Since America’s founding, an “enlightened” and “educated” citizenry has been considered essential for our representative democracy to function as intended. Our 35th President, John Kennedy, put it correctly in 1963, when he stated that, “[n]o country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained, unless it has an educated citizenry.”
Sadly today, education in the United States is in a truly dismal condition.
The government-mandated move to remote learning in response to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is a significant factor underlying what are by any objective measure, rotten academic results for our nation’s children in public schools. This trend, however, predates the pandemic and persists today despite nearly $190 billion in federal money having been directed at overcoming the disastrous effects of that remote learning debacle.
A study released last month by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed clearly that remote learning was a disaster for students attending America’s public schools. According to the findings of this non-partisan organization, student achievement in the key group surveyed – 9 year-olds – fell significantly in both math and reading; in reading by the largest margin in more than three decades.
The NAEP study noted that there had been a gradual but important increase in math and reading skills since the 1970s. However, those gains were shown to have levelled off over the past decade, and then dropped precipitously in the wake of the “unmitigated disaster” of COVID-mandated remote learning, especially for minority students.
The sorry state of education achievement in our country cannot be blamed entirely on the COVID lockdowns. In Illinois, for example, in 2019, the year before COVID hit, only 36% of third graders could read at grade level; barely more than one-third. In Decatur, just one of that state’s public school systems, a shockingly low 2% of black third graders were shown to be able to read at grade level, with only 1% able to do math at grade level. In 11th grade, after eight more years in that school system, only 5% of students were able to read at grade level and 4% able to do math at grade level.
Despite these abysmal numbers for students in Illinois public schools, the State Board of Education rated virtually all teachers as “excellent” or “proficient!” Nor is the problem lack of funding. Illinois spends some $16,660 per year on each student — the eighth highest in the country. These funding levels are due in no small measure to powerful teachers unions, such as Chicago’s, where teachers walked off on strike in four of the last seven years to demand higher pay for their “excellent” performances.
The numbers may perhaps be not quite as bad in other states as in Illinois, but they nonetheless are distressingly poor. In Oklahoma, for example, large majorities of students in all grades and in all subjects tested below proficiency levels, despite record-high funding levels for its public schools.
California’s Department of Education, likely worried that its post-COVID school achievement test results will hurt incumbents running for reelection this November, has refused to release that data until later this year. However, in just one district – Fresno – that did release its data, the test results showed less than 21% of students met or exceeded its math standards.
Many of the measures suggested to help schools undo the damage wrought by remote learning mandates, using the massive post-COVID infusion of federal monies – nearly $190 billion since 2020 – have met with fierce opposition by teachers unions opposed to measures that might require its members to work harder. This was the case in Los Angeles, where union pushback forced the School District to jettison meaningful corrective measures in favor of a token requirement to add four optional days of school for students.
Thus far, Tennessee appears to be the only state to actually implement measurably successful programs using the emergency federal money dedicated to addressing educational shortfalls caused by COVID restrictions. The Volunteer State’s new, extended summer learning requirements and “high-dosage tutoring” already have produced measurably positive results.
It is a shame that more states are failing to do what Tennessee has done. A primary reason is continued opposition by teachers unions. Another appears to be that the Biden Administration’s Department of Education insists on driving education policy through its obsession with “equity” and “LGBTQ+.”
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.