Concerning the progress in Chicago's schools!

SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 2021

The Drumcat forces a postscript: Has there been progress in the Chicago public schools over the past twenty years?

In this Saturday afternoon post, Kevin Drum seemed to say the answer was no. For that reason, we offer a postscript to our own report from Saturday morning.

Here's the problem: Kevin focused on reading scores, offering his reason for doing so. As a general matter, progress in reading has been slow and hard. That's been true around the nation and also around the world.

Chicago has recorded large score gains on the Naep. But those score gains have come in math. 

In what follows, we'll use 2003 as our starting-point, matching what Kevin did. We'll discuss Grade 8 math on the Naep:

In 2003, Chicago's black kids were outperformed by their black counterparts nationwide. On average, they were outscored by roughly 7 points on the Naep scale. 

As of 2019, Chicago's black kids were scoring roughly two years higher in math. By then, they were outscoring their black peers nationwide by a full 12 points.

On its face, that's very large progress—and the same pattern obtained for Chicago's white kids during this stretch of time. 

In 2003, Chicago's white kids were outperformed by their white counterparts nationwide. On average, they were outscored by roughly 11 points on the Naep scale.  

As of 2019, Chicago's white kids were scoring almost three years higher in math. By then, they were outscoring their white peers nationwide by almost 12 points.

Some of these changes may reflect demographic changes within Chicago's different "racial" groups. That said, when people refer to progress in Chicago, this is basically what they mean. We'd still challenge the characterization of the Chicago schools Karin Chenoweth offers in her new book, for the reasons we cited in yesterday's report.

A few final points:

Naep data can only tell us so much, but Naep data are endlessly fascinating. The federal government presents a treasure trove of these data, but our upper-end press corps would rather hold hands and jump off a bridge than analyze, report or discuss them.

Statistics are known to be boring and hard. But there's also this:

Here in Our (deeply delusional, self-impressed) Town, nobody cares about black kids! Also, nobody cares about low-income kids. Nothing could possibly be more clear, nor is this going to change.

You'll never see cable star Rachel Maddow talk about low-income kids. She wants to talk, and talk and talk, about Rudy and Manafort and Barr, and also of course about Trump. She wants to chortle and laugh and entertain us as she discusses the highly amusing stupidity of The Others.

(Also, she wants us to love and adore her.)

Friday night, she even wasted oodles of time laughing about that poor, low-level bank exec shlub who loaned all that money to Manafort. She was actually hoping that we can get that pitiful low-level shlub locked up. She mugged and clowned and had a grand time dreaming her dreams about this. 

(According to experts, almost everything can seem amusing and funny when you're paid multiple millions per year.)

By way of contrast:

As far as Rachel is concerned, this nation's good, decent low-income kids can just go hang in the yard. According to experts, Our Town's multimillionaire cable news stars have appalling values and very poor judgment and we rubes are unable to see this.

For all Naep data, just click here. It's an amazing collection of data. 

No "journalist" ever clicks that link. Dearest darlings, use your heads! It simply isn't done!


  1. 'As far as Rachel is concerned, this nation's good, decent low-income kids can just go hang in the yard. According to experts, Our Town's multimillionaire cable news stars have appalling values and very poor judgment and we rubes are unable to see this.'

    Naturally, Somerby's town of hardcore, malignant Trumptards are unable to see appalling values and poor judgement. As long as their cable stars do what Somerby does -- defend Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz, you won't see Somerby comment on them. Because SOmerby agrees with them, like the pathetic, useless Trumptard that he is.

  2. Urban black kids are more exposed to lead, and that's bad.

    1. Give those kids, and adults, reparations for slavery.
      1) The deserve it, and 2) the richest country in the history of mankind can certainly afford it.
      Let the Right-wing cry. Who cares about those a-holes, anyway?

    2. Yes, definitely. The slaveowners' party should pay reparations.

    3. ...oh, and also: the police-defunding party should, of course, pay reparations to the victims of the resulting (and perfectly foreseen) crimewave.

      Call your congresswomyn today, dear dembot.

  3. Although both Drum and Somerby style themselves as data gurus, neither of them notes the statistical problem of comparing a large group against a much smaller one. And neither makes any attempt to figure out or discuss who that small group of white students are, the ones who have remained in the public schools in a city where white students flee public schools.

    Drum makes a big deal over the math increase among white students without ever worrying about the variability in the white group and how the size of the sample might amplify the apparent increase for reasons having nothing to do with actual improvement but only with self-selection into the small white public school population.

