Education reform advocates are pointing to the latest national “report card” as evidence more spending and government oversight can’t fix the nation’s public school system.
According to standardized test results released last week by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 40 percent of fourth-graders and 33 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading and math. Those numbers haven’t changed markedly from two years ago, when students last took the test.
The lackluster results weren’t really surprising, considering test scores have remained basically flat since the early 2000s, despite numerous attempts to better students’ performance.
Lindsey Burke, an education policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, called the scores “a particular indictment of Obama-era education policies” but noted none of the federal government’s spending in the last 50 years has made much of a difference.
“Historically, federal education spending has been appropriated to close gaps, yet this spending—more than $2 trillion in inflation-adjusted spending at the federal level alone since 1965—has utterly failed to achieve that goal,” she wrote.
Worse still, test results from 2015 showed slight declines in reading and math scores, meaning the 2017 stagnation suggests a trend of scores going in the wrong direction, Burke wrote, concluding that this year’s results should prompt the federal government to reexamine its longstanding policy of intervention in local education.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos drew similar conclusions, noting the report card showed gaps between highest and lowest performing students have only gotten wider. DeVos, a longtime school choice advocate, pointed to slight improvements in Florida’s scores as proof that using public money to fund charter schools and subsidize private education for low-income families works.
“Florida’s results show what is possible when we focus on individual students,” she said.
Florida fourth-graders improved their scores in math, while eighth-graders did better in both math and reading. Former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education, also touted his state’s modest success as a model for empowering parents with better education options. Mississippi students showed similar modest gains, an improvement Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, attributed to “embracing innovative, student-centered policies.”
Center for Education Reform founder and CEO Jeanne Allen noted the irony of this year’s report card release, 35 years to the month after the publication of A Nation at Risk, the 1983 analysis of educational outcomes that sparked nationwide reforms.
“These scores are a sobering reminder that we remain a nation with far too many children and young adults poorly educated, unprepared to enter college or the workforce, and ultimately unable to achieve the American dream of living a rewarding, prosperous life,” she said.