The beloved, the lovely, the others: For our money, it's by far most interesting piece we've seen so far today.
We refer to this column in the Washington Post by Michele Norris.
From 2002 through 2015, Norris was a high-profile host and correspondent at NPR. Before that, she worked for ABC News. Judging from her public demeanor, she may be the world's nicest person. (We'd call that a good thing to be,)
We mention that because she writes today about Minnesota Nice. In print editions, her column appears beneath this headline:
'Minnesota Nice' is Different NowMinnesota Nice has changed.
Norris was born and raised in Minnesota. Early on, she offers this snapshot of her home state:
NORRIS (6/5/20): I am so proud to hail from a place that nurtured such a long line of openhearted, civic-minded luminaries and humanitarians: Hubert H. Humphrey, Roy Wilkins, August Wilson, Bob Dylan, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Yara Shahidi, Sinclair Lewis, Gordon Parks and, of course, Prince. With superior schools, a solid standard of living, a thriving arts culture, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, and some of the best hospitals in the world, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have consistently been named among the best places to live in America.We'll stop right there because we want to focus on public school issues.
That is . . . unless you’re black. African Americans are worse off in Minnesota than in almost every other state in the nation. A report released by the NAACP in December found that “racial disparities are among the worst in the nation in every key indicator of quality of life: Employment, Education, Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice, Income, Poverty, homeownership and Health.”
The Twin Cities’ numbers tell the story. The black poverty rate is five times higher than for white residents. A quarter of black residents own their homes compared with three-quarters of whites. Only 57 percent of black students in Minneapolis and 70 percent of black students in St. Paul complete high school in four years, compared with around 85 percent of their white peers.
Employing gentle humor, Minnesota's Garrison Keillor invented the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, "where the children are all above average."
Was it once that way all over the state? As she continues, Norris seems to suggest that the gap in public school attainment in her home state is perhaps an attribute of Minnesota Now:
NORRIS: How did this happen in a state that was known as a model for integration throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s?From that, a person might almost think that the children really were all above average way back then in 1990, before the deluge. A person might think that black-white public school achievement disparities in Minnesota have resulted from the abandonment of "the integration model," a shift which began in the 1990s.
Minnesota made a determined effort to avoid the mistakes other northern cities made during the Great Migration as African Americans who fled the Jim Crow South were funneled into declining communities. The Twin Cities adopted a plan where the cities and the suburbs created their fair share of affordable housing to avoid minorities being cordoned off in warrens of blight and decay. And the Twin Cities created an aggressive and impressive model for integration that helped ensure that school funding and resources were equally distributed. In those years, Minneapolis was a mecca for middle-class blacks drawn by integrated schools and a strong white-collar employment base.
But beginning in the 1990s, Minneapolis and St. Paul began abandoning the integration model under pressure from parents and political groups that argued that there was “no compelling government interest in K-12 education absent intentional discrimination.” Instead, the schools moved to a system based on open enrollment and the promise of increased funding for lower-income schools. That coincided with an increased population of immigrants and poor black families and a subsequent wave of “Blight Flight,” as white and middle-class blacks abandoned once-integrated classrooms for the suburbs or higher performing city schools. It was an extreme example of a trend that has taken hold elsewhere—a shift toward segregation in schools, in housing, in elder care and early childhood education.
The killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests have put an international spotlight on resulting disparities...
That doesn't seem to be true. Black-white achievement gaps were very large in Minnesota all the way back in 1990. In that year, the first reliable data appear, courtesy of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Naep), the long-standing federal program widely regarded as the "gold standard" of domestic educational testing.
Where did things stand back in 1990? Below, you see the size of the gap in Grade 8 math in the first three available years of Naep testing for Minnesota, and in the three most recent years:
Black-white achievement gap, Minnesota public schoolsFor all Naep data, start here.
Difference in average scores, Grade 8 math, Naep
1990: 40.57 points
1996: 38.66 points
2003: 44.13 points
2015: 40.14 points
2017: 42.88 points
2019: 45.27 points
According to an extremely rough rule of thumb, ten points on the Naep scale is said to be roughly equivalent to one academic year.
That is a very rough rule of thumb, especially in this type of application. But by any measure, those are very large Grade 8 achievement gaps—and the gaps were very large in 1990, before the changes Norris describes.
(It might also be noted that Minnesota's black kids are scoring much higher today than in 1990. Applying that very rough rule of thumb, the average score of the state's black kids in Grade 8 math in 2019 was almost two years higher than it was in 1990.)
We make these points because an extremely bad taste lingers in mouths around here. We continue to think, with something resembling contempt, of the comment we mentioned on Wednesday:
ELLISON (5/31/20): Well, Minnesota is a kind of a tale of two cities. It really is a beautiful, wonderful place. I love it here. I've raised all four of my kids here. There's so many great things about it. So many great people. And yet we have very stark disparities when it comes to African-Americans. Health disparities in health care, health disparities in housing, health disparities when it comes to employment. And disparities all around.One thinks of Ben Johnson's weary comment in The Last Picture Show: I've been putting up with this trashy behavior my whole life.
