Relentless spin watch: Mississippi's white schools are mostly black!


The New York Times' latest report:
What happens when the New York Times reports about low-income schools?

Just for today, let's forget Motoko Rich's recent news report about that new study at Stanford. Instead, let's consider Christine Hauser's news report in this morning's Times.

Hauser covers two related topics. We'd say she covers each topic badly, but in a way which helps us see the way the world works at the Times.

When the Times reports about low-income schools, basic facts tend to get misreported. Basic facts also tend to get disappeared.

For an example of basic error, consider this passage from the middle of Hauser's report. In this part of her report, Hauser discusses new government data about increased "segregation" and "poverty" in the schools:
HAUSER (5/18/16): Government data released Tuesday suggested that segregation was creeping back in some school districts, with poor, black and Hispanic students increasingly isolated from white peers.

The report, by the Government Accountability Office, showed that 16 percent of public schools had high proportions of poor and black or Hispanic students in the 2013-14 school year, up from 9 percent in 2000-01.

It said 75 to 100 percent of those students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, a commonly used indicator of poverty. The schools offered fewer math, science and college preparatory courses and had higher rates of students held back in ninth grade, suspended or expelled.
Let's start with a basic factual error. Eligibility for the federal lunch program is not a marker of "poverty."

Incompetent journalists commonly say that. But it isn't true.

Technically, children are eligible for the program if their family income is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level. In practice, a lot of accidental mistakes are made in the course of filing applications for the program. As a result, children with higher family incomes will often be part of the program.

For that reason, we'll take a wild guess—plenty of kids in the federal lunch program come from families whose incomes are more than twice the federal poverty line. That outcome is fine with us, but eligibility isn't a marker of poverty.

It isn't designed to be such a marker. In practice, it doesn't come close.

Eligibility for the federal lunch program isn't a marker of "poverty!" That's a basic factual error by Hauser. It's like Rich's claims that Berkeley and Chapel Hill are among our "wealthiest communities," and that there is something "puzzling" about the high achievement gaps found in those communities' schools.

That statement by Hauser is a basic error. As usual in such circumstances, it's an error which hypes the sense that some serious problem is at work in the public schools, and that the New York Times cares about the situation.

In our view, the New York Times doesn't seem to care about low-income children and their schools. If it did, it would care enough to provide its readers with accurate information.

Meanwhile, make a note of this—substantial amounts of relevant information are missing from the passage we've posted. We refer to basic information about the way the student population has changed in the fourteen years under review.

When the Washington Post reported these new government data, Emma Brown at least included a glancing reference to these changing student demographics. In today's report by Hauser, the New York Times does not.

We'll discuss those missing facts in our postscript. For now, let's consider the other, more exciting topic covered by Hauser's report.

Uh-oh! Cleveland, Mississippi has been ordered to "desegregate" its public schools!

The New York Times loves stories like this, especially when they originate in the deepest, darkest South. Headline included, here's the way Hauser began her report:
HAUSER: Mississippi Town Ordered to Desegregate Its Schools

A federal court has ordered a town in Mississippi to desegregate its high schools and middle schools,
ending a five-decade legal battle over integrating black and white students.

The ruling by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, made Friday but announced Monday, means the middle and high school programs in the Cleveland School District, in the western part of the state, will be combined for the first time in their century-long history.

In her decision, Judge Debra M. Brown said, ''Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the district to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden.''
The New York Times loves to pretend that it cares about matters like this. Meanwhile, be very careful:

Are you sure you understand the highlighted statement in paragraph 2? Because of this court order, "the middle and high school programs" in Cleveland "will be combined for the first time?"

Are you sure you know what that murky statement actually means? For example, does it mean that a white junior high and a black junior high will be consolidated for the first time? Just like way back when?

That might be the impression a New York Times reader gets! But already, a reader who cares about schools should be a bit suspicious in the face of such a murky construction.

Luckily, we had already read the report about this topic in the Washington Post. For that reason, we understood the basic facts which Hauser's murky language obscures.

