MISSISSIPPI'S KIDS: Why would we call this a revolution?


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
Naep, 2022
White kids, U.S. public schools: 226.03
Black kids, Mississippi: 204.41

Average scores, Grade 4 math
Naep, 2022
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


  1. "MISSISSIPPI'S KIDS: Why would we call this a revolution?"

    It is a revolution for MS because the state totally changed how it taught its kids to read.

  2. Drum admitted his mistake in this morning's post, something you will never see this blogger do.

    1. Drum admitted that he now agrees with Somerby because he created a graph in which he made a clumsy adjustment to include back in the retained students and was able to show no improvement. That will warm Somerby's heart, but it is wrong, for reasons described below (@12:59).

    2. He added back in retained students who were already part of the NAEP data (adding them twice, essentially) because the policy of retention started in 2002 not 2013.

    3. I admit that I made a mistake that I suggested Drum made a mistake. Only.

    4. Drum makes mistakes often. In ways, Drum is worse than Somerby, as Drum clings to a veneer of centrism, while Somerby is closer to mask off.

  3. "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."

    There are also an array of other states which have also been holding third graders back all along. Somerby never worried about them before.

  4. Here is an article that mh posted back when this discussion first started. To date, Somerby and Drum give no evidence of having read it:

    "This article, in which the score gains were attributed to the third grade retention policy, was published in 2019:

    “Mississippi rising? A partial explanation for its NAEP improvement is that it holds students back”


    However, the author updated his article almost 2 years later.

    ‘Author’s Update, August 5, 2022: Analysis of NAEP demographic data shows that retaining students was in fact not a major contributor to Mississippi’s improved fourth grade NAEP results in the last few years—at least not the way this article suggested. The average age of Mississippi’s fourth grade test-takers was almost identical in 2002 and 2017; increased retention should have raised the age. That suggests that Mississippi has long had a higher retention rate than most states, perhaps making its reading retention policy less controversial than in other places. For further thoughts on how the retention policy has impacted Mississippi’s NAEP results, see my related Fordham Institute post from January 2022: “Student retention and third-grade reading: It’s about the adults.”’

    The author asks you to review his newer article"

    mh also posted these stats:

    "The second piece of information comes from the naep itself. You can add student age in as a factor. Here’s what happens when you do that:

    Grade 4 reading, 2022:
    National public, below modal age, 232
    National public, at modal age, 216
    National public above modal age, 216
    Mississippi, below modal age, XXX (no data: Reporting standards not met.)
    Mississippi, at modal age, 223
    Mississippi, above modal age, 212

    The older students, presumably the ones held back, (above modal age), performed less well than those at the modal age."

    Kevin Drum's extrapolation is based on incorrect info (the idea that the retention only started in 2013 instead of 2002. Further, it arbitrarily adds back in the lowest performing students instead of reflecting the actual performance of those kids after experiencing the revamped MS program. It is a model, not descriptive data for actual kids. A model is only as good as its assumptions and Drum has not taken much into account beyond adjusting for a hypothesized number of bottom performers. Then he draws a conclusion that does not fit what has actually happened in MS.

    Somerby wants to conclude that if children were held back and then added back into the tested sample, because they had extra instruction, the mean should rise with the older children in the group. That is not what has happened. The kids who were retained are struggling and even after another year, they can pass the 3rd grade test to advance, but they are still not strong readers. Their scores are lower than those of children who passed the first time, but are below the mean in reading. They are barely passing, not making the rest of the group look better.

    It is true that adding in the lowest performers each year (instead of retaining some) will increase the mean, but MS has been doing that since 2002. The comparison showing progress is between 2013 and 2023. Nothing different is happening across those years (no greater retention) except an improved instructional program for reading. That is what the NAEP data show. Drum's adjustment is incorrect, even if it supports Somerby's hypothesis, because it does not reflect what actually happened.

    When that bottom 9% comes into 4th grade, instead of simply repeating the same ineffective instruction, it has benefitted from a great deal of individual attention and those kids have learned to read better than if they'd just done another year of the same thing.

    If Somerby doubts this, he should compare the period between 2002 and 2012 (where there was still repetition of grades) with 2013 and 2023. The progress occurred over that later span, not in the earlier 2002-2012 period.

    1. Beyond this, mh posted the info a long time ago. I have reposted it several times. In all that time, Somerby and Drum have never responded to the issues it raises. That is not good science and given the persistence with which they pursue their own preferred narrative (yes, Drum too), it is dishonest.

    2. I saw Bob directly addressed you and your obsessiveness in Drum's comments - congratulations!

    3. I wish he had addressed the data instead.

    4. I wouldn't hold your breath! :)

    5. Did you agree with him that the rational for holding students back is to provide them with an extra year of instruction, which is expected to lead to better scores?

    6. Somerby will probably never meaningfully interact with your posts just because your behavior is so poor. Using vulgarities to call him names, misrepresenting or misunderstanding things he said like when you accused him of accusing Mississippi of cheating.etx and just the uncut neuroticism of these long meandering posts full of mischaracterizations and misreadings and baseless accusations basically have completely ruined your credibility.

      That's why after decades you have never moved the meter despite posting all day everyday and that's why you never will move the meter no matter what you do. You blew it.

    7. It’s generally been recognized and documented that Somerby operates in bad faith, so that as Somerby shifted to the right, his sphere of influence shrank to a singularity.

      I understand we have our heroes and want to defend them, but when it’s obvious they have empty goals, we are better served by being aware, than ranting like a loon.

