AVOIDING THE GAPS: A mockingbird down!

FRIDAY, MAY 30, 2014

Part 4—Watching the gaps get suppressed: It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Gregory Peck said that.

Something else is sinful too. It’s a sin when our journalists fail to report—refuse to report—our black kids’ substantial score gains.

Singing sweetly, the nation’s reporters and pundits routinely repeat elite propaganda about stagnant test scores in our allegedly failing schools. But how odd:

As pundits have done this in recent decades, black kids’ test scores in reading and math have risen rather sharply. These test scores come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the federal program which is routinely called the gold standard of domestic educational testing:
Average scores, black students, public schools
Grade 8 math, NAEP

2013: 262.73
1996: 239.28
What sort of academic progress is indicated by a score gain of that size? According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year.

For more detail, see yesterday’s report.

The average score of black eighth-graders has risen by more than 23 points! Does that mean that these kids are two years ahead of their peers from the mid-1990s?

To us, that seems unlikely. That said, we haven’t seen the press corps analyze, debate or discuss that very important question.

We haven’t seen interviews with officials from the National Center for Education Statistics about that important question. That’s because the press corps has refused to report or discuss these large score gains in any way at all!

It’s a sin to withhold that information—to rob the public of the chance to admire the progress being recorded by the nation’s black kids. That said, black kids are also poorly served when our journalists, advocates and professors refuse to discuss the size of the nation’s large gaps.

The gains are important, but so are the gaps! And the achievement gaps remain quite large in our public schools, a fact we’ll explore all next week.

If black kids have recorded large gains, why do the gaps remain large? Simple! White kids have been recording substantial score gains too—and so have Hispanic kids. As we noted yesterday, Richard Rothstein explained this bone-simple fact in his piece for Slate:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago...The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels.
It’s a sin to withhold such information, about the gains and the gaps. But our press corps relentlessly does so, even as it hails the NAEP as “the nation’s report card.”

In fairness, the mainstream press corps does tend to report the gaps, although it does so fleetingly. Meanwhile, it thoroughly disappears the gains. This creates a vast misconception about the state of our schools.

That said, some journalists have made it their business in recent weeks to avoid the gaps. Almost all our journalists hide the gains. These others are hiding the gaps.

We’d call their conduct a bit sinful too. Let’s start with the New York Times’ Eduardo Porter.

In last week’s Economic Scene column, Porter discussed one of the achievement gaps found in our schools—the large achievement gap between “the rich and the poor.” That said, he never mentioned the large gap between our white kids and our black kids—and he built a puzzling framework around his whole discussion.

How large are our achievement gaps? “In some public schools,” Porter wrote, “children who are entering the sixth grade with the measured proficiency of first graders are mixed in with children who perform well above the sixth-grade standard.”

That represents a gigantic gap, but Porter built a puzzling framework around that startling portrait. Trusting the wisdom of the highly politicized education wing of the OECD, he seemed to criticize public schools for the way they handle these very large gaps:
PORTER (5/21/14): Three years ago, the [OECD] prepared a comprehensive report outlining what the United States could learn from the countries with the best-performing education systems.

One of its core recommendations belied American education’s egalitarian beginnings: Stop channeling disadvantaged students into a lower-quality education.

Tracking in the United States is not formal, as it is in Germany, where children are directed early in high school onto either a vocational path or one that requires a college education. “It tends to be done as a matter of practice or custom,” the O.E.C.D. noted…

Tracking also happens within schools, where students are often separated by ability. “Advanced children are all put together; they all know each other and learn from each other’s habits,” said Sal Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy of online education. “At the low end, it’s an intellectual wasteland.”
Can American education boast of “egalitarian beginnings?” In light of our punishing racial history, that is a very strange notion.

That said, we think that whole passage is odd. It’s odd to be told that vast achievement gaps obtain in our schools, then to be told that these schools should stop “tracking” students—should “stop channeling disadvantaged students into a lower-quality education.”

In that passage, Porter uses evocative language to make his readers feel that schools are improperly assigning their disadvantaged students.

But if some sixth-graders are working on first-grade level and others are working ahead of grade level, are schools really supposed to teach them the same math lessons? The contradiction here seems obvious, but Porter plowed ahead with his message:

“Tracking” is bad, the columnist said, even as he seemed to define the need for something resembling that practice.

Porter told a familiar old story: Schools are “channeling disadvantaged students into a lower-quality education.”

Somewhere in our public schools, that’s actually happening, of course. Disadvantaged students are being held back for inappropriate reasons.

But Porter’s recitation seemed a bit puzzling, given the rest of his exposition. Given our giant achievement gaps, what is a school to do?

That said, many journalists are happy to sing this familiar old song about schools. Consider Nikole Hannah-Jones’ recent portrait of Tuscaloosa’s three public high schools—a portrait we would call somewhat puzzling and perhaps just a bit dishonest.

Writing for ProPublica and The Atlantic, Hannah-Jones offered a 10,000-word piece about the “resegregation” of Tuscaloosa’s schools. Our view? In the course of exploring racial imbalance, she stumbled upon our humongous achievement gaps, then largely tried to avoid them.

As her focus, Hannah-Jones reported on Tuscaloosa’s Central High School. It’s an all-black school whose district lines were “gerrymandered,” Hannah-Jones convincingly writes, to ensure that it would serve “the city’s poorest part of town.”

Unsurprisingly, Hannah-Jones discovered a student body on the low end of the very large gaps which defines the current state of our public schools. Our achievement gaps remain very large, and they track to income and race.

What do achievement levels look like at Central High? Only two kids in the senior class passed the AP English exam last year. This year, D’Leisha Dent is one of 17 kids taking the same AP class. She is benefiting from the “tough honors coursework,” or so Hannah-Jones says.

Dent “excels in school,” Hannah-Porter reports; she’s one of the school’s brightest students. But alas! Dent, a superlative young person, can’t score well enough on the ACT to let her attend a four-year college next year.

Dent is one of Central’s brightest students—but on the ACT, she keeps scoring on the twentieth percentile nationwide. Avoiding what this seems to suggest, Hannah-Porter offers a familiar complaint about the way Central High was run when it was reconfigured as a low-income, all-black school:
HANNAH-JONES (4/16/14): [B]lack students, overall, are less likely than any other group of students to attend schools with Advanced Placement courses and high-level classes like calculus.

