The good news comes in a New York Times article that tells us about the unexpectedly good performance of high school seniors on a national economics test:
The Department of Education translates student scores on the test, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, into three achievement levels: advanced, proficient and basic. On the economics test, 42 percent of 12th graders performed at or above the proficient level, and 79 percent performed at or above the basic level. An economics course is required for graduation in only about one-third of the states.
Sounds OK. Except that the bad news is in the same article, buried in one paragraph and played down in the article in favour of the other:
In contrast, only 13 percent of 12th grade students performed at or above proficient, and only 47 percent performed at or above the basic level on the national assessment test in history that was administered last year. On a similar test in science in 2005, only 54 percent of 12th grade students performed at or above the basic level, and just 18 percent at or above proficient.
Yow! Look at what that says: only about half of high school seniors can pass a “basic” test on history and science.
Now, I don't know what the test is like, or what “basic” entails. And perhaps it's just that the economics test is more straightforward and connects better to daily life than the ones in history and science. Maybe, indeed, this is all only an indictment of No Child Left Behind, rather than a reflection on what's coming out of our schools.
On the other hand, couple this with survey reports that show appalling numbers of American adults (and, apparently, French adults too) don't know that it's the moon, not the sun, that revolves around the Earth. In large numbers, we don't understand natural selection, don't understand basic cosmology, and think people kept dinosaurs as pets.
And, well, the results of reading and writing tests are as depressing.
Is it our school system? Or our society? I think the latter. In any case, I think it's more significant than the results of the economics test.