Although reading and math scores were in a decadelong nosedive, teachers unions insisted on lengthy school closures during the pandemic, and callous education bureaucrats followed suit by lowering academic standards. As a result, students are now unprepared for high school and beyond. The latest round of test scores released by the Nation’s Report Card reveals alarming and unprecedented math and reading scores for the nation’s 13-year-olds. Union leaders and education bureaucrats will likely escape accountability for the devastating learning loss caused by their malfeasance, but there are actions parents can take to protect and educate their children.

The latest nationwide testing results reveal a generation at risk and an absence of “green shoots of academic recovery,” according to the administrators of the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s long-term trend reading and mathematics assessments. With average math scores on this test of basic skills declining by 14 points and reading scores dropping by 7 points since 2012, parents should anticipate rough high school years for the country’s 13-year-old students.

As the mother of daughters who were 12 and 14 when the NAEP test was conducted in late 2022, I am deeply concerned about their generation’s academic experience. Parents who may think, “my child is doing fine,” should review the breakdown of scores across performance percentiles. All five percentile levels analyzed (10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th) declined compared to 2012, with scores for students testing at the 90th percentile dropping by 7 points in math. The decline is less alarming than the 27-point drop for 13-year-olds at the 10th percentile, but the learning loss is still significant. ( Researchers view 10 points on a NAEP score as roughly the equivalent of a year’s worth of learning.)

Reading scores dropped for many student groups since 2020, and math scores plummeted for most student groups. Math scores were down by 11 points for female students and 13 points among black students, widening the racial score gap to 42 points. Clearly, the equity rhetoric regularly preached by teachers unions and school district administrators has failed to actually help students learn to read or master basic math skills.

The unions and educrats can no longer claim that a lack of funding thwarted their ability to educate students. Congress funneled more than $190 billion in “emergency” federal funding to the K-12 education system through legislation passed in 2020 and 2021. School districts were (and still are) awash in funding — it was officials’ dereliction of duty that caused catastrophic learning loss.

Parents must take the reins when it comes to their children’s education. Clearly, the current K-12 system cannot be trusted. It is possible that students will never fully recover from the months and years of lost learning, but parents can attempt to fill in the gaps by removing distractions, taking advantage of tutoring options, and advocating education freedom.

To start, it is time for parents to limit their children’s access to smartphones. The NAEP results found that half of the nation’s 13-year-olds never/hardly ever read for fun or just read for fun a few times a year. Parents know that numerous studies have revealed the widespread harm caused by smartphones and social media, including negative effects on sleep, cognitive control, academic performance, social skills, and mental health. The distractions of smartphones and social media are impacting children’s ability to read and their interest in reading recreationally. Take the smartphones away.

In addition, parents can take advantage of free tutoring programs. In response to Virginia’s abysmal 2022 NAEP scores , for example, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) provided a $30 million tutoring program to address learning loss. Parents who applied for the state’s K-12 Learning Acceleration Grants could access $1,500 per-student grants and lower-income households received $3,000 grants for each qualifying student.

Finally, parents should advocate and enroll in school choice programs, including education savings accounts. These programs empower families to direct their children’s education funding and choose education options that meet their children’s needs. As Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) observed , “Education freedom is the key to reversing this trend. By giving students and parents more options to find a learning environment that works best for them, we can ensure students have a real chance to learn and grow.” More than 30 states have private school choice scholarship and ESA programs, and states such as Arizona, Florida, West Virginia, Iowa, Utah, Indiana, and Arkansas have created near-universal education freedom options for families.

The nation’s K-12 system has failed to educate an entire generation of students. Rather than passively waiting for the next round of long-term NAEP testing to show further learning loss, parents must take control of their children’s education. By removing harmful distractions and directing tutoring and tuition funding, parents can chart a brighter future for their children.