Frank Luntz visits Washington Journal!

MONDAY, JULY 31, 2023

Empires, democracies die: Stretching back about thirty years, liberals have tended to view Frank Luntz in a highly unfavorable light. Some elements of this capsule bio help explain why that is:

Frank Luntz (born February 23, 1962) is an American political and communications consultant and pollster, best known for developing talking points and other messaging for Republican causes. His work has included assistance with messaging for Newt Gingrich's Contract with America...He advocated use of vocabulary crafted to produce a desired effect, including use of the term death tax instead of estate tax...

Luntz was a long-time Republican wordsmith. On the other hand, there was what he said about Candidate Gore's convention speech way back in August 2000.

We watched the speech from high in the rafters, then proceeded to the BBC trailer for an interview from across the pond. While we waited for our session to begin, one of the TVs was tuned to MSNBC, where Brian Williams and his gang of four were engaged in the standard trashing of the gruesome address by Gore.

The scripted pundits took their turns saying how awful the speech had been. At this point, Luntz rushed onto the MSNBC set to report what he had heard during his nightly session with undecided voters.

Gore's speech had been "a home run," Luntz excitedly said. If we're remembering correctly, he said that he had never seen a convention speech produce such favorable polling.

(We were never able to acquire transcript or tape of the somewhat comical session, in which the Republican operative dropped a bomb on the mainstream / liberal trashing of Candidate Gore.)

So it went as the "liberal press corps" worked to punish President Clinton and his handpicked successor. Four years later, Luntz praised the 2004 convention address by Candidate Bush, saying it had yielded "the second strongest positive reaction I’ve ever had to a speech. Only Al Gore in 2000 did better." 

Luntz may have been a Republican operative, but he was willing to report what the numbers said. Yesterday, he appeared on C-Span's Washington Journal with a warning for the nation.

We think his warning was worth recording. Here's the key part of what he said:

LUNTZ (7/30/23): I'm so glad you invited me. I started as a Republican. I got 2016 wrong because I looked at the exit polls.

I don't get much wrong, and we're yelling at each other now, condemning each other now. And we collect our news, not to inform us, but to affirm us—and democracies last till they don't. 

The Egyptians thought they couldn't be beaten. The Turks, the Ottoman empire, the great German empire, British, Portugese, French? Countries come and they go. China had a dynasty. Who is to say that America lasts?

I am seeing the fissures and fractures in America. I see it in the education system. Not just the grandparents, the grandkids are getting the message to yell at each other and be abusive to their teachers because they see their parents acting this way toward politics and it is breaking this country.

"Democracies last till they don't," Luntz said, echoing many others. "Who is to say that America lasts?"

Way back when, Luntz worked as a consultant to Gingrich. That's where a great deal (though not all) of the yelling and name-calling started.

We don't quite know what Luntz meant by his remarks about the education system. But the otherization to which he referred could end up "breaking the country." In our view, that outcome is especially likely if Candidate Trump wins again, as he most certainly could.

Back in 1999 and 2000, the mainstream press corps was engaged in a long-running war against (Clinton, Clinton and) Gore. To this day, this obvious bit of American history has gone almost wholly undiscussed.

With the cooperation of virtually everyone, what happened in the mainstream press corps stayed in the mainstream press corps! Today, as tribal demonization grows, our failing democracy is in an extremely dangerous place, much as the chastened Luntz said.

In our view, our own blue tribe is part of this problem. More on this topic all week.

STARTING TOMORROW: The tribal impulse!

MONDAY, JULY 31, 2023

No (Perceived) Outrage Left Behind: Friend, have you reviewed the contents of Florida's new history curriculum?

(For the record: We don't know why the various elements of such curricula are now referred to as "standards.")

We have read through the Sunshine State's new "standards." Saturday, in a lengthy news report, the New York Times offered this overview of the curriculum's development, hard-copy headline included:

Who’s Writing New Rules For Teaching Black History?

When Florida set out to revamp its standards for teaching Black history this spring, a natural place to turn would have been the state’s African American History Task Force.

The volunteer task force—a group of Black educators, Democratic politicians and community leaders, appointed by the commissioner of education—has helped shape African American history instruction in Florida for more than two decades. The group provides an annual training session for teachers and awards “exemplary” status to school districts that meet criteria it sets.