    8. Very poor trolling. C-

    9. Says the triggered troll clown.

  5. Somerby wants to set aside the obvious progress in reading among all kids (including black ones) because the program in MS did not close the racial gaps that exist in every school district across the USA.

    The program implemented in MS was to address reading problems, and it did that, working from each child's initial ability. The program was not designed to address racism in the classroom or in the lives of the students. Closing the gaps would required addressing racism and other impacts on young children's learning, not just improving reading.

    This is exactly the kind of thing that is now being forbidden by law in several Southern, red states. They do not want racism to be addressed at all. They don't want school lunch programs or anti-poverty programs either.

    It is grossly unfair to assess a reading instruction program based on goals that it was never designed to address. That is what Somerby does today, when he complains that the racial gaps still exist.

    Somerby of course knows this, but he hopes his readers are too stupid to see how he has shifted the goalposts. No one, not even Morning Joe, has claimed that the MS Miracle was about eliminating effects of racism in kids school performance. The miracle is that a state that was formerly unwilling to spend money on education, finally coughed up some funding. The miracle is that they recognized that they needed to fundamentally change their reading instruction, for the good of all of the state's children. Then they did it, over a decade, and the reading of their kids was improved to the point that MS no longer lags the nation in reading skills.

    That accomplishment deserves to be acknowledged. Asshole that he is, Somerby pretends that if black and white kids still differ in their test scores, than no other accomplishment matters. I think improvement should be recognized and rewarded, because that motivates more striving and change. I would expect a former elementary school teacher to know that. So, this is yet another way in which Somerby is dishonest, or he was a piss poor teacher.

    1. If the NAEP were administered to Somerby's commenters, I wonder how many grade levels below Mississippi's fourth graders they would fall.

    2. How many do you?

    3. Pink Floyd admittedly stole the riff from “How Many More Times”, for their “Money” song.

  6. "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."

    Remember the good old days when Somerby objected to calling 10 pts roughly a school year? He didn't like that "rule of thumb." Now he uses it himself, when he wants to complain about those ratty black kids who are still lagging behind.

  7. "Two years behind after four years of school? What kind of person would call such results "a huge success story?"

    Once again, Somerby confuses the mean with the performance of every individual child in the group. Not every black child is two years behind. Many of the white kids are two years behind too. Their scores also form a normal distribution, with some at the top and some at the bottom and most in between. Does Somerby ever talk about measures of variance? There may be a lower standard deviation among the black kids, with more doing better than before, but the black low scores may be much lower than for white children, if there are poverty, disadvantage, health issues and developmental disorders more prevalent in their group. Somerby makes it sound like all the white kids are way better than all the black kids. That isn't how this works.

    For some kids with serious problems, being four years behind after four years of school may have been more likely. If a reading specialist helps them be only two years behind, that is certainly progress. But we don't know about the actual situation, because Somerby only knows how to talk about means and he NEVER looks beyond the data.

  8. Has anyone here ever heard Somerby advocate for free school lunches? I've heard him complain that qualifying for a free lunch is not really a measure of poverty. But school lunches are important to learning -- kids don't learn well when the are hungry. Why has Somerby never said anything about them? Not even today, when the Republicans are trying to do away with them.

  9. Identification of gifted kids starts at 1 SD above the mean. If the mean increases but the average child is still 1SD below the gifted kids (who improved too), would it be right to say that no progress has occurred? This is Somerby's argument today, as he claims that there is nothing to celebrate happening in MS.

    The argument is the same, except that the kids whose needs are being addressed are those at the bottom of the ability curve, the ones who are struggling but still cannot read. MS addressed its program toward those kids, white and black. Would it be right to claim that there is no "revolution" because the gifted kids didn't get better? Of course not. But this is Somerby's reasoning today.

    Both white and black kids improved their reading scores. Somerby is jumping up and down because it wasn't just the black kids getting better. If he thinks that the new reading instruction methods should have been withheld from white kids, in order to even out performance, he should have said so. Somehow I doubt he would approve of that either.

    At heart, this is just a long series of essays written because Somerby does not want to acknowledge that progress has occurred in MS. He claims none of us care about black kids, but if that were true, the black kids would have been excluded from the improved instruction. That didn't happen -- but it used to, back during Jim Crow and into the 1960s.

    It is time for Somerby to step up and explain what he thinks needs to happen for black kids. He will never do that, because his purpose here is to denigrate liberals, not to change things for black kids. You will never hear Somerby advocate any kind of change for black kids. And that makes me wonder whether he actually gives a damn about them.

  10. Peter Greene unwraps the Moms for Liberty organization, showing that they have been political activists (not a parent organization) for much longer than may be apparent:


    1. When quoting Hitler is on the table…you might be a bunch of astroturfing pr goons pushing fascism.

  11. "A new Monmouth poll finds 80% of Americans believe racial and ethnic discrimination is a problem in the United States, including 61% who say it is a big problem.

    Just 21% say it is not a problem."

    It is important for Somerby to know how big a minority he is in when he claims that racism is over.

  12. Yale U doesn’t like the prof who said Trump is unstable.


  13. I think it will be a true revolution when MS finally integrates all of its public schools.

  14. Any predictions on when Bob will brake off and do another subject instead of doing this same post every day?

  15. Kristof has superlative values, says Somberly.

    Kristof is the neoliberal that tried to go carpetbagging in Oregon, where he owns a vineyard and so figured he deserved to be governor. Oregon told Kristof to kick rocks, which he did after grumbling about woke-ism, but he made sure to keep the $3 million his campaign raised.

    This is what Somerby thinks are superlative values, and this is why his posts are nonsense - he has no moral compass.