YESTERDAY: Dick and Jane go to Minneapolis!

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2021

STARTING TOMORROW—Storyline plunders Kenosha: Sarah Mervosh is nine years out of college. She graduated from Notre Dame in the class of 2012.

In the main, we don't intend what follows to be a criticism of Mervosh. To a much larger extent, we offer it as a denunciation of her current employer, the endlessly faux New York Times.

That said, who is Sarah Mervosh? Our denunciation of the Storyline-loving Times begins with that simple question.

As noted, Mervosh graduated from Notre Dame back in 2012.  Upon graduation, she spent six years at the Dallas Morning News, writing about pretty much everything except public education. 

In June 2018, she moved to the Times, describing herself as a reporter on (or possibly in) "The Greater New York City Area." Even today, her official bio at the Times describes her in the following way:

"Sarah Mervosh is a national reporter based in New York, covering a wide variety of news and feature stories across the country."
Despite that generic description, Mervosh is now an education reporter. Her first report on this new beat appeared in late July of this year, under this headline:

The Pandemic Ruined Third Grade. Can Summer School Make Up for It?

That well-intentioned report included a badly flawed account of the nation's "achievement gaps." We'll return to this point below. 

Long story short: Sarah Mervosh is not an experienced education reporter. As best we can tell, she brought zero experience and expertise, no special training or technical knowledge, to her new assignment at this most faux of all major American news orgs.

This is not the fault or the doing of Mervosh.  But it extends the remarkable way the New York Times has covered public schools over the past many years.

As far as we know, the Times has never had an education specialist on its editorial board. Despite the massive size of its reporting staff, it has shown little interest in hiring or developing modestly qualified education specialists to serve as education reporters.

The paper keeps cycling general interest reporters into its public school reporting slots. This produces the kind of Dick-and-Jane reporting which prevails in Mervosh's most recent report, through no major fault of her own.

The lengthy report to which we refer appeared above the fold on Sunday morning's front page. Accompanied by a large photograph, it dominated the front page of the newspaper's print editions.

Online, the lengthy report carries the headline shown below. The report explores the only public education topic the New York Times seems to recognize:

Minneapolis Integration Is a Two-Way Street

The New York Times devotes constant attention to a process it describes as the "desegregation" of American public schools. 

In principle, there's no reason why it shouldn't do so. That said, the paper devotes zero attention to other major points of concern, such as the source of the (poorly-defined) "achievement gaps" Mervosh describes in this passage:

MERVOSH (11/28/21): “There is not a single school district in the U.S. that is even moderately segregated that does not have a large achievement gap,” said Sean Reardon, the lead author on the paper and the director of the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University.

The situation is especially stark in Minneapolis, a deeply segregated city. The district of 30,500 students is diverse: about 41 percent white, 35 percent Black, 14 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian American and 4 percent Native American.

But white students test four to five grade levels ahead of Black, Hispanic and Native students, and two and a half grade levels ahead of Asian students, making the district’s disparities one of the worst in the country, according to the Educational Opportunity Project. A large gap also exists between poor and nonpoor students.

Just for starters, riddle us this. In what sense is Minneapolis "a deeply segregated city?"

Online, Mervosh offers this link, apparently in support of this statement. Essentially, it's a "link to nowhere." It leads to an earlier Times report about the racial culture of the city, a report which makes no such specific claim.

Earlier, her performance was worse. 

At the start of her report, Mervosh says that Minneapolis ranks "among the most segregated school districts in the country." In that instance, she offers no link in support of her statement—no link to support the striking claim, or even to explain what it means.

In such ways, the Times routinely feeds readers Storyline about this one favored public school topic. Meanwhile, consider the achievement gaps to which Mervosh refers in that passage.

Citing a recent report from Stanford, she says that "white students [in Minneapolis] test four to five grade levels ahead of Black...students." 

In Dick and Jane fashion, she doesn't say at what grade level that enormous gap has been measured. Regarding the answer to that question, we will tell you these things:

On the one hand, the answer makes the size of that gap especially astounding.  According to the Stanford report, that's the average achievement gap among kids in grades 3-8!

