Today the latest round of Trial Urban District Assessment data about American school performance came out. On the reading front it showed no statistically significant change over the past two years in forth graders in any of the participating cities, and statistically significant (and positive) change for eighth graders in Charlotte while everyone else was insignificant. When you combine all the cities into a large sample, it shows a modest overall statistically significant improvement. In math we fourth graders improving in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, and Philadelphia and eighth graders improving in Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, DC, and Louisville. There are no statistically significant declines anywhere.
I don't think you can draw any sweeping conclusions from this, but I do think it's worth laying it out there as a baseline. Most of the commentary I read about public education in America is very negative but to the best we can tell things are gradually improving even during a very difficult social and economic period for the country. The math gains in Atlanta seem especially noteworthy since a lot of attention has been paid to a big cheating scandal on the Georgia state tests. It looks, however, like that cheating was occurring against a background of real learning gains for the city's kids.
The thing I do worry about, however, is that lots of cities don't participate in TUDA!. Policy varies greatly across the participating cities, but one thing they have in common is that they all want to know how they're doing, which I think is the baseline beginning for improvement. But some very large school districts -- most notably Clark County in Nevada, a bunch of non-Miami Florida districts, and Dallas, TX -- seem to prefer to wallow in ignorance. There's really no excuse for this.