THE latest bad but unsurprising news on education is that reading and writing scores on the SAT have once again declined. The language competence of our high schoolers fell steeply in the 1970s and has never recovered.
This is very worrisome, because the best single measure of the overall quality of our primary and secondary schools is the average verbal score of 17-year-olds. This score correlates with the ability to learn new things readily, to communicate with others and to hold down a job. It also predicts future income.
The decline has led some commentators to embrace demographic determinism — the idea that the verbal scores of disadvantaged students will not significantly rise until we overcome poverty. But that explanation does not account for the huge drop in verbal scores across socioeconomic groups in the 1970s.