USA TODAY, Watch your step!


Science scores rise on the NAEP: If USA Today doesn’t watch its step, it might get banned from the press corps!

Last year, the colorful newspaper scooped the rest of the press, publishing a detailed report about nationwide cheating on standardized tests. This was one of the most informative reports on public schools in years.

And now, the Crayola Crowd has done it again! With a few reservations, we strongly recommend this report about a rise in US science scores.

The report concerns scores on The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a federal program where (almost) no one has ever had a motive to cheat. USA Today’s Berezow and Campbell report a modest gain in science scores.

In itself, this modest gain isn't very important. But in their report, the writers explode some of the education myths all pseudo-education reporters know they’re supposed to maintain.

USA Today should watch its step! Look what its writers reported:
BEREZOW AND CAMPBELL (6/4/12): America has never done particularly well on standardized tests. In 1964, the first time an international standardized test was given, American kids were next to last. In the most recent assessment, in 2009, the U.S. scored 17th in science out of 34 countries.
People! “Education reporters” are supposed to pretend that we were always Numero Uno! You’re certainly not supposed to say or suggest that our international scores actually seem to be rising.

If that’s true, how can we fire our lazy teachers while hiring those wonderful Princeton kids? You’re also not supposed to mention the highlighted facts in this passage:
BEREZOW AND CAMPBELL: So, why do Americans believe that science education is in a downward spiral when the empirical evidence shows the opposite? Because officials keep telling us that education is abysmal. Also, they seem to hold a grudge against No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which holds teachers accountable and could be responsible for the increase in test scores.

Yes, that's right. Test scores have increased since NCLB passed in 2002. Reading scores also are up slightly, and girls achieved parity with boys in mathematics. This is a monumental victory.

Be wary of education lobbyists who downplay our long track record of scientific success while simultaneously asking for more money. At $91,700 per pupil from kindergarten through twelfth grade, the U.S. is outspent only by Switzerland in the education arena. Cash is not a problem.
Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow! According to the rules of the game, you are not supposed to mention any of those featured facts.

We have some complaints about this report. The writers “disaggregate” scores by gender, but not by race. In fact, the math scores of black kids have gone through the roof. So too with the math scores of Hispanic kids.

If we might borrow some colorful language, “this is a monumental victory.” People should hear about it. Those kids should hear words of praise.

We wish these writers had reported the math scores that way. We think the public should hear the truth on occasion—along with all the Official Mandated Absolute Bullshit, of course.

Still and all, USA Today has reported a lot of disfavored facts in this piece. The colorful paper should watch its step:

Journalistic elites don’t play it this way. Homey don’t like the real facts.


  1. Isn't it true that some cities, like Atlanta, got in trouble for getting caught forging test answers? I'm not 100% convinced that any test score increase is legit.

    1. Yes, but those instances weren't *this* test.

      These long-term increases really aren't disputed by anyone.

      They're just ignored -- apparently because they don't fit the preferred, though false, story of decline.

  2. Did Mr. Somerby or anyone else catch Diane Ravitch two nights ago on the PBS News Hour, or Melinda Gates on Monday? They were talking about educational reform, it was fascinating to see how much they confirmed and conformed to what Somerby has been saying for years, which is that billionaires like Gates (who seems to mean well) have a hobbyhorse they refuse to get off, even if they have no clue about public schools (and she was spewing all kinds of claptrap about how bad the schools were and how they'd been changed with her husband's foundation's money), and Ravitch, a former proponent of school privatization now apostate on the issue, was urging that people actually look at test scores, not destroy public education, and be wary of these "reformers."

    I thought to myself: so few people will see these interviews. Gates, because of her money, will be taken more seriously than Ravitch. Where are the teachers and parents? The money behind school privatization is immense, because it means money in the pockets of the very people who are trying to destroy everything public (schools, libraries, public spaces, governmental institutions, etc.) and it also means that the common good that has made the US a world leader will be destroyed forever. And no matter how many realizations I and so many others have along these lines, I don't have the money to counter it. What are we to do?

    1. Excellent post, Cassandra.
      But I am not so sure Gates "means well".

  3. So American kids are getting significantly higher scores on NAEP after NCLB ushered an era of high-stakes achievement tests with the same multiple-choice format? That is remarkable! Who would have thought that taking dozens of multiple-choice unit, quarterly benchmark, and annual achievement tests every year would have improved student performance on NAEP?

    I have no idea why Bob has the impression that journalists don,t like to talk about US spending on education since the boldfaced statistic is common knowledge among people who read media stories about public education and education reform.

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