Much has been written about the catastrophic learning losses during the pandemic caused by the unnecessary, union-driven school lockdowns.
What has not been truly known, until new data was recently released, was just how badly student achievement had fallen well before the lockdowns took their toll.
Updates to The Nation’s Report Card, our only nationwide assessment of student achievement, show bleak and distressing results. In fact, they show the first recorded decline in math and reading scores for 13-year-olds in the 50-year history of the assessment.
Consider but a few examples of just how bad things are:
Math scores for the lowest performing 10 percent of 13-year-olds fell by 13 points since 2012. Their scores are the same now as they were in 1982.
Reading scores for the lowest performing 10 percent of 9-year-olds fell by 7 points since 2012.
Math scores for 13-year-old black students fell eight points, while Hispanic students' scores declined by 4 points—only further widening the gap between them and their white peers.
Not even high-performing students recorded any measurable achievement gains. There wasn’t a single bright spot to be found anywhere in the data. No student, of any age, of any subgroup, saw their performance improve since 2012. Most saw declines.
It bears repeating: this is all pre-pandemic data. Every indication is that the achievement data we’ll get this spring will show massive declines on top of these already abysmal results.
The education establishment would have you believe the lack of results stems from a lack of spending. But that is a total falsehood.
Since the U.S. Department of Education was established in 1979—a pay-off from then-President Jimmy Carter to the teachers union bosses who funded his campaign—federal taxpayers have spent more than one trillion dollars on programs explicitly designed to close the achievement gap.
That doesn't include what families are forced to spend at the state level. Per-pupil spending has nearly tripled since the 1960s, and today American taxpayers spend, on average, 35 percent more per pupil than every other major developed nation.
Yet all that spending clearly has not moved the needle when it comes to results.
The time for education freedom is right now.
The one and only thing that has continually demonstrated an ability to improve student achievement is school choice. A recent University of Arkansas analysis of data from the Nation’s Report Card found that students in states with the greatest level of education freedom recorded higher achievement levels. In Arizona, ranked highest for education freedom, student academic gains were more than sixfold better than the national average.
The progress was especially significant for lower-income students and students with disabilities, two student groups most likely to be the beneficiaries of school choice programs. In Florida, a leader in giving students options on where they attend school, lower-income students’ academic gains between 2003 and 2019 were double the national average.
With results like that, it’s little wonder 21 states improved, expanded, or created new education freedom programs this year.
You might think another sobering Nation’s Report Card might force the education establishment and the union bosses to implement ideas to improve literacy and numeracy. But, of course, they’re not.
Instead, they’re spending their time defending critical race theory-infused teaching and calling the FBI on parents who voice opposition to their children being indoctrinated.
The seminal education report "A Nation at Risk," issued by the Reagan administration in 1982, warned of this very phenomenon:
"Our society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them… If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves."
Our rising generation cannot bear this any longer. The time for education freedom is right now.