The night the Tuscaloosa school board voted to split up the old Central [High], board member Bryan Chandler pledged that there would be no winners and losers. Yet while Northridge [High] offered students a dozen Advanced Placement classes, the new Central went at least five years without a single one. Journalism awards stretch wall to wall in Northridge’s newspaper classroom, but for the better part of a decade, Central students didn’t have a school newspaper or a yearbook. Until last year, Central didn’t even offer physics.
Hannah-Jones presents some troubling facts in that passage. Other facts may make terrible sense, though Hannah-Jones skipped past such questions.

Given the giant size of our gaps, is it possible that no one in the reconfigured Central High was qualified, by normal standards, for Calculus 1 or AP English? By normal standards, does Dent, who is a superlative person, qualify for Advanced Placement coursework today?

These are uncomfortable questions, but they follow directly from Hannah-Jones’ reporting and from the size of our gaps. For many journalists, though, such questions seem to be best avoided.

Indeed, Hannah-Jones seemed to do that very thing when she discussed the previous version of Central High, which served the entire student population of Tuscaloosa.

In that earlier Central High, black kids and white kids attended together. Hannah-Jones files this familiar complaint:
HANNAH-JONES: In the fall of 1979, [the all-city version of] Central High School opened to serve all public-high-school students in the district—no matter their race, no matter whether they lived in the city’s public-housing projects or in one of the mansions along the meandering Black Warrior River. The mega-school, a creative solution to a complex problem, resulted from many hours of argument and negotiation...

The school was hardly perfect. Black students were disproportionately funneled into vocational classes, and white students into honors classes.
At the old Central High, white kids from mansions along the river attended school with black kids from Tuscaloosa’s housing projects. Given the nature of our nation’s large gaps, it was inevitable that black kids would be “disproportionately” represented in those honors classes.

Hannah-Jones, posing as heroine, says those kids were “funneled.” In our view, it may be a sin to posture like that about such an important matter.

That said, such posturing is quite widespread. Let’s just pretend those gaps don’t exist! Two Sundays ago, Princeton professor Imani Perry played this familiar card in the Washington Post’s Outlook section:
PERRY (5/18/14): Today, the Northeast has the most racially homogenous schools; New York state and Washington, D.C., have the most segregated schools—by race and economic status. And since there is no constitutional right to an education, the federal courts cannot mandate that schools get equal funding. Within schools, advanced programs have become forms of segregation. One study found that, as of 2006, African American students were underrepresented by 48 percent in gifted education; Hispanic students are underrepresented by 38 percent.
Do you understand the size of the gaps? If so, Perry’s statistics may not seem hugely surprising to you, depending on what they’re intended to mean.

But instead of explaining that basic fact, Professor Perry played the heroine too. It’s “segregation,” she said. The Washington Post chose to publish.

According to our most reliable data, black kids have recorded large score gains in recent decades. That’s very important, very good news.

It’s a sin to withhold those gains from the public, as the press corps relentlessly does in service to rank propaganda. It’s a sin to tolerate this silence, as the liberal world constantly does.

But even with those large score gains, large achievement gaps remain. Unless you’re reading one of the people who specialize in other forms of avoiding.

All next week, we’ll look at the size of our gaps, which testify to a brutal history no living person created. For any number of reasons, it’s important to understand the size of those gaps, along with the size of those very impressive gains.

In our view, Porter, Perry and Hannah-Jones were largely avoiding the size of the gaps in their recent reports. It’s a sin to ignore the gains, but we feel forced to suggest that their work may be a bit sinful too.

All next week: The size of the gaps

Starting June 9: What the gaps mean in the classroom


  1. Before someone comments that gaps result from out of wedlock births, I would like to mention that marriage patterns, like low literacy, arise from that same brutal history now enshrined in culture. No one living caused that either but we still must figure out what to do about it.

  2. Cue the trolls on Dent's acceptance to Miles College in three, two, one, ....

    1. "But alas! Dent, a superlative young person, can’t score well enough on the ACT to let her attend a four-year college next year."

      deadrat, even you have admitted that this is continuing error that Somerby should correct. You changing your tune now?

    2. This comment is totally unnecessary.

    3. deadrat, the great Trollhunter, come to troll.

    4. Anonymous @1:07P,

      No, I think TDH should make clear what actually happened, that Dent was accepted at Miles College.

      My comment was about trolls who can't seem to understand that 1) TDH is commenting on Hannah-Jones' article, which describes Dent as excelling in school with good grades and honors coursework but whose ACT scores are an impediment. As H-J notes "[M]ost days nothing showed up in the mail for her, and no colleges had come calling." At the time, Dent's future as a college freshman looked in doubt, and for TDH, H-J glossed over the achievement gap that was responsible. 2) What actually happened, Dent's admission to a school that didn't require taking the ACT, doesn't invalidate TDH's criticism of H-J's article. The gap is still there; Miles just didn't care about it. H-J quotes Dent thus: "“I am kind of clueless how to get stuff done for college." Perhaps she meant only how to get in, but she's likely right about coursework at Miles as well. Freshmen at Miles stand only a one in seven chance of becoming graduating seniors in four years.

    5. Anonymous @1:26P,

      If I were a "great" troll hunter, I wouldn't come here to shoot fish in a barrel.

    6. I would invite you to go back and read Hannah-Jones' article which bears no resemblance to the pretzel Somerby has twisted it into so he can advance his favorite stores.

      The story was about how quickly Central High "re-segregated" after the school district was released from its court-ordered desegregation. Period.

      It made it's first appearance here to bolster Somerby's story of how the "liberal" media divides by region by picking on the South.

      It has now morphed into evidence that the media NEVER, EVER reports on the gains black students have made on Somerby's selected portions of the one exam he seems to think is the only one exist, and he even cherry-picks from that.

      Sorry, but neither were the subject Hannah-Jones chose to write about. Once again, her topic was the re-segregation of one particular high school.

      But you see, that's the "sin" in Bob's World. No education writer is allowed to write about any issue unless they write what Bob wants and how Bob wants it.

