INSTANT ASSESSMENTS: Kristof and Ravitch penned instant assessments!


At this site, the search goes on: The search in which we're now engaged began in the distant past.

More precisely, it began on May 17, 2023. It began in the wake of the publication of a lengthy AP report.

We'll be suspending our search for the next few days, during which time we'll be off campus. At this point, it might be a good idea to summarize the current state of the search, in the course of which we've been confronted with a pair of instant assessments.

The search began on May 17, 2023. On that historic date, the Associated Press published an upbeat report under this upbeat headline:

‘Mississippi miracle’: Kids’ reading scores have soared in Deep South states

Test scores have soared in three Gulf Coast states, the AP's Sharon Lurye reported. 

The performance has been strongest in Mississippi, Lurye accurately said. Indeed, "the country has taken notice of what some have called the Mississippi miracle," the AP's reporter said.

Through fifty years of long, hard experience, we've learned to be extremely skeptical concerning claims of this type. For the reason, we set out on our latest search, scrutinizing the relevant data to see how impressive Mississippi's Naep scores might actually turn out to be.

We're still engaged in that search! Along the way, though, a highly unusual event occurred:

A member of the upper-end, mainstream press corps displayed an actual interest in this important matter.

Through fifty years of long, hard experience, we've learned a basic fact. No one cares about public school kids, especially low-income public school kids.

Also, no one cares about public school kids who are said to be black. No one cares about their academic achievements. No one care about their interests, or about their daily happiness—their sense of progress and pride—within their public schools.

It has long been clear that our own blue tribe, as a general matter, has no interest in such matters, or in such underclass kids. 

To his credit, and unsurprisingly, it was Nicholas Kristof who broke the mold. On June 1, he published a lengthy essay in the New York Times under another upbeat headline:

Mississippi Is Offering Lessons for America on Education

Kristof had gone to Mississippi to see this thing for himself. He saw second-graders who could read the word "vegetable." Also, he largely seemed to believe the various things he'd been told:

KRISTOF (6/1/23): I had heard Mississippi cited for its progress, but frankly, I was skeptical until I visited. On my second day in Jackson, where 98 percent of public school students are people of color, mostly from low-income families, I visited a second-grade classroom.

The class was reading a book, “The Vegetables We Eat.” The children read aloud and debated what vegetables were. Things that are green? Foods that don’t taste good? I was startled to see second graders read words like “vegetables” and “eggplant” fluently and still more astonished to see the entire class easily read the sentence “Where does nourishing food come from?”

"Thank God for Mississippi," Kristof wrote right at the end of his essay. 

For ourselves, we've often thanked God for Kristof's values, but we haven't always been impressed by his analytical skill in the realm of public education. 

In the first three paragraphs of this June 1 essay, he made some apparent mistakes—and so our search continued. But even as we continued our search, progressive education writer Diane Ravitch landed on Kristof like a ton of sunbaked bricks made from Mississippi mud:

Nicholas Kristof Does Not Know How to Fix Education

Ravitch landed on Kristof like a ton of sunbaked bricks. 

As she started, she said that Kristof "is terrific on many issues but consistently wrong when he writes about education." (We can't say that's flatly wrong.) She raised some valid objections to Kristof's assessments, but she made astonishing errors of her own as she pursued her attack.

So it tends to go, in this red and blue nation, on the rare occasion when the interests of low-income public school kids briefly swim into view. Let's get clear on how this works:

It has been three weeks since that upbeat AP report first appeared. Except for a clownishly bungled ninety second pseudo-discussion on the next day's Morning Joe, we've heard nothing about it on our own blue tribe's "cable news" TV programs:

Except for the occasional person like Kristof, our blue tribe's tribunes quit on black kids decades ago. We quit on black kids when it became clear that erasing our nation's educational "achievement gaps," the product of our brutal history, wouldn't be an easy task.

When we liberals learned that fact, we stopped discussing the problem. Simply put, our blue tribe doesn't care about any of this, and it never has. 

(Few things could be more clear.)

