• ‘A Student Achievement Crisis’: Secretary of Ed Sounds an Alarm

    Surge Summary: A bi-annual report brings woeful news about the woeful educational condition of young students in America. Proposed solutions seem timid and unlikely to get to the actual source of the problem. 

    Well, the annual Nation’s Report Card has been released and for those looking for a lavish harvest of good news – afraid you’ll have to search elsewhere. What’s revealed is there is much needed alarm over how America’s students are performing in the basics: math and reading skills.

    Turns out only a bit over a paltry third of eighth graders nationwide are proficient in reading and math. Only about the same share of fourth graders are sufficient in reading, while more than 40% — better, but not enough — of fourth graders are proficient in math.

    “This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

    Bi-annually, the country-spanning test is administered to a random sampling of fourth- and eighth-grade students.

    Students made big gains in math in the 1990s and 2000s but have shown little improvement since then. Reading scores have risen a little since the tests began in 1992.

    The decline in both reading and math performance among eighth grade students preparing to enter high school was especially concerning, authorities said.

    “Eighth grade is a transitional point in preparing students for success in high school, so it is critical that researchers further explore the declines we are seeing here, especially the larger, more widespread declines across states we are seeing in reading,” Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics told reporters during a conference call.

    Declines were generally worse for lower-performing students, although both low- and high-achieving eighth graders lost ground in reading.

    Carr said it’s up to researchers and others to figure out why scores fell. “The assessment is designed to tell you what, not why,” she said.

    DeVos pointed to a widening achievement gap between the highest- and lowest-performing students and used the results to push for expanded school choice, including her proposals for federal tax credits for donations made to groups offering scholarships for private schools, apprenticeships and other educational programs.

    “It’s the only way to bring about the change our country desperately needs,” she said.

    A University of Virginia Professor of Psychology, Daniel Willingham, conceded a coherent story across different state and local school districts is tough to find. He’s hoping the results would “spur us to do something a little more vigorous. We’ve just absolutely stalled.”

    Don’t lose heart, however — some heartening data can be found in the study.

    Officials noted gains in Mississippi, where for the first time in the test’s history, fourth graders scored above the national average in math and at the national average in reading. The state remained behind national averages in eighth grade but continued to improve in math and held its ground in reading despite nationwide losses.

    “Our achievement is at an all-time high in Mississippi,” said state Superintendent Carey Wright.

    The state has been one of a number focusing on improving early literacy. Additionally, according to Wright, Mississippi has devoted resources to helping teachers improve math instruction after it adopted new standards.

    “When you improve kids’ reading ability, it’s not surprising that kids’ math ability falls in line,” Wright said.

    The nation’s large-city public schools — they educate more poor students and English language learners — also saw good news in the results. Big-city schools still performed below the nation as a whole, but further narrowed the gap.

    In the District of Columbia, for instance – the nation’s capital — Carr relays gains have exceeded the nation over the past ten years.

    In the last 20 years, the achievement gap between big-city schools and the nation has narrowed by about 50 percent in reading and math, the Council of the Great City Schools said. The schools are now about five to eight points below national averages on NAEP’s 500-point scale.

    Thankfulness is plainly in order for any progress – but it’s doubtful that mere technocratic or programmatic tinkering is going to do the trick when it comes to this stubborn and foundational crisis. Recall, it seems like this educational funk has accompanied a surge of troubling trends in other areas of American society: the erosion of discipline among children and young people in the classroom, the collapse of marriage and the family, teachers’ unions acting like they exist to create jobs for educators and bureaucrats more than to guarantee kids get schooled, teachers increasingly setting aside their duty to school kids in educational fundamentals in order to advance political and cultural indoctrination. (We’re seeing two generations’ fruit of what looks an awful lot like a conspiracy to keep young people stuffed full of progressive hobby-horses — climate change mania, gender wackiness, America-trashing historical revisionism, sexual moral relativism, etc. – while leaving them incapable of excelling in reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

    Until those roots are extirpated from our school systems nationwide? Everything else is meager fussing around the edges of a chilling dilemma.

    Image adapted from: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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