Supplemental: A Vox on American public schools!


Bad report, gloomy conclusion:
In the sixteen years we’ve been doing this site, we’ve learned one major lesson.

We expect to announce our key finding next week. Yesterday, on a visit to Vox, we were reminded of this depressing finding.

When we clicked to Vox, we found this report by Libby Nelson. It sat beneath an intriguing headline:

“US public schools are better than they've ever been”

Is that claim true? Such sweeping claims are hard to assess. But we were eager to see how Nelson supported the claim.

How did Nelson support that claim? Very poorly! In some ways, we’d have to say that Nelson’s piece is one of the worst analysis pieces we have ever read.

There’s an irony to that fact. It concerns the lofty site at which the report appears.

As readers may know, Ezra Klein started Vox as a source for the new, smarter journalism. The new site was designed to “explain the news.”

Nelson is discussing an important, widely-flogged topic—the quality of our public schools. Her report is so inept that it called our gloomiest learning to mind.

What’s wrong with Nelson’s report? We’ll answer that question tomorrow. For today, let’s describe her piece:

Nelson’s piece is in the form of an interview with Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at Holy Cross. Nelson poses questions to Schneider, then records his responses.

(Yesterday, Nelson listed Schneider as an assistant professor of history. The error has been corrected.)

In this, her introduction to the piece, Nelson provides an overview:
NELSON (10/13/14): Polls about education in the US quickly find a paradox: most people like their neighborhood schools, but they think education as a whole in the US is going downhill. Everyone thinks their neighborhood school is the exception, not the rule.

Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, makes another argument. He says there's never been a better time to be a student in American public schools, which educate a broader swathe of the population more successfully than ever before. We talked about his argument and about the dominance of the crisis narrative in education. Our conversation has been edited slightly for clarity and length.
Most people think education is going downhill. But Schneider says our public schools have never been better!

That would be a significant claim, if anything qualified any more. But when we read Nelson’s report, it struck us as grossly incompetent.

Please note—Schneider’s answers have been “edited slightly for clarity and length.” This means we can’t be entirely sure of what he actually said, including what he may have said that Nelson chose to leave out.

That said, the interview addresses an important, widely-debated question—and it strikes us as tremendously incompetent.

Nelson graduated from Northwestern in 2009. Presumably, she’s one of the bright young writers who were going to make Vox the place for the new, smarter journalism.

Her interview didn’t strike us that way. It called to mind the gloomy lesson we’ve drawn from the past sixteen years.

Are American public schools better than ever? Our journalism certainly isn’t!

Tomorrow, what Schneider seems to have said.


  1. Clearly this incompetent reporter and fuzzy thinking professor could have spent at least a month on the gaps.

    1. You never learn. $ 6.

    2. Perhaps he enjoys making you look like an idiot throwing your money away and thinking you are making some sort of point.

      Not that I have you actually being true to your word and paying up.

      Big hat, no cattle.

  2. That said, it took only a few minutes to read what Schenider said. We look forward to spending a lot longer reading what Bob Somerby wants to tell us he SEEMED to say.

  3. "Most people think education is going downhill."

    Quite a remarkable and broad statement, and I wonder what Somerby bases this upon.

    Had he said that "most people" whatever that means think that "public education in the inner city is going downhill" he might have an argument he can substantiate, since we are beseiged with propaganda aimed at defunding those schools and destroying teachers' unions.

    But I'll guess that just about everywhere else, especially the suburbs, people are quite happy with public education.

    1. People in the inner city line up for lotteries to get their kids out of public schools.

      People in the suburbs line up for tickets to see movies about people in the inner city lining up for lotteries to
      get their kids out of public schools.

      People all over America pay and bet good money for games played by kids who honed their skills in inner city public schools.

    2. ....and then they beat their wives and girlfriends.

    3. It is also possible that "most people" think that public schools in general have never been better, but there is still lots of room for improvement.

      That's quite different from saying they are going "downhill."

  4. "What’s wrong with Nelson’s report? We’ll answer that question tomorrow. For today, let’s describe her piece:"

    What's wrong with this blog? We'll answer that question now.

    Bob apparently thinks his readers are too dumb to click on a link, read the piece, then listen to his take on it in one, succinct, crafted post.

    Nope, he's got to "describe" it for us first as if to spare his loyal readers all the bother of independent thinking, lest their take differ from his.

    That strawman now built, he will then think all day to come up with some brilliant insights which he will share "tomorrow."

    Unless, of course, he gets distracted by another stray brilliant thought about something completely different.

    1. People don't read long posts.

      It is better if people go and read the article for themselves before getting Somerby's take on it. That is more likely to happen this way, than if he spared people the effort by immediately giving his opinions. My bet would be that he has already written tomorrow's post.

    2. Well, "people don't read long posts" is actually the most succinct criticism of Somerby yet.

      And do you really believe that Somerby actually writes anything in advance? Oh my poor child!

    3. $ I'm losing count.

    4. "Her report is so inept that it called our gloomiest learning to mind."

      How thoughtful of Somerby to resist giving his opinion immediately.

    5. Well it was the gloomiest. And, that said, there was learning involved. But snark like yours has been flogged to death like a beaten horse.

    6. Anon @ 2:22 - don't feel alone. Most four-year-olds share your problem.

  5. Anybody want to start speculating about what Bob will reveal next week as his key finding after 16 years of blogging through the melting drifts of intellectual culture?

    1. Bob will reveal: Chomsky is right.