And make no mistake—as she continues, Hauser pours it on! In the passage shown below, she does a brilliant job of keeping her readers from understanding what's going on, even as she lets us know how much the New York Times cares:
HAUSER: The Mississippi case began with an action filed on July 24, 1965, on behalf of 131 children. The suit accused the Bolivar County Board of Education and some of its members of operating public schools on a racially segregated basis. The Cleveland School District is part of Bolivar County.

A Justice Department motion filed in 2011 illustrated the inequities between the poor and well-off in Cleveland, a Mississippi Delta town with a population of about 12,000. Before 1969, schools on the west side of the railroad tracks that run through Cleveland were white and segregated by law. Schools on the east side of the tracks were originally black.

"More than 40 years later, these schools maintain their character and reputation as white schools, with a student body and faculty that are disproportionately white,'' the department said.

The court ruled that the district must consolidate the virtually all-black D. M. Smith Middle School with the historically white Margaret Green Junior High School. It must also consolidate the mostly black East Side High School with the historically white Cleveland High School, and review educational programs to identify new ones for the consolidation.

The decision came six decades after the United States Supreme Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that ''separate but equal has no place'' in public schools. But on the 62nd anniversary of that decision, which was Tuesday, it is still struggling to take hold.
Damn that Mississippi! It's been six decades since the Supreme Court ruled that that ''separate but equal has no place'' in public schools! Finally, after all that time, Cleveland will have to desegregate "the historically white" Green Junior High and the "historically white" Cleveland High as well!

The New York Times loves lurves loaves such stories. It would be interesting to learn some basic facts about the allegations or suggestions concerning faculty and educational programs at the various schools.

That said, here's what we learned in the Washington Post, though not in the glorious Times:

Below, you see the current enrollments of those "historically white" public schools, as reported in the Washington Post. As you can see, the situation isn't quite what the Times helped you imagine:
Current enrollment of "historically white" schools:
Green Junior High: 51 percent black, 43 percent white
Cleveland High: 47 percent black, 45 percent white
In the Times, you were told, through some rather selective quotation, that those schools "maintain their character and reputation as white schools."

You weren't told that each of these schools enrolls more black kids than white kids! Rather, you weren't told that in the New York Times. You were given that information in the Washington Post.

For our money, Emma Brown's report in the Post doesn't do a sufficient job exploring the background to the situation in Cleveland. As an editor, we would have made some changes.

That said, she did include the basic information. By way of contrast, Hauser's treatment in the Times is the typical New York Times joke.

What going on in the Cleveland, Mississippi Public Schools? Brown's report gives readers the basics; Hauser's report does not. But this is typical of the way the New York Times reports such topics, especially if the schools in question are found in the deepest South.

One final point:

In Brown's report, you learn about the consolidation that federal judge has ordered. Warning:

As matters stand today, a substantial percentage of Cleveland's black kids do not attend "segregated" schools of the type that federal report laments. But uh-oh! If the consolidations occur as ordered, there's a good chance that all of Cleveland's black kids will soon be attending such schools, at least on a technical basis. (See projections in Brown's report.)

Situations like these were bequeathed to us by our brutal history. These tragic situations aren't all that easy to resolve—except in the New York Times, a relentlessly faux newspaper which ought to be ashamed of itself for its endless posturing about our low-income schools.

Those changing demographics: Above, we refer to changes in the student population in the fourteen years under review in those federal data.

How has the student population changed? For one thing, a larger percentage of students are now eligible for the federal lunch program. According to one official figure from the NAEP, the figure jumped from 44 percent to 52 percent in just the eight-year period from 2003 to 2011. Inevitably, this helps explain why a larger number of schools now have eligibility rates exceeding 75 percent.

Perhaps more significantly, the percentage of "minority" kids in the schools has grown rather rapidly. Example: From 1992 to 2011, the percentage of white kids in the schools went from 72 percent to 52 percent, a rate of roughly one percentage point per year.

As with the change in eligibility rates, this ongoing demographic change also helps explain why a larger percentage of black and Hispanic kids are going to school with classmates who are largely black and Hispanic.

