Supplemental: What we saw at the spelling bee!


A fabulous low-income school:
On Friday morning, January 23, we got in our car at 6 AM and headed south toward Durham.

You can click here to confirm.

We arrived before noon. From there, it was off to the neighborhood school for the school-wide spelling bee, which started at 1:30.

This clash of the titans was being held in a neighborhood public school. As best we can tell, it’s also a low-income school.

As best we can tell, the state of North Carolina no longer makes school-by-school income data available. Three years ago, when we first visited this school, it had a high percentage of kids receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

Today, like then, its students are about one-third white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic. Some of the kids aren’t speaking English. This is the new, and thoroughly glorious, American public school.

It has struck us as a fabulous school in each of our formal visits. We thought of this school, and of the children and teachers within it, when we heard Lani Guinier’s recent tired, scripted remarks about American schools.

Professor Guinier showed little sign of knowing jack squat about schools. She didn’t seem to know about the large score gains which have been recorded by all major student groups over the past few decades.

She failed to defend our public school teachers against the gloomy denigrations offered by a gloomy caller.

She even recited the Finland script. It’s hard to get lower than that!

Guinier recited the gloomy old tropes which make some liberals glad. We don’t spend enough on our schools, she said. We don’t even seem to care about lower-income students.

It’s easy for a slacker professor to recite these tired old tropes. It made us think about what we saw at the school-wide spelling bee.

Just for starters, the school in question has very low class sizes. The city of Durham is spending some money on those low-income kids.

To our surprise, the auditorium was packed to the gills when we arrived. The entire school was on hand to watch their champions joust.

There were three contestants from each grade (grades 1-5), plus three more kids who reached the finals by virtue of ties in the grade-level contests.

At 1:30, these contestants were marched down the center aisle. The rest of the school went wild!

We’ve never seen a bunch of kids who were so in love with each either. Black kids, white kids, Hispanic kids seemed to be energetically engaged in friendship ties.

They cheered their champions when they spelled words right, encouraged them when they missed a word and had to return to their seats with their classes. Up on the stage, a rainbow coalition of spellers was reduced to a final four, helped along by a teacher-moderator with an endless supply of “bee” puns.

Here’s how it ended up:
Fourth place: An adorable second-grade girl with a twin sister and two mommies.
Third place: A hulking fifth-grade boy whose parents were right behind us.
Second place: Our relative, a third-grade girl, who was later praised through the neighborhood for her calm, relaxed style.
The champion: A fourth-grade girl from a family of professional contestants. (Her older brother has competed in the national spelling bee.) After her triumph, a rumor held that she had perhaps been funded by the Koch Brothers. As usual in these ugly affairs, no one knew how it got started.
If you’re counting—and who isn’t?—the finalists included two whites, one black and one who likely gets listed as Hispanic. Both of the mommies looked white!

The atmosphere in the school was truly superb. After school let out, we found ourselves with a group of parents and the principal in the curriculum room.

At one point, the principal explained the reams of materials which filled the shelves on all four walls of the room. We won’t take you through the details, but we were blown away by the work that had been done to identify reading materials for all kids on every possible subject, no matter the child’s reading level.

We taught fifth grade in the Baltimore City Schools for nine years, mainly in the 1970s. We taught the greatest kids in the world, but low-income schools of that era were poorly organized.

To us, the atmosphere in that Durham school was absolutely amazing. Simply put, a person would never have dreamed he was in a low-income school.

We drove home the next day, but not before we visited the very cheerful day care center where a certain two-year old had spent the day. The young lady in question hugged half of Durham before we got out of that place.

We returned to a neighborhood that was buzzing about the spelling bee. The next morning, a celebratory trip to the local donut shop was interrupted, five times, by people complimenting our relative on her startling sang froid and on her second-place finish.

We don’t think we’ve ever seen so much happiness in any one place. And this is the best part of the story:

When we returned home, we looked up this school’s formal “report card.” Here’s the good news:

By North Carolina standards, we had been in a low-scoring school! The school’s white students outperform their peers across the state, but that group is leavened with some professors’ kids and the like. As would likely be predicted by the school’s economic data, black and Hispanic kids at the school actually underperform their peers around the state.

We would have imagined that we had been in one of the “best schools” in the state. Even allowing for income data, we were amazed to think that this lively, vibrant, happy place could possibly be underperforming the rest of North Carolina.

(North Carolina is a relatively high-scoring state on the NAEP. Example: In Grade 4 math, North Carolina’s black kids ranked seventh among the fifty states in 2013.)

We thought about all the work we’ve seen that school’s teachers perform. We thought about the atmosphere they’ve helped create within its walls.

We also thought about the way NAEP scores have been rising. It’s our impression that a lot of people around the country have been trying hard to create better schools, just as those teachers and that principal have done. We wondered if we were seeing the fruits of those efforts in that happy, buzzing place—a happy, vibrant, lively place which is actually underperforming its state.

It’s our impression that lots of people, all over the country, have made these efforts in the decades since we taught in Baltimore. Different people have tried different things, but a lot of people have tried.

We can only assume that this has helped create those rising test scores.

Then you see the Professor Guiniers with their scripted gloom and doom about the way we’re destroying another generation of kids through our lack of interest. We really have some world-class slackers providing the “intellectual leadership” within our liberal world.

One vibrant school is anecdotal. Those NAEP scores measure the nation.

NAEP scores are way, way up for the nation’s black and Hispanic kids. You’d think that would seem like fabulous news to our leading liberals.

No such luck! We prefer to repeat that dumb-assed script about the wonders of Finland.

Black kids’ test scores are way up. Every day, we see the superlative kids in Baltimore who are producing those scores.