      As for continuing to write how Dent can't get into a four-year college, he says what he says. He doesn't say she can't get into a "selective" four-year college. He says she can't get into ANY four-year college, over a month after she's been accepted on scholarship.

      Not a big deal? Imagine the same mistake had been made -- daily -- by Rachel Maddow. How many days, weeks, months and years would we be hearing about it from Somerby?

      Actually, you don't have to imagine. Just go back and look about how he railed about the Christie-Wildstein "friendship" error. And that was taking Chris Christie's word that he was the cool guy and Wildstein the nerd who rarely crossed paths.

    7. But alas! Somerby, a superlative old person, can’t read well enough on his own website to let him keep from repeating the same mistake mulitple times.

      Perhaps if Somerby attends a blogging seminar at the nearest Community College he could learn enough to get it right the next time he posts.

    8. Anonymous at 2:21

      What do you think we could write as a comment which would generate the most repsonses?

      1) Another mention of Bob's error on Dent

      2) Examples of Bob attacking others for errors

      3) Examples of Bob attacking others for errors they corrected before Bob attacked them

      4) A list of favorite Bob errors himself made

      5) A list of favorite excuses made for Bob by his readers
      for errors he has made

    9. 6) Typos and grammatical errors I made @ 2:27?

    10. Anonymous @2:21P,

      I've read H-J's article twice now. For all that it matters, I liked it, and I think her story of the current politics of resegregation was fascinating and if anything, deserved more space. But I think TDH has a point about the Bad Old South meme. Tuscaloosa used to be 100% segregated before its demographic problems were solved with a one school serves all solution. Resegregation is a striking change from then, but the result isn't nearly as stark as say, the Chicago Public Schools, which haven't resegregated because they were always segregated, just not by law. And which aren't going to change any time soon with 9% white enrollment.

      I would invite you to go back and read TDH's entries on the H-J article. TDH hasn't twisted that article into something it's not; he's complained about the something that it is. TDH hasn't "morphed" the article into evidence that the media doesn't report on gains by black students; he complains that the article actually mentions the gaps between black and white students but doesn't properly explore them.

      As for Dent's story, TDH is commenting on the fact that H-J could report that Dent's chances of any college acceptances looked bleak, and never wonder how that could happen to a top student who excelled at TCHS. A simple aside would set the outcome straight -- she'll attend Miles College -- and TDH should note that. But back when it looked like college was a long shot for Dent and she was considering enlisting in the military, H-J didn't spend many words wondering how that could be. In any case, that situation is undisturbed by Dent's subsequent enrollment in an open-admissions school.

      As for the Christie-Wildstein friendship, the one thing is not like the other. The foundation of Christie's corruption is not nepotism, but rather the installation at the Port Authority of partisan hacks willing to improperly divert funds from the Authority to Christie's pork barrel projects. Does Christie even have friends whom he'd spend political capital to defend? Or does he just have allies of convenience whom he'd throw under the bus in a minute named after the state across the Hudson from him? You know, like Bridge T Kelley. Does anyone still think that Wildstein and Christie were asshole buddies who would share Ft Lee lane closing secrets? Or were they just assholes? We still have to wait until the various investigations grind finely and finally, of course. But in reporting a non-existent friendship for a bit of sly innuendo, Darlin' Rachel merely gave Christie a chance to wax indignant about sloppy reporting.

      Mile College admission notwithstanding, Dent's preparation at TCHS is what it was.

      Just to forestall a troll comment that Chris Christie must be my hero, let me state again that it's my hope that scandal destroys Christie's political career and that he ends up as a sole practitioner, working from an office in a strip mall off Rte 17 in Paramus opposite a Hooters, taking messy, low-asset divorce cases and representing lowlifes in dubious personal injury suits.


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  3. I would like to present Somerby with an environmental award for recycling the same post day after day.

    1. What award are you getting for coming here to swallow day after day what you consider recycled garbage?

    2. The daily reward of reading you while about it like a little bitch.

    3. Typo: Should be "whine about it like a little bitch."

      Not to mention that you've long run out of defenses for your hero's endless, boring repetitiveness without ever getting to the point. So you just recycle used whines.

    4. I've asked the self-awareness pixie to drop by and smack you with his wand, but he's awfully busy so it may take some time. While you're waiting, try to consider that the whining is pretty much your own. "Somerby writes about the same thing over and over. Please somebody, anybody stop me from reading his blog over and over."

      I guess it just sucks to be poor, pitiful you, eh?

      I'm not whining about your endless, boring, repetitive experience reading this blog. You are. If only there were a cure for the situation. Oh, wait. Why don't you just stop reading what you find so hateful? Or is that too easy?

      I ridicule you, and you figure that makes TDH my hero? What's up with that? I like some parts of what TDH writes; I disagree with other parts. I've never defended his style, which I've several times called poundingly obsessive. Do you know what I do when I'm bored with either the style or the content of a TDH blog entry? Go ahead; take a guess.

      And your misogyny is noted. Just wonderful.

    5. The pickaninnies and queers salute deadrat's stalwart defense of the sanctity of bitchery.

      Ann Coulter joke anyone?

    6. Deadbeat likes to launch R bombs and Homophobe bombs but why does such a good progressive avoid using the terms he knows any bigot under age 92 worth his salt would use for blacks and gays, but has no problem using "pickaninnies and queers"? Apparently our stalwart defender of the sanctity of bitchery and R bombs finds "pickaninnies and queers" acceptable terms for a public forum.

    7. "And your misogyny is noted."

      Misogyny? A bitch is a female dog. That whines and cries when she gets her ass kicked.

      Like you do. Daily.

    8. Anonymous @5:41P,

      Does your spelling corrector turn deadrat into deadbeat too? Or is this just another insult?

      For your delicate sensibilities I'll use abbreviations. I've asked the irony fairy to visit you and smack you with her wand, but she's awfully busy so it may take a while. Just wait there on your fainting couch trying to recover from the P- and Q-words, which, of course, are exactly what I expect Anonymous @3:49P to be comfortable with, although I'm not sure how you know he's 92.

      That whooshing sound you heard going over your head? It was the point. And, no, I'm not going to mark these things for you in advance. It takes all the fun out of it for me.

