Author: Dropout Nation Editorial Board

Rep. John Lewis and Rev. James Lawson on Organizing Change

Now, more than ever, school reformers and other champions for children must organize and plan successfully to help build brighter futures for children and their communities. One way is to…

Now, more than ever, school reformers and other champions for children must organize and plan successfully to help build brighter futures for children and their communities. One way is to learn from the past champions of transforming America. This includes Rep. John Lewis and Rev. James Lawson, whose work with the Freedom Rides and the Nashville Student movement helped push forward the civil rights movement of the last century.

Learn more from Lewis and Lawson in this clip from yesterday’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation panel on organizing — and apply it to helping our children now.

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A Thanksgiving Prayer

Originally published on Thanksgiving Day 2014. On this day, Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Blessings upon our lives. More importantly, we thank You for the mighty men and…

Originally published on Thanksgiving Day 2014.

On this day, Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Blessings upon our lives.

More importantly, we thank You for the mighty men and women who work for brighter futures for all of our children.

We are thankful for how You sustain the good and great teachers who work in our classrooms, to the talented school leaders who help them do powerful work in our classrooms.

We are grateful for how You support the Parent Power activists, the policy thinkers, and the builders of cultures of genius that nurture the futures of our kids.

We appreciate how You protect the activists who fight each day so that every child, no matter who they are or where they live, have opportunities for better lives.

We are filled with gratitude over how You give all of us the strength and bounty each day to stand for the children and communities who need our support the most.

As we thank You on this day, we also come to you with the burdens of our hearts, and to aid us on behalf of every boy and girl.

We petition You, Lord, to protect every child who goes without, to provide to every parent struggling to give their kin all they need, to bring transformers for children to every neighborhood.

We ask You, Creator, to give peace beyond understanding to every mother and father who is grieving, to bring hope and light to every place beset by the tears and sorrow brought by evil.

We request from You, Father, the wisdom and energy to continue bending the arc of history toward progress, to help America live up to its place as the City Upon a Hill, to honestly address the ills of the past so everyone can move forward.

We beseech You, God, to help us be the shepherds to our youth that You are to us, to be more like Your Son in every word and deed, to sacrifice as You and Christ did so long ago to grant us salvation from our sins.

And each day, we remember the prayer that Your Son taught us long ago…

Our Father, thou art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.

For ever and ever.

Amen.

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Voices: Making Black Lives Valued

Today at school, our staff decided we needed to press pause and create a space for kids to share their thoughts and feelings in response to the killing of Mr….

Today at school, our staff decided we needed to press pause and create a space for kids to share their thoughts and feelings in response to the killing of Mr. Crutcher. I was part of facilitating three small group discussions throughout the day: a fifth grade group, a sixth grade group, and a seventh/eighth grade group. I want to share what I experienced with the kids today, because I am convinced that if you can put yourself in the shoes of a child of color in Tulsa right now, you will have a clearer understanding of the crisis we’re facing and why we say black lives matter.

voiceslogoI tell [the fifth-graders] we will read a news article about the shooting together so we can all be informed. As I read, the students busily highlight and underline parts that stand out to them: Fatally shot. Hands raised. “Bad dude.” Motionless. Affected forever. I finish and I ask them, “What are your thoughts?”

They answer with questions. Why did they have to kill him? Why were they afraid of him? Why does [student] have to live life without a father? What will she do at father daughter dances? Who will walk her down the aisle? Why did no one help him after he was shot? Hasn’t this happened before? Can we write her cards? Can we protest?

