Academic standards vary so drastically from state to state that a fourth grader judged proficient in reading in Mississippi or Tennessee would fall far short of that mark in Massachusetts and South Carolina, the United States Department of Education said yesterday in a report that, for the first time, measured the extent of the differences.
[No Child Left Behind] requires that all students be brought to proficiency by 2014 in reading and math and creates sanctions for failure. But in a bow to states’ rights it lets each state set its own standards and choose its own tests.
I've written before about No Child Left Behind and incentives. This demonstrates again the power of incentives, and the dangers of incentivizing the wrong behavior. Now that federal education money is tied to test scores, states have a strong incentive to demonstrate "progress," but such progress is more easily demonstrated by gaming the system, both through easier tests and older test takers, rather than by increasing the reading and math ability of school children.
The majority of differences between the measured ability of school children are innate biological differences and not the result of differing quality of education. And the better the overall quality of education, the more the tests measure innate biological differences, because overall higher quality education means that children are being brought closer to their innate biological ceiling.
Elsewhere in the NY Times article are some especially moronic comments from Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of Education.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement, “This report offers sobering news that serious work remains to ensure that our schools are teaching students to the highest possible standards.” Still, in a conference call with reporters, she said it was up to the states, not the federal government, to raise standards. [emphasis added]
What is No Child Left Behind about if it's not about taking control of education away from the states? How can she say, with a straight face, that the biggest federalization of education since the beginning of our nation has anything to do with states' rights?
Ms. Spellings said, “It’s way too early to conclude we need to adopt national standards” and added that it is also too early to conclude that state standards are too low.
Once again, any moron can see that the only way to accurately compare states' progress (or lack thereof) is to have uniform testing standards. This requires both a uniform test as well as uniform age categories.