To craft the 216-page document, his Department of Education created a 13-member work group, which drafted the standards from February to May.

The work group members, whose names the state has not released in full, included Frances Presley Rice, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a staunch conservative who has led the National Black Republican Association; William Allen, a professor emeritus at Michigan State who served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights under Ronald Reagan; and teachers and school district officials from around the state.

Three members of the group were nominated by the African American History Task Force, as representatives from its exemplary school districts.

To create its new K-12 curriculum, the state's conservative / Republican administration created a conservative / Republican-leaning work group. We can't say we're shocked or surprised by that—but then, we live in an era whose prevailing ethos, among tribal combatants, is No Outrage Left Behind.

We don't know why the Times refers to a "216-page document." As you can see at this link, that would be the total length of Florida's new "State Academic Standards—Social Studies, 2023." 

As you can see at that same link, the part of the K-12 document which pertains to "African-American history" is 23 pages long. Having noted that fact, we'll make two observations:

A high degree of exposure: There is no perfect way to teach any part of this nation's history. Still, any Florida public school student who is exposed to every element of that 23-page course of study will emerge from his or her Florida high school with a voluminous exposure to this essential strand of this nation's frequently brutal history.

That said, also this:

Who will guard the guardians? There is no way to compel a public school teacher to follow some course of study. Almost surely, different teachers around the state of Florida will present this material in substantially different ways.

Almost surely, different teachers will insert their own personal points of view into the mandated curriculum. Conservative teachers may lean one way. Liberal teachers may lean another. 

Inevitably, some of those leanings may make perfect sense, but some of those leanings may not. Some insertions may lean toward the crazy. There is absolutely no way to eliminate conduct like that.

So it goes with the outline of any state's mandated course of study in any subject area. That said, we all may know what happened, within the world of our own blue tribe, when this new curriculum was released:

We'll guess that we know what happened! Tribunes sifted through the 23 pages, looking for something to make loud complaints about. 

Once an offending passage was found, there would be No Name-Calling Left Behind.  We can't say that we agree with Kevin Drum's overall assessment of the new curriculum, but we do agree with his assessment of the furious talking-point our tribunes agreed to mouth:

Here’s the real problem with Florida’s school standards for slavery

The state of Florida requires instruction in African American history in all grades, and as you might expect it's pretty thin in the primary grades. But it picks up a bit in middle school, with 14 separate standards mandated for grades 6-8. One of them is this:


Examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).

Benchmark clarifications:

Clarification 1: Instruction includes how [enslaved people] developed skills which in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.

This footnote has caused an uproar in the lefty community, which seems a little overwrought to me. As a matter of historical record, it's true that slaves were occasionally allowed to earn money of their own by hiring out their services. This is hardly the biggest deal in the world. 

"It's true that slaves were occasionally allowed to earn money of their own," Drum correctly said. For the record, he seems to be referring to the ability to earn money during enslavement, not to the ability of formerly enslaved people to earn money after emancipation.

"It's true that slaves were occasionally allowed to earn money of their own," Drum correctly said. "This is hardly the biggest deal in the world," he instantly added. 

That said, it did become the world's biggest deal all through the ranks of our own blue tribe, once this "benchmark clarification" was seized upon as a source of mandated outrage.

Over the past few weeks, we were lodged in a medical institution whose cable system included CNN and MSNBC but didn't include Fox News. On CNN and MSNBC, one commentator after another came forward to recite the mandated talking-points about that one "clarification," which forms a tiny part of the state of Florida's overall course of study.

Friend, have you examined that K-12 course of study? If we had designed that course of study, we would almost surely have included, and emphasized, certain points which don't appear there.

That said, there is no perfect way to teach American history (or anything else). On the other hand, there is a time-honored way by which civilizations, such as they are, can perhaps proceed to fall apart.

At times of tribal war, we the humans are strongly inclined to adopt an ancient maxim: No Perceived Outrage Left Behind. We're strongly inclined to demonize Others, to say they simply can't be abided. 

This tends to lead us toward the types of wars which pretty much can't be won.

We didn't see what was being said on Fox News in the past few weeks.  We did see what our tribunes were saying on MSNBC and CNN.