    9. Anonymous @5:49P,

      Sure, that's the ticket. You were calling me a dog.

      You think you're kicking my rhetorical ass by calling me a bitch? Another tragic sufferer of Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

    10. Anonymous 4:47P,

      I've found you always have to check the Adam's apple.

      What? Too much information?

  4. "black kids’ test scores in reading and math have risen rather sharply."

    Once again, his evidence is one grade level of math, in one of two forms of one test in the time frame of his choosing. No results for reading.

    And no reading scores.

    1. He mentioned reading scores too. You can go look them up if you need to see them. What about the larger point he is making, that our society is being told that our schools are failing when they are not? What about the explanation that these performance gaps are part of the reason why there are fewer African American children in AP courses, not racism or resegregation? Any comments about that?

    2. I did look them up. And I found out why Somerby never seems to get around to citing them.

      Can you guess why? Hint: Black kids' reading test scores have NOT "risen rather sharply".

      But you go ahead and buy whatever bullroar Somerby is selling.

    3. What does it change about his argument if the reading scores have risen modestly instead of sharply?

    4. What is his argument? And who is arguing with him?

    5. The long-term trend in reading for black 17 year olds is roughly +26 in the last thirty years, +8 in the last twenty years, +5 in the last ten years. This doesn't mean that the progress is stellar; it doesn't mean that schools don't need attention; it doesn't mean that the gap between black and white has disappeared.

      But it stands in contrast to the narrative that public schools are total failures and that the available evidence shows a steady decline from some golden age. This is the preferred story of privatization hucksters and union bashers. And lazy reporters.

    6. How does one, deadrat, distinguish between a lazy reporter and a lazy blogger?

    7. "But it stands in contrast to the narrative that public schools are total failures and that the available evidence shows a steady decline from some golden age."

      Then why can't Bob say that, rather than saying that reading scores have risen sharply?

      And if that's his point, why will it take him a month to say it?

    8. There was never a golden age for black achievement in public schools and there never will be one. Black academic achievement in real terms with real comparisons will elude the country from here on out and white academic achievement will decline as well.

    9. Anonymous @3:28P,

      A lazy blogger writes blog entries repeating what lazy reporters say in broadcast and print venues?

    10. OMB (In what basin do deadrat and BOB fish for cherries?)

      Assuming, of course, they fish with their thumbs (which are reputed to be rough or at least rule that way) where do BOB and deadrat come up with their numbers?

      We'll present our answer all next week. Or after we get back from an errand.

      KZ (Expect dr to say we have gone for meds. We expect him to nap)

    11. OMB (Cherry fishin with deadrat 'n BOB)

      "The long-term trend in reading for black 17 year olds is roughly +26 in the last thirty years, +8 in the last twenty years, +5 in the last ten years." deadrat

      "From 2003 through 2009, American scores on the PISA’s three tests rose by a larger amount than scores from Poland did." OTB

      The key to catching the right cherry is to put your thumb down on the right year on the data table. Or, like BOB, mix data tables when simple year selection is not enough.

      For example, a look at the right years in the NCES Long Term Trends tables could yield you information from which you could conclude deadrat is a mighty smart man. A look at the wrong years could yield this statement:

      In the last roughly forty years America has turned its back on black children. The reading scores of 17 year olds increased dramatically + 35 points in less than the first half of that period, but have fallen -5 since their peak in 1988.

      Both are true.

      We could also tell you what looking at the results of each PISA test separately tell you about the inegrity of BOB as a data analyst. But we already have and we don't want any more accusations of repetitveness hurled our way by rough thumbs that have been stuck up God knows where.


    12. Did deadrat forget that Bob himself set the timeline at "(let's say) the past 20 years"?

      Now I realize that time frame using the NAEP -- "the gold standard" -- doesn't fit the narrative of "rather sharply" increasing reading scores that Bob is selling and deadrat is so eager to buy.

      So what do the do?

      Deadrat moves the timeline another 20 years (too bad he can't go 100 years back. Boy, would we be seeing massive gains!)

      And Bob returns to the Leaning Statistics of PISA, abandoning the "gold standard."

    13. Hannah-Jones might look at our numbers and say the jump in the early years was caused by integration and the fall by resegregation. One of the more conservative callers to the comment box might note things have gone to hell in a handbasket since Ronald Reagan left the cognitive.

      BOB would say we just don't know but civilization proceeds to collapse unseen by most and uncovered by the guild. Which, alas, is a sin.

      We say your planet's bird population should not be mocked.


    14. Then again, by a very rough rule of thumb, a 9-year-old scoring a 230 would have packed roughly 23 years of academic learning into their young lives -- very roughly the equivalent of a PhD.

      That is quite some achievement.

    15. That's right, Anonymous @2:42A, 'cause all the baselines started at 0.

  5. Even a broken clock is right two times a day.

    1. Not you though.

    2. According to a "very rough rule of thumb" even on a broken clock one hand is within ten minutes of being right every hour.

  6. If anybody here has any influence with Somerby at all, would you please urge him to get some help in organizing and tightening his thoughts before he bores to death the last remnant of his readership?

    I'm going to guess that when this series is finally over, he will have found dozens of ways to say the same thing over and over again, when all his salient points could have been made in one, tight, well-written and constructed post.

    1. Black students in American schools have made steady progress over the years on standardized test scores. The press makes little to no note of this fact. This sucks and
      civilization is collapsing due to liberals that no one sees.

    2. It would seem to be a no-brainer issue for media liberals to seize upon. Schools are improving. Government is actually working for the public good! We aren't just "throwing money" at "the problem". If nothing else hardworking disadvantaged kids deserve the moral support.

      It begs the question: why can't liberal media set the record straight? Seemingly not even any pushback.What has them hamstrung? I think it may be in their limited ability to discuss "race" from anywhere other than an imaginary high horse.

  7. OMB (And Now For Something Totally Different)

    "What sort of academic progress is indicated by a score gain of that size? According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year.

    For more detail, see yesterday’s report.

    The average score of black eighth-graders has risen by more than 23 points! Does that mean that these kids are two years ahead of their peers from the mid-1990s?

