EDUCATION . . . NEW STUDY SAYS SCHOOLS IMPROVING

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Contrary to conventional school-bashing, there's evidence that better educated parents, smaller families and upgraded programs for poor and immigrant children are yielding significant improvement in test scores, according to a study released today by the prestigious, California-based Rand Institute. "If you listen to the national debate, you would believe that families and schools are failing and government programs and policies don't work," said David W. Grissmer, who led research based on students ages 13 and 17 who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests between 1970 and 1990. (Average math and reading scores increased by 3 percentile points for whites, 11 points for Hispanics, and 19 points for blacks.) Rand says their findings may mean desegregation and increased spending on schools -- especially programs targeted at minority students -- paid off after all, while early education and nutrition programs for poor children also may have helped. The study noted that