Toward A New Golden Age In American Education--How the Internet, the Law and Today's Students Are Revolutionizing Expectations
National Education Technology Plan 2004

Where We Are Today

Why do we need systemic change? It is important to understand the national crisis that underscores the demand for accountability in education.

Today, the United States spends more money on education than any other nation except Switzerland, averaging more than $8700 per student (federal, state and local) in constant dollars for elementary and secondary education.8

Over the past 20 years, America has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in education. For the 2003-04 school year alone, expenditures at local, state and federal levels on elementary and secondary education exceeded $500 billion.9

Despite this investment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scores have remained essentially flat during the same 20- year period, with 31 percent of our nation's 4th graders scoring at or above proficient on the assessment.10

NAEP Reading Scores (Age 9) and ESEA Funding (in 2004 dollars)
Graph shows that funding in 1984 was about $5 billion and reading scores were about 200.  As funding increased over the years, reading scores did not improve.  In 2003, funding was about $23 billion, but reading scores were still only about 200.

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is beginning to reverse the trend as the nation rises to the historic challenges of access and quality set forth by both Brown v. Board of Education and "A Nation at Risk."

No Child Left Behind created new standards of accountability. Students have to demonstrate improvement over time and be proficient in reading and mathematics. Importantly, achievement gaps between different socio-economic backgrounds must be identified – and closed – so that all children regardless of race and income level can read and do mathematics at grade levels by 2014. This single piece of legislation has fundamentally altered the education landscape. Its premise – that all children can learn – is profound in its simplicity but multifaceted in its implementation.

President Bush's FY2005 budget for education represents continuing increases of federal education spending to historic levels with a 49 percent increase (from FY 2001-2005) for elementary and secondary education, including but not limited to:11

  • $13.3 billion in Title I funding for disadvantaged students, for a total that represents a 52 percent increase since FY 2001.
  • $1.2 billion for reading programs, totaling four times the amount spent in 2001.
  • $11.1 billion for special education programs, for a 75 percent increase since 2001.12

Average Expenditures Per Pupil (for Fall Enrollment)
Graph shows increase in average expenditures per pupil at public elementary and secondary schools in terms of constant dollars, from $3000 in 1965 to $8745 in 2001.

No Child Left Behind's four main principles are:

  • Holding schools accountable to show students are learning;
  • Increasing flexibility for schools in reaching goals;
  • Providing more options for parents to choose outside of low-performing schools;
  • Using research on what works best for student learning.

Bar chart showing percentages of 4th grade students proficient in reading: 41% of White students, 13% of African American students, 15% of Hispanic students, 38% of Asian Pacific Islander students, 16% of American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 15% of Disadvantaged students

Bar chart showing percentages of 4th grade students proficient in math: 43% of White students, 10% of African American students, 16% of Hispanic students, 48% of Asian Pacific Islander students, 17% of American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 15% of Disadvantaged students

Bar chart showing percentages of 12th grade students proficient in math: 20% of White students, 3% of African American students, 4% of Hispanic students, 34% of Asian Pacific Islander students, 10% of American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 4% of Disadvantaged students

Bar chart showing percentages of 12th grade students proficient in science: 23% of White students, 3% of African American students, 7% of Hispanic students, 28% of Asian Pacific Islander students, 9% of American Indian/Alaska Native students, and 6% of Disadvantaged students

Twenty years of national data show gaps in achievement despite spending increases, reflecting low expectations of performance, especially along the lines of racial and ethnic groups. Never before have we held schools accountable for how different demographic groups are achieving compared to peers in the same schools. For 4th grade reading, only 41 percent of Whites and 38 percent of Asians are proficient readers. Racial and ethnic breakdowns of which students can read show that only 13 percent of African Americans, 15 percent of Hispanics and 16 percent of Native Americans are proficient in reading at their grade level.

The numbers are truly disturbing. Put another way, more than 85 percent of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans are not proficient in reading in the 4th grade, according to data from NAEP.13 The numbers are similar in mathematics with 90 percent of African American students not proficient in mathematics in the 4th grade.14 This highlights the importance of using data to understand and inform how we make decisions.

The trend of low expectations compounds as students are passed along to the next grade level. By 12th grade, only 3 percent of African Americans are proficient in mathematics, only 4 percent of Hispanics, 10 percent of Native Americans, 20 percent of Whites and 34 percent of Asian Americans. Few students have competence in science or mathematics.15

We must not choose who succeeds. We must ensure that all students are expected to learn in schools.

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Last Modified: 07/23/2012