In the Washington Post, Emma Brown mentioned these demographic trends when she reported those new government data. At the glorious Times, the savants didn't seem to feel that you needed that much news.

Do you want to know about low-income kids and low-income schools? If you do, you should be wary concerning the cons you constantly meet in the Times.


  1. Black students need to attend schools with white students in order to succeed, but white students don't need to attend schools with black students.

    Why is that?

    1. Because confining black students to separate schools labels them as second-class, less than their white peers. White students know from their everyday social interactions, from their culture, that they are better than black students. They would know that no matter what school they attended. Keeping black students out of white schools communicates a message that they are not good enough to attend those schools (regardless of their actual academic performance) and that message is damaging. If there were no racism in our society, your question would make more sense and white or black students could be treated as if they were interchangeable.

  2. Don't know if you're asking a serious question, Cochise, but here's a serious answer. Black students can succeed in all-black schools. In Brown v. Bd of Education, the Supreme Court rightly ruled that racial segregation was unconstitutional, but their justification was a bogus study.

    E.g., Thomas Sowell reported that

    Back in 1899, in Washington, D. C., there were four academic public high schools-- one black and three white.1 In standardized tests given that year, students in the black high school averaged higher test scores than students in two of the three white high schools.

    This was not a fluke. It so happens that I have followed 85 years of the history of this black high school-- from 1870 to 1955 --and found it repeatedly equalling or exceeding national norms on standardized tests.3 In the 1890s, it was called The M Street School and after 1916 it was renamed Dunbar High School but its academic performances on standardized tests remained good on into the mid-1950s.

    Read the entire article about this remarkable school at

    1. David, you need to go back and read the reasoning in Brown v Board of Education and the studies provided as evidence in it.

      Separate is not equal because requiring black students by law to attend separate schools places them in a second-class category that is harmful to their aspirations and their identity formation which affects their school performance. This is true independent of the quality of education provided by those separate schools. The fact that they are separate by law creates a second-class status that is harmful to students.

      Today this phenomenon is called "stereotype threat" and has been extensively studied by Claude Steele at Stanford University.

    2. You may be right, Anon 11:35. You make a good point.

      However, regardless of the exact wording of the SCOTUS decision, the message that's been delivered to the public says that all "separate but equal" is inherently unequal, even when the SBE doesn't come about by force of law.

    3. No, that isn't the message "delivered to the public." It is your distortion. I've never seen it described your way in a textbook, for example. That would be foolish because there have always been bad schools for white students and good schools for black students. The quality of the school isn't the point of Brown v Bd of Education. If it were, the remedy would have been to increase funding for black schools, not desegregate them.

      You really shouldn't consume conservative propaganda whole cloth like you do. Go read the decision yourself. I'm sure it is available online somewhere. It might wake you up a little to see how these things are being misrepresented over on the conservative websites.

    4. Anon 4:26 -- My point is proved by this very post and comments. People are concerned about schools that are segregated, or close to segregated, even though none of the schools are segregated by law.

      I wonder if you and I are somehow talking past each other...

    5. My understanding was that these lawsuits and cases have dragged on in the courts since the days of desegregation. I saw some of the kids from the respective schools being interviewed on the evening news and they saw it as a cross-town rivalry between high schools, and a right-side, wrong-side of the tracks issue, not explicitly racial. Seems like it would be good to disrupt that too.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.


    Continuing Somerby Stupidity Spotting?

    "Let's start with a basic factual error. Eligibility for the federal lunch program is not a marker of "poverty."

    Incompetent journalists commonly say that. But it isn't true."

    Bob Somerby, hammering a New York Times article and reporters as a stereotyped group.

    The problem is that Somerby is either stupid or lying. You choose which.

    Did the reporter make a factual error when she wrote:

    The report, by the Government Accountability Office, showed that 16 percent of public schools had high proportions of poor and black or Hispanic students in the 2013-14 school year, up from 9 percent in 2000-01.

    It said 75 to 100 percent of those students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, a commonly used indicator of poverty."

