Public Education Continues to Disappoint

nations report card

The Common Core State Standards were adopted by most states in 2010, and this change was expected to better prepare students for tougher national exams like the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), better prepare them for college and careers and make kids more competitive internationally.  So after 25 years of steady gains, why did the eighth grade NAEP average math grades have such an unexpected decline?

eight grade assessment

Here are some comments from a Brookings Institute research paper (10/28/2015) –

The story is arguably worse than suggested by the three point decline from 2013 depicted in the graph in light of the slow but persistent upticks in the trend line in prior years.  Since participation in the assessment in math was first required of all states in 2003 under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the average biennial uptick on eighth grade math had been 1.5 points.  Assuming no significant demographic changes in the nation between 2013 and 2015 and business as usual in the nation’s schools, the expected score for 2015 would have been 287 (rounded).  Thus the 2015 results are roughly five NAEP scale points lower than would have reasonably been expected.  A five point decline in NAEP would mean that eighth graders in 2015 were roughly six months of school behind eighth graders in 2013.  The same calculations using the more conservative actual decline of three points leads to an estimated loss of roughly four months of school.

This analysis is not causal, and the modest correlation suggests that more is going on than disruptions in instruction associated with the rollout of a new assessment system.  In line with this, note that the median change for the states that did not participate in a Common Core assessment is negative too.  Whether or not this is the prelude to historic gains in future years, as Secretary Duncan speculates, remains to be seen.

In any case, there are a lot of states that still have to go through the transition to a new testing regimen; it is likely that disruptions associated with new tests will take more than a year to be resolved in most states; and NAEP is not testing quite the same things in the same way as the Common Core assessment and thus won’t directly benefit from teachers learning to teach to the new Common Core tests.  Based on those factors and the results here, I wouldn’t bet on a big rebound in 2017.

The California Department of Education has published test results of its third- through eighth-grade Common Core and about 40 percent in math and nearly 50 percent in reading have not met the standard.  Only around a quarter of New Mexico students in grade 3 to 8 met proficiency or better benchmarks for reading and writing on new standardized tests, and less than 10 percent of the state’s eighth-graders met expectations or better when it came to math, according to test results released Friday.  A key point to these new results is that in states that have not adopted CC the results are very similar.  What does this tell us? I believe it proves that even tough our government has spent billions of more dollars with the implementation of CC, our public school system still can’t improve it’s own report card.

Here are some comments from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) –

For the first time in 25 years, fourth-grade math and reading scores along with eighth-grade reading scores have declined on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), congressionally administered assessment by the National Center for Education Statistics and known as the “nation’s report card.” While scores have generally been stagnant, the country has come to expect incremental increases every year, so this year’s decline has prompted a flurry of discussion over what has caused the downturn.

Although education experts have blamed everything from Common Core to the recession, the fact is decades of increased federal and state spending on education have had very little effect on students’ test scores.  Federal spending under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ostensibly intended to improve test scores and narrow achievement gaps, has tripled in real dollars since the 1960s, when it was first enacted.  Today’s disappointing NAEP results come in an era where the average salary at the Department of Education has hit six figures.

It is time to look outside the spending paradigm for answers. Pouring more hard-earned taxpayer dollars into the same stagnant system will pay more administrators’ pensions, but it will not help students learn.

Today’s release of disappointing NAEP scores should be another reminder that more spending without real change likely means continuing to fail our kids.  Instead of cranking out the tired canard of mythical “underfunding,” or looking to the federal government for answers, taxpayers should look to introduce incentives to improve into their education systems by supporting school choice and allowing parents to take their education dollars where their children are being best-served.

alec report card


Nation’s education system under review –

The “Report Card On American Education” (19th Edition) whose authors are Dr. Matthew Ladner is the senior advisor of policy and research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education and David J. Myslinski serves as a communications specialist for the Foundation for Excellence in Education and was the state policy director for Digital Learning Now, focusing on digital education policies across all 50 states.  For this 19th Report Card on American Education, education policy grades are divided into six categories: Academic Standards, Charter Schools, Homeschooling, Private School Choice, Teacher Quality and Digital Learning. Here are some bullet points from their research:

