The results from the 2022 National Assessment for Educational Progress are out and they are terrible.
From 2020 to 2022, reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds saw the largest drop since 1990. Math scores saw the first drop ever.
Students at every performance level saw decreases, growing in size as student performance weakened. The top-performing students (students at the 90th percentile) saw only a 2-scale-score-point drop in reading and a 3-point drop in math, while the lowest-performing students (students at the 10th percentile) dropped 10 points in reading and 12 points in math. While white students dropped 6 points in reading and 5 points in math, Hispanic students dropped 6 points in reading and 8 points in math, and Black students dropped 6 points in reading and 13 points in math. Black 9-year-olds had been seeing reasonably steady growth in math performance for the last three decades, but in 2022 they dropped back to 1994 levels, removing 28 years of progress.
Too many headlines erroneously place the blame for this drop on the pandemic. The pandemic did not cause these scores to drop. How schools responded to the pandemic did.
“Just like it would be irresponsible to hand the keys back over to the driver who turns every intersection into a demolition derby, it would be irresponsible to send children back into a system that doesn’t prioritize them without any ability to exit if they are not being served.”
In too many places, schools refused to adapt to changing circumstances, fumbled communications with parents, failed to plan appropriately and lacked the courage of their convictions to fight to provide the best education for their students. But it wasn’t just schools. Politicians and policymakers refused to prioritize children, asking them to shoulder a disproportionate burden of the pandemic while prioritizing other sectors and interests in society. The media failed children as well, constantly hyping up fears and failing to accurately educate Americans as to the risks of the coronavirus for children and the primary ways in which it was transmitted.
And now, many of the same people who kept schools closed or used them as a bargaining chit in negotiations for more money want us to just go back to how we were before the pandemic. It is like a driver with 25 accidents on their record asking for the keys to the car again and being incensed when someone questions them. Yes, the fact that these scores dropped illustrates how important a functioning education system is, because when it stops functioning things got really hairy, but it was that very system that shut itself down and lacked the resilience to cope with the pandemic.
Parents are not happy. According to our polling, only 54 percent of parents think that their local school district is heading in the right direction. Only 47 percent of public school parents think that their child progressed very well academically last year, only 42 percent think that their child progressed very well emotionally last year, and only 44 percent believed that their child progressed very well socially last year. Only 41 percent of traditional public school parents say that they are “very satisfied” with their child’s education.
Yes, it is true that there are large numbers of parents who are happy with their children’s education (putting these numbers together it is about half of American parents) but that means that half of American parents are not. When there are 55 million school children in America, half is a mighty big number.
Parents are crying out for more options. When asked where they would ideally send their children to school, 37 percent said that they would choose a private school, more than three times how many are enrolled today. Sixty-two percent of parents are more favorable to homeschooling as a result of the pandemic. Forty-six percent of parents would like to see some kind of hybrid schooling schedule that mixes at-home and in-class instruction. Thirty-four percent of parents say that they are participating in or looking to participate in some kind of learning pod, an option for a small group of students to learn together.
Parents also support the policies that would enable them to have more choices. Seventy-six percent of parents support open enrollment programs that allow students to attend public schools across district boundaries; 77 percent support education savings accounts; 73 percent support school vouchers; and 71 percent support charter schools.
If we learned anything from this pandemic, it is that in too many places, the needs of children are not at the forefront of school district decision making.
Powerful interests, like teachers’ unions, are able to get their voices heard and their desires fulfilled, even at the cost of years of lost instruction. Heck, in spite of the dire state of student performance, multiple teachers’ unions went on strike. I guess $190 billion in additional federal aid (that states still haven’t even spent) was not enough to satisfy them.
Just like it would be irresponsible to hand the keys back over to the driver who turns every intersection into a demolition derby, it would be irresponsible to send children back into a system that doesn’t prioritize them without any ability to exit if they are not being served. All of the traditional means of accountability—democratic, financial and political—have proven to be insufficient. The beneficiaries of government largess and adult-friendly policies are too concentrated and the victims too diffuse to form a functioning counterweight. They need a way to get out.