    For example, what if the white sample is strongly affected by their parents' financial means? In such a case, you might expect an influx of white students into the public schools after 2009, when there was a financial crisis that may have had a stronger impact on those with money to lose than it did on families in chronic poverty. 2009 is exactly the inflection point in Drum's graph, when white students previously in private schools may have joined public school classes. They brought with them their prior teaching, which may have affected the means in math without any real change in math teaching. If there were no actual change in public school math teaching and no change in who was part of the black population in Chicago public schools, there is no reason to expect the black scores to change, and they didn't.

    Instead, Somerby and Drum both appear to want to challenge the data itself, the scores. Somerby hints at cheating. Drum talks about his spidey sense tingling (what does that mean for math scores?). An actual researcher should always be thinking about alternative explanations for their findings. Drum and Somerby skip that step and go straight to their favorite answers. For Somerby it is those ratty teachers and their cheating souls. Drum seems to have a vested interest in showing that nothing ever changes, and he usually finds a way to portray that in his graphs (which rest on how he has chosen or manipulated data). In contrast, actual researchers are trying to figure out what is happening, they want to know what is true in the world. That isn't Drum or Somerby, and that's why I would read whatever they are saying with greater caution than Reardon or Chenoweth's work.

    Choosing NAEP scores to discuss a very complex problem is dubious at best. Those scores measure very little that is important in assessing progress of black kids in public schools. That choice does reflect the over-emphasis on standardized testing that has ruled for the past several decades, especially on the right. Here, use of the NAEP lets Drum and Somerby avoid reality and focus instead on a very limited topic that cannot carry the weight they wish to heap on its back -- demonstrating that black kids cannot change and that schools are not improving.

    1. I believe you have cut to the chase and found the perverse implication of Somerby’s education blogging. Whether he knows it or not, his constant harping on test scores and ‘achievement gaps’ supports the narrative that ‘our schools are failing’, which leads to more testing, more mindless ‘accountability’ and ultimately to more ‘school choice’, which is far too often code for anti-public school sentiment.

      I can’t tell if Somerby knows he’s doing this, or if he even cares.

  4. So Drum decides there hasn’t been progress in Chicago, because he wants to ignore math and look at reading scores, whereas Somerby declares that, yes, there has been some progress if you look at math scores. Then he says that ‘Naep data can only tell us so much.’

    I would also add that non-education experts Drum and Somerby can only tell us so much, when the sum total of their research consists of ten minutes at the naep website.

    Somerby says ‘We'd still challenge the characterization of the Chicago schools Karin Chenoweth offers in her new book.’ Excuse me, but where is there any evidence that Somerby has actually read her book? He is quoting from a reporter quoting from her book. You know, the book that no one will read because no one cares?

    Finally, Somerby’s main point seems to be that Rachel Maddow doesn’t care about schoolchildren. I have no idea if that’s true, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean that no one cares, or that liberals don’t care, assertions that Somerby has previously made.

    Somerby’s blog posts about schools, wherein he routinely fails to examine actual studies and books on the subject and wherein his ‘research’ consists in visiting the naep website, only to conclude that that data can only tell us so much, do not show a great deal of evidence that he himself actually cares about schoolchildren. He seems to derive a great deal more pleasure from telling us which cable stars don’t care. And in so doing, he ascribes a hell of a lot more influence and importance to Rachel Maddow than she merits.

  5. ‘Naep data can only tell us so much.’

    And yet, that data told Drum there was no progress in Chicago, and it told Somerby that there was, and it tells Somerby that there are achievement gaps that he will use to bludgeon liberals with.

    That data seems to tell some people a hell of a lot, I’d say.

  6. Something that has always bugged me:

    When Somerby brings up achievement gaps in order to attack stories about improvements in schools as shown by test scores (as he did in his first Saturday post), he is engaging in an unfair attack. He himself had claimed, in a recent post, that the ‘achievement gaps’ are due to a ‘word gap’ that exists before students even enter school. Thus, schools can’t really affect those gaps, can they?

    The reason to look at test scores is to see if there are things schools can actually do and have actually done to increase them. That seems a legitimate exercise and it isn’t logical, again according to Somerby’s own assertions, to bring up achievement gaps as a way of attacking people like Chenoweth who note test score increases.

  7. "We'd still challenge the characterization of the Chicago schools Karin Chenoweth offers in her new book,"

    Somerby has no basis for challenging her characterization. You cannot do that using NAEP scores and Somerby doesn't know enough to make any other kind of criticism. He hides behind NAEP scores to conceal his broader lack of knowledge on education topics.

    Numbers (such as NAEP scores) are a means to an end (understanding how well our schools are doing) and not an end in themselves. NAEP is no substitute for reading books like Chenoweth's and it provides no basis for challenging anything she has written. Somerby's idolization of NAEP is embarrassing.

    1. Somerby doesn't idolize the NAEP, he only brings it up to bash Chenoweth. Somerby only idolizes Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson, Devin Nunes and Matt Gaetz