Our blatant lack of interest in low-income kids helps explain why we haven't seen that AP report discussed—not by Rachel, not by Lawrence, certainly not by Nicolle and her favorite friends.

Those people don't care about any of this! Either that, or to the extent that they do care, their corporate owners aren't willing to let them bore us with analyses of this tedious topic.

At any rate, no one is going to talk about this, except an outlier like Kristof. At that point, along comes a partisan warrior like Ravitch, and she suffuses the discussion with gigantic errors as she blasts out her points.

(In comments, Ravitch is praised by blue tribe true believers for her ideological takedown of Kristof. These commenters have no way of knowing about the errors she has made, or about her highly selective presentation of material.)

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we're still just a bunch of people! In all honesty, we don't care a whole lot about "underclass" kids—and to the extent that we do care, our analytical skills are woeful.

The Naep presents an amazing array of statistical information derived from its testing program. You'll see a major journalist jump to the moon before you'll see a major journalists sift through that wealth of information—including the wealth of information about Mississippi's good, decent black and white kids.

For today, we'll leave you with some basic data—some data which may be misleading. We'll show you how certain groups of Mississippi fourth graders performed on the Naep's most recent reading and math tests.

(Those most recent tests were administered last year, not in 2019. Reading the essays to which we've linked, it isn't clear that Ravitch or Kristof is aware of that fact.)

How did Mississippi's kids perform on last year's tests? After performing a few obvious statistical adjustments, here are some basic results:

Grade 4 reading, Naep 2022
Lower income black students
U.S. public schools: 193.42
Mississippi: 202.76
Grade 4 reading, Naep 2022
Lower income white students
U.S. public schools: 211.49
Mississippi: 224.45
Grade 4 math, Naep 2022
Lower income black students
U.S. public schools: 212.16
Mississippi: 218.80
Grade 4 math, Naep 2022
Lower income white students
U.S. public schools: 232.07
Mississippi: 241.74

"Lower income" refers to kids who are eligible for the federal lunch program. Further statistical adjustment is possible, but for today, let's leave it right there. 

(For all Naep data, start here.)

For starters, it must be said; those data do not constitute a "miracle." On the other hand, Mississippi's lower income fourth graders did in fact outperform their counterparts across the nation, in both reading and math, on last year's Naep. 

On the surface, they outperformed their counterparts by rather decent amounts. (By a very rough but conventional rule of thumb, ten points on the Naep scale is often said to represent roughly one academic year.)

Those data suggest that something good is happening in Mississippi. But could those data be misleading? A few things must be said:

For starters, you can see that Mississippi, like the nation as a whole, hasn't erased the wide achievement gaps which obtain between white and black public school kids. To appearances, our blue tribe finds those gaps embarrassing, and so they go undiscussed.

Aside from that, the following questions remain—appropriate questions raised by Ravitch in her vastly flawed takedown of Kristof:

To what extent do Mississippi's Grade 4 scores result from its Grade 3 retention policy, in which nine percent of the state's kids get an extra year of graded instruction before they take those tests? 

That retention policy may or may not be a good idea. Either way, it seems to create an unlevel playing field when we compare Mississippi's Grade 4 scores to those of other states.

Ravitch raised that basic question. Also, she asked this:

To what extent do these score gains persist into later school years? More specifically, how well do Mississippi's eighth graders perform when compared to their counterparts? 

Ravitch raised this perfectly valid question, then offered two absurdly misleading sets of data as she pretended to answer. When we resume our search after a hiatus of several days, we'll show you what Mississippi's Grade 8 Naep scores looked like last year.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our big stars don't care about this. 

Borrowing from Yeats, silence invades the suburbs when topics like this pop up. In the few cases where major figures do seem to care, they will typically offer instant assessments larded with technical errors, including errors by omission.

This is the way the national discourse works in this most delusional of all worlds. We'll post on a different topic tomorrow. After an absence of a day or two, we'll then continue our search.