Black kids’ test scores are way up. Thanks to our professors and our TV stars, the public has never been told!


  1. Somerby Comment Box Spelling Bee Entrant:

    "Ms Dent graduated as a star honor studentl from her all black high school but was unable, even after numerous attempts, to pass a basic, commonly used college entrance exam. That severly limited her choices. She eventually settled on a school whos sole enterance rrquirement is to pocess a #2 pencil."

    Somerby Comment Box Grammar Bee Entrant:

    "The pseudos, so consumed with finding some angle, any angle which to play "gotcha", can't even begin to fathom that as a problem."

  2. That would be me. LOL. Sorry, but my fingers are approx 3x too large for this "smart" phone keyboard. Commenting on the go? Forgetaboutit. Typing skills aside, I'm wise and humble enough to give crrdit where due to today's kids for outscoring my generation on standardized testing.

    1. Hope you weren't driving.

    2. Try tapping the keys with a # 2 ppencil.

  3. I mostly defend Bob, but above he wrote:

    As best we can tell, it’s also a low-income school.
    As best we can tell, the state of North Carolina no longer makes school-by-school income data available. Three years ago, when we first visited this school, it had a high percentage of kids receiving free or reduced-price lunch.

    It seems to me that Bob is implicitly using the percentage of kids receiving free or reduced-price lunch as a measure of the amount of low income students in the school. IMHO this is perfectly reasonable, but it's something for which he has criticized others.

    1. Well, surely he was just trying to use it as a rough proxy.

    2. Dinky, ask your wife the difference between "low income" and impoverishment. Or your cousin. Or your nephew. In other words, seek your usual universal consensus.

  4. One would think Bob would be in a tizzy over the MSM-manufactured Clinton email scandal. And yet he can't tear himself away from his obsessions.

    1. Brace yourself for the "it's Bob's blog and he can type what he wants" trope.

    2. It is and he can. Predicting a comment and labeling it a trope are low IQ tactics but do not undermine a statement's validity.

  5. Bob always likes to point out that black kids' NAEP scores have risen substantially. But haven't the scores of white kids also risen by almost the same amount, thus making it a wash? Perhaps that's the main reason why black kids' scores aren't being touted by the mainstream (or even the liberal) media, regardless of Bob's complaints.

    1. The gap has also narrowed, but more importantly, a much higher % of black kids are finishing high school and going to college. The progress should be touted.

    2. The gap has narrowed significantly. It was very large 20 years ago. And as 8:14 says, drop-out rates have dropped like a rock.

      Half the people reading that don't believe it. Some of them have no intention of confirming it because they prefer their ignorance.

    3. Sorry urban legend, but I just ran a significance test on the gaps between white and black and white and Hispanic students using the NAEP Data Explorer.

      Main NAEP Public School Students 1990-2013

      4th Grade Math
      Significant Improvement... White/Black
      No Sig. Improvement ........White/Hispanic

      8th Grade Math
      No Significant Improvement...Either group

      12th Grade Math
      No Significant Improvement...Either Group

      4th Grade Reading
      Significant Improvement.......White/Black
      No Sig. Improvement............White/Hispanic

      8th Grade Reading
      Significant Improvement........White/Hispanic
      No Sig. Improvement............White/Black

      12th Grade Reading
      No Significant Improvement....Either group

      Long Term Trend

      There were significant reductions in the gaps for both black and Hispanics compared to Whites from the first test dates (1975 for reading, 1978 for Math) to 1990 for all three tested age groups (9,13,17).

      There were no significant reductions in the gaps between 1990 and the most recent tests for any group on any test at any age.

      I certainly could be reading the charts wrong, but I doubt it.
      I wish I was wrong.

  6. Josh Marshall cries for help:"In the main, none of these 'scandals' ever end up having a real there there. Not because the Clintons are good at covering things up but there just wasn't anything there in the first place. But the one thing the Clintons bring is drama. All the time. They may not be looking for it but they find it. Always"

    1. Yes, clearly this is all Hillary Clinton's fault, even though she did the same thing as many other male politicians, including Colin Powell.

    2. The one constant with those suffering from Clinton Derangement Syndrome is that they will not tolerate any defense. They create the pseudo scandal and hammer on it non-stop but no one is allowed to defend her by pointing out the obvious, that she is being held to a completely different standard. The very act of trying to defend them is annoying and tiresome to those creating the phony issue. It's astounding.

      Colin Powell just nonchalantly tells CNN that he has no idea where any of his official emails are and the world doesn't even notice. They just kiss his ring and thank him profusely for coming on their show.

      Where are all of Condie's emails?

    3. "The very act of trying to defend them is annoying and tiresome to those creating the phony issue."

      We have a BINGO!

  7. What's heartbreaking is that all this doom and gloom malarkey must adversely affect the many African American children who hear it and who decide, perhaps without even realizing it, that studying isn't worth the effort.

    1. Why would a person decide studying isn't worth it if he has been told since birth that his country is racist, he is oppressed, he will be discriminated against or violated by law enforcement, and the election of a black president is only a fluke and irrelevant? How are you making this connection?

    2. You left out that he will never ever be an SAE.

  8. The accusations that people don't care adds zero value to posts like this. In fact, they subtract value in various ways. A philosophy major should have a better handle on the negative consequences of character assaults. The facts are strong enough on their own.

  9. "If you’re counting—and who isn’t?—the finalists included two whites, one black and one who likely gets listed as Hispanic. Both of the mommies looked white!"

    Not counting, but wondering. Which one was hulking?

    Counting, three females and one male. Clearly progress will be made on the wage gap front but it will go unnoticed as pseudo-liberals seek other grievances with which to wedge us apart.

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