In which we petition the New York Times!


Two experts agree that we’re right: Each is an “educational expert”—one from the left and one from the right.

Yesterday, they joined forces in a New York Times op-ed column! They linked arms across the expert divide. Here’s part of what the pair wrote:
HESS AND DARLING-HAMMOND (12/6/11): We agree, though, on what the federal government can do well. It should not micromanage schools, but should focus on the four functions it alone can perform.

First is encouraging transparency for school performance and spending. For all its flaws, No Child Left Behind’s main contribution is that it pushed states to measure and report achievement for all students annually. Without transparency, it’s tough for parents, voters and taxpayers to hold schools and public officials accountable. However, No Child Left Behind also let states use statistical gimmicks to report performance. Instead of the vague mandate of “adequate yearly progress,” federal financing should be conditioned on truth in advertising — on reliably describing achievement (or lack thereof) and spending. To track achievement, states should be required to link their assessments to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (or to adopt a similar multistate assessment).
They didn’t use the hoary term, “gold standard of educational testing.” But in that passage, the experts agreed. The National Assessment of Educational Progress represents our best educational data!

Why then doesn’t the New York Times tell its long-suffering readers what the NAEP data show? The Times has never done this! As propaganda swirls all around them, New York Times readers have never been told what those data show!

When will this pompous, self-impressed newspaper get off its asp and report?

When will Times readers be told:
In August, Richard Rothstein described the NAEP data in a little-remembered piece at Slate:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): Central to the reformers' argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago.
Especially given prevailing propaganda, that last fact is simply astounding. When will Times readers be told?

NAEP data are constantly praised in the Times. When will this newspaper gets off its asp and report what these great data show?


  1. Mr. Somerby, the NY Times isn't going to tell its readers what the NAEP shows, and these experts won't do so, because they just don't have a clue and they also have adopted the elite's neoliberal script, which is that public schools are bad, semi-privatized charter schools and more testing and union-less teaching corps are the answer, and that's it. When you've got billionaires like Bill Gates and Mike Bloomberg involved, do you really think the subservient, mindless Times is going to stand up to them?

    I can tell you I've been treated like an insane person for even mentioning the Rothstein figures and similar facts--FACTS--about US public education's successes based on the NAEP. People can't and won't believe it. They have heard the same rants over and over--George Bush tried to fix the schools with Ted Kennedy! Obama agrees the schools are bad! The teachers unions are the problem! The young teachers who are the best are the first to go! Teach for America is a brilliant success and the public school system needs more programs like it! etc.--that they totally believe it. Ugh!

  2. Still, even the NY Times sometimes puts out a really good discussion, like this one, which in my opinion nails the key issues of the economy and politics. Carmen Reinhart, Paul Krugman, and Joe Nocera, chaired by Tom Friedman.

  3. Perhaps one reason nobody is trumpeting the improvement (presumably) shown by the NAEP is that American students continue to lag behind foreign students:

    placing the United States 32nd among the 65 nations that participated in the latest international tests administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The United States ranks between Portugal and Italy and far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands, to say nothing of the city of Shanghai, with its 75 percent proficiency rate.

  4. D in C - Don't quite know where to start, but here goes: A more accurate comment would be that American students lag behind SOME foreign students, or better yet, American students come in around the middle of the pack, as they always have. Not surprising for a big, diverse country with lots of immigration and a history of slavery and its attendant enforced illiteracy. I checked out the article you linked to, and it's the same predictable stuff (some of it laughable): "Brainy" Massachusetts ranks behind Lichtenstein. Horror of horrors!!! Everyone knows how dumb Lichtensteiners are. How on earth can they out perform God's chosen nation? And "debt ridden" Spain and Portugal do better as well. I mean come on, how good at math can those Iberians be, I mean if they're debt ridden and all...

    And don't even get me started on Shanghai (I mean, you know there is cherry picking going on when they're comparing U.S. states to European principalities to Asian cities).

  5. Yes, Anonymous, American students come in around the middle of the pack, as they always have. Despite the soaring results on NAEP, America's ranking isn't improving. Why is that? Some possible answers:

    1. Maybe other countries' education is improving just as fast as America's.

    2. Maybe the improvement supposedly shown by the NAEP actually reflects increased cheating by teachers and school officials.

    3. Maybe the improvement supposedly shown by the NAEP really reflects schools more and more teaching to the NAEP test.

    No doubt there are other possible causes, and, of course, there's probably some combination of causes. Not being involved in education I have no opinion. I'd be happy to hear Bob Somerby's thoughts.

  6. Can someone please explain to me why we care how American children did on some test as compared to children in other countries?
    What does it prove?
    So what?
    We have always scored in the middle, any yet we have for years been a super power.
    Until the recent economic melt down (which, by the way, was not caused by teachers or school children, but rather by the private school educated elites of Wall Street and big Banking) America has had a very strong economy, plenty of jobs and lots of opportunity.
    America is a leader in innovation, business, science (Nobel prizes, discoveries etc.). So who cares how the kiddies stack up on a bubble in test?
    Hasn't seemed to matter so far.

  7. IMHO Anonymous's comment reflects a liberal bias in favor of government. When it's pointed out that health care is no better in America than overseas, even though we spend twice as much per capita, liberals scream for the government to take it all over.

    OTOH when it's pointed out that American education (which is already run by government) is no better than overseas education, even though (I would guess) we spend twice as much per capita, liberals say, "Who cares?"

  8. Um, in other countries education is also run by the government.

  9. Um, um, as is health care.

    And to D in C with his prejudicial language of supposedly and cheating on the NAEP. David, can you read? Where have you ever, ever seen what you are so slyly asking?
    Anywhere? In your vast reading on educational testing, where have you seen accusation, let alone proof, of cheating on the NAEP? Or teaching to that test?

  10. "Where have you ever, ever seen what you are so slyly asking?"

    Atlanta, Georgia

    America's biggest teacher and principal cheating scandal unfolds in Atlanta

  11. Nope. The CRCT is not the NAEP. Care to try again?

  12. Typical David. He takes a topic which Bob S has covered extensively as an answer to a question that wasn't asked.
    No, David, the Atlanta scandal, as pointed out already, has nothing to do with the NAEP which is the test YOU suggested has been subject to cheating or being taught to.
    Christ on a cracker, you're really bad at this aren't you?

  13. I seldom agree with David, but he does bring challenging comments.

    You're right Anon, that the NAEP shouldn't be so lightly crossed referenced into the discussion.

    Still, how is it that scores are rising in one measure, but not noticeably in another?