All in all, we just thought that you should see what an actual search might look like. Searches virtually never occur within the discourse created by our high-end, Storyline-driven press, but also by our experts.

Tomorrow: A "raucous" school board meeting


  1. "INSTANT ASSESSMENTS: Kristof and Ravitch penned instant assessments!"

    Somerby has no idea how much thought either Kristof or Ravitch put into their essays. Calling them instant is a criticism but not one that is substantiated by anything whatsoever.

    Similarly, Somerby refers repeatedly to astonishing errors made by Ravitch, but doesn't say what those errors are. Instead, he promises to "search" when he returns in a few days, even though he could have itemized them today instead of talking about woods being dark and deep and similar nonsense (space-wasting filler). So Ravitch is attacked but without substantiation again.

    Somerby apparently thinks it is enough for him to criticize someone, claiming they have made mistakes, without telling us what those mistakes were. It doesn't work that way. Today's essay is just an empty smear against Ravitch, who has a great deal more stature and expertise in the field of education than Somerby does.

    Talk about true believers! Somerby expects his followers to just take his word about Ravitch's supposed mistakes. No proof needed. And Somerby's trolls will fall right into line behind him without waiting to see for themselves what Ravitch got wrong. Given Somerby's track record on other criticisms concerning NAEP and MS reading scores, it seems unlikely he will be able to support his attack on Ravitch. But the Somerby fanboys won't require facts -- accusations are enough for them.

    1. Are we trolls or fanboys? I’m so confused.

      Bob’s simple point is that the pursuit of these hot takes leads to sloppy work. He’s right, too.

      And btw … why are all you critics of him so obsessed here? I mean, get a life.

    2. But he didn’t find anything sloppy.

    3. Trolling Bob is life.

  2. I am tried of wasting time on this subject. There is real news at other blogs, real discussion of topics instead of made-up non-controversies about NAEP scores in MS, a state that even Somerby agrees is doing a better job of teaching reading to its kids.

    1. Performatively they are, because of phonics. Which is a whole different topic.

      You guess all have a real knack here of completely missing Bob’s main points.

    2. What point do you think was missed?

    3. His point has always been that rich liberal elitists are mostly schmucks. Their concerns are limited, they’re shallow and sloppy.

    4. Anonymouse 10:10am, you’re allowed to read more than one blog.

    5. But he can have only one favorite blog.

    6. My guess is that won’t be this blog.

    7. @1:11 How does this ongoing campaign against MS schools show that?

  3. Can reading scores be checked by single parent or two parent households?

    1. Not from the NAEP database. There is already data showing that children with single parents do less well academically. I discussed this in comments a few days ago when it was last brought up.

  4. “the search goes on”

    Unfortunately for Somerby, the thing he is looking for (whatever that is) isn’t located within the naep data explorer website.

    And since that’s the only place he is looking, it will be a futile search.

    If his goal is to show that liberals don’t care about public schools, I’m sure his armchair data analysis will pretend to find something to support that.

    To be the type of person who makes statements like that while also mentioning Ravitch, someone who has devoted her entire life to education, and is now a major advocate for public schools and against corporate education reform and mindless media
    narratives, is evidence of Somerby’s desire to attack those whose views largely coincide with his and would be allies in the fight for public schools, except he can’t bear to acknowledge that others care aside from himself, the self styled lonely voice in the wilderness.

    Except that his posts are not evidence of any concern about public schools.

    1. He said big shot liberals don’t care about lower achieving public schools. Like the NYT, they care about elite kids in the elite schools, and are always comparing every kid to them. He’s right about this.

    2. Who are those big shot liberals? The NYTimes and parents in NYC are upset because more talented black kids are shut out of specialized high schools. That is important because lower class schools in NYC are not preparing black and hispanic kids very well.

  5. “a partisan warrior like Ravitch”

    “Partisan” in what sense? She is pro-public schools. That leads her to oppose Republican DeVosian efforts to privatize public schools.

    She initially supported Common Core, which was adopted under Obama and Arne Duncan (both identified as “liberal” if I’m not mistaken), but came to oppose it.