I'll give you a quick example, about 70 some percent of Minnesotans own their own homes. But only about 27% of African Americans do. African Americans are in a fragile economic position in this state. And we need massive investment. And what I say to people is, "Look, if we can have some of the highest SAT scores in the country, if we can have some of the highest voting participation in the country, highest voter—home-ownership in the country for whites, we can do it for everyone. We just have to have the will to do it for everybody. And I think that this sad, tragic situation might give us the energy to really, really make those kind of commitments because they are absolutely needed.
Minnesota's "hang 'em high" attorney general also grew up in Minnesota. What he tells people is this:
"Look, if we can have some of the highest SAT scores in the country"—if we can do that for whites—"we can do it for everyone."
They just have to have the will! That's what he tells people!
On last Sunday's Meet the Press, Keith Ellison said that's what tells people. After all these decades, it's hard not to think of Ben Johnson when you see a comment like that.
People like Ellison have been making such comments at least since the late 1960s. That said, Ellison has been a political leader in Minneapolis, and in Minnesota, for a large number of years.
That said, what has Ellison ever proposed about the situation—a situation which would apparently be easy to correct? If it would be so easy to straighten this out, why hasn't he done so by now? In place of all the happy talk, why hasn't he offered a plan?
Do you mind if we make a rude comment? Lurking within "Minnesota Nice" this past week, we think we sometimes have possibly heard a hint of "Minnesota Who Cares?"
We think we possibly heard a bit of "Minnesota Doesn't Give a Godd*mn. We think we might perhaps have heard some "Minnesota Strike A Pose" action.
When we see the Minneapolis police chief take a knee and get hailed as a hero on CNN, we wonder what the freak he was doing as all these people were being rendered unconscious by all these Minnesota Chokeholds during the years of his tenure.
We even wonder what he did about reviewing the demeanor of veteran cops with eighteen citizen complaints in as many years. As cable stars hail him as a hero for taking a knee and locking the least among his department up, we wonder if we'll ever see such questions explored.
When we see Senator Klobuchar rush to be the first to tweet the glorious news that the rookie policemen would be locked up too, we wonder if she's doing that to salvage her newly fraught standing, both as a former prosecutor and as a possible VP pick.
The mayor and the governor are also quite concerned. What did they do all those years? What did they do about the chokeholds, about the complaints, about the achievement gaps which we suddenly care about now?
Those gaps have been there forever, but Norris had left the state. She was involved in NPR Nice, which has always carried a certain hint of NPR Nobody Cares.
For ourselves, we spent our first dozen adult years in and around the Baltimore City Schools. We taught fifth grade for seven years, eighth grade math for two more.
In the missing years, we did some substitute work, and we worked on research projects. The gaps were large in Baltimore then, but in Minnesota too.
Our point? In all the years which have passed since then, we're not sure that we've ever seen a serious discussion of the problems which exist in low-income schools—of the patterns and practices which fail to serve the good decent kids who attend them.
We've read tons of material which makes no sense, especially in the New York Times. But has anyone ever set foot in a school? We're not sure anyone has.
Outside the reach of the public schools, is that 30 Million Word Gap for real? No one knows, because no one cares. Candidate Clinton proposed Too Small To Fail, and no one discussed the ideas it contained—no one, including her.
In the upper ends of our journalism, no one has ever cared about any of this; few, things could be more clear. Among our wider liberal elites, no one cares about low-income kids—until the time comes to poster and pretend.
When that time comes, the time also comes to lock the scapegoats up. To lock up the veteran cop who crazily killed a person, but also to lock up the rookie cop who told him he should stop.
We don't lock the police chief up—after all, he took a knee—nor would we say that we should.
We don't lock up the governor or the mayor, the fellows who let all those choking incidents go. We don't inquire about the training programs to which those rookie cops were exposed. We don't lock up cable stars.
We do lock up the rookie cops. Similarly, we prosecute the college freshmen, not the college presidents who stage the drunken brawls which eventually lead to disaster. We do so because, as the poet once wrote, "The lovely shall be choosers." Complicit people at the top of the heap will lock up those below.
The famous wisdom of crowds isn't always real wise. With respect to the heinous killing of George Floyd, the subsequent crowd could have used a bit of perspective, and a lot of reporting, from the nation's journalists.
That perspective has been lacking. Along the way, we've also possibly seen a large amount of Minnesota Look Over There, otherwise known as Minnesota Keister Covering.
Dr. King's beloved community must be built around such values as wisdom and mercy. It must be built around good judgment.
The beloved community must include others, even the lesser among us. Have we seen a lot of upper-end posing in the past week? A lot of Minnesota Newly Concerned?
Tomorrow: "Who Killed Davey Moore?" Lessons from a Minnesotan...
For what it's worth: How large are the gaps in Minnesota? In Grade 8 math, only Wisconsin has a (slightly) larger gap. As Norris notes, various types of sub-demographics may play a role in this.
Meanwhile, why no specific reference to the Minneapolis Public Schools? Simple story! Minneapolis has never agreed to take part in the Naep's urban district study (the TUDA).
Rightly or wrongly, we're always a bit unimpressed with such bashful districts. Rightly or wrongly, we tend to wonder about their interest in transparency and also about their good faith.