NAEP has four student achievement levels: "advanced" for superior performance; "proficient" for solid academic performance; "basic" for partial mastery; and below basic for below partial mastery. We need all students to be proficient or better.
So what does NAEP tell us about our nation's eighth-graders? Brace yourself for the bad news. In 2011, in math, 18 percent of our eighth-graders were below basic, 42 percent were basic, 33 percent were proficient and 7 percent were advanced. In reading, the results are even worse: 24 percent below basic, 42 basic, 31 proficient and 3 percent advanced.
This is pretty damning evidence.
When it comes to solutions, the bad news is that there is no consensus on how to proceed. We're divided into opposing camps.
Every major issue in school reform -- whether it be school closings, charter schools, vouchers, teacher hiring and firing, school control, teacher evaluations, testing, curriculum, or tracking -- is hotly debated and brutally divisive.
The good news is that we know effective schools are possible. Just look at other countries to see the dream in action; to see effective education for an ever-changing world; to see students with a competitive advantage in the international race for leadership and success.
It's time for the application of some unbiased horse-sense, long identified with successful American leaders in all phases of life. A small number of bright lights from business and industry and from public and private education should dispassionately dissect the facts and render a reasoned path for tangible change, reform, and correction.
Whether we succeed or fail is a matter of commitment. The answers exist but do we have the will?
Timing is critical for the United States, the sooner the better for all its concerned citizens and entities.
Budig is past president of West Virginia University and two others. He taught at Princeton University.