Education & Public Policy

David Berliner

The Manufactured Crisis Revisited

David Berliner

"The people who say our test scores are going down are just full of baloney!"

David Berliner, Regents Professor of Education at Arizona State University and author of the bestseller, The Manufactured Crisis, joins us this month for a provocative interview in which he reviews the latest test score data and challenges the common beliefs that student test scores are falling, American students do very poorly in international comparisons, charter schools are the answer to improving academic achievement, and high stakes testing is necessary for accountability. The following is an abridged version of our interview with Dr. Berliner.

Q: In your best-selling book, The Manufactured Crisis, you made four basic claims about America education: that there never was a test score decline as measured by the national standardized tests like the ACT and the SAT; that today’s students are out achieving their parents substantially; that our students actually compare very well in international comparisons; and that the so-called crisis in education is basically manufactured. Do you want to change any of your conclusions or claims since you wrote that book fifteen years ago, and do you still stand behind them?

David Berliner: I sure do stand behind them, and I think, while the context has changed, we can back up each of those facts. Some of them are a little more complicated to answer, but why don’t we look at some of them? My first claim was there was never a test score decline and that was based on the fact that huge numbers of minorities started taking the SAT tests so the scores went down and instead of privileged white kids who went to college, we asked everyone to go to college and the scores went down and then they went up.

” … if you went to a school that had under 10 percent of their students in poverty, on the PISA Reading Test they would have scored 551 and be the highest scoring nation in the world!”In fact, I’m looking at the SAT scores right now and I’m looking from 1980 when the average score was 502, and I’m looking at 2010. 30 years later and the average score is 501. A drop of exactly one point on a scale that runs from 300 to 800! This kind of thing is a sampling error. So, the SAT has stayed fine.

We could look also at a much better measure, because it’s designed to be longitudinal and that’s the NAEP test scores. In 1978 to 2008, the last date I have in front of me, Blacks went up 32 points, Whites went up 26 points in mathematics. Reading was not as great a gain, but the greater gain came from Blacks over Whites and that’s good, because that’s what we wanted to do.

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