    To us, that seems unlikely. That said, we haven’t seen the press corps analyze, debate or discuss that very important question." Somerby

    Let's take BOB up on his suggestion. Here's yesterday's report.

    "Over that 17-year period, average scores by black eighth-graders rose by 23.45 points on this “gold standard” testing program.

    Is that a big deal? Or is it just a statistical blip? According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year.

    On average, did black students really record more than two years of progress in math over that 17-year span? That strikes us as very unlikely. For that reason, we always describe that ten-point rule as a very rough rule of thumb."

    What additional details did the average BOBfan get from yeseterday's report?

    1. OMB (And Now For Something Totally Different)

      Part II 1/2

      Bob is all thumbs?

      Bob has his thumb somewhere naughty?

      When did we let our thumbs take over?

      Bob is thumbing his nose at rubes?


    2. So I take it you also found today's post to be pretty much warmed-up leftovers from yesterday.

      Want an interesting theory? Somebody finally convinced Somerby to knock off the anti-MSNBC, anti-Maddow constant rant he was on.

      And now, he's having trouble thinking up anything new to write about. So he's dipping back into Boxcar Bob's Greatest Hits and recycling the old "Mainstream Media Fails to Recognize Black Student Progess" theme.

      Nothing like the Golden Oldies.

    3. Speak of the Devil! I accidentally flipped my way to a very nice feature film the other night in which Boxcar Willie had a role. A speaking part, no less, for which he got credit.

    4. I didn't get it but the numbering loomed large.

    5. Wait for the Interlude 5:05. All next week we are working toward the Interlude which we outline in the Prologue. For more information consult the incomparable archives.


  8. "The average score of black eighth-graders has risen by more than 23 points! Does that mean that these kids are two years ahead of their peers from the mid-1990s? "

    Bob, if you have information or insight about what the comparison really means, it would be great if that could be included in one of your posts on this topic. Without that information, it is impossible to determine anything. Thanks.

    1. Be patient. He'll get around to it in about a month or so. After all, he promised.

    2. 10 posts = a month or so of explanations according to a very rough rule of thumb we expect nobody to cover.

  9. If the issue here is what trends should be written and talked about in order to eventually boost performance for black kids, it would be much more helpful for writers and commentators to address the abandonment of black children by their absent fathers and government dependent single mothers as the single most important factor in their perpetual and worsening status and prospects as a group.

    1. Yeah, how are any of those abandoned pickaninnies ever going to grow up to be President? We'd better flush more money after the $100M the WPE wasted on his "Healthy Marriage Initiative." Good things the queers are taking up the slack in the meantime, eh?

      In other words, piss off.

    2. deadrat does a very nice tribal dance from time to time!

    3. "And when fathers are absent – when they abandon their responsibility to their kids – we know the damage that does to our families. Children who grow up without a father are more likely to drop out of school and wind up in prison. They’re more likely to have substance abuse problems, run away from home, and become teenage parents themselves." - Barack Obama

      Braindeadrat's idea of a counterargument is "That can't be true, there is a black president."

    4. "Weird how taking care of your kids has become a conservative right-wing issue"


      “I never define myself as a conservative, but I’m becoming defined as a conservative,” he told TheDC. “I’m now conservative because I wouldn’t want to be what the alternative is, which is scary to me."

    5. DR's argument against the assertion that parents shouldn't abandon the children they produce and heap the obligation onto taxpayers is right there in black and white and, believe it or not, is even stupider than "but there is a black president".

      His argument (@ 4:33) is "RACIST! HOMOPHOBE!"

    6. 510: if the shoe fits, ....

    7. If you're gonna dance, you can dance with me or you can dance with Anonymous @3:49P. Your choice.

    8. My goodness 4:33, I've seen that frantic act before- throwing out inappropriate slurs as if to attribute those words to someone else. Not very deft and plenty dishonest.

      Agree regarding the "sincerity" of conservative rhetoric and deeds. Fact is government won't change it, it comes down to personal responsibility at some point. Otherwise suffer the consequences of a permanent underclass.

    9. Anonymous @12:59A,

      If you're going to call me a ham-handed liar, the least you can do is address me by my nym.

      Frantic? I was going for contemptuous.

      If you don't understand what your namesake @3:49P was talking about, then I suggest you ask Lee Atwater. I'm all outta patience.

    10. "it comes down to personal responsibility at some point."

      Right. Children should learn to choose better parents.

    11. Kids don't choose their parents, therefore there's nothing anyone can do to deter lousy parents from having children. Is that the argument? One thing that probably doesn't help is the strange knee-jerk offense taken by progressives when anyone suggests that lousy irresponsible parents shouldn't produce children out of wedlock and then neglect them as is the fate of at least 75% black children.

      Progressives get very angry at the open discussion of these facts. They feel their right to "be happy" might be compromised to benefit their selfish kids should society reimpose standards around things like family and work ethic.

    12. Not every black out of wedlock child is neglected. There is a large black middle class and upper class. Single parents can and do take good care of their kids as do grandparents. You are generalizing beyond your data.

    13. I don't call myself a "progressive" 2:18. I am a liberal. I am a Democrat. That might lead you to call me progressive.

      I don't get angry at the open discussion of facts.

      I do get a little depressed when someone keeps putting forth something as a "fact" which is not a fact.

      Are 75% of black children born to women who are not married to the father at the time of the child's birth? That seems to be the case based on recent government statistics.

      Does that mean that all children who are born without the benefit of a marriage in existence between father and mother at the time of their birth are born to lousy, irresponsible parents, as you state? Does that mean 75% of black children are neglected? No.

      Here is a fact. 100% of the people who make a statement such as the one in your comment are stupid. Some conservatives get angry at open discussion of facts. Some deny they exist. Others make facts up. My guess is you are a two-fer.

    14. Does that mean that all children who are born without the benefit of a marriage in existence between father and mother at the time of their birth are born to lousy, irresponsible parents, as you state? Does that mean 75% of black children are neglected? No.

      It means they have been neglected in one very significant way even before they're born because one or both parents who produce a child choosing to produce one knowing they will not live with the child is neglect and irresponsibility.

