Thursday, September 9, 2010

Newsweek: Why school reform fails

This from Newsweek:

As 56 million children return to the nation’s 133,000 elementary and secondary schools, the promise of “reform” is again in the air. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced $4 billion in Race to the Top grants to states whose proposals demonstrated, according to Duncan, “a bold commitment to education reform” and “creativity and innovation [that is] breathtaking.” What they really show is that few subjects inspire more intellectual dishonesty and political puffery than “school reform.”

Since the 1960s, waves of “reform” have failed to produce meaningful achievement gains. The most reliable tests are those given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The reading and math tests, graded on a 0–500 scale, measure 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds. In 1971, the initial year for the reading test, the average score for high-school seniors was 285; in 2008 that score was 286. The math test started in 1973, when high-school seniors averaged 304; in 2008 the average was 306.

To be sure, some improvements have occurred in elementary schools. But what good are they if they’re erased by high school? There’s also been a modest narrowing in the high-school achievement gaps between whites, blacks, and Hispanics, although the narrowing generally stopped in the late 1980s. (Average scores have remained stable because, although blacks’ and Hispanics’ scores have risen slightly, the size of these minority groups has also expanded. This means that their still-low scores exert a bigger drag on the average. The two effects offset each other.)

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