As the questions roll, so do the tears. Students cry softly as they speak. Others weep openly. I watch 10 year olds pass tissues to each other, to me, to our principal as he joins our circle. One girl closes our group by sharing: “I wish white people could give us a chance. We can all come together and get along. We can all be united.” Let me tell you, these 10 year olds are more articulate about this than I am…

The sixth graders are quiet. The tragedy lives and breathes among them. It could have been their father. Boys are scattered across the cafeteria with their heads buried in their shirts. A girl who just moved to Tulsa from New Orleans because her father wanted to “escape the violence” is choked up as she speaks in the group next to mine. When we come back together whole group, one boy is still crying as another rubs his hand on his back soothingly…

[The seventh- and eighth-graders] are hardened. They are angry. Some students refuse to hold or look at the article. The speak matter-of-factly. One says she feels like punching someone in the nose. Another student says, “I used to read about this happening and think, oh that’s sad, and then kind of forget about it. But this happened so close to home. It feels real now. I take 36th St N to and from school everyday. It happened right by my house.”

“What made him ‘a big bad dude?'” a boy asks. “Was it his height? His size–” I look at the boys in my circle, all former students of mine. They have grown inches since their first day in my class. Their voices have deepened. Their shoulders broadened. They all nod their heads in agreement at the student’s last guess– “The color of his skin?”

I share this story, because Mr. Crutcher’s death does not just affect the students at my school. I share this story, because we are creating an identity crisis in all of our black and brown students. (Do I matter? Am I to be feared? Should I live in fear? Am I human?) We are shaping their world view with blood and bullets, hashtags and viral videos. Is this how we want them to feel? Is this how we want them to think?

Rebecca Lee, a teacher at KIPP Tulsa College Prep, the charter school attended by the daughter of Terence Crutcher, on the reactions of the children to the news of the father’s murder at the hand of a Tulsa police officer. Another sad reminder of the reality that what happens to the children on our streets also affects them in schools.

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RiShawn and Roland on School Choice

Listen to Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle chat with Roland Martin on his show about why black families are embracing the expansion of charter schools, vouchers and other forms of…

Listen to Dropout Nation Editor RiShawn Biddle chat with Roland Martin on his show about why black families are embracing the expansion of charter schools, vouchers and other forms of school choice.

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The Top Eight Books 2015

By now, we all know that reading is fundamental. But for the school reform movement, reading a broad, well-rounded collection of books is especially critical to success. Because the nation’s…

By now, we all know that reading is fundamental. But for the school reform movement, reading a broad, well-rounded collection of books is especially critical to success. Because the nation’s education crisis feeds into the social, economic, and political issues facing our nation and world, we must break out of specialization and become interdisciplinary in our thinking. There’s also the fact that as parents and caregivers, we must continually be the lifelong readers we demand all of our children to be.

This is why Dropout Nation offers its help with the 2015 edition of The Top Eight Books That School Reformers Should Read. Culled from more than 100 books, the selections include Ta-Nehisi Coates’ exposition on racialism in America; academic N.D.B. Connolly’s exploration of the forces that have shaped the urban segregation that continues to exist in Miami and other cities today; journalist Stephen Witt’s reporting on how the Internet disrupted the music industry; and Nick Salvatore’s biography of famed preacher C.L. Franklin’s leadership in music and civil rights. Also on the list are Dale Russakoff’s tome on Newark’s school reform efforts, a Parent Power book from Tom Vander Ark and his team at Getting Smart, and a tome on education governance from famed education policy wonk Paul Hill.

As with every edition of the Top Eight, the selections met five important criteria: Does it have a strong narrative or polemical power (also known as “is it well-written”)? Are the lessons relevant to the reform of American public education? Is the book thought-provoking (or does it offer new arguments or new thinking on familiar issues)? When research is involved in the narrative, does it stand up to scrutiny? And would you pay at least $14 to put it on your tablet (or, for those of you still reading traditional books, pay at least $20 for the paperback or hardcover)?

