Robin Smith / November 4, 2019

Want Better Schools? Parents, It’s Up to You

The “Nation’s Report Card” continues revealing bad signs about public education.

“To promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.” —U.S. Department of Education Mission Statement

Umm… Achievement and preparation via education excellence with equal access sounds terrific, but it’s not what’s happening after federal spending has been increased six fold since the U.S. Department of Education’s first budget in 1980.

Last week, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 2019 — a.k.a. the “Nation’s Report Card” — was published. If you believe parents have a responsibility to be the First Teachers, the data will support your thoughts that too many are sending their children to America’s public schools for teachers to raise, not just educate. If you subscribe to the narrative that public schools are racist establishments that deny minorities access and are institutionally prejudiced, you’ll use data to support your thesis despite the trillions of dollars that have been spent on America’s urban core. In other words, the data might support any sort of dissection of the results, but let’s just boil it down in this sense: The proficiencies of children in public schools are embarrassingly low and will continue to be a true barrier to the success of generations to come.

Since 1980, Congress has appropriated spending for public education in excess of $1.5 trillion. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, the funding formula is 8% from the federal government and the rest from state and local sources. So, clearly, the funding of public schools is vast.

Exactly how embarrassing are the 2019 scores of America’s students? Looking at reading, children testing for proficiency taught in public schools were 34% at the fourth-grade level, 32% at the eighth-grade level and, at graduation, 36% in the twelfth-grade year. Yeah, that means around 65% of kids at all grade levels are below taught and expected capability in reading — a foundational skill needed throughout life.

In math, the respective numbers were 40%, 33%, and 23% at the same ascending grade levels, while science numbers were 37%, 33%, and 21% at the same times of assessment.

How do these numbers compare over the years? Since the mandate of Common Core — the federal required standards with money attached from the U.S. Government — a decline has been measured by consistent data. Scores for the lowest performers in the bottom 10% have fallen and the only improvements have been scored at the top 10% of students. Put simply, the gap is growing between those who achieve and those who struggle.

Despite almost 76% of teachers surveyed noting that they have changed “at least half of their classroom instruction” and another 19% responding that they’ve changed almost all of their teaching to fit the new mandates, it appears that attempts to create a one-size-fits-all curriculum has failed. The test scores have fallen for a third consecutive time since the 2015 implementation of Common Core. On the same day that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declared, “This country is in a student achievement crisis” based on the relatively small number of students proficient in academics, a second barometer of achievement validated the dismal results.

The Condition of College & Career Readiness report cited by Secretary DeVos that substantiated her concern looked at the performance of 1.78 million high-school graduates who took the National ACT test. “Readiness levels in English, reading, math, and science have all decreased since 2015, with English and math seeing the largest decline” across all races according to DeVos, with the only improvements among Asian-Americans.

So, for the Department of Education to meet its stated mission, real change must occur. Now, we’ll also stipulate that there is no provision for education in the Constitution. But in any case, leftists have a weaponized agenda to divide and pit one group against another rather than work toward a true solution.

A massive amount of money has been spent. While some argue that the funding has been inequitable, the data continues to support that targeted funded has been directed to problem classrooms, schools, and districts above and beyond that of regular appropriations for “average” schools. Put simply, the inequity in spending, one could argue, has been in favor of underperforming schools, not to reward those or to reinforce the behavior of those that excel. So, money doesn’t fix the problem.

Federally mandated standards have been attempted with significant strings attached to access this targeted funded. Again, the promised improvements just didn’t happen. Instead, as the recent NAEP demonstrates, kids already performing well continued to do so. The ACT report states, “This year’s ACT score data — as well as five-year trends — confirm that students with higher levels of academic preparation are maintaining or slightly improving their readiness, while students with lower levels of academic preparation are falling further behind.” Well, those sure-fired-standards helped those who would likely have performed with proficiency without them.

OK. So, what’s missing?

Rather than offer any editorial, let’s just look at another published report that was based on an extensive survey of almost 650,000 students commissioned by Congress — The Equality of Educational Opportunity. This data included both measurements of the quality and quantity of educational resources available as well as the achievement of those students — a measurement of performance and equitable access.

The conclusions of this report were deemed controversial because the narrative was shattered that a bureaucracy could guarantee a positive educational outcome. Among key findings of the publication that was renamed The Coleman Report, as required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, variations in school quality as measured by classroom size, per pupil expenditure, the size of features such as a library, showed “little association with levels of educational attainment.” The 737-page report noted, according to a Johns Hopkins Magazine analysis, “The physical amenities of a school weren’t the most important factor in a child’s educational success, and neither was funding, which, it turned out, was relatively equal within regions.”

Get ready for haters and head explosions in 3-2-1… “All factors considered, the most important variable — in or out of school — in a child’s performance remains his family’s education background,” surmised the data in the original 1966 study. In 2016, a national gathering that included then-Secretary of Education John King reviewed the landmark research and presented The Coleman Report at 50: Its Legacy and Enduring Value noting, “The conclusion that family background is far more important than people realized has remained a solid empirical finding for 50 years, and Coleman and his colleagues were the first to show the power of that relationship. But that insight has not done enough to shape policy. Too many proposals for innovative educational reforms fail to recognize how important family is. Policymakers have dropped the ball on that insight.”

It’s not popular to hear, but if Americans want proficiency in their students, parents must be the First Teachers and commit to a lifetime of learning.

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