As states across the country release their education "report cards," the Christian Science Monitor has a good piece up today about why the nation's math and reading scores went up this year. In short, it was the South:
[T]he loudest applause is due for the South. Much of the national progress reported for 9- and 13-year-olds was driven by gains in the South. For example, while 9-year-olds in the Northeast gained 10 points in reading achievement (the equivalent of a grade level) over the past 30 years, the South gained 24, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). While reading scores for 13-year-olds barely budged in most of the United States, the South gained 12 points, more than a grade level.
Of course, the results are based on highly problemmatic high-stakes testing. But as a relative guide about how the South has improved and compares to the rest of the country, this is encouraging news. And as the Monitor rightly argues,
It's vindication for a generation of Southern governors, business groups, and educators who launched the standards movement in education a decade before it was picked up by the rest of the nation.
[In] the late 1970s, a new generation of leaders, who came of age during the civil rights struggles in the South, took on education as their top priority. Governors like Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, Richard Riley (D) of South Carolina, Bill Clinton (D) of Arkansas, William Winter (D) of Mississippi, James Hunt (D) of North Carolina, and Charles Robb (D) of Virginia poured resources into schools and, in return, promised taxpayers higher student performance.
Perhaps more remarkably, Southern governors, Democrats and Republicans, stuck to the program, resisting the reflex of new governors to trash the reforms of their predecessors.
This public investment in education didn't just result in good test scores -- it also laid the basis for improving the economic health of Southern states. Hopefully they'll remember that when they're deciding whether to invest in budget-busting corporate subsidy packages or better schools.