Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review April 12, 2001 / 19 Nissan, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

'F' for School Reform -- LAST week the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) year 2000 tests for fourth-grade reading were released, and they were received with the usual yawning complacency. Which is unfortunate, because the news contained in these results was, as is also usual, catastrophic.

The NAEP confirmed that we are continuing to create a nation radically divided along meritocratic class lines. The top level is held by a tiny, hyper-schooled and highly competent overclass to which, in an information-based economy, accrues a vast overproportion of the nation's jobs, wealth, status and power. This class is disproportionately composed of whites and Asian Americans. The second class, numerically broad, is made up of people who are educated enough to work in blue-, pink- and low-to-medium-white-collar jobs that often pay too little to support a family, offer no security and hold little hope of advancement to the upper tiers. The third, also broad, comprises people who are functionally illiterate or close to it, and for whom life holds at best the joyous prospects of bike-messengering, table-busing, weed-pulling, hamburger-flipping and broom-pushing -- episodically relieved by unemployment and descents into deep poverty. Members of this lowest class are disproportionately black or Hispanic.

This dismal result didn't come cheap. As Secretary of Education Roderick R. Paige put it: "After spending $125 billion of Title I money over 25 years, we have virtually nothing to show for it." And as Krista Kafer of the Heritage Foundation has noted, $80 billion of this sum was spent in the past decade, largely in the Clinton years. NAEP is often called "the nation's report card," but it is also the report card for three decades of expensive "education reform." The grade is F.

Overall, at first glance, the results do not look too terrible -- merely a failure to show progress. The "average scores for fourth-graders have shown no improvement over the past eight years," in the words of Gary W. Phillips, acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics. But this assessment hides the real scope of the disaster, which, in societal terms, is close to utter.

NAEP 2000 tested 8,000 fourth-graders across the country for reading skills, and ranked them in two forms, by a numerical scale and in terms of reading "achievement." The four levels of achievement NAEP uses are, in descending order of skill: advanced, proficient, basic and below basic.

Consider, most important, the category called below basic. Students in this group cannot understand even in a general sense the meaning of what they have read: They cannot, for practical purposes, read. Thirty-seven percent of those tested scored below basic. Horrifying enough, but there is far worse news when you break the below-basic group into categories. Sixty-three percent (63 percent!) of black fourth-graders, 58 percent of Hispanics, 47 percent of urban students and 60 percent of poor children scored below basic.

In the numerical rankings, the picture is similar. Forty percent of whites tested at or above proficient (able to understand and draw inferences from a text). The percentage of blacks at or above this level: 12 percent; similarly only 16 percent of Hispanics and 17 percent of American Indians tested at this level.

Meanwhile, "high-performing" students did better -- 32 percent scored at or above proficient and 8 percent at advanced, up from, respectively, 29 percent and 5 percent in 1992. Ambitious parents who send their children to the increasingly demanding schools that serve the meritocratic overclass will not be surprised to learn that this improvement directly corresponded to an increase in reading and homework assignments since 1992.

So this is the 21st century to which Bill Clinton built a bridge, a nation with a growing and entrenched lifelong chasm between those (like Chelsea Clinton) who grow up in ambitious families and attend demanding schools and those who don't have such luck; a nation where a stunning 60 percent of poor children and minority children are shoveled through the schools and out the other end, largely illiterate and innumerate.

It is George Bush's turn. This week he proposed a first budget that includes an 11.5 percent increase in federal spending for education. He is pushing in the Senate a plan that would require student testing in grades three through eight and would allow parents of students in rotten schools to receive federally funded tutoring. This is a mildly promising start, but Bush has not inherited a mild problem. He has inherited a continuing national crisis. If he really believes the great goal of his presidency is to leave no child behind, he must act as if the promise of his presidency, and the fundamental promise of his country, are imperiled. Because, with 37 percent of the children poised to be left behind, they are.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


04/05/01:The good news about McCain-Feingold is ...
03/29/01: The conflict within
03/22/01: Not guilty by reason of notoriety
03/15/01: A fine foreign policy mess
03/08/01: Dubya's savvy: OOPS! I was wrong
03/01/01: Engagement's unseeing eye
02/22/01: The Pardoner's false brief
02/08/01: Oops, they almost converted
02/01/01: Exit the abusers
01/25/01: The monster and the minority
01/11/01: Master money-grubber
01/11/01: Re Bipartisanship: From: The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy To: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
01/04/01: Faux Commotion
12/21/00: The next Martha Stewart
12/14/00: Democracy rescued
12/06/00: Gore's next task: Face reality
11/15/00: The Great Defender
11/02/00: The Democrats' delusion
10/26/00: Phony Truce
10/19/00: The Talking Cure
10/12/00: Doves' Day of Reckoning
10/05/00: Conan the veep
09/28/00: Dumb vs. Dishonest
09/21/00: Flapping furiously
09/14/00: Down AlGore's Memory Hole
08/24/00: AlGore's Flex-O-Joe
08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
08/03/00: New Hope for Nice Guys
07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

©1999, Washington Post Co.