On the one hand, that's an astounding statement. On the other hand, it calls into question the very meaning of such eye-popping claims. 

Consider:

What does it mean when we're told that the average white kid in Grade 6 is four to five grade levels ahead of the average black kid? In what sense could some such state of affairs even be possible? What could this claim even mean?

Could the average white sixth grader really be four or five years ahead of the average black sixth grader? After (less than) six years of graded instruction, could the black kids be five years behind?

Can such a claim even make any sense? Most importantly, if the claim is actually true in some sense, how can such an astonishing state of affairs ever have come to be?

Given the way the New York Times pretends to report on such crucial topics, you'll never see such questions asked, examined, addressed, considered, elucidated, explored. 

In this instance, you'll be moved ahead to a lengthy report about the attempt to improve racial balance in Minneapolis' various public high schools, as if some sort of improved racial balance could possibly speak to the size of the problem described in that Stanford report.

Mervosh failed to say at what grade level those very large gaps obtain. That said, her lack of expertise can be seen virtually everywhere in the brief passage we've posted. 

She doesn't seem to realize how strange it is, given national norms, to hear that white kids in Minneapolis are years ahead of Asian-American kids. She doesn't seem to understand that "a large gap...between poor and nonpoor students" will likely exist in almost any school district in the nation. 

Nor does she seem to see (or address) the oddness of this quoted statement:

“There is not a single school district in the U.S. that is even moderately segregated that does not have a large achievement gap.”

Question: At present, how many school districts of any type lack "a large achievement gap?" 

That quotation makes it sound like it must be the (largely undefined) "segregation" which produces those large gaps. But do any districts which lack "segregation" also lack those gaps? 

We're inclined to doubt that there are many such districts. We're inclined to assume that the question didn't occur to Mervosh as she pursued this report—or to her slumbering editors, if any such people exist.

In our view, Mervosh's lack of experience and expertise is visible all through this report. So too with that debut report in late July, where she failed to respond to silly claims about the way six weeks in summer school could possibly bring failing third graders in Greensboro right back up to grade level.

Given the very data to which Mervosh now links, no qualified education reporter could possibly believe such a ridiculous notion. That said, it isn't Mervosh's fault that her newspaper has assigned her to cover an important beat for which she seems to have no background, no training, no knowledge.

Despite the failures of Sunday's report, it constitutes a fascinating overview of the Minneapolis plan to "integrate" its high schools. District lines have been redrawn to make numbers look slightly better. Certain parents are suddenly faced with such choices as this:

MERVOSH: Heather Wulfsberg, who is white, had intended to send her daughter, Isabella, 14, to Southwest High, a racially diverse but majority white public school that is a 10-minute bus ride from their home.

The school offers an international baccalaureate program, as well as Japanese, which Isabella studied in middle school. Isabella’s older brother, 18, is a senior there, and Ms. Wulfsberg envisioned her children attending together, her son helping Isabella navigate freshman year.

So Ms. Wulfsberg appealed the reassignment to North High, citing her son’s attendance at Southwest, and her daughter’s interest in Japanese. (North offers one language, Spanish.)

She was also concerned about transportation. There was no direct bus, and Isabella’s commute could take up to 55 minutes. She would also have to walk from the bus stop to school through an area where frequent gun shots are a problem.

In this instance, Wulfsberg was planning to send her daughter to Southwest High, a large, "racially diverse" high school ten minutes from her home. 

Instead, her daughter was zoned to North High, a distant, very small school which has traditionally been almost all black.

For starters, a person might wonder how there could be a "racially diverse" public high school in a district which ranks "among the most segregated school districts in the country," (According to Greatschools.org, Southwest High is 55% white, 28% black, 11% Hispanic.)

Such puzzles will rarely be solved when the Times pursues its one Storyline-of-interest. More striking is the downside of the ordered switch, including the fact that little North High (440 students in all) offers only one foreign language, is almost an hour away from Wulfsberg's home, and sits in a community which features "frequent gun shots."

More on those gun shots below. Concerning the current state of North High, Mervosh offers this depressing statistical bungle:

MERVOSH: More than half of 10th graders who completed testing did not meet state standards in reading in 2019, and performance in math was worse, with more than 80 percent of 11th graders failing proficiency standards. About 65 percent of students graduate within four years, compared with 84 percent statewide.

