We’re not all going to hell in a hand basket, argues Mike Petrilli on Flypaper. “The last 15 years have seen tremendous progress for poor, minority, and low-achieving students — the very children that have been the focus of two decades of reform.”
. . . For instance, between 1990 and 2009, black fourth graders made 35 points of progress on the mathematics NAEP exam; black eighth-graders gained 24 points. The corresponding numbers for Latino children were 28 and 21 points respectively. In reading, black fourth-graders gained 13 points between 1992 and 2009; black eighth graders gained 9 points. In the just-released geography exam, black fourth-grade students gained 28 points between 1994 and 2010; Latino fourth-graders gained 21 points. Similar progress was seen in history and civics.
This means low-income and minority students are “achieving one, two, and sometimes three grade levels higher than their counterparts in the early 1990s were,” Petrilli writes.
What happened? States that adopted accountability systems made big gains in the ’90s and “the stragglers made big progress once No Child Left Behind forced them to follow suit,” he argues.
NCLB doesn’t hold schools accountable for history, civics, and geography; neither do most states. But “poor and minority kids are stronger readers now, so they can better read the social studies exams and answer more questions correctly,” Petrilli theorizes.
The debate should be about trade-offs, he writes. Poor and minority kids are learning more, but their schools may be turning to scripted lessons and squeezing out art and music. Poor and minority kids are learning more, but principals and teachers have more incentive to cheat on tests. “Poor and minority kids are learning more, but their more affluent, higher-achieving peers are making fewer gains. Is it worth it?”