  • The K-12 reform movement has had more to celebrate in the past three years than in any recent period.  It is important to recognize, however, that even these incredibly hard fought victories represent only the first small steps on a long journey of transforming a public education system that fails to serve the needs of far too many.  Americans can and should, in part, judge schools by how much they give to children who are starting in life with the least.  Most American poor children still go to schools in states with weak transparency systems that use fuzzy labels to obscure academic failure.  Most low-income students have little to no meaningful choice over what schools they attend. Most poor children attend schools that socially promote them year after year, regardless of their ability to read or do grade-level work.  Poor children attend public schools that do too little to attract highly effective teachers or remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.  Many defenders of the education status quo blame poverty itself for the children’s plight.  These detractors continually ignore the fact that today’s students often have parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and others who themselves attended public schools.  The assignment of our public school system in helping to break this cycle of poverty involves the imparting of academic knowledge and skills that are vital to the future success of children.  The past failure of the public school system to perform this crucial task does indeed make it more difficult to perform in the present.  The current public school system spends and employs people at levels that would stagger the imagination of an American school administrator in decades past, and which inspires envy among the vast majority of school systems around the globe.  If the current system cannot get this task done under these fortuitous circumstances, we need to update our system.  The only part of this process that is finished is the beginning.
  • State academic achievement improved from 2003 to 2013, at least in one subject, with only a single exception: Michigan.  That is the good news.  Not all the news is good, however.  Students in 50 states and the District of Columbia took four separate NAEP exams in 2013.  This provided 204 separate opportunities to get a majority of students at full grade-level proficiency.  Even when students of all economic backgrounds are included (not shown in this chapter for comparability reasons), only a tiny minority of states ever had half or more of their students reach full grade-level proficiency on the most recent NAEP.  Out of the 204 state/D.C. opportunities to get to a majority of students proficient on four 2013 NAEP tests, only six states cleared the bar.  All six states to surmount the 50 percent proficiency bar have demographic advantages, and they only passed the bar in fourth-grade math—the subject and grade level that states found easiest to improve.  None of them surpassed 60 percent proficiency, even in this best case.  Among low-income children, these figures show that no state has reached 40 percent proficiency.  The United States is seeing progress but far too little, on average, for one of the highest spending and wealthiest nations.  America’s taxpayers deserve far more for their investment, and students deserve far more opportunity.  Even still, a decades-long period of academic stagnation has ended in many states.  Policymakers must now develop their strategies for accelerating progress.
  • Economically disadvantaged inner-city children would face more than enough challenges in life even if they had abundant access to the nation’s most effective schools.  Instead, we find districts still largely wedded to unionized industrial factory models.  Spending is up, but low achievement remains common.  Dropout rates remain high, and waiting lists at the still far-too-scarce high-quality charter schools remain long.  Policymakers have been making changes and showing progress with them, but the average urban student may have yet to notice that anything has changed. At the time of this writing, policymakers in Michigan and Tennessee have adopted RSD legislation.  While the RSD model requires a great deal of hard work to attract the talent needed to start the new schools in existing buildings, there’s nothing magic about this approach.  It creates a clear mechanism for pulling the plug on low-performing schools and for returning large educational assets (mainly buildings) to productive use.  The RSD model fundamentally rethinks the role of a school district and thus represents the most exciting trend in urban education.  Policymakers should, however, not ignore the continuing success of voucher programs.  High-quality random assignment studies show a very impressive track record of improving graduation and college attendance rates for disadvantaged urban youth.  Policymakers need to seek out as many seats in high-quality schools as possible— and some of them are in private schools.
Conclusion –

I highly advise reading this entire report about our nation’s education system.  It covers all areas of education including funding, history, and the current results.  With the above information at hand, it’s fair to say the massive transformation of our public education system, combined with incredible federal funding, the current results are disappointing.  It’s completely obvious our federal government needs to release complete control of education to the states, because our charter and private schools are far superior to that of our public school system.

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Mark Hare


I'm a parent of two boys (11 and 6,) and I spend countless hours researching issues on politics, government actions, military affairs, laws, regulations, education, and many other things. I live in Virginia and I enjoy spending time with my family, the outdoors, eating good food, and learning as much as I can. I love this country and I've decided to devote most of my free time to educating other concerned citizens about our corrupt government. Click HERE for more about me. Please visit my blog -

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