Below are this year’s selections. Offer your own suggestions in the comments. And just read, read, read.

a_world_more_concreteA World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida: There are plenty of reasons why reformers should pick up Johns Hopkins University Professor N.D.B. Connolly’s exploration of how political forces and real estate speculation shaped housing segregation in Miami (and ultimately, the rest of the nation). One reason: Connolly clearly details how the development of cities — including urban renewal programs and the construction of housing projects that blighted so many cities in the 20th century — were strongly influenced by Jim Crow segregation. This, in turn, explains why the traditional district model of public education perpetuated state-sanctioned racial bigotry, as well as why expanding school choice is critical to addressing this shameful legacy. Connolly’s skillful dissection of how black real estate owners — including local civil rights leaders such as Athalie Range — worked together with white counterparts and politicians in perpetuating segregation should also be considered. After all, those collaborations against the futures of black people can be seen today as black teachers, school leaders, police officers, and politicians team up with others to perpetuate the nation’s education crisis and the overcriminalization of black lives. For reformers, Connolly’s book provides important lessons on the thinking we must use to build brighter futures for every child.

the_prizeThe Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools: Plenty of well-deserved praise and equally-warranted scorn has been heaped upon New Yorker writer Dale Russakoff’s report on the very mixed success of now-former Newark Supt. Cami Anderson’s effort to overhaul the New Jersey city’s long-floundering district. But for reformers, regardless of their views on the book, Russakoff’s analysis should be considered with an open mind. Why? Because in illustrating how Anderson as well as allies such as former Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg failed to fully engage and empower families and communities in overhauling the district, Russakoff points out the failures of the movement to build strong grassroots ties that are needed to sustain reforms for the long haul. As seen this month in the evisceration of the No Child Left Behind Act, there are grave consequences for not doing so. Even if The Prize isn’t the messenger reformers want to hear, the message deserves reading and listening loud and clear.

rise_of_the_warrior_copRise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces:
As Dropout Nation has detailed within the past year, overuse of harsh school discipline has commingled with the militarization of police departments and referrals by districts to juvenile courts to endanger the futures (and lives) of poor and minority children in and out of school. But as you read Washington Post columnist Radley Balko’s book on police militarization, this didn’t happen overnight. Throughout the book, Balko demonstrates how bad policymaking at federal, state, and local levels — from the SWAT teams instituted by the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1960s, to Bill Clinton’s launch of the Community-Oriented Policing program, to the Section 1033 program that has equipped school cops with assault rifles — has led to innocent lives being endangered even within their own homes. For school reformers, Balko’s book offers more reasons why they should team up with criminal justice reform advocates on ensuring that children are free from harm everywhere they go.

how_music_got_freeHow Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of PiracyBe they school choice advocates or activists for revamping teacher quality or even standards and accountability proponents, many reformers have a tendency to believe that their favored solution will transform American public education. Yet the history of the movement itself, as well as what has happened in other sectors, has long ago shown that it takes numerous solutions to overhaul and even disrupt failing sectors. Stephen Witt proves this point in How Music Got Free. Throughout his reporting, Witt shows how various actors — from the work of Karlheinz Brandenburg and his colleagues at the Fraunhofer Institute in developing and releasing the MP3 format, to the effort of Dell Glover to upload music onto the Internet, to the emergence of Apple Computer’s iPod and iTunes music service — upended the music industry’s traditional and archaic business model. At the same time, Witt also offers reformers some new ideas on how they can continue to upend traditional public education. Certainly there are differences between the Big Six music labels and traditional districts. But for any reformer looking for new lessons for their efforts, How Music Got Free is important reading.

singing_in_a strange_landSinging in a Strange Land: C.L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America: At first glance, a biography on the legendary preacher and father of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, seems a strange choice for this list. But if reformers look closely, they will realize that isn’t so. Why? By offering a strong look at how Franklin succeeded in becoming a major force in gospel music — and failed as a preacher to be as strong a player as contemporaries Martin Luther King and Fred Shuttlesworth in rallying civil rights activism — Nick Salvatore provides important insight on what can happen to leaders when their focus is more on celebrity than on transforming the lives of the communities in which they live. Through the portrayals of the efforts of civil rights leaders in Franklin’s home base of Detroit such as Albert Cleage and Richard Henry, Salvatore also provides lessons on building grassroots efforts in urban communities. Befitting his daytime job as a labor historian at Cornell University, Salvatore even manages to provide a strong look at how unions such as the United Auto Workers often discriminated, both internally and in municipal politics, against the black workers whose interests they purported to represent. Particularly for black reformers battling teachers’ union affiliates, Singing in a Strange Land is a reminder that Big Labor has never been friends of black communities and their children.

