Here’s a new problem facing American education policy: Something we’re doing seems to be working.
You wouldn’t know it from the “we’re all going to hell in a hand basket” rhetoric surrounding today’s education debates, but the last fifteen 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. Curiously, both sides of the education battle want to sweep this news under the carpet.
First the facts. In both the “basic skills” of reading and math, and in the social studies subjects of history, civics, and now geography, African-American, Latino, and low-income fourth- and eighth-graders have posted huge gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) since the early 1990s. 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.