Reading and math achievement have improved significantly in the last 40 years, writes Richard Rothstein on National Journal, countering Bill Gates’ charge that we’re spending more than twice as much with little to show for it. In particular, blacks have narrowed the achievement gap by improving more than whites, Rothstein points out.
Looking at long-term trends for all students on the Nation’s Report Card, nine- and 13-year-olds improved in math till 2004, when scores leveled off. Scores for 17-year-olds leveled off in 1990. Reading scores from 1971 to 2008 improved significantly for nine-year-olds, improved slightly for 13-year-olds and did not improve for 17-year-olds.
While Rothstein concedes that education spending has doubled in real dollars, “less than half of this new money has gone to regular education (including compensatory education for disadvantaged children, programs for English-language learners, integration programs like magnet schools, and special schools for dropout recovery and prevention). Special education consumed less than 4% of all K-12 spending 40 years ago; it now consumes 21% of education dollars.
Unless No Child Left Behind is modified, 82 percent of U.S. schools could fail to meet “adequate yearly progress” targets next year, estimates Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Currently, 37 percent are failing to meet targets, but many states set achievable goals in the early years in hopes that performance would soar in the final years. — or that the targets would be lowered. Duncan’s credibility is under attack — will the number of AYP losers more than double in one year? — but nobody thinks the goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 is achievable, even with some states defining “proficiency” as “barely literate.” The Obama administration wants to set a new goal: Students will be ready for college or careers by 2020. I don’t believe in that one either. Only the lowest-performing 5 percent would face “turnaround” or “transformation.”