School Choice or Best Systems: What Improves Education?

By Margaret C. Wang; Herbert J. Walberg | Go to book overview

4
School Choice Experiments in Urban Education
Paul E. PetersonHarvard University

Whether viewed in comparison with other countries or not, the state of American education appears grim. For example, the well-regarded international math study, which compares U.S. students with peers abroad, finds that although American fourth-graders keep pace, by eighth grade they have fallen to the middle of the pack (and below other major, industrial nations). By age 17, U.S. students trail virtually everyone. The longer U.S. students remain in school, the further behind they fall (Lawton, 1996, 1997; U.S. National Research Center, 1998). 1

Equally dark results are emerging from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), long known to provide the best overall estimate of the cognitive skills being acquired by the nation's young. A report issued by Paul Barton and Richard Coley (1998), researchers at Educational Testing Service (ETS), the respected firm that administers NAEP, focuses on what students are learning in school, as distinct from the educational impacts of a student's family life. ETS researchers noted that the test scores of 9-year-old students have been increasing the last two decades, but they pointed out that these scores are shaped by everything that happens to children between the day a child is conceived and the day of the fourth-grade test. The clear gains among fourth-graders, especially more prosperous and well-educated African Americans, can be attributed not only to what has happened in the first few years of

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