Timesman, Sam Dillon, spins the report thusly:
The group says President Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind, has impoverished public school curriculums by holding schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and mathematics, but in no other subjects. (emphasis mine)
Greg Toppo of USA Today has similar thoughts:
Twenty-five years after the federal report A Nation at Risk challenged U.S. public schools to raise the quality of education, the study finds high schoolers still lack important historical and cultural underpinnings of "a complete education." And, its authors fear, the nation's current focus on improving basic reading and math skills in elementary school might only make matters worse, giving short shrift to the humanities — even if children can read and do math.(emphasis mine)
Naturally, the report, itself, uses less-heated rhetoric. However, I am somewhat concerned with the dubious motives behind the issuance of this report.
The report is based on a telephone survey of 17 year-olds using questions taken from a 1986 NAEP exam. Of course, few of the interviewees could successfully answer the questions. From USA Today:
•43% knew the Civil War was fought between 1850 and 1900.
•52% could identify the theme of 1984.
•51% knew that the controversy surrounding Sen. Joseph McCarthy focused on communism.
This lack of knowledge could then be used as a club to criticize education and/or to push the group's favored education reform.
Then I started wondering why the group just didn't use the NAEP data in the first place. Why go through the hassle of calling up thousands of people, asking them a battery of questions to capture their responses, and crunching the numbers when the Feds have already done the heavy lifting for you?
That's when it hit me that the longitudinal NAEP data most likely didn't support the group's conclusions.
And, sure enough, the data tells a different story.
Here is the NAEP data for 17 year-olds in history:
Compare the pre-NCLB scores ('94 and '01) to the post-NCLB scores ('06). If anything, the post-NCLB scores show small (mostly statistically significant, but surely not educationally significant) gains. If 2006's 17 year-olds are dummies, this data shows they were just about as dumb (or slightly smarter) as their '01 and '94 cohorts.
That's an inconvenient fact for the Common Core people. It's also an inconvenient fact for the all the pundits who are so worried about NCLB's supposed narrowing effect on social studies. Especially when the 4th grade and 8th grade data show similar trends.
I especially like the somewhat substantial gains made by the 4th graders from the 10th and 25th percentiles. Hey, maybe knowing how to read does help learning content in other areas.
Similar trends show up in civics.
I'm giving Common Core an F for their fledgling attempt at advocacy.
You might be able to fool the dummies at the Times and USA Today with this crap, but you're not getting it by the edusphere.