smart_parentsSmart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning: When families are provided knowledge and high-quality data, they can help their children succeed in school and in life. Yet as a movement, school reformers do little to equip them. So it is wonderful that Tom Vander Ark, with the help of his Getting Smart colleagues, Bonnie Latham and Carrie Schneider, have put together an important book advising families on how they can personalize learning as well as help their kids achieve in school and in life. From showing parents how they can help their kids become self-directed in their own learning, to crafting learning plans that focus on matters academic and otherwise, Smart Parents provides some important and useful tools. This isn’t to say that Vander Ark, Latham, and Schneider does the complete job. The book is particularly deficient on parent advocacy, failing to offer the strong advice given by Dr. Steve Perry four years ago in Push Has Come to Shove (a Top Eight book in 2011). It also fails to offer examples of successful Parent Power advocacy such as that of Gwen Samuel of the Connecticut Parents Union or New York City Parents Union’s Mona Davids. That said, Smart Parents deserves a place on the bookshelves of reformers and families alike.

a_democratic_constitution_for_public_educationA Democratic Constitution for Public Education: The byzantine nature of education governance, especially at the state level is a serious problem. One key reason: Because the structure of school systems can be as much a culprit for why reforms don’t happen as it can be a reason for why tough action can happen swiftly. So former Center for Reinventing Public Education boss Paul T. Hill and his onetime colleague, Ashley E. Jochim, deserve plenty of praise for devoting 143 pages to addressing what reformers can do to overhaul governance. This includes offering a new vision of structuring public education, based largely on the portfolio model Hill and his successor at CRPE, Robin Lake, have advanced for the past decade, as well as crafting a new approach for financing education that expands high-quality school options for children and their families. At the same time, in refreshing moments of candor, Hill and Jochim acknowledge that the educational governance approach for which they advocate has its own issues. This isn’t to say that the book is without flaws. For example, it fails to consider Hunter v. Pittsburgh, the century-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that essentially renders districts (as well as other local governments) as subservient to state government, essentially making the very concept of local control a fiction. All that said, Hill and Jochim have offered an important primer for reformers to use in overhauling how American public education is overseen at all levels of government.

between_the_world_and_meBetween the World and Me: Atlantic Monthly columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates has garnered plenty of acclaim and more than a little scorn for his letter to his son on the racialism that is the Original Sin of American life. While Coates doesn’t touch on education policy, he essentially makes a strong historical case for why reformers (especially increasingly erstwhile conservatives in the movement) must go back to embracing accountability measures and a strong federal role in education policymaking that, along with other changes in American society, are key to helping children from poor and minority households (as well as their families and communities) attain economic and social equality. Coates’ reporting on meeting with the mother of Prince Jones, a young man murdered by an off-duty police officer while driving to meet up with his fiancee is one of the most-heartbreaking passages in the entire book. Whatever your perspective, Coates has written a compelling book. It deserves your attention.

 

As always, there are a number of books that are deserve praise, but didn’t make the cut. This Next Four includes The School Choice Journey, Thomas Stewart’s and Patrick Wolf’s analysis of the impact of Washington, D.C.’s school voucher program; The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson’s look at the Great Migration of African-Americans from the tyranny of the Jim Crow South during the last century; The Courage to Act, Ben Bernanke’s memoir of his term as Federal Reserve Board chairman during the most-recent economic malaise; and The Knowledge Capital of Nations, Eric Hanushek’s and Ludger Woessmann’s expository text on the importance of education policy in global economic development.

