The Daily Howler, written by a former teacher and journalist, is often brilliant on education issues. Nor is he above shucking his personal leanings to puncture those on his generally leftish side.

Today, he’s praising a (harsh) review by Richard Rothstein of Steve Brill’s diatribe against teacher unions and in support of “reform.” One passage simply will not be accepted as truth by the “reformers,” but it’s worth repeating (emphasis added).

Central to [Brill’s] argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago. (There has also been progress for middle schoolers, and in reading; and less, but not insubstantial, progress for high schoolers.) The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels. The causes of these truly spectacular gains are unknown, but they are probably inconsistent with the idea that typical inner-city teachers are content to watch students wrestle on the classroom floor instead of learning.