Nation’s Report Card Makes the Case for Expanding Schooling Options

Last week the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 12th grade math and reading assessment results were released. Also known as The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP is a congressionally mandated project administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

NAEP mathematics and reading assessments were administered to 52,100 12th-graders from public and private schools across the country between January and March 2019. Essentially, the findings were that 40 percent of 12th grade students are ‘below basic’ in math and 30 percent are ‘below basic’ in reading, with students from fragile communities falling further behind.

“The decline in twelfth-grade reading scores resembles the declines in fourth- and eighth-graders’ reading scores, where we saw the largest declines among the lowest-performing students. This pattern of decline concentrated among lower-performing students – across grades and across subjects – is a troubling indication that too many students are falling behind.” said Peggy Carr, the associate commissioner for assessment at NCES in an interview with U.S. News

Troubling, indeed: the NAEP assessment is a pre-pandemic snapshot.

Likewise, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released a report on Oct. 1 forecasting learning losses, dubbed “COVID slide,” and found “the average estimates of how much students lost in the Spring of 2020 ranged from 57 to 183 days of learning in Reading and from 136 to 232 days of learning in Math.”

The dual pandemics of the COVID-19 health crisis and social upheaval continue to illuminate many of the fault lines found in the nation’s public schools—from the deepening learning debt, to the digital/technology divide, and discipline disparities—to name a few. Now, more than ever, parents need more resources and options to help their children learn, not fewer.

Expanding school choice is an integral part of the solution to meet the equity needs of students and families at all, and especially, the lowest income levels. Public school, charter school, homeschool, micro-school, pods, private school options and choice which eliminates barriers within and across school districts, must be placed in reach of families, regardless of income, so that children at greatest risk of academic failure can receive a solid, individualized educational foundation that gives them hope for a brighter future than their parents. Innovative tutoring resources and interventions to bridge COVID slide must be made accessible, available and affordable and/or free to families whose children are struggling now, or the nation will continue to experience the painful reverberation of deep division and an ever-widening underclass.

Finally, we must come to grips with the fact that in order to dismantle the racism that has ripped the country apart at the seams, we have a mandate to ensure that culturally relevant education is made compulsory for all children. Schools are the bastions of learned and shared values. Since their inception, they have promulgated divisiveness and exclusion, achieved by separating students by race, ability, resource allocation and decisively teaching a curriculum focused on a single narrative.

In 2020, schools are still overwhelmingly separate and unequal, notwithstanding the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision. While that may never change, the fight was never for white schools. It was for good schools that support student learning and achievement.

Students cannot continue to be trapped in “failure factories”- government schools that consistently fail them. Creating more learning options where resources follow children where they can and do learn is the right thing to do. Let’s commit to doing the right thing, and from the bottom-up this time. The time is now.