Thoughts on Liberating Learning: The Need for Achievement
The second chapter of Liberating Learning is “The Need for Achievement.” The authors present data from NAEP and international tests that show a large achievement gap between white and minority students, and an achievement gap between U.S. students and students in other countries. The latter gap persists even when you compare students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
This chapter could serve as a concise, clear introduction to achievement studies of the past 20 years. Readers who are already following education reform debates probably won’t find anything new here. It’s the same story we’ve heard time and again: U.S. test scores are poor, therefore U.S. economic power is at risk.
One thing that strikes me when I look at test score comparisons like the ones presented in this chapter is the decline in achievement as students get older. U.S. 4th-graders do okay by international standards. Students fall behind in middle school and high school, so by the time they take the tests as 12th-graders, their international peers outperform them.
If U.S. students started out far behind others, it would be understandable if their relative performance declined in the higher grades. One might conclude that the disadvantage was too great for U.S. public schools to overcome, and that they would have to push kids harder and harder at each grade level — an increasingly difficult challenge. But, in fact, U.S. students do OK in elementary school. We don’t see the big gaps between the United States and other developed countries until students have been in school for several years. U.S. schools are not helping students reach their potential.