To our eye and ear, our tribunes often seemed to be feigning outrage and anger. We'll examine the impulse all week.

This afternoon: Frank Luntz visits C-Span

BREAKING: What we did on our summer vacation!

FRIDAY, JULY 28, 2023

Also, some free advice: Back on July 5, we announced that we would be gone until "at least" the next week.

That turned out to be a bit of an understatement. Today, we offer some free advice, derived from our recent medical adventure:

If you're going to get a surgical wound, don't get the surgical wound on your back, where you can't even see it! You won't be able to bandage some such wound and, like us on our lengthy summer vacation, you may be away from your campus for quite a while longer than had perhaps been foretold!

What did we do on our summer vacation? We spent our disconnected time dreaming of the later Wittgenstein, and of ongoing attempts to make Einstein easy, and of the widespread human phenomenon we'd describe as "illusory explanation." 

We dreamed of the antique claim that we the humans are, in fact, "the rational animal." With respect to that self-description, we asked ourselves, as we long have done, if we the humans aren't perhaps a bit inclined to "see ourselves from afar."

We're back on campus today, prepared to start the next 75 years of our life. We expect to focus more on that bigger picture, a bit less on the tribal warfare which continues to embarrass each of our "cable news" sides.

Could Donald J. Trump get elected next year? Grimly, we'd still have to say that he could.

Services will resume in the next few days, perhaps in an altered form. Also, we'll be seeking a few good trillionaires—people prepared to be medical sponsors of this incomparable site.

BREAKING! We'll be away until (at least) next week!


Also, one way to avoid going broke: We won't be posting for the rest of the week and possibly for a while longer.

Yes, it's a surgical procedure! We expect to be back next week.

Meanwhile, we apologize for the way we've wandered the countryside in the course of examining the Mississippi miracle. A fair amount of dislocation was caused by the medical situation being addressed today.

Apology given, we add this:

No one ever went broke doubting the accuracy and competence of feel-good press corps reports concerning "Schools That Work." The Mississippi miracle is the latest in a string of such feel-good reports, dating back fifty years.

We applaud the efforts people have made in Mississippi to improve the state's public schools. That said, there's zero excuse for the journalism about those efforts offered by the Associated Press, then by the New York Times.

We regret that we haven't had a chance to walk you back through the Michelle Rhee chapter in this fifty-year story. Believe it or not, there is a Mississippi connection to the Rhee years in D.C. We may look back through the Rhee story upon our return.

Mississippi is full of good, decent kids. Our mainstream press corps is full of people who love love love love love love love that "Schools That Work" Storyline.

Repeatedly, they bring the Storyline forward again. Our "education experts," such as they are, rarely step up to elucidate or to complain.=.

That state is full of good, decent kids. They and their very good, decent parents deserve much better than this.

The city of Baltimore is full of great kids!


Today, we have several fewer: The city of Baltimore is full of good kids.

We started meeting those kids, in their fifth grade manifestation, in the autumn of '69. In the last few years before Covid, we had occasion to observe the behavior of some young adults who had plainly decided, it seemed to us, that they intended to be good people.

The world wasn't built for these particular kids. We're always amazed by their goodness.

Today, this city has at least one fewer such kid. Headline included, we include a passage from this news report in today's New York Times:

A Baltimore Party, a Hail of Gunfire and a Neighborhood Shattered


Krystal Gonzalez, whose 18-year-old daughter, Aaliyah Gonzalez, was one of the two people killed, said on Monday that she was feeling more pain than she had ever felt in her life. She said through tears that she had recently thrown a party for Aaliyah to celebrate her graduation from high school.

Aaliyah had been working at Starbucks, taking extra shifts and saving up money for a car, her mother said. For much of high school, Aaliyah had yearned to go to college out of state, but she changed her mind shortly before graduation, planning instead to enroll at Anne Arundel Community College near her home in the Baltimore suburb of Glen Burnie.

“All of a sudden, in senior year as it’s coming to a close, she said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to leave; I want to stay here,’” Ms. Gonzalez recalled. “She wanted to stay with us.”

Ms. Gonzalez said that she did not think Aaliyah had ever been to the [South Baltimore] Brooklyn neighborhood before, and that Aaliyah had been spending the night with a friend in a Baltimore suburb who decided to go to the party.

