Information allowed to escape: On Friday morning, December 6, an opinion column in the New York Times included some actual information!
It was information of a type which is rarely allowed to appear in major American newspapers. According to Emily Hanford's opinion column, the public school kids of Mississippi have recorded substantial score gains in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Naep)!
The federally-run Naep is the widely-praised "gold standard" of domestic educational testing. As we've noted in the past, everyone knows to praise the Naep, and to disappear its results.
The Naep has been in existence since the street-fighting year of 1969. At present, it's administered across the nation in odd-numbered years.
That's where Hanford's forbidden information comes in. She opened her column by noting that Mississippi is generally regarded as an educational backwater. Then, she offered some surprising facts:
HANFORD (12/6/19): New results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a standardized test given every two years to measure fourth- and eighth-grade achievement in reading and math, show that Mississippi made more progress [from 2017 to 2019] than any other state.The information provided by Hanford was indeed surprising. Just for the record, her factual claims were almost wholly accurate, if in our view a bit limited.
The state’s performance in reading was especially notable. Mississippi was the only state in the nation to post significant gains on the fourth-grade reading test. Fourth graders in Mississippi are now on par with the national average, reading as well or better than pupils in California, Texas, Michigan and 18 other states.
For years, everyone assumed Mississippi was at the bottom in reading because it was the poorest state in the nation. Mississippi is still the poorest state, but fourth graders there now read at the national average. While every other state’s fourth graders made no significant progress in reading on this year’s test, or lost ground, Mississippi’s fourth-grade reading scores are up by 10 points since 2013...
On last year's Naep reading test, Mississippi's fourth graders did indeed perform at the national average. And the state's fourth-grade reading score has indeed gone up by something resembling ten points—very roughly, by one academic year—since 2013.
In fact, Hanford slightly understated the actual size of the gain over those six years. When we look a little bit closer, the score gain rounds off to eleven points—from an average score of 208.52 in 2013 to 219.34 last year.
(For all Naep data, just start here. From there, you're on your own.)
On its face, Hanford was reporting some very good news. It's the kind of news which is almost never reported in newspapers like the Times.
Over the course of the past fifty years, American public school students have recorded large scores gains in both reading and math on the Naep. These score gains have been recorded at both the fourth and eighth grade levels.
As we've noted down through the years, American newspapers seem to agree that such score gains must never be reported. Readers of the New York Times are simply never told about those very large score gains. Similarly, the Times joined the Washington Post, just last week, in disappearing all sorts of good news from the newly-released 2018 Pisa scores.
(For links to our reports on that topic, you can just click here.)
These elites today! American elites of all types have long built their education reporting around a fictitious story line. That story line goes like this:
Absolutely nothing has worked in our pitiful public schools!The deceptions involved in this reporting has been widespread and vast. Hanford broke every rule in the book when, in her opinion column, she included some actual information about some actual test score gains—large score gains recorded by fourth graders in our poorest state.
Who the heck is Emily Hanford, and on what basis is she allowed to report such information? According to the Times' identity line, Hanford "is the senior education correspondent for APM Reports."
The APM in question is American Public Media. According to the leading authority on the organization, APM "is the second largest producer and distributor of public radio programs in the United States after NPR."
APM is a major org. As we examine Hanford's overall column, that fact may imaginably serve to bring the note of sadness in.
Again, Hanford reported accurate facts about Mississippi test scores. She even reported large score gains, and that's a type of reporting which is almost never allowed.
That said, we couldn't help noting a certain lack of technical expertise in Hanford's reporting. In fact, the score gains in Mississippi are larger, and are more widespread, than Hanford's column reported.
If you "disaggregate" Mississippi's test scores—break them apart by ethnicity, race and income level—then the state's score gains in fourth grade reading are even larger, and more impressive, than Hanford reported.
Over the course of the past ten years, Mississipi's fourth grade score gains are even larger in math! That's an especially striking point when you consider the pair of headlines which sit atop Hanford's column:
There Is a Right Way to Teach Reading, and Mississippi Knows ItAccording to Hanford, the gain in fourth grade reading scores can be attributed to the fact that Mississippi knows "the right way to teach reading," thanks to its "reliance of cognitive science."
The state’s reliance on cognitive science explains why.
Those claims may be accurate in some way and to some extent. But the state shows larger gains in math, a fact which goes unreported and unexplained in Hanford's unusual column.
Tomorrow, we'll show you how large Mississippi's fourth grade score gains actually are, in both reading and math. Then, as the week proceeds, we'll consider Hanford's explanation for the rise in the state's reading score.
If those Naep scores can be trusted, they suggest that something very good has been taking place in Mississippi's schools. You'd almost think a decent nation would want to know what that is.
Trust us—you'll never see any such question pursued in the New York Times' news reporting. And in this one instance, when Hanford was allowed to report some actual facts in her surprising opinion column, she offered an explanation of Mississippi's score gains in reading which seems, at least on its face, almost impossibly childish.
According to Hanford, the state has produced these large score gains in reading because it's been teaching phonics! Can that possibly be the explanation for those (apparently large) academic gains? We'll examine the topic all week—after which, you'll never hear a single word about it ever again.
At the top of the current societal pile, no one cares about public schools or about the low-income kids within them. No fact could be more blindingly obvious. No assertion could be more safe.
Tomorrow: An overview of the gains
Hanford's earlier column: When Hanford refers to "cognitive science," is she simply referring to the need to teach phonics?
Her new column is somewhat unclear on that point. It seems to us that this column from October 2018—"Why Are We Still Teaching Reading the Wring Way?"—makes her meaning fairly clear.