The Education Flatline: Causes and Solutions

The following are papers presented at the March 28, 2006 forum co-sponsored by the Foundation for Child Development and the Brookings Institution to release the 2006 Child and Youth Well-being Index designed by Kenneth Land of Duke University.


A major purpose of the Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI), released each year by the Foundation for Child Development and Kenneth Land of Duke University, is to call public attention to the condition of the nation’s children. In order to achieve this goal, the CWI provides an annual overview of child well-being in several important domains. Although the 2006 edition of the CWI indicates that overall well-being increased somewhat in 2005, once again children’s performance in the education domain was flat. This outcome for 2005 continues a trend that has now lasted for three decades. The lack of significant improvement in educational achievement is especially remarkable because national, state, and local policy has focused on improved educational performance almost continuously since the launch of Sputnik in 1957. The nation has been alerted to achievement problems by a host of national reports, and per-pupil spending has more than doubled since 1970. Moreover, schools have undergone wave after wave of educational reform. Yet the student achievement flatline persists. To make matters worse, the gap in performance between poor and minority students on the one hand and middle class students on the other, has narrowed only slightly and is still very large.

Using the CWI for its intended purpose, our goal in this set of brief papers is to once again, draw the attention of the public, researchers, and policymakers to the lack of improvement in student achievement. We do so by documenting the achievement problem, reviewing the recent history of reform, and then proposing four solutions that, if aggressively implemented, can be expected to improve student achievement.