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NAEP’s Call to Do Better by Kids

31 The percentage of all fourth-graders reading Below Basic on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal test of student achievement. This is a mere one point decrease…

31

The percentage of all fourth-graders reading Below Basic on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal test of student achievement. This is a mere one point decrease from 2013, but a five point decrease from 2002.

36

The percentage of fourth graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels on NAEP 2015. This is just a one point increase over 2013, but a five percent increase over 2002.

24

The percentage of all eighth-graders reading Below Basic on NAEP 2015. This is a two point increase over 2013, but still a one point decline over 2002.

35

The percentage of all eighth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels in 2015. This is a one point decline over 2013, but still a two point increase over 2002.

34

The percentage of all young men in fourth grade reading Below Basic on NAEP 2015. This is a one point decline over 2013 — and a five point decline since 2002. This is still six points higher than the 28 percent of young women in fourth grade reading Below Basic in 2015, which, by the way, is unchanged from two years ago, and five points lower than in 2002.

34

The percentage of young men in fourth grade reading at Proficient and Advanced levels. This is a two point increase over 2013 and a six point increase over 2002. Still, young men still trail behind young women peers in fourth grade. Thirty-nine percent of them read at the highest academic levels on NAEP, unchanged from two years ago, yet five points higher than in 2002.

28

The percentage of young men in eighth grade reading Below Basic in 2015. That’s two points higher than in 2013, but one point lower than in 2002. Meanwhile 20 percent of young women in eighth-grade read Below Basic, a two point increase over 2013 and unchanged from 2002.

29

Percentage of young men in eighth-grade reading at Proficient and Advanced levels in 2015, two points lower than in 2013, but one point higher than in 2002. Meanwhile 40 percent of young women in eighth-grade read at the highest levels on NAEP, unchanged from 2013 and two points higher than levels 13 years ago.

48

The percentage of black fourth-graders reading Below Basic on NAEP in 2015. This is two points lower than in 2013, and a 12 point decline from 2002. Forty-five percent of Latino fourth-graders read Below Basic (a two point decline over 2013 and an 11 point decrease over 2002); 48 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native fourth-graders read Below Basic (unchanged from 2013, and a mere one point decline over 2002); 21 percent of white fourth-graders read Below Basic (unchanged from 2013, but a four point decline over 2002); and 18 percent of Asian fourth-graders read Below Basic (a two point decline over 2013, and a 12 point decline over levels 13 years ago).

18

The percentage of black fourth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels on NAEP in 2015. This is a one point increase over 2013, and a five point increase over levels in 2002. Twenty-one percent of Latino students read at the highest levels on NAEP in 2015 (a one point increase over 2013 and a six point gain over 2002); 21 percent of Native students read at Proficient and Advanced levels (unchanged from two years ago, and a one point decline over 2002); 36 percent of white students read at Proficient and Advanced (unchanged from 2013, but five points higher than in 2002); and 54 percent of Asian students read at the highest levels on NAEP (two points higher than two years ago, and 17 points higher than in 2002).

42

The percentage of black eighth-graders reading Below Basic on NAEP in 2015. This is a three point increase over levels in 2013 and one point higher than in 2002. Thirty-four percent of Latino eighth-graders read Below Basic (a two point increase over 2013, but a nine point decrease over 2002); 15 percent of white eighth-graders read Below Basic (a one point increase over levels two years ago, but one point lower than in 2002); 37 percent of Native eighth-graders read Below Basic in 2015 (one point lower than two years ago, and two points lower than in 2002); and 14 percent of Asian eighth-graders read Below Basic (unchanged from 2013, but 10 points lower than levels 13 years ago).