Oof! According to Mervosh, "more than 80 percent of 11th graders" at North High "failed [state] proficiency standards" in math in 2019. We'd call that a statistical bungle for the following reasons:

When we clicked to the bewildering accountability report to which Mervosh offered a link, we eventually found that, as a matter of fact, 95.6% of North's 11th graders failed to meet state standards in math in 2019. Out of 46 students tested, only two met state standards. 

(Warning: These data are extremely hard to find at that bewildering site.)

Why did Mervosh cite the data from 2019, rather than those from 2021? We can't answer that question. But in 2021, only 17 11th graders were tested in math at North High, and only one of those students met state standards. 

We don't know why so few students were tested, but those are terrible indicators.

These are terrible indicators—plus the frequent gunshots! By the way—to what extent did life, as children, amid "frequent gunshots" help produce the academic problems of North High's current kids?

We can't answer that terrible question—and at the Times, such questions will rarely be asked. Instead, this dumbest of all American papers pounds away at favored Storyline, suggesting that things will be better, and will make more sense, when Wulfsberg's daughter is walking to school in the face of those gunshots too.

Overall, this is a stunningly uninquisitive news report. Again and again, it skims the surface of "American Clueless" and "American Uncaring" concerning the vast academic disparities which often obtain between different groups of good, decent American kids.

The Times sent an inexperienced scribe to skim us along the rooftops of these issues in Minneapolis. We've barely scratched the surface of the shortcomings with Mervosh's overview, which is admittedly fascinating—but is also a harbinger of doom. 

Mervosh's overview is fascinating in a wide array of ways. That said, this kind of work is Storyline—Storyline and little else.

It comes to us from a false, faux world—from a world of performance and script. Dick and Jane were in Minneapolis, then moved to the Times' front page, where they're frequently found.

Our tribe's recent coverage of Kenosha was quite similar. Starting tomorrow, we'll examine what names we might want to call Kyle Rittenhouse. Beyond that, we'll start to supply the mounds of information people heard about on Fox—mounds of information which were generally disappeared by our own tribe's "news" sites.

What information got disappeared in Kenosha? We'll start with that topic tomorrow. We leave you today with two last pieces of data from Minneapolis:

Southwest High enrolls something like 1900 students, North High maybe 440.

Why has the city of Minneapolis maintained that one small, floundering school? That's a fairly obvious question, one which went unasked in yesterday's mountain of script.

We may continue to explore such topics from yesterday's report. That regional desegregation plans is especially striking, and also a blast from the past.

That said, when the Times discusses low-income kids, the paper sends Dick and Jane to the scene. So too, in truth, with Kenosha.

In ways which please our hapless tribe, these Dicks and Janes produce Storyline—fable, tale, script, little more.


23 comments:

  1. "In the main, we don't intend what follows to be a criticism of Mervosh."

    If Somerby intends no criticism of Mervosh, why does he then follow this statement with a description of her background? Of course he is criticizing Mervosh, largely for things beyond her control. Somerby knows that is unfair, so he prefaces with a statement that he is not criticizing her, before he goes ahead and criticizes her anyway.

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    Replies
    1. He does it for a lot of reasons. But the main one is because you are stupid.

      Delete
    2. But it's fun to start with a question, speculate on the answer, and then assume that to be true and form a conclusion!

      Must do it again and again and again.

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    3. More ignorant twaddle. Read more, talk less.

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  2. Somerby says this:

    "Just for starters, riddle us this. In what sense is Minneapolis "a deeply segregated city?"

    Online, Mervosh offers this link, apparently in support of this statement. Essentially, it's a "link to nowhere." It leads to an earlier Times report about the racial culture of the city, a report which makes no such specific claim."

    This article, aside from describing the racial culture of the city, also refers to segregated housing:

    "White liberal residents of Minneapolis point to policy changes that have been praised for their progressivism. A measure in 2018 eliminated single-family zoning, long believed to have perpetuated segregation. "

    The article is not about segregated housing per se, but it describes racial tensions. Segregated housing results in segregated schools. To the extent that this one change did not desegregate the city, something that seems highly unlikely to have occurred, any reader can connect the dots, especially when the linked article does refer explicitly to the city as segregated.

