The Washington Post visits Mississippi!


Errors wherever you look: Finally, the Washington Post editorial board has weighed in on the Mississippi miracle.

Our own semi-apology follows. First, this is the way yesterday's featured editorial began:

Holding kids back can’t explain Mississippi’s education ‘miracle’

The so-called Mississippi miracle in education really isn’t one. The state’s surge in student achievement results not from divine intervention but from careful policy applied by committed human beings. One of these policies has received extra attention: the decision to hold back third-graders who don’t meet state reading standards. But by focusing too much on this rule alone, reformers risk missing what makes the broader program successful.

Local officials all over the country are attempting to unspool the story of Mississippi’s journey from worst in the nation in test scores to the middle of the pack. Schools everywhere are struggling to catch up students after learning loss from the pandemic. Most states have been unable to match pre-2020 levels of achievement. Mississippi, however, set a personal record in reading this year, and its gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exceed every one of its peers’. 

Does anyone actually care about this general topic? Those first two paragraphs feature factual bungles as far as the eye can see. 

How many errors have the editors made? Let us count the ways:

For starters, no one did anything on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Naep)  "this year." 

The Naep was last administered in 2022. That would actually be last year.

That can be viewed as a minor error. A larger misstatement is this:

The state of Mississippi did not "set a personal record in reading" on the 2022 Naep. Also, the state didn't "match [its] pre-2020 level of achievement" on those first post-pandemic tests.

In fact, Mississippi "set a personal record in reading" on the 2019 Naep. As in almost every state, its statewide reading scores dropped in 2022.

Adding to the factual chaos, the editors link to this report as they say that Mississippi "set a personal record in reading this year, and its gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exceed every one of its peers’." 

So the editors said, and so the editors linked! But as you can see by clicking that link, the report to which they link is a report from 2019 about Mississippi's gains on the Naep as of that earlier year.

Everyone can and does make mistakes. That said, the editors seem to have no idea what they're talking about as this editorial begins. 

We've told you for years that no one in the mainstream press corps actually cares about any of this. In our view, the gong-show performance in this editorial tends to support that claim, which is built from long experience.

Now for our own apology:

A few weeks back, we (unwisely) set out to finish our earlier discussion of these Mississippi test scores. We haven't continued with that (extremely complex) task.

There are several reasons for that. In part, it involves the complexity of Kevin Drum's two posts on this topic, in the second of which he reversed himself on what he had said in the first.

In this July 3 essay for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik referred to the first of those two posts, and to our own work on this topic. (We underwent surgery on July 5 and didn't see Hiltzik's piece.)

For ourselves, we've never understood either of Kevin's posts on this topic. That includes his initial post, the post to which Hiltzik referred, in which Kevin declared that we had been right about this topic all along.

For the record, we still don't know what we think about Mississippi's improved scores. We do think this delicate thought should probably be floated:

It's routinely said—correctly, as far as we know—that teachers and principals have no reason or incentive to cheat on the Naep. As far as we know, teachers and principals wouldn't even have a way to cheat on the Naep if they wanted to do so.

An additional impression would be this:

It's our impression that state superintendents could conceivably put their thumbs on the scale when it comes to the administration of the Naep within their individual states. 

We aren't sure if that is true, and you can be sure that no American newspaper will ever bother to report it out. But we suspect that it may be the case.

In this brave new era, state superintendents do have an incentive to drive up statewide Naep scores—and, for better or worse, there is a direct tie between Mississippi's statewide administration in the past decade and the gruesome test score cheating debacle which occurred in the D.C. Public Schools during the tenure of Chancellor Michelle Rhee. 

(For the record, Rhee had achieved that lofty position on the basis of long-standing test score claims which were transparently, clownishly phony.)

We've often said that no one ever went broke doubting miraculous test scores in the public schools. Nor is there any reason to think that our journalistic or academic elites would ever go to the trouble of conducting a full exploration of surprising test scores of this type, or of the pleasing Storylines which emanate from such scores.

Are Mississippi's kids really outperforming their peers across the nation by the substantial margins we've described in the past? In our view, it's a possibility, but we'd be inclined to recommend a good healthy dosage of doubt.

Meanwhile, there's the embarrassing, error-riddled presentation by the editorial board of the Washington Post. Recommended translation:

No one actually cares about any of this, and no one ever has. 

An anthropology lesson is lurking here. It remains forever unlearned.


  1. Can you go broke failing to mention Michelle Rhee is yet another charter -school promoting charlatan.

  2. How can a state set a personal record?

  3. Somerby is still unwilling to admit that those MS kids improved their scores -- all on the basis of some vague supposition about the motives of state superintendents. I call bullshit on that. Somerby needs to admit he has no evidence to support any accusations he clearly wants to make. This is ugly on Somerby's part.