“She was such a good girl,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “She would analyze people—Why are they feeling this way? What can I do to help?—that’s who Aaliyah was. She was so, so bright and sensitive, and I swear this world did not deserve her. She was too good to be here.”

On Sunday morning, Ms. Gonzalez said, she woke up to her husband’s shout of “No!” after someone used Aaliyah’s phone to call and tell him that she had been shot. Ms. Gonzalez said she could not believe that the victim was her daughter and raced to the scene, only to be held back by officers who told her that she would not want to see her daughter’s body.

“We need to find who did this,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “It hurts so bad.”

“She was such a good girl,” her mother said. She wasn't going to Harvard or Yale, but we feel sure that her mother was right.

We always marvel at the goodness of these good and decent, overlooked kids. We also have kids who have lost their way and who have access to guns. 

MISSISSIPPI'S MIRACLE: Do we really have a "Mississippi mirage?"


Final thoughts on the latest miasma: By all accounts, the state of Mississippi has been working, very hard, to improve its public schools.

We applaud every person who has been involved in those ongoing efforts. That said, has the state engineered a "Mississippi miracle," as some observers have said?

Has "an education revolution" taken place? Has a "huge success story" occurred?

As we showed you yesterday, the answer is quite plainly no! The refutation of that inviting, feel-good claim looks exactly like this:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
2022 Naep
Asian-American kids, U.S. public schools: 238.49
White kids, U.S. public schools: 226.03
White kids, Mississippi: 229.53
Black kids, Mississippi: 204.41
Lower-income black kids, Mississippi: 202.76 

Those scores display a yawning "race gap"—the kind of large achievement gap which was once understood to constitute the nation's public school problem.

Today, that original problem is disappeared as we blather about "huge success."

That said, our nation's journalistic and academic elites have long shown remarkably little regard for the lives and the interests of black kids. It's amazing to see the ease with which such kids can get kicked to the curb.

No, Virginia! Mississippi hasn't yet found the way to teach "the science of reading" to all its public school kids. That said, our journalists and experts have spent fifty years trying to wish this problem away. 

Claims of this miraculous "huge success story" are just the latest chapter in this fifty-year dodge. This "Schools That Work" story is deeply appealing. 

It's a bit of a zombie Storyline. It never quite goes away.

In fairness, Mississippi's Naep scores actually can look quite impressive when compared to those of most other states, at least on the fourth grade level. We close today with a question we've discussed earlier:

Could Mississippi's improved test scores result, in part or even in whole, from a "statistical mirage?"

To some extent, are we currently discussing a "Mississippi mirage?" As you may recall, that's the term Kevin Drum used when he first examined this topic roughly two weeks ago:

DRUM (6/24/23):  Mississippi's reforms included something called the "third-grade gate," which means holding back kids who can't pass a reading test at the end of the year. This is obviously going to improve scores for 4th graders, but it's a bit of a statistical mirage.

Drum thought the third grade retention policy would "obviously" improve Mississippi's fourth grade Naep scores. He also thought that improvement would be "a bit of a statistical mirage." 

Some commenters have had a hard time seeing the way this would work. In one last attempt at clarity, let's consider the dueling retention policies of two wholly imaginary American states.

We'll call our states State A and State B. Here's the phantasmagoric way how their retention policies would differ:

State A's retention policy

State A is a very laid back, rather traditional state. It promotes all its first graders to second grade—and this continues right on up the line.

When kids in State A have completed third grade, they all get promoted to fourth! There is zero retention in State A. Its third-graders all move ahead.

State B's retention policy

State B has adopted an extremely different approach. When state officials heard that Mississippi has achieved success by holding 9 percent of its third graders back, they decided to go all the way:

As a result, State B has decided to hold all its third graders back for an additional year before they proceed to fourth grade! They all spend an extra year in Grade 3 before moving on to Grade 4!

Stating the obvious, no states has ever adopted a policy like that which obtains in State B. Most likely, no state ever will take any such step.

That said, just imagine the state of play when it's time for kids from State A and State B to take the Grade 4 Naep tests. The state of play will be this:

In State A, all the Grade 4 kids will be "true age" fourth graders. They'll all be normal fourth grade age, and they'll all have had received four years of graded instruction (grades 1, 2, 3 and 4).

