FROM THE "MISSISSIPPI MUDDLE" FILE: Digest of reports (to date)!


Starting tomorrow, The Letters:
Before the Christmas break, we examined a somewhat peculiar report in the New York Times. The article in question reported, then attempted to explain, Mississippi's rising scores on the Grade 4 Naep reading test.

To be more precise, the "report" to which we refer was an opinion column. Its author offered a somewhat implausible explanation for the rising scores, which she'd failed to disaggregate.

In short, all standard markers of journalistic incompetence were present and accounted for in this bungled column. To date, our reports on this "Mississippi muddle" have gone exactly like this:
Tuesday, December 17: Naep scores rise in Mississippi! Information allowed to escape!

Wednesday, December 18: Those score gains are larger than reported! Let's disaggregate.

Thursday, December 19:
What explains Mississippi's score gains? Scribe's answer should break all our hearts.

Friday, December 20:
At the Times, this counts as "cognitive science!" In the end, nobody cares.
On December 21, we also posed this question: "Is there any possibility that Mississippi's surprising Grade 4 scores could be statistically bogus?"

Before this week's reports are done, we'll answer that question: Yes!

We'll show you how astounding it is that the New York Times, allegedly our brightest newspaper, actually published that remarkably incompetent column, with its implausible explanation for Mississippi's score gains.


Starting tomorrow, we'll offer a series of reports entitled "The Letters." Working from these embarrassing letters in the December 22 New York Times, we'll examine several remaining questions about these recent articles in the New York Times.

Again, the recent articles in question are these:
1) The New York Times' bungled front-page report about the 2019 Pisa scores.

2) The bungled column about Mississippi's Naep scores which the Times haplessly published.
Also at issue is the embarrassing set of letters the New York Times published on December 22. Before leaving town to help Santa last week, we briefly reviewed them here.

Alas! In our view, those letters draw back the curtain on the utter haplessness of our failing public discourse. In fairness, anthropologists tell us that this is the best we can sensibly expect.

When it comes to public schools, how hapless is our national discourse? You're right when you say that nothing will change. But just for the sake of creating a record, we'll answer your question all week.


  1. "But just for the sake of creating a record, we'll answer your question all week."

    What was my question again? I've forgotten.

    1. I suspect you've forgotten more than Bob ever knew. Or ever will know. Sad!

  2. A lot of things happened while Somerby was gone. But this is what he thinks is worth writing about?

  3. "Before this week's reports are done, we'll answer that question: Yes!"

    Hmm. Dear Bob, I don't think the Grade 4 scores could be "statistically bogus", because I imagine there's no statistical manipulation involved: add 'em up and delete by the number of participants. Very straight-forward.

    Of course the scores themselves could be bogus (wide-spread cheating, for example), but not "statistically bogus"...

    "allegedly our brightest newspaper"

    Ha-ha. A good one, dear Bob. Oh, did you hear the one about the "disappointed Trump voter", who didn't vote in 2016?

  4. This interesting column at Lawyers, Guns & Money suggests that Trump's base is motivated by a panic at losing the culture wars, instigated by the shift among young white evangelicals away from religion and toward progressive views:

    This panic is what seems to be motivating the evangelical part of Trump's base, not anything liberals are saying about The Other.

    1. The "religion" of Evangelicals is bigotry.

  5. If you don't want to waste your time revisiting MS test scores, Rude Pundit posted photos of his favorite nativity scenes:

  6. Here is something relevant to education, Kevin Drum says the mindset research is all bogus. Mindset is the idea that if you tell kids that working hard can change their intelligence, they will score better than if you tell them that IQ is fixed and they were born with as much as they will get in terms of intelligence.

    The problem is that showing that the studies don't replicate merely rolls back those studies' findings. It doesn't prove that the mindset idea is wrong. It shows that those particular studies weren't able to demonstrate the mindset effect. It could exist but require some stronger methodology to demonstrate its existence.

    Science is hard. It is easy to see why Drum became a journalist instead of any kind of social science (or other field) researcher. He is good at the graphs but not so good at drawing conclusions from them (aka analysis).

    1. Actually, Drum wants to throw out all of social science research because some studies fail to replicate. Baby, bath water, rinse, repeat.