    1. It's bizarre how many commenters criticize Somerby for what he "seems" to say or what he "appears" to say or, in this formulation, for "accusations he clearly wants to make."

    2. How could anyone accuse Bob Somerby of being a Right-winger, just because he's smearing his political enemies through innuendo?
      Does that sound like something a Right-winger would do 24/7?

    3. Long story short, some of the commenters are insane.

    4. Here's the thing: Somerby did not make any accusations. He said, pretty clearly, he did not know if the MS Miracle was true or not. He told us that in his experience such miracles tended to prove false over time, and he bemoaned the lack of critical reporting on this particular Miracle.

      Perhaps we need some 4th grade MS kids to teach some of us better skills in reading comprehension. Or ("Fuck off doggy") in civility.

    5. They'll wear you out, DG. They wear everyone out. Every single poor soul that wanders in here with the expectation of honest, rational discussion.

    6. That ain’t George.

  4. When you get hit by a truck, that's a semi-apology.

  5. "Holding kids back can’t explain Mississippi’s education ‘miracle’"

    This is the important part. Somerby is not man enough to walk back his previous unfair and incorrect accusation against MS -- that it was the retention policy that accounted for the results -- this despite a study that contradicted that theory, posted several times here by mh. I explained this until I was blue in the face and only Somerby's surgery prevented him from continuing to discuss this another month or two.

    Somerby needs to admit it when he is wrong -- and he was definitely wrong about this.

  6. Notice how Somerby is pretending that he never saw any of the technical analyses posted in his own comments, nor the ones we repeated over at Kevin Drum's blog, where Somerby himself is a commenter. Now that there are others supporting our work, Somerby pretends he never saw it.

    What a fraud!

  7. Slightly off topic, but has anyone else noticed how incapable the republican party is of governing? I mean what the fuck kind of clown show are they running over there on the hill? No meaningful legislation, threatening to shut down the government it seems every full moon, the magat lobby taking turns castrating the Speaker on national tv, and now launching a phony impeachment just to do what Trump was trying to extort the Ukranian government to do and for which he earned his first impeachment.

    So, what is Bob whining about today? What did I do wrong?

    1. Passing laws and keeping the government open are important, but more important is how the country actually operates. When the country is running an unsustainable $2 trillion deficit -- almost double the prior year -- the legislature is not doing its job.

    2. Deficit, shmeficit.

    3. Nothing is more important than keeping the govt open.

    4. They could close the Supreme Court.

    5. David in Cal,
      We need at least a $2 Trillion deficit. Without it, what would we ignore when it comes to defense spending, and make the most important thing in the world when it comes to spending to help the citizens?

    6. Yes, we do need an enormous deficit to continue business as usual. I expect Congress and the President to not substantially reduce spending and not substantially increase taxes

      But, sometimes you can't afford what you need. This deficit will lead to economic disaster. This coming disaster appears unstoppable.

    7. David,
      Maybe you and your economically anxious friends on the Right, who aren't just a shit-pile of bigots (hat tip corporate-owned media), can throw a temper tantrum at the U.S. Capitol, like they did when Trump gave that HUGE tax break to corporations and the rich.

    8. David, it’s not too late to emigrate.

    9. Putting Republicans in charge won't make the deficit go away, but it will make fear of the deficit disappear faster than a College Republican running from a military recruiter on campus.

    10. I am DIC's real cousin, not his fake cousin Lizzie Skurnick, and FYI, DIC is just yanking y'all's chains, he does not believe the nonsense he writes (indeed, if one reads carefully, you'll notice he never bothers to provide any evidence for his ridiculous claims), he is just a really sad and lonely guy. Cut him slack.

    11. @11:08 IMO there is not much fear of deficits by either party. That’s one reason I pessimistic about the likelihood of effective action being taken.

    12. Here's another good example at an earnest attempt at conversation by one side. It quickly degenerated into highly-charged name calling laced with an almost violent sarcasm, all from one side. But all the problems are with the Others, don'tcha know?

    13. 2:28, I'm sorry, are you referring to my original comment where I listed just a few examples of why the republican party is incapable of governing, or the flippant glib response from DiC, where he pretends we were all born yesterday?

      I thought most of the responses to DiC were directly, and you will notice how he disappeared as is he wont.

  8. If retention were responsible for the MS gains, that would have been true in 2019 too. Somerby silly gripes do not address the main question about retention which he is stubbornly refusing to admit does not explain the MS score gains. He is hoping today's misdirection will prevent him from having to apologize for his huge glaring mistake about retention and his failure to acknowledge when he is wrong.

    1. Don't understand the fit-throwing about Somerby's "stubbornness."

      He abides by 2 rules: he doesn't apologize or admit he's wrong when he's wrong, notwithstanding his faux apology in this post; and when called out on something, he doubles down instead.

      It should be obvious by now.

    2. Read something else?

    3. Same tactic as Trump.