      A person who produces children should do so only if they intend to raise and be present with them in the same household. No adequate parent thinks his child benefits from living apart from him, and no child would ever say he would not prefer living with his two caring and attentive parents who produced him. Producing children out of wedlock, the optimal arrangement, is irresponsible to society and negligent to those offspring, and most parents neglectful enough to do so go on to neglect in other critical ways.

      No it doesn't mean 75% of black children will fail academically and suffer emotionally, but most of them will as a result of the choices of their parents and the enabling if not encouragement of those choices by white progressives who have an odd affinity for degenerating societies. Usually the reason is preservation of their "right" to be socially neglectful and irresponsible in their own lives. It's good enough that they preach about funding for education because that gets the onus off of them to actually perform as responsible adults. The excuse for not reinforcing social norms that benefit everyone is that they don't want to "be judgmental." Their lack of judgment permits them to stroke themselves for their compassion even more lovingly. What's really behind it is a selfishness, apathy, and destructiveness no rich white right wing conservative could begin to compete with.

    15. Single parents can and do take good care of their kids as do grandparents

      Again with the perplexing pushback. You don't say promoting a standard under which married parents produce and raise their own children isn't optimal and would not make a monumental difference in the fates of black children who are failing in school. You might be among the many liberals who believe it is, and live your own life accordingly. Many white liberals do, especially affluent ones.

      However, your reflex is to push back against that idea. Somehow you think that's important to do and that you accomplish something worthwhile by doing it. In fact this decades long pushback, self justifying or self-righteous excuse making, destruction of standards inflicts damage on the very people whose fates liberals claim to be concerned with.

      "Some people with fathers in prison and government dependent mothers with children from 4 fathers have good grandparents and graduate from college" is the argument here. It fails and is hard to imagine that anyone could type such drivel with a straight face but it's most likely typed out with that very straight and very smug progressive face that just gets more smug the dumber the argument becomes.

    16. Skip the orations. You made a stupid, unfounded statement. Show some personal responsibility for the statement you chose to produce.

    17. 5:20, there is too much data to publish here but I have confidence in your ability to find out what educational, emotional and social benefits vs drawbacks there are in two caring and responsible married parents with a family and work ethic raising and educating their own children in one household as opposed to the government, step parents, or single parents raising them.

    18. For extra credit, try to figure out what happens to the least advantaged members of a society when the standards above are replaced by social approval of any arrangement that suits the parents at any given time, and withholding comment or judgment on those arrangements if not promoting them becomes the definition of enlightened compassion.

      Nothing takes the edge off of inflicting damage on the vulnerable quite as much as a self righteous pat on the back for remaining silent lest someone somewhere feel judged by your opinions, unless of course the person feeling judged is is in the party that still thinks there is a moral dimension to abortion, or goes to the wrong (or any) church.

    19. Nothing pries the top off the giant jar of ridicule quite as much as the pompous judge of the failings of others, especially of course when that person worships at the altar of fetusolatry, where moral indignation and the shaming of others have become dogma.

      Judge now, lest the unworthy escape your righteous and healing contempt!

    20. Deadrat is ridiculously judgmental of those who promote ethical standards.

    21. I'm judgmental of those who promote ridiculous "ethical" standards.

    22. Deadrat thinks an ethic of parents raising their own children in the same household and work ethic are "ridiculous" and thinks emotional, academic and social misery for children and social destruction are a small price to pay for his feelings of smug and self righteousness or for his freedom from responsibility to his offspring, or both depending on which type of progressive he represents.

    23. I don't need to hear what I think and how I feel from someone who projects his own smug superiority onto others.

    24. Still, no arguments against the promotion of family and work ethics. You might be like a significant proportion of white progressives, who practice them, believe in them, but opt not to countenance or promote them publicly because you get more self satisfying mileage out of claiming you're compassionate and tolerant, even if you are aware of the data and know your compassion is causing abject misery and failure in generation after generation. Your ethic is defined by sparing a few negligent parents some hurt feelings by your silence at a cost of lifelong poverty, prison time, shorter life spans and the rest of the litany for millions of future victims of negligent parents and absent standards, destroyed by enlightened progressives.

  10. size of our gaps, which testify to a brutal history no living person created.

    Actually they often do testify to living persons, the parents of the children who are failing.

  11. Are you aware that in the South any parent that can scrape together the cash will send their children to private school? This makes any statistics about public secondary education in the South problematic, to say the least.

    1. I am aware that many people in the south would rather send their children to school where they teach their children the earth is 4,000 years old an dinosaurs walked the earth with us (but were too big for the Ark). Anything beats sending them to school with blacks in Tuscaloosa like D'Leisha Dent and Condoleeza Rice. And if that fails they send them to school in the suburbs with the children of white people who married their second cousins on the rebound from the first. And that makes census statistics an interesting source when constructing the old family tree.

    2. The school producing the best test scores in math and reading in my town is a small fundamentalist protestant school that teaches creationism. There is no way in hell I'd send my kid to one of the public schools over that one. The second best performing is a Catholic school that doesn't teach creationism and has a representative black and white ratio so your argument that opting for non public schools is RACIST is more deep progressive stupidity and name calling as a replacement for rational argument.

  12. I think what we have here is a case of false equivalence.

  13. OMB (Bad News for Miles College Boosters and the D'Leisha Dent Fan/Detractor Club)

    You guys do know the "D'Leisha can't get into a 4 year college" mistake is not the longest running error in this post. Don't you?

    You see, the reason why we started in on Bob's 10 Point lie is we thought all of you remembered it being debunked before. Back in December of 2013.

    But don't take my word for it. I'm just a schizo troll from another galaxy.

    Somebody else debunked it back in December 2012. The NAEP.

    But don't worry. That didn't stop Bob then. It won't stop him now.

    The NAEP said so themselves. Back in 2012. Heck, they even went so far as to name BOB in their validation study.



    1. You know, one might think that being specifically named in a scholarly, peer-reviewed study as an example of an idiot who doesn't know how to read statistics and thus rushes to conclusions that don't hold water might give a serious, thoughtful person pause to reflect.

      Nour Our Bob, though.

    2. One might also think that needing to warn about and qualify such a presumption so much that it is rendered near-meaningless would also give a serious, thoughtful person cause to ponder whether the "rough rule of thumb" was worth mentioning at all.

