Chapter 2 reviewed various policy recommendations associated with previous crises in education. Problems of American education, and their solutions, appeared akin to fashion fads, changing form quickly from one season to another. The current "crisis" is based on the assumption of a growing gap between current and past performance of students' achievement in schools as well as a lowered performance by contemporary American students compared internationally. In this chapter, we examine the relevant evidence. Do we need major school reform-charter schools and vouchers-to address a major and continuing erosion of student performance^

To assess the level of students' performance in contemporary American schools, we review results from standardized achievement tests allowing historical comparisons (how do today's students compare with those of the 1970s or 1980s£) and international data (how do American students' performance compare with other countries' students'^). To supplement our analyses we also consider data describing students' recent performance on advanced placement tests for college credit as well as current data addressing graduation rates, college enrollments, and the charges of grade inflation and social promotion. Finally, we analyze citizens' perceptions about the quality of public schools and their beliefs that American schools must be about more than subject-matter achievement. 52


Despite dramatic and frequent newspaper headlines that announce a decline in the quality of American schools-most notably falling student scores on standardized achievement tests-this decline cannot be demonstrated with strong empirical data. Although it is true that in some American schools (especially in some inner-city schools) students are performing abysmally more generally our schools appear not to be in crisis. Several educational researchers have made this point clearly most notably Gerald Bracey and David Berliner and Bruce Biddle.