In State B, things will be different. After spending two years in third grade, all the fourth graders in State B will be normal fifth grade age. They all will have had five years of grade school instruction when they take the Grade 4 tests.

State B's fourth graders will all be one year older than their counterparts in State A. They will all have had one full additional year of public school instruction.

Would anyone expect State A's fourth graders to score as well as State B's kids? Presumably, the answer is no. Presumably, everyone would understand something else:

Presumably, people would understand that it would be very hard to compare those two states' Grade 4 test scores. 

Presumably, everyone would understand that State B's higher scores would involve a type of "statistical mirage." Presumably, everyone would see that State B had a built-in statistical advantage in the Grade 4 tests, due to its policy of holding all third graders back.

Presumably, this same principal obtains, to a lesser degree, in the case of Mississippi's Grade 4 Naep scores. Meanwhile, understand this significant fact:

As a matter of general policy, Mississippi has always held a lot of grade school kids back! 

It isn't just those lower-performing kids under the third grade retention policy. Headline included, here's a report from 2019, when Mississippi burst on the scene with its improved Grade 4 scores:

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


In response to the legislature’s 2013 Literacy Based Promotion Act (LBPA), Mississippi schools retain a higher percentage of K–3 students than any other state...

The LBPA created a “third grade gate,” making success on the reading exit exam a requirement for fourth grade promotion. This isn’t a new idea of course. Florida is widely credited with starting the trend in 2003, and now sixteen states plus the District of Columbia have a reading proficiency requirement to pass into fourth grade.

But Mississippi has taken the concept further than others, with a retention rate higher than any other state. In 2018–19, according to state department of education reports, 8 percent of all Mississippi K–3 students were held back (up from 6.6 percent the prior year). This implies that over the four grades [K-3], as many as 32 percent of all Mississippi students are held back; a more reasonable estimate is closer to 20 to 25 percent, allowing for some to be held back twice.

Say what? "Over the [first] four" years in public school (K-3), "as many as 32 percent of all Mississippi students are held back?" 

So reported Todd Collins, writing for the Fordham Institute.

From kindergarten through Grade 3, as many as 32 percent of all Mississippi students [were being] held back! When compared to other states, that practice—right or wrong, wise or unwise—would gift Mississippi with an unusually old roster of fourth-grade students.

Fleshing out his basic point, Collins then offered a chart which showed how many kids Mississippi had held back in the 2018-2019 school year:

Percentage of kids held back
Mississippi, 2018-2019 school year
Kindergarten: 8.7%
Grade 1: 7.9%
Grade 2: 5.0%
Grade 3: 9.6%
Average: 7.8%

You're reading that correctly! In that school year, almost ten percent of third graders got held back in Mississippi. But so did almost nine percent of the state's kindergarten kids!

Rightly or wrongly, Mississippi was holding back a lot of its grade school kids. Collins continued as shown:

These retention levels are much higher than other states. The closest are Oklahoma at 6 percent and Alabama at 5 percent. Florida, probably the most well-known example, today holds back 4 percent of its K–3 students, including 8 percent of third graders. When it first enacted its retention policy in 2003–04, Florida’s third grade retention rose as high as 14 percent before steadily declining; it has risen again in recent years. The average for all states is about 3 percent; many states have retention rates of 2 percent or less.

As of the 2018-2019 school year, Mississippi was holding way more K-3 students back, as compared to most other states. Whether you approve of this practice or not, it presumably gives Mississippi a statistical advantage when its test scores are compared to those from other states, or from the nation as a whole.

Presumably, this statistical advantage would still obtain in Grade 8 testing, where Mississippi's Grade 8 population would be substantially older than those from other states.

None of this can tell us whether Mississippi's retention policies make sense. You may think that heavy Grade 3 retention makes superlative sense, or you may think it's a lousy idea. That isn't the issue here.

Whatever you think of grade school retention, Mississippi's heavy retention practices makes it harder to compare Mississippi's Naep scores to those of other states. On the simple basis of age and number of years in school, we're no longer comparing apples to apples.

