by Max Brantley
You know the answer you're supposed to give to George Bush's immortal question posed in the headline — NO! It's what the Billionaire Boys Club is teaching you to say. Black children, particularly, are on a steady decline to oblivion.
Oh, if only the facts didn't portray a somewhat different situation. The link is to a long post on the Daily Howler, Bob Somerby's valuable website that delves frequently into education, a subject on which he's long reported. The subject is the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress. It's considered the best and toughest measurement of school achievement because it measures a randomly selected national sample and applies its own standard to achievement, not the varying tests and pass rates that make comparing state-by-state results so difficult.
Read this one key fact and tell me if it fits the narrative you usually hear about American education:
In 2011, black fourth-graders scored higher in math than white kids did in 1990! Anyone can see this is true. Click here to access the new NAEP report, then scroll to page 12, Figure 4.
Let’s repeat that astonishing fact, the fact you’ve never seen reported. In this year’s NAEP math test, black fourth-graders scored higher than their white counterparts scored in 1990. In fact, black fourth-graders scored substantially higher than those white kids of yore. Their four-point advantage over yesteryear’s white kids may not seem like a giant amount. But according to norms which are routinely applied when “reporters” or “experts” have come up with something gloomy to tell us, that four-point advantage represents a differential of almost half a school year.
So, while racial (and income) gaps persist, you simply can't say black students aren't making progress. Hispanic students have done even better, Somerby notes. Reading gains aren't so great and Somerby offers an interesting explanation (in short, math is mostly taught in school, reading is heavily influenced in the home). Give him his rant:
At a time when public school teachers are under attack—when privatization is widely advanced in all areas; when government itself is under constant attack—those data from the “gold standard” testing program suggest that a stunning success has occurred in the public schools, one of our largest public programs. What kind of “liberal” would fail to trumpet the fact that the public schools have achieved this success? Even more disgracefully, what kinds of people would keep you from hearing that the nation’s black and Hispanic kids have achieved this startling success?