How Well are American Students Learning: Volume II, Number 1

Liam Julian

Tom Loveless
Brown Center on Education Policy
The Brookings Institution
October 2006

This report is divided into three separate sections. One analyzes whether student "happiness" affects their test scores, another whether a "race to the bottom" exists, and the last how well American students are actually doing in math and reading. The findings, in a nutshell: 1) Happy kids aren't better at math than are other children. In countries where teachers attempt to make math more "relevant" to their students, test scores are lower than for those countries in which math is simply taught with no effort to make the material relevant to students' lives. 2) There is no NCLB-inspired "race to the bottom," because although states now report higher percentages of proficient students than NAEP, they were doing the same before NCLB's enactment (so there's more of a "dwell at the bottom" trend). 3) American students are making progress in math (reading gains are meager), but the main NAEP and the long-term trend NAEP disagree over how much math progress is actually being made. What conclusions can we draw from the report? That educators who focus on making their classes "fun" and "relevant" are not doing anything for their students' learning (see here). They should focus instead on teaching basic skills--even if such is the "un-fun" approach. Also, while it's fine to say that NCLB isn't driving a race to the bottom (though we would quibble), it's pretty disheartening to see that states were actually racing there on their own. What's worse, many states, having arrived at the bottom, have set up camp, and no longer do any racing of any sort, be it to bottoms, tops, or places in between. This report is worth your perusal. It's informative, but probably its conclusions won't stun you; most of this was already common knowledge. Read it here.