Nicholas Kristof blew past this rather obvious statistical problem. So did his excited education expert.

We salute the efforts being made in Mississippi's public schools. But no miracle has taken place. Once again, we prove that by showing you this:

Average scores, Grade 8 reading
2022 Naep
Asian-American kids, U.S. public schools: 281.07
White kids, U.S. public schools: 267.11
Black kids, Mississippi: 240.37

Does that look like a "huge success story?" It looks like the problem to us!

Tomorrow: A few last thoughts on this (extremely important) topic

MISSISSIPPI'S MIRACLE: Has the revolution reached the eighth grade?

MONDAY, JULY 3, 2023

So far, the answer is no: Is an "education revolution" underway in Mississippi's public schools?

Has a "Mississippi miracle" occurred? Have the state's education officials engineered a "huge success story?"

At this point, we'd say that the answer is no, even on the fourth grade level. Within the long-standing American context, it's obscene to make such claims about a state which, for all its admirable efforts, still generated numbers like these:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
2022 Naep
Asian-American kids, U.S. public schools: 238.49
White kids, U.S. public schools: 226.03
White kids, Mississippi: 229.53
Black kids, Mississippi: 204.41
Lower-income black kids, Mississippi: 202.76 

It's on the basis of that Grade 4 reading test that people are claiming a huge success story. As we noted in our last report, it's astounding to see journalists and experts say such things about a state which is still producing the giant "race gap" reflected in those numbers.

Amazingly, that's the way the numbers look on the very test which is being used to support the claim of a miracle! Judged by conventional rules of thumb, the "race gaps" on display in those data are absolutely gigantic.

Does anyone care about black kids at all in these feel-good latter days? The only "miracle" we can see here would involve the miraculous way our journalists and experts can walk away from data like these in describing a huge success story.

That said, Mississippi's numbers on that Grade 4 test can sometimes seem impressive. In our June 27 report, we showed you such data as these:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Lower-income kids, 2022 Naep
U.S. public schools: 202.67
Mississippi: 211.74

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Lower-income black kids, 2022 Naep
U.S. public schools: 193.42
Mississippi: 202.76

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Lower-income white kids, 2022 Naep
U.S. public schools: 211.49
Mississippi: 224.45

Those data can look quite impressive! Through whatever manner or means, Mississippi's lower-income black and white kids outscored their nationwide peers last year on that Grade 4 Naep reading test.

In each case, they outscored their peers by a good, healthy margin. Without any question, data like those can look impressive—if you skip past that giant "race gap."

Where did those (improved) Mississippi test scores come from? Tomorrow, we'll return to that unresolved question.

For today, we'll focus on a basic fact. If we think of those test scores as some sort of revolution, Mississippi's revolution—its huge success story—hasn't yet reached the eighth grade.

Quick review! Everyone from Nicholas Kristof on down is attributing this revolution to a policy change which dates back to 2013. In his June 1 essay in the New York Times, here's how Kristof described it:

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.

This retention policy lit a fire under the state, Kristof says. Tomorrow, we'll return to the possibility that the third grade retention policy may have had another effect:

We'll return to the possibility that the retention policy may have made it harder to compare Mississippi's Grade 4 scores to those from most other states.

We'll return to that question tomorrow. For today, we'll only note an obvious fact—for whatever reason, evidence of Mississippi's revolution, such as that revolution is at this time, hasn't yet appeared in Mississippi's Grade 8 Naep scores.

By this time, should the revolution have made its way all the way up to eighth grade? As a matter of simple chronology, a person can argue that Mississippi needs a bit more time for such evidence to appear.

By common agreement, Mississippi's Grade 4 Naep scores really "popped" in the 2019 Naep testing—and those higher-scoring Grade 4 kids were still just in the seventh grade when the 2022 Naep testing occurred.

Who knows? Maybe Mississippi's Grade 8 scores will soar in the next Naep testing. That said, as of 2022, the revolution didn't yet seem to have reached the eighth grade, at least for the state's black kids:

Average scores, Grade 8 reading
Lower-income kids, 2022 Naep
National public schools: 247.88
Mississippi: 247.29
Average scores, Grade 8 reading
Lower-income black kids, 2022 Naep
National public schools: 238.17
Mississippi: 238.82
Average scores, Grade 8 reading
Lower-income white kids, 2022 Naep
National public schools: 254.81
Mississippi: 262.34

In 2022, at the Grade 4 level, Mississippi's lower-income kids outscored their peers nationwide by roughly one academic year. Mississippi's lower-income black kids also outscored their nationwide peers by roughly one grade level.

