The Pandemic Erased Two Decades of Math and Reading,” the New York Times declared in response to an alarming report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. But it was not a virus that caused the nation’s severe learning loss crisis. It was cruel COVID-era policies – implemented by teachers’ unions, education bureaucrats, and negligent school boards – that caused test scores to plummet.

By closing schools for prolonged periods and further disrupting learning with quarantine policies and mask mandates, unions and school district leaders grievously harmed a generation of children. The union-funded politicians will try to deflect blame, but parents know who is responsible.

Math scores for America’s nine-year-olds dropped for the first time since testing began in the early 1970s, according to the NAEP. Students’ average reading scores dropped by five points between 2020 and 2022 – the largest drop in decades. The acting associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, Daniel McGrath, observed, “These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program.”

The testing revealed that economically disadvantaged students suffered the sharpest declines, with reading scores for such students dropping by twice as much as for other students.

The unions and education bureaucrats worsened the achievement gap by keeping schools closed longer in districts with high percentages of low-income and minority students. Reading scores dropped by 6 points and math scores dropped by 13 points for the nation’s black nine-year-olds. Hispanic students dropped 6 points in reading and 8 points in math. White students also saw 6-point reading-score declines. From 2020 to 2022, scores dropped for all students, except for Asian students’ reading scores.

Although reading and math scores fell for students at all performance levels, students who were already struggling in school fared significantly worse. Math scores for higher-performing students (90th percentile) declined by 3 points, but the scores of lowest-performing students (10th percentile) plunged by 12 points. No students are winning in this scenario, with the top-performing students receiving a score of only 265 out of 500, and the lowest performers scoring only 155 out of 500.

While the Wall Street Journal headline, “Randi Weingarten Flunks the Pandemic,” places the blame accurately, it must be noted that the American Federation for Teachers union president and her bureaucratic and political cronies were failing K-12 students long before COVID arrived. NAEP scores were declining prior to the early 2020 testing, and the 2022 results reveal that students are performing at the same level as two decades ago.

This new NAEP report lays bare the catastrophic failure of the nation’s K-12 education system.

Parents predicted these horrible results. We demanded that schools open, and we told school boards that disruptive quarantine and masking policies were harming our children. Parents are trying to hold school districts accountable for the $190 billion they received in supplemental federal education funding – money intended to address learning loss and keep schools open.

Media coverage of the NAEP results may shine a welcome light on these failures, but it will not result in a K-12 education system that is more responsive to parents. Fortunately, parents can vote with their feet and leave their local government-assigned schools. Pandemic-era policies inspired many families to choose private school, homeschool, charter school, and micro-school options, with nearly 2 million students leaving the public system between 2020 and 2022, according to a survey by Education Next. The survey found that, while 76% of students attend a traditional public school, enrollment in alternatives has increased since 2020, with 9.7% of students attending private schools, 7.2% attending charters, and 6.6% homeschooling.

With states like Arizona now offering universal education savings accounts (ESAs) that allow parents to direct their child’s education funding, more parents than ever before are empowered to leave the failing public school system. The NAEP test scores paint a heartbreaking picture of the harm the system has inflicted on millions of children. Parents in every state should demand access to education options that meet the needs of their children.