Do You Know&The Latest Good News About American Education?

Center on Education Policy
August 2005

The Center on Education Policy (CEP) has produced plenty of good work recently, especially on the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act and on high school exit exams (see here and here). But CEP's report on the "good news" in education falls short. The authors claim they will "dispel common misconceptions about public schools," but in fact they create misperceptions of their own. To be sure, there is good news in American education, and you can find it sprinkled among the report's 24 "indicators": math achievement is up, reading achievement is up for fourth-graders, and more young adults are completing four-year college degrees. But most of the indicators either measure dubious inputs or don't tell the full story. Is it good news that "pupil-teacher ratios are falling" or that "public school enrollments are growing faster than private school enrollments"? Should we celebrate the fact that, "in other academic subjects [writing, science, U.S. history, and geography], achievement has improved or stayed the same," when the "improvements" are miniscule and the starting points were in the cellar? And in light of recent, and well-placed, anxiety about America's competitive posture in the world, thanks to embarrassing scores on international math, reading, and science tests, it seems a bit boosterish to declare, "U.S. students outscore other countries in interpreting civic information." To its credit, CEP does include - albeit in small print - text boxes describing "the work ahead." (A more accurate label for these would be "the latest bad news about American education.") But the astute reader would be wise to read this piece as a companion to Jay Greene's Education Myths (see here), and decide for himself or herself whose "plain facts" are more convincing.

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