    Somerby, excessively literal as always, believes that if there isn't a sentence in the linked reference that explicitly says "deeply segregated" then he can claim the link is "to nowhere" (even though it obviously links to a source that supports Merkosh's claim).

    This is how Somerby puts his thumb on the scales and manufactures complaints that have little support when you look at them. Perhaps Somerby assumes his readers will be too lazy to follow the link and see for themselves what Merkosh based her statement on. Or maybe Soerby is just brain damaged and doesn't know how to reason from one statement to another.

    Whatever is the case, he is being grossly unfair to Merkosh.

    From this, he reasons from his simple disagreement with her about whether segregation leads to bigger racial gaps, to she must be incompetent -- despite Somerby's own lack of credentials as an education journalist or any kind of education expert, only a few curmudgeonly opinion pieces about cheating on national tests by school administrators, back in the bad old days under G.W. Bush when school funding depended on test scores, giving administrators an incentive to cheat.

    Somerby's narrow focus on NAEP is all he talks about since then, and he regularly reveals his lack of expertise in statistics in such essays. He is no one to pick on youngish female journalists, who are assigned the education beat. He makes a fool of himself here regularly enough that he should hesitate to write this kind of hit piece on someone else.

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    1. >youngish female journalists

      Proof positive that Mr. Bigot is also a sexist.

      Delete
    2. Today's essay follows a pattern for Somerby. He identifies a journalist that he considers incompetent. Calls them youngish, tells us when they graduated and from which university, then assures us that they are good decent people, before complaining about some trivial and often untrue fault, entirely overlooking the main point of what they have written.

      And yes, they are most often women and yes, that does make him a sexist, along with the other bigoted things he says (as when he blamed Chanel Miller for being raped, because she had too many drinks, or when he claimed that Kamala Harris was a horrible candidate for using the same pay gap statistic that the Department of Labor uses).

      You have to read this blog for awhile to understand why people are saying what they do about Somerby. When you see enough instances of Somerby's sexism, that will be the "proof positive" you are seeking. Meanwhile, you are a newbie and it might be better for you listen than to flap your mouth so much.

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    3. One issue that new readers and old readers alike have to contend with is that everything you write under all your different pseudonyms is stupid.

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    4. I only use one name here: anonymous.

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    5. So, you're a stupid liar.

      Delete
  3. Hmmm, segregated housing and schools, Blacks doing worse in school than Whites (although close to where Whites scored 40 yrs ago) crime in poverty stricken parts of high wealth-inequality areas. Whatever could be going on?

    Some say Satan, some say genetics. Evidence indicates it is racism. Let's see where Somerby is on this.

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  4. "Instead, her daughter was zoned to North High, a distant, very small school which has traditionally been almost all black.

    For starters, a person might wonder how there could be a "racially diverse" public high school in a district which ranks "among the most segregated school districts in the country," (According to Greatschools.org, Southwest High is 55% white, 28% black, 11% Hispanic.)"

    Somerby answers his own question. The existence of North High illustrates the problem. It doesn't have any languages except Spanish, and it is almost entirely black. No one wants their kids to go there except parents who have limited choices or cannot advocate for their kids. When a few white kids go there, the quality of the school will improve because the parents will demand it.

    Somerby focuses on the diverse school and asks whether that isn't good enough. Is it OK for the black students to be stuck at that all black school, who don't even have a language besides Spanish and certainly have no IB program? Why is it OK with Somerby for such schools to exist?

    Of course no white parents wants their kids to go there. They will concoct any number of reasons to escape being zoned there. But that is the wrong part of this situation, not the outrage of having to take a bus for a longer distance. It is the existence of North High that is wrong.

    Why does Somerby only care about the needs of that white student and not the needs of the kids locked into a substandard high school experience>

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  5. "That said, when the Times discusses low-income kids, the paper sends Dick and Jane to the scene."

