In this new monograph, Fewer Children Left Behind, Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, examines whether America’s schools have improved over the past quarter-century of reform. He finds that:
- From the mid- to late 1990s until 2010 or so, fourth and eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores for the lowest-achieving children, and for students of color, shot up in reading, math, and most other academic subjects.
- At the end of this period, our black, Hispanic, and low-achieving students were reading and doing math two and sometimes three grade levels above their equivalent peers in the early 1990s.
That’s historic, life-changing progress. And it surely contributed to more recent gains in the high school graduation rate for these groups, as many more kids came into ninth grade closer to being on track. Furthermore, some states did even better than expected, given their changing economic conditions.
Those are the facts. The interpretive challenge is to understand why. Why did we see so much progress for the kids who had previously been “left behind”? Petrilli’s conclusion is that our schools can take only partial credit. Yes, it was a time of frenetic reform activity, and yes, it was also a period of significantly increased investment in our public schools. And those factors mattered. But what likely mattered more were the vastly improving social and economic conditions for our poorest children. Our cities in particular were transformed over the course of the 1990s, with rates of violence and child poverty rates plummeting. These social and economic trends—more so than what schools or “reformers” did—likely explain much of why our students started to make so much progress.
Given that we’re now experiencing another historic boom—one that is finally lifting the wages of the lowest-income workers—we should expect child poverty rates to continue to fall and student achievement to begin rising again. That is, if past is prologue. Yet demography is not destiny. As we know for individual children, as well as individual schools, great effort can allow people or institutions to beat the odds. So it is with states. All jurisdictions should benefit from today’s economic conditions, but some will see their students go further faster depending on the policies their leaders put in place.
To dig into the evidence for these claims and conclusions, read the monograph now.
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- A new monograph by @MichaelPetrilli examines whether America’s schools have improved over the past quarter-century of reform. He finds historic, life-changing progress. But how did it happen? #FewerLeftBehind gadf.ly/FewerLeftBehind
- Around 2010, 4th and 8th grade black, Hispanic, and low-achieving students were 2–3 grade levels above their equivalent early-1990s peers in math and reading. In “Fewer Children Left Behind,” @MichaelPetrilli examines why. #FewerLeftBehind gadf.ly/FewerLeftBehind
- All jurisdictions should benefit from today’s economic conditions, but some will see their students go further faster depending on the policies their leaders put in place. Read more in @MichaelPetrilli’s “Fewer Children Left Behind.” #FewerLeftBehind gadf.ly/FewerLeftBehind
- Demography isn't destiny. As we know for individual children and schools, great effort can allow people or institutions to beat the odds. Today’s historic economic boom will help, writes @MichaelPetrilli in “Fewer Children Left Behind.” #FewerLeftBehind gadf.ly/FewerLeftBehind