Jay Mathews offers an extemely weak defense of NCLB and other recent “reform” efforts based on his interpretation of the recent annual report on American education from the Brookings Institution.

This is not exactly good news, but context is important. If we have managed to be the world’s most powerful country, politically, economically and militarily, for the last 47 years despite our less than impressive math and science scores, maybe that flaw is not as important as film documentaries and political party platforms claim. And if, after so many decades of being shown up by much of the rest of the developed world, we are improving, it might be time to be more supportive of what we already doing to fix our schools. [my emphasis, not his]


The fact that test scores of American students are “flat to slightly up” on one international test and have “improved” since 1995 on another is hardly validation for converting most schools in this country into test prep academies.

Those small increases in scores on international assessments relative to other countries are more likely due to kids learning to be better test takers over the past fifteen years rather than from a better understanding of math and science.

The bottom line is that the efforts Mathews wants us to support are doing nothing to “fix” schools.

If “the data show that we have been mediocre all along, as far back as 1964”, and we still organize our schools, instructional methods, and curriculum pretty much as we did in 1964 (which we do), maybe it’s finally time to consider changes to the fundamental structure of our education system.