    What exactly is Somerby's beef with Dick and Jane. This is the name of a reading textbook widely used in elementary schools. Why use that name to refer to journalists doing their jobs? Does Somerby mean to imply that they are white children? Does he mean to be snide to the kids in the stories in such books? The names Dick and Jane belong to some of my friends and relatives. Is there something wrong with the name? Why did Somerby grab this innocuous primer and why is he now implying there is something wrong with it by linking it with reporters he apparently wants to slime?

    I think Somerby is a dick.

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  6. Even though Mervosh identifies segregation as the sole reason for the racial gap in educational achievement, others do even worse. I'm referring to those who look at the racial gap in employment and completely ignore the gap in educational achievement as one of the causes. Either way, an honest discussion of racial differences is almost impossible in today's world. Anyone who tried to talk honestly would be called a racist and blackballed.

    Can you imagine the NY Times saying that the IQ gaps between Asians, whites, and blacks might be partially caused by genetics? Of course not. Even acknowledging these gaps might be called 'racist'.

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    1. Factors such as level of education are routinely controlled for statistically in studies of racial gaps in pay and employment.

      A discussion of racial differences is not impossible, but it shows bad faith to suggest that statisticians do not control for confounds when doing such an analysis. It shows bad faith to similarly claim that the topic cannot be discuss because such factors cannot be controlled for. You know better, as an actuary who works with statistics. I won't call you a racist, but I do suspect your motives for posting this nonsense.

      And yes, preferring the explanation that IQ gaps are genetic is racist, because studies show that such gaps disappear under different cultural situations. For example, comparing Asian immigrant to the US and those who have been here for multiple generations (which tend to more closely resemble white scores). The idea that genetics cannot be mentioned is stupid. There have been and continue to be studies of the role of genetics in IQ (and other traits). Racists tend to overinterpret and use such studies to generalize beyond the data and make claims that are definitely racist. Acknowledging the gaps isn't racist. Attributing the gaps to race is racist when other causes of the gaps are ignored.

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    2. The word “segregation” is used by both Mervosh and Sean Reardon, who is quoted in the article , to refer to both racial and economic segregation:

      “Other research has documented how racially and economically diverse schools can benefit all students, including white children, by reducing biases and promoting skills like critical thinking.
      Racially segregated schools, on the other hand, are associated with larger gaps in student performance, because they tend to concentrate students of color in high poverty environments, according to a recent paper analyzing all public school districts.”

      From Reardon’s study:
      “U.S. public schools are highly racially and economically segregated.”

      https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/wp19-06-v092021.pdf

      (This is linked in the article. No mention of it from Somerby.)

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  7. "So random people on Twitter said that Pelosi had already bought a $25 million dollar house. Pelosi’s office called the story “completely false.” And the Washington Examiner could only say that the story “may just be too juicy to be true.” After all, can any of us truly know anything?"

    This is the way Somerby operates. He opens the door to "anything is possible" and says "I don't know for sure" and then goes ahead and says something anyway, because when anything can be true, who cares about sourcing?

    Somerby's approach to facts here is closely similar to that on the right, where if he wants to say something, he shrugs and abdicates responsibility because truth is impossible to pin down, so why not say whatever you want?

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  8. Dembot quoted: "The situation is especially stark in Minneapolis, a deeply segregated city."

    Minneapolis City Council, consists of 13 members:
    12 Ds + 1 Green.

    Minneapolis mayor: Jacob Frey, D.

    QED, case closed. No wonder the city is fucked up in all kinds of ways.

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    Replies
    1. They're all medics who protect used car lots?

      Delete
  9. David in Cal said:
    “ Can you imagine the NY Times saying that the IQ gaps between Asians, whites, and blacks might be partially caused by genetics?”

    So much for Bob’s notion that there’s no such thing as race, or “race.”

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    Replies
    1. But 'genetics' don't need to refer to 'race', dear mh.

      If, for example, a high portion of several generations of immigrants from Asia have comprised of successful high-IQ individuals ("brain-drain"), then the so-called "Asians" (descendants of immigrants from Asia) in the US might indeed turn out to have higher IQ on average. Without any reference to "race".

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    2. Without any reference to "genetics" too.

      You are severely dumb as fuck.

      Delete
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