Pat Buchanan, “…senior adviser to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000”, wrote a scathing editorial titled “The Dumbing-Down of America.” It appeared today on Yahoo.com with a dateline of “Tue Jun 21, 3:00 am ET.” Mr Buchanan claims, while taking a shot at past President George W. Bush, that the education level of America’s students has declined steadily especially in the subject of American History.
He states that “only 20 percent of fourth-graders attained even a ‘proficient’ score in the test. By eighth grade, only 17 percent were judged proficient. By 12th, 12 percent. Only a tiny fraction was graded ‘advanced,’ indicating a superior knowledge of American History.” (Shouldn’t it be “…tiny fraction were graded..” since he’s using the word to refer to students?”) He is citing data from the recently released “The Nation’s Report Card” from the National Assessment of Education Progress.
I’m not attacking Pat Buchanan, although that’s easy to do, what I’m trying to point out, is that people believe this unbalanced, sifting of the facts as though it were the truth. We have got to be careful. Buchanan is talking about a future society where all the white people (and Asians) are going to be paying for the blacks and Hispanics because they are all going to be under-educated blue-collar workers. “If the racial gap in academic achievement persists”, he writes, “for the next 40 years, as it has for the last 40, virtually all of the superior positions in the New Economy and knowledge-based professions will be held by Asians and whites, with blacks and Hispanics largely relegated to the service sector.” This was alarming to me, so I did what 99.9% of the probably few readers of that “opinion” didn’t do, I checked the NAEP results.
This is what the report card really says, “At all grades, the average U.S. history scores in 2010 were higher than the scores in 1994, and the score for eighth-graders was also higher than in 2006.” Puts a different slant on the issue doesn’t it? Sounds like pretty good news doesn’t it? Which is why it wasn’t anywhere in Pat’s assessment of the situation. The report also states that, “at grades 4 and 8, the percentages of students at or above Proficient in 2010 were higher than the percentages in the first assessment in 1994, but over the same time period the percentage of twelfth-graders at or above Proficient was not significantly different.” But Pat dug in there and pulled out some percentages that don’t look so good when not compared to any past results.
Is education in America the best it can be, or even close? Hell no, but there have been gains for all the trillions of dollars that have been spent by our tax dollars on education over the last decade. I think it would be better to argue that we don’t have accurate methods to measure it’s success or failure. Do you think it is important for a future business leader, or a future doctor, or even a future lawyer to be able to identify who the AXIS powers were in 1940 on a high-school history test? I’m going with no. It would be nice, but not critical.
And lets not forget that 99.9% of statistics are made up. Like the last two I just gave you. It just makes me sound more like I know what I’m talking about. Nothing prevents you from using any statistical number you want to prove your point. There’s no “law” against it. Might hurt your credibility some, just like I just hurt mine by telling you I make up statistics, but not always, just sometimes when I’m in a hurry.
How about taking into account how “serious” these students were when taking this achievement test. It’s a multiple choice test. Think some uninterested students might have just picked a, b, c, or d? Of course, maybe they didn’t feel well, or have trouble taking tests, or just lazy and didn’t feel like it. It can make a mockery out of those percentages.
So stop letting the Pat Buchanan’s of the world panic you with one-sided statistical evidence. Glance at the deviation from the survey once in a while. See how many people they actually polled. If they say something is true because they interviewed a thousand people on the phone and 51% said it was true, and the deviation is plus/minus 10%, the assumption really means nothing.
I’m trying to remember who the AXIS Powers were in World War II based on a 1940 era poster, a question from the test. Let’s see, in 1940 it was Japan, Italy, Russia, and Germany. I’d look for a “multiple guess” question with those four. Remember it said, 1940 era, so Russia had signed a nonaggression pact with Germany until Germany turned around and invaded them on June 22, 1941. The Russian leaders should have read “Mein Kampf” I guess. I’m pretty sure I would have missed the question because they wouldn’t have listed Russia. Just so you know, I suck at Math, but I know my American History.
Oh, and go to the NAEP website and take the practice tests. Start with the 4th grade so you don’t end of feeling like your educational experience was a waste. WTF