    In other words, her only partisanship is being partisan for public schools.

    Somerby is clearly throwing out the term “partisan” so that his readers will assume Ravitch is just another dirty liberal (as if being “partisan” is automatically bad). It’s a mindless, stupid smear.

    1. You're mistaken. They're not liberal.

    2. I said they were identified as such. But why make your stupid comment, 12:15? What does “liberal” mean to you, or for that matter, what does Somerby mean by calling Ravitch a “partisan warrior”? My point is that she criticizes both liberal and conservative views on education, but Somerby doesn’t like her attacks on conservatives.

    3. I don't think they are liberal either. I didn't vote for Obama's reelection because of Arne Duncan (among other things). Duncan supported charter schools and I think Obama supported Duncan because of the widespead support for charter schools among black parents (and black voters). Hillary Clinton's educational policies were better and more liberal than Obama or Duncan, in my opinion.

    4. and my point about Ravitch is that she rejected Duncan and Obama on Common Core, and yet she is still labeled “partisan” by Somerby because she has the gall to attack conservatives.

    5. You guys here are really delusional if you think that Bob Somerby is a conservative who hates liberals. And by doing so, you’re all constantly proving his constant point about the dangers of tribal mindlessness.

    6. I live by my delusions.

    7. He supports Trump and repeats conservative memes. He constantly berates liberals for trivial things while claiming the US is sliding into the sea because of us. And who are the horrible people he mentioned the other day?

    8. 1:01: I didn’t say Somerby was a conservative. He called Ravitch a partisan, meaning liberal, but I pointed out that she criticizes both left and right. He calls her a partisan because she attacks conservative positions, but he fails to note that she also criticizes liberals. She does care about public schools, and about all children. It is false to claim otherwise.

  6. "Through fifty years of long, hard experience, we've learned a basic fact. No one cares about public school kids, especially low-income public school kids.

    Also, no one cares about public school kids who are said to be black. No one cares about their academic achievements. No one care about their interests, or about their daily happiness—their sense of progress and pride—within their public schools."

    First, the parents and other relatives of these kids care a lot. They know that education is key to a better financial future. They want the best for their kids, even if they don't always know how to accomplish that.

    Second, the teachers, staff, administrators and other school workers (including plenty of volunteer classroom aides) all care about what is happening for kids in their schools.

    Third, realtors care. They know that home buyers want to buy homes in districts with good schools. It is one of the first questions a young family asks about a prospective home -- how are the schools?

    Fourth -- local businesses care. Any place that hires workers knows that the quality of the school has an impact on the quality of workforce available to them. Workers try to live near where they will work, if they can, so the local schools matter to local businesses and the overall quality of schooling is important to larger businesses -- and they know it.

    Fifth -- the military cares. They recruit from high schools and colleges and they know that the better the schools, the better their incoming enlistees will be and the more effective their service and the less difficult their training. Being able to function at a higher level academically prior to enlistment will save lives.

    Sixth -- local and federal bureaucracies care. The DMV cares whether new drivers can pass the driving tests or not, which is an academic exercise. The IRS cares whether people can do their taxes properly, another academic exercise. It is difficult for undereducated people to buy a car or a house without getting ripped off, if they cannot read and understand the terms they are negotiating or the paperwork. Etc.

    Seventh -- public health and safety agencies care. The less educated the workers, the more accidents on the job, the more workers comp claims, the greater the cost to employers and the public. The less educated people are, the worse their stats for things like divorce, alcoholism and drug abuse, child abuse and neglect, poverty and homelessness, preventable disease and accidents, suicide and depression. These public health problems affect the quality of life for all in our society, but those who work directly with people needing help recognize the connection between education and later life problems. They care.

    Would politicians such as DeSantis be attacking the public schools if people didn't care about kids and education? This right wing political culture war works because people DO care, not because they don't.

