In the fall edition of Education Next, Paul Peterson and his coauthors Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woesmann attempt to answer the question, “Is the U. S. Catching Up?”, the title to their article suggested by the recent pronouncement in a new book by Yu Xie of the University of Michigan that “American high school students are doing more coursework and performing better in mathematics and science than in the past.”
To answer the question, Peterson and his colleagues tracked gains in test performance between the early 1990s and 2011 in 49 countries and in fact found noticeable progress by U. S. students in math, science, and reading in 4th and 8th grade on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), but no better than their peers in other countries, who are progressing at least at the same rate. Further, substantially all the gains for U. S. students are concentrated at the 4th grade level and are generally flat to declining thereafter in middle and high school.
This phenomenon is consistent with the NAEP results in Texas—for all of our progress with standards and accountability based reform over the past 20 years, we are simply not seeing much in the middle and secondary years, and this is reflected in SAT and ACT test scores as well.
Moreover, 51% of Texas high school graduates entering community colleges need remediation and, even more significantly, based on a recent study sponsored by Houston Endowment which tracks three cohorts of 8th grade students, only 20% of Texas students are earning any sort of postsecondary credential within six years of expected high school graduation. The latter statistic represents the “pipeline” of those ready for college and the 21st century workplace, is a more realistic measure of educational success and the challenge we face than any “dropout” calculation might indicate, and does not bode well, not only for our economic competitiveness, but for the future of responsible democratic citizenship.
The quality of postsecondary education in America continues to attract the best and brightest from around the world, but we have a serious national security problem when we cannot bring nearly enough of our own students up to the standards necessary to succeed at an internationally competitive postsecondary readiness level. And we know that increased rigor in the curriculum works, yet we continue to have enormous pushback when we demand higher expectations, rigor, and accountability in our high schools. Go figure.
If you want to help with our efforts, visit the Texas Institute for Education Reform at www.texaseducationreform.org.