This year’s Nation’s Report Card is a national embarrassment. Only 31 percent of the country’s eighth graders are proficient readers. 30 percent are “below basic” readers, meaning they are functionally illiterate. 27 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math — a failing grade on any scale.
This news could not come at a worse time for progressives, who are working overtime in advance of the midterms to gaslight the country into forgetting how they made schools terrible and then kept those schools closed. The timing of the announcement is not political; the Nation’s Report Card is announced every year in October. Most years, the news creates few ripples outside of education circles.
This year is nothing like most years. The scrutiny brought upon schools by COVID is not going away; the American people cannot unsee teachers instructing children to validate their nonbinary identity or children’s books in school libraries teaching them how to use sex apps. The public has realized that sending kids back to school is not a cure-all if that school is terrible. It is no surprise that 77 percent of likely voters say education will be important in the upcoming congressional elections.
Since September, the independent women vote has swung towards Republicans by 26 points, according to a NYT/Siena poll. If this was a surprise to Democrats, it should not have been. Students have not recovered from school closures, and neither have women: The workforce has two million fewer women in it today than it did pre-pandemic. For all their hard work and sacrifice to keep their children learning, the schools continue to let them down. These test scores will only motivate voters further toward candidates who promise educational change.
These test scores will fuel parents’ anger, not only about the schools’ failure to educate but also about their failure to accurately assess and report student learning. There is a huge mismatch between the grades students are getting in school and their scores on the Nation’s Report Card. If 37 percent of 4th graders were failing reading on their individual report cards, the same percentage who are “below basic” on the tests, there would be a nationwide parental panic.
But the Nation’s Report Card test results are not tallied at the individual level. The results can be excused as someone else’s problem. When 30% of 8th graders are functionally illiterate, however, that is everyone’s problem. Every year, millions of kids get shuffled along from grade to grade with troubling little concern from their schools about whether they’ve actually learned anything.
We cannot plead ignorance to the sorry state of education in America. Even pre-pandemic, only 37 percent of high school seniors scored “proficient” or higher in reading. Terrible test scores are not new. The political will to fix them is.
Parents are waking up to the idea that failing public schools are not something we all must simply tolerate, like long lines at the DMV or taking your shoes off at the airport. A decent education for their children is not something parents should have to show up at school board meetings or ballot boxes and beg for. It should be the bare minimum guaranteed to every child, no matter where they live or how they learn.
Republicans have firmly positioned themselves on the side of parents, and as evidenced by the election of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in 2021, they have only begun to reap the political rewards. But too many are not going far enough. Reopening schools was one thing; fixing the schools is another entirely. It would be a colossal disservice to students, as well as a political mistake, for Republicans to be content with simply sending students back to the same terrible schools they left in 2020.
Parents are right to be furious. Our education system just brought home a failing report card. On November 8th, millions of them will tell Democrats they’re grounded until at least 2024.