That didn't happen on the Grade 8 level of those same Naep tests. Most specifically, at the Grade 8 level, Mississippi's lower-income black kids merely matched their lower-income national peers last year. 

That's better than Mississippi used to do. But until very recently, those low scores by black kids nationwide were taken as a major national problem, not as an acceptable part of some "huge success story."

Through whatever circumstance, Mississippi's lower-income white kids did outscore their nationwide peers by a substantial amount on the Grade 8 level last year. It's always possible that the state's lower-income black eighth graders will be performing on that level by the time the next Naep rolls around.

That said, it's still quite possible that Mississippi's retention policies are skewing all the state's test scores, even on the Grade 8 level. It's possible that skewed comparisons are involved in all these Naep scores.

We'll return to that possibility tomorrow. For today, we'll only tell you this—this is the way some test scores looked on the Grade 8 level last year:

Average scores, Grade 8 reading
2022 Naep
Asian-American kids, U.S. public schools: 281.07
White kids, U.S. public schools: 267.11
Black kids, U.S. public schools: 242.77
Black kids, Mississippi: 240.37
Lower-income black kids, Mississippi: 238.82

On the Grade 8 level, Mississippi's black kids were performing light-years behind other groups of their nationwide peers. Back in the days of Jonathan Kozol, very large "race gaps" of this type were seen as a national problem.

Back then, those gaps were seen as a major national problem! Today, are they just wished away?

As noted, there remains the possibility that all of Mississippi's Naep scores have been skewed by the state's (perfectly reasonable) Grade 3 retention policy (and by related practices). Tomorrow, we'll return to that statistical question.

For today, how about it? Has Mississippi authored an education revolution? We'd say the claim is obscenely premature. As we close, we remind you of "race gaps" like these:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
2022 Naep
Asian-American kids, U.S. public schools: 238.49
White kids, U.S. public schools: 226.03
Black kids, Mississippi: 204.41

Average scores, Grade 8 reading
2022 Naep
Asian-American kids, U.S. public schools: 281.07
White kids, U.S. public schools: 267.11
Black kids, Mississippi: 240.37

"You say you want a revolution?" Should we perhaps free our minds instead?

Tomorrow: The lingering (statistical) question

Harvard reveals who got into Harvard!


Ethnicity (not quite) all around: In total fairness, we'd have to say this:

If Harvard's self-reporting can be trusted, the famous school doesn't seem to admit a lot of lunkheads due to their "legacy" status.

Back in 2018, the school released the average SAT scores of the major demographic groups admitted over a stretch of eighteen years. According to the Harvard Crimson, the scores broke down like this:

Average SAT scores, students admitted to Harvard, 2000 - 2017
Asian-American students: 766.6
White students: 744.7
Hispanic students: 717.6
Black students: 703.7

All four groups had high average scores. To appearances, there couldn't have been a whole lot of lunkheads among those legacy admits.

To Harvard's credit, the school was still willing to admit, or perhaps to acknowledge the fact, that some of its students are (categorized as) "white." 

Two days ago, the famous school released its annual profile of students admitted for the upcoming year. Below, you see the school's official "ethnicity" breakdown.  

For the record, Harvard does this every year:

Students admitted to Harvard, Class of 2026
African American: 15.2%
Asian American: 27.9%
Hispanic or Latino: 12.6%
Native American: 2.9%
Native Hawaiian: 0.8%

According to Harvard's official posting, Harvard admitted kids of various ethnicities for the class of '26. But as it turns out, none of its admits for next year are white!

Harvard does this every year. Even at the highest levels, the world can be quite strange.

MISSISSIPPI'S MIRACLE: Has the state engineered a revolution?


Several key questions emerge: Long ago and far away, the Associated Press published a lengthy report under a very familiar type of feel-good headline:

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

Actually, the report appeared on May 17 of this very year. Two weeks later, Nicholas Kristof followed suit with a lengthy essay in the New York Times. 