      Not our Bob, though.

    3. But let us never forget.

      Those weapons of mass destruction will be found any day now. Then will all those liberals look silly.

      Bush didn't really lie us into war when he said Saddam was trying to by uranium from Africa.

      All the mathematicians are wrong about the Monty Python Problem.

      The 14 crimes for which Gov. Ultrasound stands accused don't "seem" to be that heinous.

      It still could be a legitimate traffic study.

      And D'Leisha still can't get into any four-year college.

      That is some track record.

    4. Anonymous @6:12P,

      You're only 1 for 6 in a comment. That's not much of a track record either.

    5. You're right deadrat. Bob never should have tackled the Monty Python Problem. He's all tough thumbs on that one.

    6. I don't think the authors of the the report KZ gleefully links to would be comfortable with calling Somerby a liar, as KZ does. I could be wrong, but that's my sense of it. In fact, as evidenced by the paragraph below, they are not entirely dismissive of Somerby's rule of thumb, characterizing it as "not very wrong." At any rate, I would encourage people to read the actual report rather than taking KZ's word for it. (This is always a good practice when it comes to KZ.)

      "Somerby’s blog commentary used this same kind of
      “rule of thumb” (a rounded, divided by four value of the four
      year change in average reading scores on the NAEP scale) as “one year’s growth.” Given the expected decelerating nature of
      growth on assessment scales commonly used to measure academic achievement, that is clearly wrong. However, one can turn the question around and ask “how wrong can it be?” The answer to that would be “not very wrong.” Assuming only that NAEP scores would grow more or less like those on any other academic achievement test, we know that “one year’s growth” would be a (decreasing) fraction of the within grade standard deviation, which for NAEP scores is in the low to mid
      30s. Ten points would be one third of that, which is very near the average for “one year’s growth” for reading in grades 3—8 tabulated by Bloom, Hill, Black, and Lipsey (2008) and reported by Tirre and Oranje (2010). Bloom et al. (2008) also report values for mathematics tests that are about one third larger than for reading. So if NAEP is basically like all other achievement tests, we know that “one year’s growth” is between about 8 points (growth of 0.25 within group standard deviations), which is about right for reading around grade 8, and 17 points, which is about right for mathematics around grade 4, based on the data presented by Bloom et al. (2008).
      Ten points for reading may not be “right,” but it cannot be far wrong."

    7. AnonymousMay 30, 2014 at 6:12 PM -- Did you mean the Monty Hall problem?

    8. cacambo you take a sensible approach in recommending all BOBreaders go to the NAEP vailidation study of BOB's famous rough "10 point rule of thumb." That is, after all, why we provided a link. You will find that link in a December 20, 2013 comment thread also, which contains the very paragraphs you quoted.

      In response I quoted the conclusion of that study, which you, like the person who supplied th original link, did not. I will do so again:


      Validity evidence can and should be assembled to support, and make more precise, interpretive statements of the first kind (“one year’s growth”). “How many NAEP scale points is one year’s growth?” is a question users of the scores can sensibly ask; there should be an answer. It is not difficult to obtain the answer; it is merely expensive."

      In other words, we just don't know.

      Why I called Somerby's 10 point nonsense a lie is found both in todays post and his archives. There was a link in todays post to yesterday's Somerby's post which he described as a way of obtaining more information on his 10 point rule of thumb. All the link takes you to is a reiteration of the same meaningless bullshit in today's post. For everyone's amusement I put both versions in the same comment and asked what anyone could learn from the first to clarifiy the second.

      In November 2013 BOB did a whole post on the "very rough rule of thumb." Given that the NAEP Validation Study by NAEP was published 11 months earlier, the studipidity of that post is priceless. Well, it might not be stupid. It might be dishonest. You see, if you Google "NAEP A gain of 10 points is roughly a gain in a year of schooling" the validation study is one of the first links. Yet in BOB's post he said he couldn't find much research evidence to explain it. He had the audacity to suggest reporters were at fault for not asking the NAEP about it. Humorously, if you Google the phrase today, BOB's post which I link below is right next to the validation study.


      A month later the issue came up again and the validation study was discussed in his comment box.

      BOB has had ample warning about the misuse of this rule of thumb.


    9. KZ and cacambo refer to:

      "Validity Issues Involved in Cross-Grade Statements About NAEP Results"

      It was published by NAEP in January 2012.

      It examines two kinds of statements made about NAEP.
      The first mentions Somerby by name and his "rule of thumb"
      regarding points on an NAEP score representing some annualized measurement of educational acheivement. The second is comparing on grade level or one subgroup (like black students) scores on one test (8th Grade Reading) to
      another group (white students) on another test (4th Grade Reading).

      The author's point: "This paper ultimately seeks to make two points: (1) Different evidence is needed to support the two categories of interpretive statements described above, and (2) Insufficient evidence is currently available to support either category of interpretations for NAEP. Either further research is required to support either or both of these classes of interpretations, or greater clarity is needed in the presentation of NAEP results to discourage such interpretations."

      Further research has not been done. But Somerby has not been discouraged.

    10. Somerby has never overstated the meaning of that rough rule of thumb (the words he uses every time he refers to it).

      I have not seen Somerby making cross grade comparisons.

      Someone seems very determined to drive Somerby off the internet and failing that, drive away his readers. It is hard to believe such a campaign would be motivated by concerns arising from public education. I suspect Maddow's people are still chipping away. Whoever it is, clearly considers Somerby worth a great deal of effort. That seems ridiculous given his narrow focus, but he is obviously threatening to someone.

      I am concerned about the impact to democracy when a single vocal individual can be targeted like this and relentlessly hounded, day in and day out. The internet is one of the last places a single citizen can have a voice. That's why I hate these trolls and hate to see what happens here in the comments. I wish Somerby would defend himself by moderating the comments, but he is perhaps moderating his own exposure to them by just not reading them. The rest of us seem to be on our own.