    Here is what the GAO report says on its first page, in its first paragraph, which is linked in Hauser's article, making it impossible for anyone but a stupid person or a liar to miss:

    "What GAO Found

    The percentage of K-12 public schools in the United States with students who are poor and are mostly Black or Hispanic is growing and these schools share a number of challenging characteristics. From school years 2000-01 to 2013-14 (the most recent data available), the percentage of all K-12 public schools that had high percentages of poor and Black or Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent, according to GAO’s analysis of data from the Department of Education (Education). These schools were the most racially and economically
    concentrated: 75 to 100 percent of the students were Black or Hispanic and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—a commonly used indicator of poverty."

    So, according to lying or stupid Bob Somerby (your choice), Hauser and other reporters are incompetent and errant when they correctly report what a United States government agency states in a report.

    1. Basic error in logic above:

      75-100% OF poor black/Hispanic students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch

      therefore those eligible for free or reduced price lunch are black/Hispanic poor

      This is called the fallacy of affirming the consequent. It is the mistake the reporters were making. Somerby is not lying or stupid when he calls them on it.

      No one is disputing that there has been an increase in black and Hispanic students who are poor and no one is disputing that poor students are eligible for free lunches. They are disputing that ALL students who qualify for free/reduced-price lunches are necessarily poor. They are not and that conclusion cannot be drawn from the figures you have given any more than from the ones quoted in these articles.

    2. OK, lying or stupid when the reporter uses the term "historically white?"


      OK, lying or stupid when Bob writes?:

      ".... you weren't told that in the New York Times.....Hauser's treatment in the Times is the typical New York Times joke.

      What going on in the Cleveland, Mississippi Public Schools? Brown's report gives readers the basics; Hauser's report does not. But this is typical of the way the New York Times reports such topics, especially if the schools in question are found in the deepest South."

      Somerby, lamenting something left out by the Times to demonize the South. Damn that New York Times!

      "Segregation is not just a characteristic of Southern states. Some of the most severely segregated conditions for Latino and African-American students occur in New York, Maryland and Illinois, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a report on Monday.

      Sixty-five percent of New York’s black students attend overwhelmingly nonwhite schools, compared with 45 percent in Mississippi, the report shows."

      Hauser, in the New York Times, demonizing the south with something Somerby left out.

    4. @11:48

      When studies use the % of studies receiving free lunches, they are using it as a measure that has a specific definition: 185% of the poverty level and whoever else a school district decides to include. They know that this is not the same as % of students at the poverty level, a statistics schools are less likely to put their hands on from their own records.

      When reporters gloss this definition and pretend that 185% of the poverty level = poverty, they are overestimating the number of poor students and talking about a different, larger group of students. The problem is that the audience will not understand that because they don't make it clear to them. Those reading a study do understand it.

      You think this is trivial. It is not. Facts matter and how you handle facts affects your trustworthiness. Journalists are supposed to be able to handle facts well and present reality, not distort it.

      You object every time Somerby raises this point. Somerby uses this as a marker of journalistic competence. You seem to think it is OK to fudge the numbers -- I'm not sure why. The reporter's characterization was not correct. It was misleading. And it was not the same as the report because the report defined its measure and used it consistently whereas the reporter conflated that measure with poverty. Poverty is measured by family income, not by eligibility for school lunches (especially when a school district decides to offer those lunches to all students, regardless of income, perhaps to avoid stigmatizing poor students).

    5. "You seem to think it is OK to fudge the numbers." No. I think Somerby is either stupid or lying. Nothing to "fudge" about with a weasel word like "seem."

      You "seem" to be as stupid as your comments actually make you. So we can eliminate lying as a possibility.

      Somerby says Hauser made a factual error, and that it was an error incompetent reporters "commonly" make, namely that eligibility for the lunch program is an indicator of poverty.

      The problem is Hauser never made that error. She simply reported what the Government Accounting Office Report said. I directly quoted from that report. She reported accurately what the government report said.
      For you to deny that is an indicator that if Bob said the sky was brown you would believe it because your head is up his ascot.

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