| July 25, 2013

After 40 years, reading and math scores ‘have remained stagnant’

After 40 years, reading and math scores ‘have remained stagnant’

Click here to enlarge chart

Earlier this month the Associated Press reported (“High school seniors fare no better than in 1970s”) that “students preparing to leave high school are faring no better in reading or math than students did four decades ago, the government said in a report Thursday that was certain to renew concerns about U.S. schools.”

Shawnee Middle School principal Brent Houston is encouraged by some small improvements in the scores of 9- and 13-year-olds, but acknowledges that they don’t last. He says flatly: “There is a disturbing lack of improvement among 17-year-olds. Since the early 1970s, the average scores of 17-year-olds in both reading and mathematics have remained stagnant.”

This despite the fact that spending has not remained stagnant (see enlarged chart here).

“Officials suggest the results for 17-year-old students reflect fewer low-performing students dropping out,” the AP reports. But Cato Institute scholar Andrew J. Coulson says the evidence seems to contradict this explanation.

Here is a more plausible one: Improvement is hard. Systematic progress only occurs when producers have the freedoms and incentives to innovate and excel. Our public-school monopolies do not provide those freedoms and incentives, and so they stagnate while their costs inexorably rise.

It’s clear that increased government spending on the government monopoly is not effective. It’s time for policymakers to fund what works.

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