    11. Anon, 10:35:

      Calling it Somerby's rule of thumb is tendentious. It is a rule of thumb that is widely used, and Somerby never calls it "his," nor do the authors of the study. As a media critic, Somerby is arguing that the NAEP shows significant score gains for black students which are not paid enough attention to by journalists who are paid to think and write about such things. Somerby says he longs for "the day when some major newspaper asks NAEP officials to discuss the meaning of these score gains in some serious detail.... " (rather than leaving it up to amateurs like us). In the meantime he qualifies extensively: IF we use the very rough rule of thumb... IF that's true... etc. Well it turns out we don't know if the rule of thumb holds true, more research is needed. I actually agree with KZ (mirabile dictu) that it is sloppy of Somerby not to Google the report, but if you want to disprove his argument, you need to a) show that journalists have done an adequate job discussing black students' NAEP scores, and/or b) show that there have not been significant score gains among black students. I'm genuinely interested to know where the truth lies in this matter so I welcome any attempts to shed some light.

    12. OMB (Call It BOB's Third Thumb)

      We admire you recent comments cacambo. Very thoughtful for someone who doesn't comment much any more due to "KZ and his ilk." We would recommend lightening up on the Latin. As a college instructor that is the kind of thing that gets you labelled "overpaid" and "elitist" by an ilksome sort around here.

      We would agree that BOB generally tries to give a big gigantic disclaimer to his "very rough rule of thumb" that he nonetheless seems to use incessantly and inappropriately.

      This is not always the case. You may remember this post since you participated in the commentary. So did we.


      In that post BOB was so angry at the NY Times he dropped his customary disclaimer to fume:

      "We’re told that New York City students have gained ten points in both reading and math. But is that a lot or a little?

      Baker and Rich make no attempt to say. Meanwhile, in the hard-copy Times, this boxed sub-headline appears:

      “Small but steady improvements in the Bloomberg era.”

      Really? Small improvements? By a conventional rule of thumb, a ten-point gain on the NAEP scale is actually rather large—a full academic year. But Baker and Rich give readers no way to assess the size and significance of the gains they report.

      You have to be a functional illiterate to write a news report like that. There’s no point in reporting a “ten point gain” if you don’t make any attempt to explain how significant such a gain is."

      Read the comments. It doesn't take long to see how BOB's readers, conditioned by repeated use of BOB's Third Thumb, are taking it as gospel and applying it as errantly as other gospels are applied to things like, say, gay marriage.

      And, at the end of those comments, you see the seeds of doubt being planted in our mind.

      BOB's Third Thumb is vestigal. It is swollen with overuse and infects others. He needs to have it removed.

      Other than that, how are you enjoying the series on the gaps? Seen any discussion of them yet? Oh, yeah. The gaps will be discussed in the second week of the series on the gaps.


    13. You'll think he'll ever get around to those reading scores -- across the board -- which Somerby also claims have risen significantly?

      Or will he continue to stick with fourth grade math from the years of his choosing, with eighth grade math thrown in every now and then, from one form of one test among many standardized tests?

      After all, he's declared his "gold standard" even though the very gold miners in charge of that standard have singled him out and warned against using that test to declare it measures things it wasn't designed to measure.

    14. "It is a rule of thumb that is widely used . . ."

      Widely used? By whom other than Sombery?

      We have been told that the news of significant gains in the scores of black children is being hidden from us. Deliberately.

      So if the "rule of thumb" is "widely used" in what context would it be used other than to support some claim that the scores of black kids (and Hispanic kids, and white kids) have all improved?

    15. "Somerby has never overstated the meaning of that rough rule of thumb (the words he uses every time he refers to it)."

      Yes, plausible deniability is a wonderful thing. Some would call it "talking out of both sides of your mouth."

      I think it is even more dishonest to warn that the "rule of thumb" is "very rough" but then claim that it measures exactly what you want it to measure -- but doesn't -- anyway.

      Somerby was specifically named in a paper that showed how amateurs misrepresent data. Adding a disclaimer to it doesn't excuse the fact that he is still misrepresenting and misinterpreting the data.

  14. The so-called achievement gap and what it represents may well be the most important and difficult challenge facing American education.

    Why can't high profile media liberals bring themselves to discuss the matter? Until they can find a politically correct way to address it, they will continue to be absolutely worthless in any serious debate concerning education.

    1. The very real achievement gap between white students and black and Hispanic students is one of the most reported education stories of today.

      But I understand. Somerby has told you otherwise. You go ahead and believe what Somerby says. Don't let the truth get in your way. He doesn't.

    2. If it is so widely reported, why don't NY Times Education writers mention it?

    3. Do you subscribe to the NY Times and read it daily?

    4. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/magazine/who-gets-to-graduate.html?_r=0

    5. 10:37 You bet I do!

    6. Anonymous at 10:40 how dare you!

      How dare you point to a lazy elitist career liberal article like that.

      Wait till Bob gets word of this! He will have the writer's head for writing about a girl who got into an elite school with mediocre scores instead of focusing on how crummy the rest of her graduating class performed.

      That said, Mr. Tough seems to care about black kids.

    7. Rachel, for one, wouldn't know how to wrap her head around such a story. Liberals have simply hamstrung themselves to the point they can't even discuss racial issues in this day and age, while they love to fantasize they're some modern age version of the Freedom Riders.

  15. The lazy, maudlin first sentence here throws everything else into question here. Stop bird dogging Gregory Peck and get back to me.

    1. Well it does show how sloppy Somerby's prose has become over the years.

      Technically, Gregory Peck did "say" it. But he was reciting scripted lines written by Harper Lee for the character Atticus Finch who told that to his daughter, Scout.

      And when Scout asked Miss Maudie what her daughter meant, Miss Maudie replied that mockingbirds sing their hearts out to give us music to enjoy. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

      And of course, his lead sentence bears no relation to anything else in this post except to provide a clumsy segue to what I suppose is his thesis statement -- that the "media" does NOT report gains made by black kids.

      Which is truly a bizarre statement.

    2. Excuse me, Scot asked what her daddy, not her daughter, meant, of course.

    3. Damn, Scout, not Scot. I wish this combox had an editing feature for us very early risers who haven't quite consumed enough caffeine yet.

    4. Greg, your comment cause mordant chuckles around here.
      Alterted by the sound we were able to pick off several stray analysts hiding in the kitchen cupboards.

    5. 3:29 did you use a handgun or bug spray?


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