The Nation’s Report Card (NAEP) scores released last week laid bare the dismal state of our nation’s K-12 education system. Scores dropped nationally in both math and reading for both fourth and eighth grade. They were down by five points (scores are out of a possible 500) since 2019 in fourth-grade math and by eight points in eighth-grade math. And both grades were three points down in reading.
These are historic drops.
As 10 points on the NAEP scale equals approximately one school year’s worth of learning, it matters when fourth-graders in Virginia, where I live, drop 10 points in reading and 11 points in math.
Covid-era policies exacerbated a decline already underway before schools closed. Virginia, for example, has been quietly lowering the standards for students for years. Virginia lowered school accreditation standards in 2017, math standards in 2019, and reading standards in 2020. Students now have to correctly answer fewer answers to pass the state assessment (called the SOL, or Standards of Learning); so parents thought their children were proficient in math and reading, but they weren’t. The plummeting NAEP scores and the large gap between NAEP proficient students and students who pass the SOLs revealed the truth.
The system will recommend more funding to solve the problem, but we know that they already received more than $190 billion in “emergency” federal funding and 20% of that must be used to address learning loss. They’re asking for more money for “mental health” now, but a federal “Safer Communities” bill passed earlier this year already provided “hundreds of millions of dollars in funds to increase the number of school-based mental health providers in schools,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. Plus, schools need to prioritize math and reading instruction.
Spending billions in supplemental federal funding will not improve outcomes for students enough to compensate for the learning loss caused by prolonged school closures. The K-12 system needs to know that if it continues to fail to educate students, parents can and will enroll their students in alternative education options.
I speak from experience: I am the mother of two school-age children. When my local Virginia school district refused to open in the fall of 2020, I pulled them out of the public school system and now they are thriving academically at faith-based private schools. All children deserve access to education options like the ones my children enjoy—schools that prioritize students over unions and bureaucrats.
Like me, many Northern Virginia parents knew that covid-era closures would be terrible for students, especially vulnerable students in low-income or single-parent homes. Virginia schools stayed closed longer than most areas of the country and the state’s fourth-grade reading scores dropped more than anywhere else. Of course young students could not learn how to read over Zoom. Virginia is facing a literacy crisis with 40% of fourth-graders testing below basic in reading, and only 17% of black students and 16% of Hispanic students testing at the proficient level.
Unfortunately, parents and teachers in local community and education-themed Facebook groups in my area aggressively tried to silence and shame the parents who expressed concerns and advocated for open schools. Hypocritically, many of these anti-school opening parents and teachers also exchanged information about learning pods and tutors in the forums. They could afford to help their children navigate through school closures, and they chose to deny the inevitable harm school closures would inflict on less affluent families.
Parents in Virginia and nationwide must accept that the K-12 system is failing to educate our children. We must free students from schools that are failing them and put pressure on the system to improve by offering parents educational choice.