Database: The Achievement Paradox

By Jim Hull

Over the past several decades, trillions of dollars have been invested to improve our public schools. Critics, however, claim that such investments have been for naught, that there is little evidence our public schools have made any significant improvements.

Many point to results from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) to show that our nation’s high school students are learning at about the same level now as high school students did nearly 40 years ago. A frequently cited example is that, since the mid-1970s, our nation’s 17-year-olds have only improved their performance by six points in math and by just two points in reading.

When you consider that a good rule of thumb in NAEP is that every 10 points equates to roughly a year’s worth of learning, these results could show our current students are leaving high school only slightly more knowledgeable than high school students 40 years ago.

But do these scores tell the full story?

Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always tell the whole truth. So let’s take a deeper look into the NAEP data as well as at other student outcomes over the past four decades to determine if critics are right that our schools have failed to improve after nearly 40 years.

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