    Somerby is both an idiot and an asshole. He worked alongside other teachers and staff in public schools. He knows that people care. Or perhaps he is projecting his own lack of caring onto others, to excuse his abandonment of the kids in his district? Perhaps he is reassuring himself that at least HE cares, when he writes these useless essays attacking other people's caring. But, because Somerby rants but doesn't do anything else to help kids, this has to be a sort of performative virtue signaling on his part, aimed at shoring up his own self-esteem from a demanding conscience, one that surely knows that stand-up comedy does nothing to help kids or the world, whereas competent teaching changes lives. Or maybe Somerby has always suspected that he was not competent, not what his classroom kids needed, and that by quitting he did them all a huge favor. But he just can't stop resenting those who know how to teach and those who do actual good in support of schools, like those ratty teachers and Ravitch.

    1. What an odd construction: "who are said to be black"! Is Somerby now suggesting that black kids don't think of themselves as black but are being labeled that way by others? Is he denying the right of the black community to define itself according to its own identity and terms?

      Is Somerby now going to refer to Wallace as someone said to be female? Is Morning Joe going to be said to be male?

      Somerby is said to be a human being. There may be some doubt about that though.

    2. It’s too bad that the only human being who does care, Bob Somerby, wasn’t handed on a silver platter the means to singlehandedly show the world how it’s done. In a just world, Somerby wouldn’t have chosen to blog from his apartment, mostly about the mental state of one Donald J Trump, reaching an audience of dozen, and publish zero books.

      Saying “no one cares about public schools” is obvious lunacy and disqualifies him from being taken seriously. It also prevents him from being viewed as an ally by anyone. Being on this kind of moral high horse is offputting.

    3. Somerby’s talking about the liberal elite, the big shots, not you or me or teachers or most anyone else.

    4. Who exactly are the liberal elite?

    5. mh: “Being on this kind of moral high horse is offputting.”

      No. The last thing it seems to be with you and the anonymices is “off putting”.

    6. Does it put them off, or does it putt them off?

  7. "All in all, we just thought that you should see what an actual search might look like. Searches virtually never occur within the discourse created by our high-end, Storyline-driven press, but also by our experts."

    After Somerby's so-called search is done, is there anything at all that should have been changed in the AP article or on Morning Joe's show?

    It wouldn't be right to discuss prior cheating scandals because there has been no cheating alleged or uncovered in MS. It wouldn't be right to complain about retention either, when there is no evidence it contributed to score gains over the past decade. Morning Joe briefly slipped up and attributed the "miracle" to AL instead of MS, but that got corrected in the on-air segment. So what is left to correct? Nothing that I can see.

    There could be an endless list of topics that a reporter could pursue in a "search" but ruling out a lot of negatives seems like a waste of time in the absence of clues or loose ends, so is it reasonable for Somerby to insist that reporters must check for cheating every time a score set is released by NAEP (even though no NAEP cheating scandal has ever happened)?

    Notice that mh's "research" answered the objections that Somerby raised without support, and that Somerby himself should have found the footnotes and reports that mh quoted, had he done that research properly. That somewhat undermines Somerby's claim to be a big-time expert in NAEP score reporting. I suspect mh found his info because he was interested in finding out the impact of retention on reading scores, whereas Somerby didn't find the same info because he was motived to attack and discredit a specific claim about improvement, made by people he wanted to malign. You find different answers when you ask different questions.

  8. It's wrong to discriminate against high-achieving Asian kids.

    1. What is your evidence that any discrimination against them has occurred in the NYC specialized high school admission process?

      Awhile back, a book called Choosing Elites (Klitgaard) described the admission process at top schools where there are many more qualified applicants than can be admitted. Once basic requirements are met via grades and test scores, they look for qualities that will produce a diverse and interesting student body. These include geographic dispersion, athletic and cultural accomplishments (ability to play musical instruments or other skills to fill out the college orchestra and sports teams, performance groups), unusal experiences such as living in a third-world country or working on a tuna-boat, being home-schooled, inventions, discoveries, creations, being elected to local office, leading a community improvement project, and so on. These involve who an applicant is and what else they have done besides study their asses off to pass tests. Male applicants get a boost because schools seek parity between males and females to provide an attractive social life for students.

