WEDNESDAY, JUNE 28, 2023
For today, a brief interlude: In his lengthy report for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof described the key reform.
Kristof is a good, decent person; he has superlative values. On this one unfortunate occasion, he was describing a changed procedure in Mississippi's public schools:
KRISTOF (6/1/23): Perhaps the most important single element of the 2013 legislative package was a test informally called the third-grade gate: Any child who does not pass a reading test at the end of third grade is held back and has to redo the year.
This was controversial. Would this mean holding back a disproportionate share of Black and brown children from low-income families, leaving them demoralized and stigmatized? What about children with learning disabilities?
In fact, the third-grade gate lit a fire under Mississippi. It injected accountability: Principals, teachers, parents and children themselves were galvanized to ensure that kids actually learned to read. Each child’s progress in reading is carefully monitored, and those who lag—as early as kindergarten and ramping up in second and third grades—are given additional tutoring.
According to Kristof, roughly 9 percent of the state's third graders are required to repeat third grade under terms of this ten-year-old reform.
This may be a good or a bad idea; opinions continue to differ. But for most purposes, this third grade retention policy makes it harder to compare Mississippi's Grade 4 Naep scores to Naep scores from an array of other states which don't hold third graders back.
At any rate:
In Kristof's rendering, the reforms in that 2013 legislative package touched off an "education revolution" in Mississippi's public schools. Back on May 17, the Associated Press had even floated the term "Mississippi miracle" with respect to that state's (fourth grade) score gains over roughly the past ten years.
At least three different questions are raised by Kristof's claim—by his claim that an "education revolution" is underway in Mississippi's public schools. We'll plan to address all three questions in this Friday's report.
For today, an interlude! We'll ask you to ponder this:
Below, you see some Grade 4 reading scores from the 2022 Naep. We'll include some math scores too. Our question to you will be this:
Who can look at those Naep scores and say that a miracle—or a revolution, or "a huge success story"—has taken place in Mississippi? Why in the world would a sensible person want to say such a thing?
Average scores, Grade 4 reading
White kids, U.S. public schools: 226.03
Black kids, Mississippi: 204.41
Average scores, Grade 4 math
White kids, U.S. public schools: 244.08
Black kids, Mississippi: 220.03
Sixty years ago, statistics like those would have been taken as a sign that a revolution was needed. In these very strange latter days, statistics like those are part of the claim that a miracle has taken place!
Let's be a bit more precise:
In last year's Naep testing, Mississippi's black fourth graders scored roughly two academic years behind the nation's white kids, in reading and in math. And that's after just four years of graded instruction, with a statistical advantage to Mississippi almost surely thrown in.
Nicholas Kristof is a good, decent person. Having made that obvious statement, we think we should ask you this:
Two years behind after four years of school? What kind of person would call such results "a huge success story?" Based on results like that, why would any decent person choose to say that "an education revolution" is underway, or has taken place?
Does anybody actually care about this nation's black kids? Over the course of the past fifty years, the answer has routinely been no.
We're asking you to think about the strangeness of that—to stop averting your gaze.
Tomorrow: Another interlude
Friday: Three easy pieces