Student achievement has not improved during the past 50 years during this rapid increase of wealth.
Stephen Downes responded:
This makes you possibly the only person in the world to believe this. 50 years ago, students were not even finishing high school. A tiny fraction attended university. Many were still illiterate. To say that student achievement has not improved over the last 50 years is a fabrication on a monumental scale
I doubt I'm the only one to believe this, but even if I were, it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm wrong.
Let's take a look at some data and see who has the better position.
Decent longitudinal data is hard to come by in education. About the best we have is the longitudinal NAEP data going back to the early 70s.
Let's look at the performance of 17 year olds in reading.
No statistically signficant improvement. Across the board. Nine year olds have seen a small increase in recent years, but it's yet to be seen whether those gains will translate into real gains by 17 years olds.
Scores in math tell a similar story, but there has been some slight improvement which does not appear to be educationally significant. Now let's take a look at SAT scores.
Notice the large drop between 1963 and 1980, in particular the pre-1971 drop which is where the NAEP data begins. This represents nearly a drop of a standard deviation.
Now I understand the selection bias issue here and the great expansion and demographic shift of students taking the SAT. Analysts claim that these factors might account for up to 75% of the drop. That still leaves 25% of the drop unexplained. We're still in drop territory, no one seriously argues that there really was an improvemnet that was washed out by all the new students. Most tellingly is that this substatial drop in scores also occurred at the top of the scale where the influx of demographically-shifted students should not have affected the scores as much. This is evident in the SAT recentering conversion that took place in 1995:
Where the solid black line is above the dotted line students received bonus points. Since the solid line is above the dotted line across the entire range, all students received a bonus, even the kids with scores above 650, i.e., the elite students. (Math scores remained steady at the top, except for scores above 750 which showed a slight drop.)
The point of the SAT scores is that no one seriously argues that there's been an improvement in student achievement, except maybe Stephen Downes.
I doubt that even Stephen believes his own rhetoric at this point. That's why he argues: "A tiny fraction attended university" as opposed to arguring that they actually graduated from university or graduated from univerisity with a degree that the job market actually values as opposed to a degree from some new fangled major which might, at best, get you a job as my secretary, so long as you learned how to type. He's also reduced to arguing that "Many were still illiterate." It seems that the NAEP data refutes that claim and I'd be surprised if other literacy measures tell a different story, but I'll let Stephen dig up that data should he chose to maintain this argument.
Oops: I forgot to address this argument: "50 years ago, students were not even finishing high school." Finshing high school was far more of an accomplishment fifty years ago when there was no or little social promotion. Seat time is not a valid substitute for academic achievement in my opinion and the data shows that academic achievement has not improved. The drop-out rate has gone down a bit, but the data before the 70s is spotty at best and, according to Jay Greene, is inaccurate afterwards.