Solving Tuscaloosa: We’ll be here all week!

MONDAY, MAY 12, 2014

But what are we trying to solve: All week long, we’ll be trying to solve Tuscaloosa.

We refer to the problems in the Tuscaloosa City schools, problems explored by Nikole Hannah-Jones in a 10,000-word report for ProPublica.

Hannah-Jones’ fascinating report appears in The Atlantic. All week long, we’ll be trying to solve the problems she uncovered.

This is our second week on this topic. For last Friday’s post, just click here.

All week long, we’ll be trying to solve Tuscaloosa. That said:

Before we can solve Tuscaloosa, we have to define what its problems are. Here are the problems as we found them in Hannah-Jones’ extremely lengthy report, which focuses on D’Leisha Dent, a senior at Central High School:

Here are the problems as we saw them unfold in that report:

Central High’s students are all black. Something like 83 percent of its students qualify as “low-income.” (That isn’t a measure of poverty.)

In our view, so far, so good! But doggone it! Here are the fundamental problems as we see them described in Hannah-Jones’ report:

Last year, only two students at Central High passed the Advanced Placement English test.

This year, Dent is in the 17-member Advanced Placement class—and she has been scoring so poorly on the ACT that she may not be able to attend a four-year college next year, despite the fact that she’s senior class president, homecoming queen and a three-time state champion in track.

This suggests a greatly unfortunate situation, a national disaster and disgrace:

If Dent is in that AP class, what is the academic status of the rest of Central High’s senior class? On its face, the seventeen kids in that AP class seems to represent the top ten percent of Dent’s original freshman class at Central.

Is she is part of her class’ academic elite and she is scoring 16 on the ACT, what’s going on with the other ninety percent of her class? What’s their academic standing?

That’s the question which leaped out at us from Hannah-Jones’ extremely lengthy report. Amazingly, Hannah-Jones almost completely ignores this question in the course of her chapter-length 10,000 words.

At one point, Hannah-Jones even said that Dent “excels in school.” She never really wondered about, or attempted to measure, the academic status of the rest of her senior class.

In our view, Hannah-Jones largely glossed that question. In part, that’s because she tends to define Tuscaloosa’s problem a bit differently than we do.

Hannah-Jones focuses on Central High’s lack of “integration”—on its “resegregation,” its status as an “apartheid school.” Like about one third of Tuscaloosa’s black kids, D’Leisha Dent has gone all the way through her city’s public schools without having any white classmates.

We agree with Hannah-Jones; in principle, we think that’s unfortunate too. (For the record, Tuscaloosa’s student population is only about twenty percent white.)

But for Hannah-Jones, that’s the featured problem in her report. For us, the featured problem is the academic status of Dent, a superlative kid, and that of the many kids at Central High who apparently rank ever lower on the academic scale.

We wish Dent had gone to school with black and white kids too. Hallelujah! The large majority of black kids in Tuscaloosa City and County public schools do have that experience, at least on the high school level.

(Central High is the only single-race high school of the nine public high schools in Tuscaloosa County, of which Tuscaloosa City is part.)

Dent, a superlative kid, did not have a mixed-race experience in twelve years of public school. We think that’s a loss for the country too. But for us, the starting point in this report is the remarkable academic profile Hannah-Jones almost completely ignores.

We refer to the academic profile of Central High School’s 700-plus students.

What’s going on at Central High? What’s going on in the elementary and middle schools which send kids to Central? What’s overall academic achievement like in these schools?

If we can answer those questions, how can Central High’s academic problems be solved? How can we solve Tuscaloosa?

We have to start by defining that city’s problems. We’ll be trying to solve Tuscaloosa all week, remembering that the problems Hannah-Jones highlights and glosses are found in every part of the country.

We won’t just be trying to solve Tuscaloosa. We’ll be trying to solve New York City too.

Tomorrow: In the Tuscaloosa News, Hannah-Jones defines her focus


  1. Thanks for the warning.

  2. Thanks to last week's Visit Tuscaloosa Post I already feel comfortable in these parts. I feel like I could easily find my way over to Selma to make that walk to Montgomery singing Phil Ochs anthems and imagining the humanity of Bull Conner.

  3. Nothing like a week of Tuscaloosa to keep Rachel withdrawal symptoms at bay.

  4. Somerby is asking whether the poor performance of the Tuscaloosa schools is due to re-integration or due to neglect that is not mentioned, even in a 10,000 word essay.

    Why are these essays being written about race instead of about the need to intervene more effectively so that black kids who work hard in school do not wind up with dim prospects? An essay like this could have talked about funding, interviewed teachers about educational approaches, investigated what parents do in the home, tried to get to the heart of Dent's problem (shared by her peers).

