"Thank God for Mississippi," they said!


At long last, two bullies were squelched: As we noted this morning, Nicholas Kristof starts today's long and important essay with an old regional saw.

Two weeks ago, the AP report about Mississippi's schools started the same darn way. Kristof's rendering of the old saw goes exactly like this:

KRISTOF (6/1/23): The refrain across much of the Deep South for decades was “Thank God for Mississippi!” That’s because however abysmally Arkansas or Alabama might perform in national comparisons, they could still bet that they wouldn’t be the worst in America. That spot was often reserved for Mississippi.

So it’s extraordinary to travel across this state today and find something dazzling: It is lifting education outcomes and soaring in the national rankings. ...Mississippi has shown that it is possible to raise standards even in a state ranked dead last in the country in child poverty and hunger and second highest in teen births.

"Thank God for Mississippi," Alabama and Arkansas would derisively say. Just out of curiosity, we decided to take a look to see just when all that bullroar ended.

When it comes to average scores in Grade 4 reading, Alabama and Arkansas had a good long run at their neighbor's expense. Here are the three states' average scores back in 2002:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2002
Alabama: 206.88
Arkansas: 212.88
Mississippi: 202.79 
U.S. public schools: 216.80

All three states trailed the national average, but Mississippi brought up the rear.

Among the three states Kristof named, this pecking order held form right through 2013. By then, the Magnolia State had actually lost a bit of ground when compared to those neighboring states:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2013
Alabama: 218.58
Arkansas: 218.52
Mississippi: 208.52 
U.S. public schools: 220.67

Mississippi had gained almost six points—but Alabama had gained almost twelve. Mississippi was still the 80-pound weakling on the Gulf Coast getting sand kicked in its face.

Please understand! The scores we're showing you are aggregate scores. They haven't been statistically adjusted to account for issues of poverty, ethnicity, race.

Still, who pays attention to any of that! "Thank God for Mississippi!" remained a regional cry, at least in the realm of unadjusted Grade 4 reading scores.

The laughter ended there. By 2015, Mississippi trailed Alabama by only three points, Arkansas by only four.  By 2017, the numbers looked like this:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2017
Alabama: 216.42
Arkansas: 216.11
Mississippi: 215.20 
U.S. public schools: 220.81

Hot breath could be felt on the back of their necks! Two years later, the breakthrough occurred:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2019
Alabama: 211.73
Arkansas: 215.05
Mississippi: 219.34 
U.S. public schools: 220.81

The Rebels had taken the lead! Last year, Covid having taken a toll, the numbers looked like this:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Naep, 2022
Alabama: 213.30
Arkansas: 211.95
Mississippi: 217.16 
U.S. public schools: 216.11

Even with all the challenges Kristof cites, Mississippi had moved past the national average! That's before you start making (perfectly reasonable) statistical adjustments to account for an array of demographic / educational challenges.

Goofus and Gallant reviewed those numbers. Here's what the two fellows did:

Goofus ran straight to Storyline. Gallant conducted a search!


  1. Sometimes, as axioms and dubious common knowledge emerge that are not based on facts in evidence. Bob knows this well ( could a Texan, given the current situation, bring out the usual jeers about Chicago politics? Sure they could! People are not required not to be jerks)
    I have heard southerners repeat the “thank God for Mississippi” thing. It’s not just based on education scores.,

  2. Somerby has today started referring to "statistical adjustments". What he has actually been doing is excluding different test takers based on demographic characteristics (race, income level) in order to group students and look at their averages as a subgroup of the overall state. That is NOT what is typically meant by a statistical adjustment.

    There are statistical techniques that allow a researcher to hold one factor constant, to control for its impact, while examining the effect of some other characteristic. For example, one might control for income level while examining the impact of race on test scores. That is not what Somerby has been doing. One might also examine the contribution of a variety of factors to reading scores, to see which has the biggest influence on variability in scores. Somerby has not done that either.

    Somerby himself says:

    "Please understand! The scores we're showing you are aggregate scores. They haven't been statistically adjusted to account for issues of poverty, ethnicity, race."

    So why has Somerby started using that term? It is inappropriate, does not describe what he has done in presenting his disaggregated scores, and has a meaning that doesn't fit what Somerby is talking about. A suspicious person might think Somerby were trying to confuse his readers, or trying to claim greater sophistication of analysis than he has performed. And then he talks about Kristof's storyline -- when it is Somerby who has been pushing a narrative over the past week.

    Goofus supposedly ran to storyline, but Somerby has revealed no storyline here. The data support the claims. There has been no fiddling with the data. The story is straightforward and supported by the FACTS of what MS has done to improve student reading. Somerby has presented no evidence otherwise.

    Then Somerby claims that the simple-minded comparisons offered here have somehow "investigated" or searched for cheating, when no such "search" has occurred. Somerby has merely confirmed that yes, Mississippi has really moved from last to higher scores over the period claimed. It doesn't take a Gallant conducting a bogus, mythical search to confirm that.

    Somerby, deviously, omitted the earlier comparison scores for MS, presenting the Goofus version last week. I complained that he had left those scores out. Now he has miraculously discovered the past, the very scores that show improvement from 2nd to last to 21st place, as if Gallant had found them via a "search" and it were not the most obvious thing in the world to look at the past and compare it to the present to confirm those claims.

    Is Somerby a moron? He sure is behaving like one. And he is playing his readers for fools, pretending that Kristof and others needed to "check the math" on that AP article, as if it were them and not Somerby himself trying to pull the wool over his readers' eyes.

    What a buffoon Somerby is today. Don't be fooled by his machinations.

  3. Karen is innocent.

    1. The young man acted like an idiot and hopes to avoid unpleasant consequences. He even hopes to profit from his bad behavior, through gofundme.

      Karen is innocent.

    2. "He even hopes to profit from his bad behavior, through gofundme."
      The entrepreneurial spirit of America lives on in our youth.

    3. Is it bad behavior for a young black man to say "no" to a white woman when she demands something he doesn't want to give her?

  4. Barbara McQuade is much smarter and more ethical than Bob.

  5. The second amendment is evil.

  6. Defund the Supreme Court.

    1. Harlan Crow owns the Supreme Court. Defund Harlan Crow.

  7. We live in a barred spiral galaxy.

  8. Republicans should support statehood for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

  9. Josh Chafetz has an opinion piece in the New York Times today, “The Supreme Court Has Earned a Little Contempt.” He suggests cutting the judiciary’s funding.

  10. Parents are sticking up for teachers and opposing the right's culture war on the schools, nationwide:


  11. Frank Wilhoit:

    "Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect."

    1. That's it? only that one 'exact' proposition that "conservatism" consists of? I would ask, how are the out-groups that the law "does not protect/" [I can guess, though]. In what manner is it that the law doesn't "protect" such groups? How specifically should the "law" change in order to "protect" this "out-groups?"

  12. Kristof is a carpet bagger that tried to gaslight the state of Oregon into thinking he could run for governor. In reality it was a $3 million money grab, as he kept his failed campaign’s fundraising for himself.

  13. Citi Bike Karen lied and is guilty of trying to bully a bike away from a kid.

  14. This new leak on Trump really throws a wrench in Bob’s defense of him.