We know what the Lamar Alexander vision of public education looks like. It’s called “the early 1990s,” before the 1994 passage of a previous version of NCLB that required states to start developing real standards and accountability systems. Back then, states could do as they pleased, and as a result, only 14 percent of fourth graders were proficient in math. After two decades of sustained focus on basic subjects in elementary school, that percentage has more than tripled, to 45 percent. Presumably, Alexander hasn’t forgotten those bad old days—he was Secretary of Education at the time. It’s a shame that his nostalgia for the failure over which he presided has resulted in legislation to roll back twenty years of imperfect but significant progress in education policy.
OK, lets look at the graphs from the linked report:
It is especially difficult to base any credit or blame on either the 1994 or 2001 laws, since the big jumps occur immediately after their passage, when there arguably hasn't been sufficient time to drive significant change nationally or even full implementation.
However, to make the kind of cheap extrapolation I'd have been embarrassed to even suggest a couple years ago, but now is all too common: if we had maintained the rate of growth in 4th grade mathematics established between 1990 and 1992, we'd now have 60% proficiency in 4th grade math (instead of 39%), and 72% proficiency in 8th grade math (instead of 34%)!!!!!