    By focusing on race and re-integration, an article like this implies that if we were just to integrate the school again, the rest of the problems would disappear. That is not true. Somerby has pointed out last week that inclusion of white kids makes the relevant stats go up, but doesn't address the problems of the black kids in the integrated schools.

    These problems are serious because they affect the lives of a great many black children. Trolls think it is cute to post their typical drivel, implying that no one cares about Tuscaloosa and that Somerby is an idiot for writing about this at length, but why doesn't this problem deserve at least as much attention as Sterling, for Fortgang's privilege?

    It must be a form of racism to tolerate low performance from black children when we as a society can and should be doing something about it.

    1. "Trolls think it is ... ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzz.

    2. Anonymous @12:54,

      Trolls think? Nope. The very word induces narcolepsy in trolls. Unfortunately, they seem to be able to type in their sleep, although some, like the familiar troll @1:33P, can't make it three words.

    3. deadrat, if you’re less inclined to defer to authority, less flattering thoughts may enter your head.

      Trolls may consider the possibility that these long posts are an example of pure argle-bargle, composed by a gifted novelist who may not be real clear as to what he’s talking about.

      You may note that his large bouquet of flowery language emerges from the work of others, in which the blogger repeats one of two ideas one of which seems completely mundane, one of which seems incoherent.

      Liberals make the same mistakes as others, but liberals should not be like others.

      Let’s be fair! In our view, Somerby swings and misses as he tries to explain the both the article about and the situation in Tuscaloosa.

    4. Nonresponsive, as usual.

    5. deadrat May 12, 2014 at 2:05 PM

      "Trolls ... ZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzz.

    6. Trolls must be racists or they wouldn't try to disrupt discussion of racist schooling.

    7. It must be a form of racism to tolerate low performance from black children when we as a society can and should be doing something about it.

      It's racism to address the cause of these problems because some neglectful (at best) black parents and the progressives who make excuse for them might feel "judged."

    8. Anonymous @3:06P,

      Please stop reading my mind. You're not any better at reading that than you are apparently at reading TDH.

      Trolls may do lots of things for which there is absolutely no evidence, including having incisive criticism of the TDH.

      No, I haven't noticed that TDH's language is particularly "flowery," but I suppose that's in the eye of the beholder. TDH only ever has one or two points, which I'd expect him to admit are "mundane."

      What do you find "incoherent" about this series? TDH says that H-J's focus is on the trend to resegregation in Tuscaloosa's public schools. I've read her article and I agree with that assessment. TDH says that the real problem, possibly not closely connected with resegregation, is D'Leisha Dent's dim academic future beyond the high school where she's a star.

      Now you may not agree and you may then post a comment explaining your disagreement with TDH's thesis, which thereby means that you aren't a troll.

      TDH's batting average is above .500. Sure he swings and misses, especially when he tackles science writing, but so what?

    9. Once again deadrat misses the voice of the master.

    10. Once again a troll posts a fact-free comment.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Your concerns in this report are well founded, but just for the record a 16 on the ACT does not prohibit a student from attending a four-year college or university. In my state of Mississippi, a student with at least a 2.5 GPA can be admitted with that ACT score to any of our eight state universities. Some schools here even waive out of state tuition. I'm sure there are comparable examples in other states as well.

    1. Thanks for solving Tuscaloosa for Bob.


  7. How To Get Your husband Back & Avoid Divorce,Love Spells That Really Work Fast

    My Name is Vicky Lorimer, I am From United Kingdom.i am hear to give testimony of how i got back my husband, we got married for more than 9 years and have gotten two kids. thing were going well with us and we are always happy. until one day my husband started to behave in a way i could not understand, i was very confused by the way he treat me and the kids. later that month he did not come home again and he called me that he want a divorce, i asked him what have i done wrong to deserve this from him, all he was saying is that he want a divorce that he hate me and do not want to see me again in his life, i was mad and also frustrated do not know what to do,i was sick for more than 2 weeks because of the divorce. i love him so much he was everything to me without him my life is incomplete. i told my sister and she told me to contact a spell caster, i never believe in all this spell casting of a thing. i just want to try if something will come out of it. i contacted Dr Brave for the return of my husband to me, they told me that my husband have been taken by another woman, that she cast a spell on him that is why he hate me and also want us to divorce. then they told me that they have to cast a spell on him that will make him return to me and the kids, they casted the spell and after a week my husband called me and he told me that i should forgive him, he started to apologize on phone and said that he still love me that he did not know what happen to him that he left me. it was the spell that Dr Brave casted on him that make him to come back to me today,me and my family are now happy again today. thank you Dr Brave for what you have done for me i would have been nothing today if not for your great spell. i want you my friends who are passing through all this kind of love problem of getting back their husband, wife , or ex boyfriend and girlfriend to contact and you will see that your problem will be solved without any delay.