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No Success Left Alone

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal picked up on a particularly tendentious story in the New York Times. Titled “‘No Child’ Law Is Not Closing a Racial Gap,” the Times begins this way:

The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation’s best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency.

Reporter Sam Dillon of the Times goes on to write, “Between 2004 and last year, scores for young minority students increased, but so did those of white students, leaving the achievement gap stubbornly wide, despite President George W. Bush‘s frequent assertions that the No Child law was having a dramatic effect.”

The Times is (reluctantly) forced to concede that since 2004 the scores of nine and 13-year-old students have risen modestly in reading and risen considerably in math — and they are quite a bit higher than those of students of the same age a generation ago. “Still,” the Times says, “the progress of younger students tapered off as they got older.” Perhaps that is because, as Margaret Spellings, President Bush’s Secretary of Education in the second term, put it, “The law focuses on math and reading in grades three through eight — it’s not about high schools. So these results are affirming of our accountability-type approach.”

No Child Left Behind, while not a perfect law (none is), has been one of the genuinely innovative policy reforms of the last few decades and an impressive success. The data shows that. Students are learning more than they were, thanks to higher standards, transparency, and accountability in the system. This seems to upset people like Dillon — who has turned himself into a pretzel in an effort to try to make a success seem like a failure.

Mr. Dillon’s story also provides insight into a particular cast of mind. He appears to be far more concerned with the gap between white and minority students existing than with the fact that both whites and minority students improved their performance. Would Dillon have been more pleased if test scores for both white and minority students had gone down, but more for whites than for minority students, therefore narrowing the gap? Perhaps so. In any event, Dillon’s story highlights how much confused thinking permeates the education debate, including among those who report on it.



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