Mike isn’t wrong when he notes with satisfaction that, on some indicators and at some grade levels, poor and minority students in the U.S. are doing better today than a decade a or so back. Only a churl would say that’s not an accomplishment worthy of notice and some pride.
But the big, glum headline over American K-12 education today is essentially the same as when we were declared a “nation at risk” 28 long years ago: our kids on average are woefully lacking in essential skills and knowledge across every subject in the curriculum.
Almost all the major trend lines are flat—at least until you decompose them by ethnicity. Sure, it’s great that minority students have made gains, but what does that do for our international competitiveness if the average score is unchanged or declining? Especially in a time when many competitor nations are moving up on some of those same metrics? And what’s the long-term payoff from early-grade gains if scores and outcomes in high school are flat or declining? Some say the early gains are like the pig in the python’s throat and it’ll just take time for them to reach the tail. But we’ve had enough experience by now with early-grade gains and high-school sags to throw major doubt on that hypothesis. We simply haven’t found—at least on a large scale—ways to sustain and build on academic gains as youngsters move from 4th grade to 12th.