It happened during the George Bush years!


Grade 4 reading scores: In this morning's report, we said that we'd present the data, and so we're going to do so.

Did American public schools drift away from phonics instruction during the George Bush years? If so, did that drift away from phonics instruction harm public school reading achievement?

We can't answer either question, but Nicholas Kristof's recent column may have conveyed some such impression. For the record, here are the gains in average scores recorded by public school fourth graders during that general period: 

Average scores, Grade 4 reading, NAEP
American public schools: 1998 / 2009

White kids: 223.07 / 229.21
Black kids: 191.61 / 203.96
Hispanic kids: 191.70 / 204.10

On average, black kids and Hispanic kids both gained over twelve points during that eleven-year period. By a very rough rule of thumb—but one which is quite widely used—ten points on the NAEP scale is frequently said to be roughly equivalent to one academic year.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP) is our most reliable measure of academic achievement. Indeed, it may be our only reliable measure of academic achievement.

Average scores in the public schools were going up during that period. We don't know why those average scores in reading went up, but we do know that they did. 

(Average scores in Grade 4 math went up by more than that.)

All in all, you never heard any such facts reported, analyzed, debated or discussed. Simply put, our high-end news orgs, and our tribe's cable stars, don't care about topics like this. 

For all NAEP data: For all NAEP data, just click here. From there, you're on your own.

The NAEP publishes a wealth of data. Those data are never discussed.


  1. "Things are going well" never sold a single newspaper.

  2. Those data are never discussed, says Somerby. And yet:

  3. From an article discussing what we as individuals can do about misinformation:

    "Advocate for systemic change by, for example, electing politicians that care about misinformation, helping people feel less disenfranchised and supporting reliable sources of information. Misinformation is a symptom of much larger systemic issues, ranging from social inequalities to inadequate legal infrastructures. As O’Connor says:

    “Honestly I would say the most important thing you can do is work to elect politicians who care about it… because again sweeping changes are going to be more important than anything an individual can do.”

    By mobilizing to address the systematic structures that support a healthier information environment, individuals can do more to mitigate misinformation. Overall, it will take action at individual, organizational and systemic levels, but there are meaningful steps we can all take to fight back against misinformation if we have the will to do so."

    Somerby's efforts here daily to denigrate experts and challenge the idea of expertise or knowledge, to attack the media which is an important source of information, and to direct people to Fox News, which is a primary purveyor of disinformation, all work against fighting misinformation. I do not understand how someone who was once an educator can be engaged in exactly the actions that spread misinformation and not those that help people protect themselves from lies, and that support our democratic process.

    When Somerby deliberately says that the media is not reporting about NAEP scores, as he did today, he spreads the idea that The New York Times, in particular, is not a source of solid information. That can easily be shown to be wrong, using a quick Google search using the keyword NAEP. So why is Somerby telling lies about the media? I really don't know.

    The Conversation

  4. In fairness, there was George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, and both were presidents. We know who Somerby means because of the years mentioned, but he really should use the middle initials that differentiate the two former presidents. George W. Bush, not simply George Bush.

    As a historical note, George H.W. Bush's wife, Barbara Bush was very active in promoting literacy among children and adults and in supporting libraries (now under attack by conservatives). There is some irony in that.

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