the gap between the two is wide. I really don’t trust any of them that much, and my trust for both national media and politicians is substantially below that for their local counterparts. Politicians and the hardcore believers in either “liberal” or “conservative corporate” media tell themselves in their echo chambers that it’s the media’s fault, but they have no one to blame but themselves for consistently playing politics over truth and well-reasoned debate. I would bet the general public agrees with my trust hierarchy here:

national politicians < national media < local politicians < local media

The middle two could be switched, but I feel pretty comfortable hypothesizing the general public would agree with my two endpoints.

What do you think? Who is trusted more or less? Did anyone else listen to the red meat radio show?



Oak said...

Hi there "Utah Teacher". Thanks for reporting on this. I'm Oak Norton and I wanted to leave you a note on your comments about Singapore math. I would really encourage you to learn more about it (and you can at by clicking on the second set of links). I knew nothing about it until a few years ago when I started doing research on math programs. What sparked this interest was a lack of math skill teaching at my child's elementary school in Alpine district. Under Investigations math it calls for absolutely not teaching kids the times tables, long division, or division by fractions. Without those basic skills (which kids were expected to magically discover on their own--but of course parents were told not to teach them at all) that removes the ability of a child to make fast connections in their head when they reach algebra. Without algebra, we don't get children proficient enough to do upper division math and we wind up with a state where 20% of graduating seniors can't pass a basic 8th grade exam (UBSCT).

On the topic of scores not being reported correctly, Mark Cluff on the state school board has looked at NAEP scores demographically and provided me the information that (at least last years set) 4th graders in Utah were in the bottom third and eighth graders in the bottom sixth of the country when comparing demographic groups s. Here's a link to the DNews on their article comparing us to peer state showing us dead last:,5143,695224084,00.html

Singapore math is being used very successfully in numerous areas of our country, aside from the phenomenal success in Singapore. I'd be happy to put you in touch with some of these schools. The top school in Arizona ("Benchmark") is using Singapore and passed up other schools using Saxon who had been in first place for the last several years. Singapore works for everyone. Here's a great piece on Title 1 schools jumping nearly 70% in their scores after one year on Singapore math:

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me through my website. Thanks for blogging about the show.


Anonymous said...

I'm a parent of a 12 year old and a grandparent of a 3rd, 5th and 9th grader. All four were put into a charter school because of poor academic standards and poor social standards in Provo School District and Alpine School District. Low math standards was the number one academic problem. They are now academically and socially thriving.

As a Professor at UVU I find that 67% of my students must take remedial math. (high school or jr. high math) Again, LOW math standards in K12, along with parents who don't understand the issue is the problem. said...

Thanks for your insightful comments. I am in general agreement with your list. One thing I find quite interesting when discussing the media, however, is that the positions and biases expressed by the media tend to reflect their audiences. All media (television, books, newspapers, etc.) are products and MUST appeal to their audiences for their financial success.

Thus, most of us will tend to agree more strongly with our local media (I don't think TRUST is really the issue here) because they are more likely to reflect our own sensitivities. And yes, most of us trust the fourth estate (media) more than we trust the second estate (nobility - I'm throwing politicians in with the nobility).

This is a great discussion. I happen to agree with Oak Norton in this case. I feel great concern for the children (including my own) who are too often taught based on "whims" and "new trends" rather than methods that have been proven in the past. I will be watching your blog in the future.


UtahTeacher said...


Thanks for coming by. Singapore sounds a lot like what I kind of do in my head instinctively...but I always "got" math a little differently than explained. I wasn't bad at math per se, but my brain processed it differently. My explanations didn't always make sense to others because of my unique mental shorthand, and I sometimes didn't get it from the same explanation that worked for everyone else. So I don't buy "Singapore works for everyone," from my own experience, and the homeschooling link showed many examples of individual differences with how students experienced the program. With support and individual tailoring, it may well be be the best thing out there, but I'm not ready to proclaim it as such. This post kind of sums up my thinking on "best programs:"


Thanks for reading as well. That is a very interesting point about local media just fitting my biases better. Hmmm. Still thinking about that one. And for my thoughts on "proven" methods, see the post I referenced above and:

Oak said...

Check out the video we just posted at showing a brief newsclip about the top school in Arizona using Singapore math. Also, if you can email me separately I'll email you a slide of the bar method of solving algebra problems by youth far before getting to algebra. It's very cool what they've done to visually represent difficult problems.