16

The percentage of black eighth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels in 2015. This is a one  point decline over 2013, but two points higher than in 2002. Twenty-one percent of Latino eighth-graders read at the highest levels on NAEP in 2015 (unchanged from 2013, but five points higher than in 2002); 44 percent of white eighth-graders read at Proficient and Advanced (two points lower than in 2013, but three points higher than levels 13 years ago); 22 percent of Native eighth-grade students read at the highest levels (three points higher than in 2013, and four points higher than in 2002); and 52 percent of Asian eighth-graders read at Proficient and Advanced levels (unchanged from 2013, but 16 points higher than levels 13 years ago).

44

The percentage of fourth-graders on free- and reduced-priced lunch reading Below Basic on NAEP in 2015. This is a three point decline over 2013, and a 10 point decrease over levels in 2002. Meanwhile 17 percent of middle-class and wealthier students not eligible for school lunch read Below Basic in 2015, unchanged from 2013, but a six point decline over levels 13 years ago.

21

The percentage of fourth-graders on free- and reduced-priced lunch reading at Proficient and Advanced in 2015. This is a one point increase over 2013, and a four-point increase over levels in 2002. Meanwhile 52 percent of middle-class families read at the highest levels in 2015, a one point increase over two years ago, and a 10 point increase over levels in 2002.

36

The percentage of eighth-graders on school lunch reading Below Basic in 2015. This is a two point increase over 2013, but a four point decline over levels in 2002. Meanwhile 13 percent of eighth-graders not eligible for school lunch read Below Basic in 2015. This is unchanged from 2013, but still three points lower than in 2002.

20

The percentage of eighth-graders on school lunch reading at Proficient and Advanced levels in 2015. This is unchanged from 2013, but three points higher than in 2002. Meanwhile 47 percent of eighth-graders from middle class and wealthier households read at the highest levels in 2015. This is one point lower than in 2013, yet seven points higher than 13 years ago.


this_is_dropout_nation_logo

Plenty of reformers and traditionalists will be worried about the overall lack of academic progress shown on this year’s edition of NAEP — and this alarm isn’t to be dismissed at all. Some will claim that demographic changes — most-notably the growth in the percentage of poor, Latino, and immigrant children — is the culprit. Others, ironically using data from the oldest and most-comprehensive of standardized tests, will argue that testing is to blame. And even a few will blame efforts to implement Common Core reading and math standards for throwing some kids off track.

But as the data suggests, none of these arguments hold water. If anything, what this year’s NAEP data provides is both good news and a call to action for advancing a second round of systemic reforms of American public education.

The good news? That we are continuing to improve literacy in the early grades. There are now 172,078 fewer functionally-illiterate fourth-graders than in 2002, the year the No Child Left Behind Act was passed. One must be cautious in ascribing these improvements to the reforms spurred by the passage of No Child and the accountability measures that led to its creation; after all, NAEP isn’t fine-tuned to measure specific policies. But the continuing improvements in fourth-grade achievement shows that there have been benefits from the law, which brought accountability to American public education, forced revelations of inflated graduation rates.

These reforms have been especially beneficial to children from poor and minority backgrounds, who have long been subjected to academic neglect and malpractice. Not only are fewer of them struggling with literacy by the time they reach fourth grade, more of them are reading at Proficient and Advanced levels. This is clear from the fact that 12 percent fewer black children read Below Basic this last school year than in 2002 — and that five percent more Latino children are reading at or above grade level in 2015 than 13 years ago. That there are more Latino children in public schools now than at the time George W. Bush signed No Child into law, and yet, are improving academically proves the too-many-immigrant-and-minority children argument to be pure sophistry.

As a result, more children are being kept out of special education ghettos long-used by American public education to warehouse the children that adults in schools don’t want to educate. This includes children helped by approaches that use test data to improve instruction and provide remediation. Contrary to the arguments of some traditionalists and erstwhile reformers, testing provides the data needed for improving student achievement. More importantly, NAEP data does suggest that stemming achievement gaps is a smart strategy in providing all children with high-quality education they deserve.

