Friday, November 15, 2013

Public schools in crisis? Check the facts.

In our last post --There's only one problem with this narrative.--we began to look at Reign of Error, a new book from education scholar/historian and former Asst. Sec. of Education Diane Ravitch.

Dr. Ravitch maintains that the current "sky is falling" narrative claiming a "crisis" in our public schools is simply not true. All one needs to do, according to Ravitch, is look at the facts. Ravitch handles this in a straightforward manner by devoting a chapter to each of the claims of crisis made by "reformers."

Chapter 8, for example, examines the claim that "the nation has a dropout crisis and high school graduation rates are falling." Ravitch counters with the "reality" that "High school dropouts are at an all-time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high."

According to Ravitch: "Not until 1940 did the high school graduation rate reach 50 percent. The graduation rate dropped during World War II, as young men went into the armed forces, but rose to 70 percent by 1970. By 1990, the four-year graduation rate reached 74 percent and remained virtually flat until 2010. In 2012, the Department of Education announced that the four-year graduation rate had reached to 78.2 percent in 2010, the first significant increase in three decades."

Ravitch continues: "The U.S. Department of education uses the four-year completion rate as the gold standard; this method produces the lowest possible graduation rate. It does not account for students who take more time to graduate or who earn a GED....When their numbers are added to the four-year graduates, the high school graduation rate is 90 percent."

What about the dropout rate? "The dropout rate is trending downward....The dropout rate has actually been cut by 40 percent overall between 1972 and 2009 and reduced even more for blacks and Hispanics, the groups that are most at risk for dropping out."

"Well, so what," I heard someone mutter in the back of the room. Everybody knows that kids today don't learn as much as kids did 50 years ago. We may be graduating a higher percentage but they aren't as well prepared as graduates when we went to school. Ravitch devotes chapter 5 to this subject.

According to Ravitch: "Critics have complained for many years that American students are not learning as much as they used to or that academic performance is flat. But neither of these complaints is accurate."

According to Ravitch: "We have only one authoritative measure of academic performance over time and that it the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as NAPE (pronounced "nape")."

"Critics may find this hard to believe, but students in American public schools today are studying and mastering far more difficult topics in science and mathematics than their peers forty or fifty years ago. People who doubt this should review the textbooks in common use then and now or look at the tests then and now. If they are still in doubt, I invite them to go to the NAEP website and review the questions in math and science for eighth-grade students."

We will talk a little more about NAPE in the next post, and we will address the question of how American students rank with respect to other nations.

No comments:

Post a Comment