Schooled Reporting on education

Choice lessons from national report card

Education | Education reformers say latest student performance report shows benefit of school choice initiatives
by Leigh Jones
Posted 4/18/18, 03:11 pm

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.

Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski Teachers at a rally outside the Colorado state Capitol in Denver on Monday

Teacher activism spreads

Colorado teachers are the latest to lobby state lawmakers en masse in hopes of securing more education funding and bigger paychecks. Hundreds of educators swarmed the state Capitol in Denver this week as lawmakers debated unpopular pension reforms.

At least one suburban Denver school district canceled classes because so many teachers called in sick. Colorado teachers make $46,155 per year, on average, ranking 46th nationally.

While teachers are focusing lobbying efforts on lawmakers, their time might be better spent knocking on doors. The Colorado Constitution requires voters to approve all tax hikes, and recent attempts to raise taxes specifically for education funding have failed. Education advocates plan to make another attempt in November.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Arizona, teachers are voting on a proposed walkout that could cost them their jobs.

Last week, Arizona teachers staged a “walk-in” across the state, a precursor to additional action if lawmakers didn’t meet their demands. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, vowed to give teachers a 20 percent raise, but leaders of the grassroots movement advocating for change say the governor’s plan doesn’t address other funding needs or calls for more support staff.

While supporting their effort, teachers union officials have warned a walkout could lead to teachers losing their credentials under Arizona law. —L.J. by Tero Vesalainen by Tero Vesalainen

Guilty, but not quite as charged

While the Penn State fraternity hazing case generated the most national attention, students at other schools also have faced criminal charges for incidents that led to a classmate’s injury or death. In Florida, five students pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor hazing charges. Florida State University student Andrew Coffey, a 20-year-old Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died of alcohol poisoning after a fraternity party in November. Coffey’s death led the school to temporarily ban alcohol and social functions at all Greek organization events. Administrators lifted that ban last month. The five students who pleaded guilty faced felony charges that could have sent them to prison for up to five years. Instead, four will serve 60-day jail sentences, while the fifth will serve a 30-day sentence. Four other fraternity members continue to fight their charges and will go to trial in June. —L.J.

Rewriting history

Illinois lawmakers are debating a bill that would require all elementary and high school students to take lessons highlighting “the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this State.” Committees in both the state House and Senate approved the measure. If it wins final approval, Illinois would become the second state with such a requirement. Last year, California approved 10 LGBT-friendly history textbooks for use in elementary and middle schools. Conservative groups are calling for Illinois lawmakers to include language requiring teachers to present opposing views about sexuality. Critics note LGBT activists have little evidence about the sexuality of some of the historical figures they claim as pioneers in their movement. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • Janet B
    Posted: Fri, 04/20/2018 01:23 pm

    “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.

    That is because the focus for education has been changing to areas like this:  "Illinois lawmakers are debating a bill that would require all elementary and high school students to take lessons highlighting “the role and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the history of this country and this State.” "


  • Narissara
    Posted: Sat, 04/21/2018 03:49 pm

    What seems to be overlooked in the discussion about teacher salaries is how they compare to the salaries of the parents who are paying them.  Very few families have the luxury of having one parent be home to greet their kids when they get home from school, and many of them have not had raises themselves for several years.  Teachers needs to be fairly compensated, but it needs to be in line with what the families they serve earn.  What gets forgotten is the fact that, being on the government payroll, they are essentially civil servants.  Public sentiment toward civil servants in virtually every other area tends to be that they should just be happy to have a job; they don't have the right to expect better pay unless the taxpayers say so, and it's only right that they should have to pay into their own pensions.  This state of affairs is even more sickening when we see so much money being thrown at education while performance continues to drop, and so much time being wasted on politically correct content that does nothing to prepare students for college and the work force.  

  • news2me
    Posted: Sat, 04/21/2018 04:39 pm

    I agree with Narissara. When people work for the gov't they are paid by people who are not making money off of them (unlike billion dollar businesses). Also they need to take into account that teachers don't have to work all year. Many teachers have 2 jobs. Maybe it's time to weed out the teachers that don't match up to their salary (not by educ. administrators who are overpaid). In the old days people became teachers to help children, for many now, it's about the money. Too many gov't workers are retiring early with good pensions, then they get another job where they might get another retirement, plus they get social security. Many police and firemen get paid a lot because their jobs are dangerous. How about compensating our military, their jobs are even more dangerous. 

    Posted: Sun, 04/22/2018 05:48 pm

    Good article and good comments. However, we know from research that the greatest impact on academic achievement is parent involvement. We also know that more and more children are being raised in single-parent or blended-couple (non-married) "families". This makes me wonder if the federal investment has been working to maintain flat-line achievement instead of what would otherwise have been falling achievement. It seems to me that if educators really want kids to do better, they would be a loud voice for parents to do things better. I guess the only thing about that is, will parents listen?  Twenty years ago, when I was a crisis counselor in a Missouri public school district, it was really difficult to get parents to show up on parent-teacher nights. If I didn't know any better, I'd say we were living in a fallen world...