His essay carried this headline:

Mississippi Is Offering Lessons for America on Education

According to Kristof, an "education revolution" is underway in Mississippi's public schools. He quoted David Deming, a Harvard education expert, saying that Mississippi's recent performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress constitutes "a huge success story.” 

"I want to shout it from the mountaintop.” the high-ranking expert said.

The AP headlined claims of a "miracle" within Mississippi's schools. Kristof said "a revolution" was underway. His expert said that "a huge success story" already existed.

Somewhat oddly, all these claims were built around only one set of test scores—Mississippi's improved performance, in recent years, on the Grade 4 Naep reading test. That improved performance is said to have resulted from a set of education reforms the state legislature passed ten years ago, back in 2013.

Full disclosure:

At a glance, Mississippi's Grade 4 scores can look quite impressive. As we showed you on June 27, here are some Grade 4 reading scores from the last year's Naep:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Lower-income kids, 2022 Naep
U.S. public schools: 202.67
Mississippi: 211.74

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Lower-income black kids, 2022 Naep
U.S. public schools: 193.42
Mississippi: 202.76

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
Lower-income white kids, 2022 Naep
U.S. public schools: 211.49
Mississippi: 224.45

There you see the average scores for several groups of lower-income Mississippi kids. Within each group, Mississippi's fourth graders outscored their counterparts from across the nation by a strongly significant margin on last year's Naep reading test. 

At a glance, those scores can look quite impressive! That said, you can also see the very large achievement gap which still obtains between the state of Mississippi's lower income white and black kids. 

Has a revolution been achieved in Mississippi's public schools? If only on the basis of that very large black/white achievement gap, we can't imagine why a decent person would ever want to make such a remarkable claim.

No, Virginia! If only on the basis of that very large gap, we think it's disgraceful to be pimping claims about a miracle, or a revolution, or a huge success story.  We can't imagine why a decent person would ever say such a thing. 

That said, we haven't yet looked at Mississippi's Grade 8 scores on last year's Naep tests. Ten years after Mississippi's reforms were instituted, how well do the claims of revolution and huge success stand up in the face of those Grade 8 scores?

We'd say that those familiar, feel-good claims disappear in the face of those Grade 8 Naep scores. Mississippi may yet thrill us in the future, but no sensible journalist or expert can seriously claim that a miracle, revolution or huge success has been accomplished now.

Sadly, our journalists have periodically pimped this type of story since the dawn of time. When they do, they tend to showcase their remarkable lack of technical competence—a technical incompetence which is easily wed to an apparent lack of concern about the actual lives, and the actual interests, of our nation's good, decent black kids.

Just look at the large achievement gap on display in the data we've posted! In case you aren't sure what we mean, we'll spell it out more clearly:

Average scores, Grade 4 reading
2022 Naep
Asian-American kids, U.S. public schools: 238.49
White kids, U.S. public schools: 226.03
Black kids, Mississippi: 204.41
Lower-income black kids, Mississippi: 202.76

Look on their Works, ye Mighty, and [perhaps] despair!

Even on the ballyhooed Grade 4 reading test, Mississippi's deserving black kids seem to be, very roughly, performing two to three years behind the other kids from across the nation who are their counterparts and their peers. 

It looks like they're several years behind after four years in school! Who would call that a huge success story? Who would say such a thing?

That's the way this "miracle" looks just on the Grade 4 level. On Monday, we're going to show you how the revolution looks in the face of Mississippi's Grade 8 scores from last year.

Starting on Wednesday, we'll be out of commission for a while. We want you to see those Grade 8 scores before we get (temporarily) carted away from our sprawling campus. We'll also run through three key questions involved in this latest journalistic debacle. 

By the way:

This latest debacle is a journalistic and academic debacle. We salute the efforts the state of Mississippi has been making within its public schools.

Nicholas Kristof is a good, decent person. As a general matter, he has superlative values. That said, he has also published the latest debacle about the nation's low-income schools. 

Our journalists and our experts have been pushing variants of this Storyline for the past fifty years. To us, their conduct reads in a very unflattering way:

We'll call it an anthropology lesson! It suggests the possibility that, in the end, these people don't actually care!