    2. "The streetlight effect, or the drunkard's search principle, is a type of observational bias that occurs when people only search for something where it is easiest to look"

      Scientific papers generally use data that can fit into a certain analytical structure. That's a big problem in education research, because so much of the relevant data is individual impressions of millions of actual teachers.

    3. David, you clearly did not read Kevin Drum's post this morning. What you describe applies to studies that find effects, not to ones that fail to replicate previous effects. If there is no result, there is nothing to analyze, since you cannot draw a positive conclusion from a null finding (it is inherently ambiguous).

      Education research is not experimental. It is correlational or observational.

  7. Here is something else worth reading (this blog is not):

    The yearly collection of the best blog posts of 2019, submitted by the bloggers themselves.

  8. A real media critic would be discussing Bret Stephens' inclusion of a white supremacist's paper in his discussion of the IQ of Ashkenazi Jews.

    1. But Somerby is not a real media critic. His goal is to attack liberals and defend Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes. In short, Somerby is a Trumptard.

    2. AnonymousDecember 30, 2019 at 11:51 AM - One example of such discussion can be found at

      Excerpt: I would’t take the SPLC’s word for anything, and there is something laughable about a supposed pro-Nazi who publishes an article finding that Jews have high IQ scores.

    3. What standard measures differences between Valmiki, Richard Feynman, Theresa of Avila, Adi Shankara, St. Jerome, Averroes, J. S. Bach, Maimonides, Wassily Kandinsky, St. Jeremiah, Pythagoras, Luther, Avicenna, St. Elijah, Guyon, Pascal, Leibnitz, Heschel, Tillich, Sathya Sai Baba, and George Washington in such as way as to determine which represents a superior gene pool, an association to be feared or glorified?

      The very thought of that is a legitimate target of raillery at least and earnest condemnation at best. And it is un-American.

    4. " I would’t take the SPLC’s word for anything, and there is something laughable about a supposed pro-Nazi who publishes an article finding that Jews have high IQ scores."

      Finding out Conservatives take the word of White Supremacists over the SPLC, is the opposite of "surprising".

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. “To be more precise, the "report" to which we refer was an opinion column. Its author offered a somewhat implausible explanation for the rising scores, which she'd failed to disaggregate.”

    The author (Hanford) does not claim that the new teaching method fully and completely explains the rising scores; she does indicate that she thinks there is a correlation. She links to reports which provide evidence of a connection between the method and increased reading comprehension/test scores. This renders the correlation plausible.

    The column is an opinion column because she is promoting the science of reading, which includes a renewed emphasis on phonics, which has fallen into disfavor over the past several decades. She thinks that this method is effective, and, via links, provides some evidence to back it up. [Yes, you do need to read the online version of her column to get these links, one presumes].

    And it is not a sign of incompetence that Hanford doesn’t disaggregate (by race, one presumes, knowing Somerby’s obsession). She is looking at the overall score, which makes her case well enough.

  11. Somerby loves rankings, so here is another one, via Echidne of the Snakes:

    "The United States in the most recent report*** ranks 53rd among the included countries, two ranks below last year's placement. According to the report, progress in the United States has stalled, and it has dropped two ranks in the overall results mostly due to a "small retraction in its Economic Participation and Opportunity performance, where the progress towards equal wages takes a step back and at the same time income (wages and non-wages) gaps remain large."

    The ten highest ranking countries in gender equality are, from the first to the tenth: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Rwanda and Germany. The Nordic countries always lead this particular pack (a partial explanation for why I turned out as irritating as I did...) and Rwanda has been in the top ten since 2015 at least****.

    The ten countries at the bottom of the ranking are, from the tenth from the bottom to the country ranked the worst in gender equality: Oman, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Iran, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Yemen. Though Iraq, Syria and Yemen are all war-torn countries, Yemen has been the lowest ranked country many years before the current hostilities. As I wrote in my last year's post, the Muslim countries urgently need strong feminist movements."


    Does Somerby care about the condition of women in the US and worldwide? Of course not. He only barely cares about beautiful and deserving black children. No room at the inn for women and indifference to the fact that the treatment of women in the US is so far below the rankings of education worldwide.

    Why is it that we can figure out how to educate children but cannot figure out how to treat women equally?

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