Meanwhile this year’s NAEP data offers evidence that reforms spurred in part by No Child are working. The percentage of fourth-graders reading Below Basic served by public charter schools — the schools of choice for poor and minority children in places where they can access them — declined by 10 percentage points (from 44 percent to 34 percent) between 2009 and 2015, versus a mere two percentage point decline (from 33 percent to 31 percent) for peers in traditional district schools. In that same period, the percentage of fourth-graders in charters reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by eight percentage points (from 23 percent to 31 percent) in that same period, versus a three percentage point increase (from 33 percent to 36 percent) for traditional district peers.

This year’s NAEP data also offers some insight, limited as it can be, on the importance of states advancing reform. Take Florida. There, the percentage of Florida fourth-graders struggling with literacy declined by 15 points (from 40 percent to 25 percent) between 2002 and 2015, while the numbers reading at and above grade level increased by 11 percentage points (from 27 percent to 38 percent). The percentage of black fourth-graders reading Below Basic declined by 19 percentage points (from 61 percent to 42 percent) in that period, while the percentage of Latino fourth-grade peers struggling with literacy declined by 18 percentage points (from 47 percent to 29 percent). The Urban Institute made this point earlier this week with its own analysis of earlier NAEP data.

Another example of the benefits of strong reform efforts at the state level: The District of Columbia. There, fourth-graders reading Below Basic declined by 25 percentage points (from 69 percent to 44 percent) between 2002 and 2015, while the number of kids reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by 17 percentage points (from 10 percent to 27 percent). This isn’t due to an influx of white middle-class children. The percentage of black children in D.C. reading at Proficient and Advanced levels more than doubled in the past 13 years (from seven percent in 2002 to 18 percent in 2015), while the percentage of black kids struggling with literacy declined by 20 percentage points (from 72 percent to 52 percent) over the past 13 years.

But the lower levels of eighth-grade achievement serves as evidence of a point Dropout Nation has made over the past few years: That the generation of reforms that culminated with the passage of No Child aren’t enough to help children master the knowledge they need — from algebra and statistics, to mastering the lessons from the Wealth of Nations and other great texts — for success in higher education and in life outside of school.

This means continuing the revamp of curricula and standards, overhauling how we recruit, train, evaluate, and compensate teachers, and using new approaches to building cultures of genius in which all children can thrive and succeed. This also means expanding opportunities for high-quality education — from greater access to Advanced Placement courses to the expansion of high-quality charter schools — so that children from poor and minority households, especially young black men and women who did the worst on NAEP this year (and have less access to college-preparatory courses in traditional districts) can succeed in school and in life.

Yet as seen with the battles over implementing Common Core reading and math standards, as well as the fights over implementing test score growth-based teacher evaluations, these reforms will be even more difficult to implement than the first round. The moves by states such as Massachusetts to stop using Common Core-aligned tests such as those developed by PARC and Smarter Balanced all but ensure that full implementation of the standards (as well as full utilization of data for teacher evaluations) will be incomplete, limiting the positive benefits of the reforms for our children.

Meanwhile the Obama Administration, along with Congressional Republican leaders, are undermining the first generation of reforms that have improved achievement for the past two decades. As Dropout Nation has documented over the past three years, the administration’s No Child waiver gambit is already damaging systemic reform efforts on the ground; the administration’s declaration last Saturday that there is supposedly too much testing, has also given ammunition to traditionalists and movement conservatives otherwise unconcerned with education policy. The plans for eviscerating No Child offered up by Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and House counterpart John Kline, if passed, would go further and eliminate any form of accountability. None of that is good for our children.

At the end of the day, it is clear that this year’s NAEP results are neither as good nor as bad as many will think. It is also clear that we have far more to do to help every child succeed in school and in life. And if we don’t fight furiously on their behalf, the progress made over the past two decades — and ultimately, the futures of another generation of children — will be lost.

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