      In this context, Asian students do well with the exams and grades, but may not recognize the value of the extra-curricular and existential selection factors that are applied in that second screening. Harvard would not want to have a class entirely of Asian students, no matter how high their grades and scores. This is certainly discrimination, but it is the same kind of discrimination criterion applied to all other applicants. It is unfair that if you are a generic all-A student with high test scores, but nothing to make you stand out from the crowd of similar kids, you will not be offered admission, but that is the way it works and there are plenty of other excellent schools who happily accept Harvard's rejects.

      This is different than the situation where a black student has high grades and less high test scores (see Claude Steele's work about why those scores are lower) and cannot gain admission to a school such as Harvard because the grades are second-guessed as representing less accomplishment, because the student is black or comes from a majority-minority school. These kids were routinely screened out no matter what their potential. Now they are recognized as representing a desirable diversity with a positive cultural contribution to the overall college community. In contrast, Asian students complain because they are not all admitted to the top school of their choice, despite top grades and test scores. And that is the situation in NYC too, except that there is no attempt to include the other students they crowd out, as occurs at Harvard.

      There is now a lawsuit brought by Asian students against Harvard, as there was one against Berkeley too, where there is a large Asian community in the San Francisco area.

  9. I’d like to congratulate all the posters who again waded through what seems to the third or fourth time Bob has posted the same redundant take on this matter, which is only a slight variation on the last thing Bob went endlessly on about (an offhand comment on Morning Joe).
    I envy your endurance.

    1. If it’s so unendurable then why do you endure it yourself?

      Get a life, guys, if you don’t like him. You’re either obsessed by him for some crazy reason or other or you’re on someone’s payroll.

      It’s really bizarre to always be seeing so many hate posts here that constantly excoriate Bob Somerby for being a hater.

    2. I’ve learned to skim, Buddy. And it’s pretty easy to do by the third or fourth time Bob has posted the same thing. If you are still taking Bob seriously, you are the one with a problem.

    3. Somerby tells lies. The truth is worth defending.

    4. The truth is out there.

  10. Also, the day Bob went off on his “horrible people” rant the Morning Joe panel was having a very, very silly yuck fest over DeSantis supposedly claiming there were different ways to pronounce his name. It was the sort of nonsense you could see “Fox and Friends” engage in every morning with the “disordered” President of the United States every morning for four years. If the station strayed from worshipping him, he would threatened to abandon them. This would eventually cost them three quarters of a billion dollars in a lawsuit.
    But that doesn’t excuse MJ, this was indeed up there in the top ten stupidest moments in MJ history. Right up there with the time they welcomed Ken Starr as a God, and utterly lied about Gingrich’s hunt for Clinton, which Joe participated in.
    Bob had nothing to say about this.

  11. Is Bob right that nobody cares about black kids? Evidence is that they're not paying attention to actual results. A Yankee fan would know how the Yanks are doing -- what their record is. Someone who really cares about black kids' education would know the comparable statistics for that group.

    1. That’s total nonsense David. Most parents care a lot about their kids and school without knowing any stats.

    2. Really? Always knew what kind of grades my daughters were getting.

    3. Stats and grades are not the same thing. A grade is given to an individual student. A statistic is defined as a number that describes the characteristics of a group of measurements (grades). Mean and std deviation are stats. A grade is a data point, an observation, a single measurement. Parents don't ask what the mean grade was for their kid's class. They don't know what a std deviation is. They know from their own past experience as students that As are the best, Bs are good, Cs are average and D is almost failing, F is failing.

      Yes, there are parents who know what percentiles are and who look at the standardized tests, but that is because they already knew about such things, perhaps from their own college training or work. That isn't most parents.

      You yourself have demonstrated here that you didn't know the difference between mean and median. That makes you like most parents, even if you did keep track of your daughters' grades.

    4. I think David knows about means and medians. You may have misinterpreted a comment.