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Report Puts Education goals on Iffy Ground

June 23, 2005

By William L. Bainbridge

Those who pay attention to the daily news may be surprised by a report documenting a large reduction in violent crimes in schools. There also is cause for optimism in a finding that prekindergarten enrollment is on the rise; research shows that a person’s educational future largely is determined in the first seven years of life.

But the same national report of educational trends casts serious doubt on the ability of the federal government’s marquee No Child Left Behind law to close the ethnic and minority achievement gap. The new data do not include statistics current enough to accurately gauge the success or failure of NCLB so far, but if the data continue to indicate increasing dropouts in urban centers and teachers leaving our worst schools at alarming rates, the goals of the Bush administration will be unreachable.

The NCLB law requires annual testing of math and reading in grades 3 through 8 and imposes penalties on schools that fail to improve test scores of students in all racial and demographic groups.

But increased immigration and the "baby-boom echo" have pushed public school enrollment to an all-time high. Enrollment is projected to increase steadily to a peak of 50 million students in 2014. Not surprisingly, the very immigrants struggling on the required tests of NCLB are locating in increasing numbers in western and southern areas of the nation, where projected enrollments will drive the need to expand schools or build new ones.

These and many other interesting statistics can be found in the latest annual issue of "Condition of Education ," the congressionally mandated national educational statistical report released by the Department of Education.

An analysis of this huge volume points to demographic shifts and student population trends that will have far reaching effects on public education. Elements sparking change include:

• A 25 percent increase in the annual birthrate since the mid-1970s means more schools will be needed.

• Pre-kindergarten enrollment has increased dramatically, up from 6 percent to nearly 60 percent of children ages 3 and 4.

• Violent crimes in schools declined by 50 percent in a decade, and more-serious violent crimes went down by 70 percent.

• Students in suburban and rural schools continue to score higher on standardized tests in mathematics and reading than students from urban schools.

• The percentages of fourth- and eighth graders who read at the proficient level or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress increased between 1992 and 2003, but high-school dropout rates continued to grow. European-American students had the lowest dropout rates and Hispanics had the highest.

• From 1990 to 2003, the math performance of fourth- and eighth-graders improved steadily. Significantly, however, while some schools show great gains in NCLB-required tests, many observers note a decline in performance on college-entrance examinations and other national tests.

• Between 1990 and 2002, total expenditures per student in public elementary and secondary schools increased by 24 percent in constant dollars.

• Although NCLB was written to reduce achievement gaps, they continue: White and Asian students continue to outperform Hispanics, blacks and American Indians. Achievement and English fluency are linked. The number who spoke a language other than English at home and who spoke English with difficulty increased by 124 percent from 1979 to 2003. Nearly 20 percent of students in 2003 had at least one foreign-born parent.

• Forty-two percent of public-school students were racial or ethnic minorities in 2003, markedly up from 22 percent in 1972.

• The Hispanic enrollment has grown from 6 percent in 1972 to 19 percent in 2003, surpassing black enrollment for the first time in 2002.

• The percentage of private-school enrollment dropped slightly. The majority of private schools continue to be operated by the Roman Catholic Church, but that percentage is declining while the percentage of students enrolled in other religious private schools rose from 32 percent to 36 percent, with the broad category of Christian schools experiencing the largest increase.

• The number of home-schooled students increased from 1.7 percent in 1999 to just over 2 percent of all students in 2003.

• Public-school teachers in high-poverty schools were about twice as likely as their counterparts in more affluent schools to transfer to another school.

The report’s area of special analysis was the issue of teacher mobility. Almost 20 percent in 1999-2000 started the school year as new hires. Interestingly, a majority of those new hires had previous teaching experience.

This annual report is one Americans should monitor closely in coming years.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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