Sunday, February 25, 2007

The only gap that matters, pt. 2 - Last Thursday saw the release of more disheartening information on education in the United States. 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results for 12th-graders were presented for both reading and mathematics (along with a transcript analysis for 2005 high school graduates), and the data provide little cause for celebration on any front. In general, while high schoolers appear to be getting better grades (2.98 average GPA in 2005 vs. 2.68 in 1990), and are taking more college prep courses and earning more credits, 12th-grade NAEP reading scores have dropped since 1992.

Average scale scores for 12-grade reading went from 292 (on a 0-500 scale) in 1992 to 286 in 2005. (This is all the more remarkable given that in 1992 no accommodations were made for disabled or ESL students.) Worse yet, while scores stagnated for students in the 90th percentile, students in the 75th, 50th, 25th and 10th percentiles saw significant drops in their scores over time, with scores for students in the 10th percentile dropping from 249 to 235.

If there is any "good" news to be gleaned from this, it may be that gaps in achievement between white and black students remained unchanged, with scores for white students declining from 297 in 1992 to 293 in 2005, while black 12th-graders saw their scores go from 273 to 267. This result is evidenced by the fact that the percentages of students in both groups who performed at or above proficient declined between 1992 and 2005. In 1992, 46 percent of white 12-graders and 18 percent of blacks performed at or above proficient (which according to the National Center for Education Statistics, represents "solid academic performance")
in reading, while in 2005 only 43 percent of white 12-graders and 16 percent of black students were deemed proficient.

As for NAEP scores in mathematics, comparisons between 2005 and previous years are impossible due to a recent change in the test itself. But even taking that into account, the news doesn't get better. White students scored 157 on the math test in 2005, with black students scoring an average of 127. Only 29 percent of white students (and an infinitesimal 6 percent of black 12-graders), performed well enough to be considered proficient on the test.

Couple all of the foregoing with the fact that, as reported in Newsweek, many students begin to show declining educational performance as early as fourth-grade

Principals and teachers around the country are growing increasingly concerned with what they call the fourth-grade slump. The malaise, which can strike children any time between the end of the second and the middle of fifth grade, is marked by a declining interest in reading and a gradual disengagement from school.
This phenomenon is by no means confined to elementary school, as a similar effect has been seen among high-school students, many of whom drop out altogether - as often as not, out of boredom.

One would be hard-pressed to identify another line of work (with the possible exceptions of the legal profession and prostitution) that has such an inversely negative impact on its clients. What would be said of the medical profession if regular visits with a physician made a patient sicker? How scandalized would accountants be if their clients were poorer for their time and trouble? (Indeed, how is it that Arthur Anderson is out of business and the NEA is alive and well?) There is little doubt that the longer students are exposed to government-run education, the worse they perform educationally. Similarly, these NAEP results confirm that, even after the implementation of No Child Left Behind, the education system's failings are even more abundant now than in previous years.

All of this speaks to the topsy-turvy world created by teacher's unions and the education bureaucracy, both of whom have told the American people to "stay the course" for far longer than George Bush ever would have been allowed to vis-a-vis our war in Iraq. To be sure, by focusing on fads such as self-esteem, Afrocentrism and "Heather's Two Mommies," educators have advocated a failing strategy over the last 30 or more years. Depending on what's counted, overall education spending rivals or exceeds defense expenditures on a yearly basis, with annual increases that are as sure to come as the sunrise in the east.

Meanwhile, by every measure student performance continues to decline, and no one in the educational complex sees themselves as responsible. While President Bush has reshuffled his generals in Iraq, the educationistas have yet to so much as fire a corporal for cause;
it is only a slight exaggeration to suggest that a teacher is more likely to leave the classroom as a result of a terrorist attack than due to poor performance. The pleadings of bureaucrats notwithstanding, per-pupil spending increases will have no impact on this crisis. As stated elsewhere, those who are concerned about the performance of our schools should focus less on educational content (i.e., more watered-down courses designed to provide the appearance of a rigorous curriculum) and more on contexts (i.e., social mores) that are reflected and supported by the local community. As long as the values of the education confederacy are apart from those of the greater society, there will be no solution to the problem of diminished educational returns.

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