School Accountability Favors Subjects Like Math
Tyler Cowen is blogging about a study that found No Child Left Behind to have improved student math scores but not reading scores. Cowen comments:
Math skills are more the result of drill, whereas you have to learn how to love to read and much of that happens within the family, not at school. Math is therefore easier to “teach by central planning,” so to speak.
I do think that children can learn to love reading in school, but I agree with Cowen that skills like reading are not amenable to state control. Math at the K–12 level entails learning a limited number of facts and procedures, in a set order. Although there are different ways to write out the algorithms and explain the concepts, nobody goes very far in trigonometry or calculus without first learning arithmetic and algebra. The government can say, “Teach x, y, and z in math class,” and then give a test to see whether schools complied.
Students’ reading ability does not develop in a linear fashion like math skills. People learn to read by reading widely and building up reading experience over time. There’s no obvious, direct route to a high level of reading comprehension, so it’s harder to legislate improvements in reading skills.