The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for 2019 has just been released and the results are not good. Basically, in measuring the progress of students in fourth and eighth grade, it shows that American school children have made no progress in math or reading for at least ten years. Since the last time the testing was conducted in 2017, reading performance at both grade levels has declined significantly and most states showed no change in math. U. S. Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos said that “This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students.”
What’s going on here? Karl Zinsmeister, Publisher of “Philanthropy”, a publication of the Philanthropy Roundtable, has it pegged: “Entrenched empires, when they begin to lose battles, strike back hard. There’s even a word for that: Counterrevolution. Right now we are in the midst of a harsh counterrevolution against school reform, and several heads are beginning to pile up”. And he goes on to survey a range of revolts around the country that are rolling back measures that had been put in place over a 25-30 year period during which the country was serious about performance-based reforms. Much of the impetus for this movement was a response to the wake up call of the publication of “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” by the Reagan administration in 1983 followed by the Bush 43 reforms embodied in the No Child Left Behind Act, which in turn spawned numerous state-driven reform initiatives, most of which had as their purpose the enhancement of standards and accountability.
Well, the “empire” lost a lot of battles during this period, and it struck back, and over the past several years it has been able to stop a number of initiatives and reverse others, and all of a sudden education reform and its messengers were out of style. I speak from personal experience in my more than 20 years in the K-12 education reform trenches in Texas. After a 20+ year consensus on standards and accountability-based reforms, we put in place an accountability system that was designed to move from “graduation” to “readiness” with rigorous immersion in a required curriculum that centered on post-secondary readiness, both college and career. This system, approved by the Texas Legislature and signed into law in 2009, was praised by national organizations as the most comprehensive accountability system in the country when fully implemented. Alas, that day never came. The “empire”, or as we call it in Texas, the “education blob”, immediately went on the attack, primarily by demonizing any form of accountability based on “high stakes” standardized assessments, and by 2013 the Legislature had succeeded in rolling back the reforms and gutting the accountability system to the point that the standard for a Texas high school diploma was reduced to Algebra I and English II!
There is plenty of evidence that this story has been repeated across the country and the NAEP scores since 2011 are reporting the results–much of the progress we had made over the period from about 1992 through 2011 has flattened or turned south. It is obvious that we need another “A Nation at Risk” wake up call, but, frankly, I don’t see exactly when or from where that call might be coming.
W Carl Glaw says
I would like to introduce you to Beta Academy. Their test scores are nationally ranked in the top percentile founder and superintendent Latisha Andrews is changing children of generational poverty trajectory and giving them a chance. Please consider allowing me to host you to a tour. This is one of Linda and my favorite charities. Blessings Carl
Jim Windham says
Carl – I’m pleased that Beta is doing well and that you are supportive. There are many islands of excellence out there, just not nearly enough of them. Best wishes. JMW
Greg Stachura says
Satan himself would be pleased by the lackadaisical performance of students in our nation’s public shool system. I have wondered if a key element in the matter is the lack of discipline, both in the home and in the classroom.
We live in an age following the coddling of the child and worry over his or her ‘happiness’ which neither parent not the child can define beyond a ready smile.
Discipline (of which self control is a major part) in the home and in the classroom is imperative to order which is a paramount quality in both the classroom and in the mind itself. Focus, concentraion, paying attention; all of these are essential to apprehension, comprehension and retention. These do not come naturally; Indeed they are not qualities common to children, but must be imparted by patient persistance and more stern measures with the more willful and resistant students.
Jim Windham says
Greg – Thanks for your responses this month. This one is particularly on point—we won’t truly begin to fix the education problem until we fix the family problem. Best wishes. JMW
M Lucas says
Unfortunately a very good article with a dire warning we all should trumpet.
Jim Windham says
Thanks and you’re right. Good to hear from you. JMW
David Hosley says
Jim – First of all, thank you for your work. I have been following you since my brother Mike turned me on to your work. Keep it up.
As far as the state of education, you nailed it. However, as I have messaged you before the “fix’ is not more money, more years of school more legislation. ( teach kids phonics ) If we taught kids to read, K-3. We would see a “revolution.” It would be organic, powerful, cheap and fun. Don’t believe me.
Jim Windham says
Thanks, David. You’re exactly right–having kids at grade level in reading by third grade would fix 80% of the education problem. We know how to do that because we have seen it work at scale in Houston. What we lack is the political will. JMW
Sandy Kress says
Jim, you have nailed it here. We and others did a lot of good work throughout the 90s and 2000s, but much of it has now been dismantled. What distresses me most is that students have been flat-to-down in both Texas and the nation for a decade. Yet, there seems to be little awareness of the stagnation and virtually no interest in doing anything to right the ship. What is it about our culture and our politics that causes such inattention and lack of commitment to excellence?
Jim Windham says
It’s almost as if any conversation about this subject and its ramifications is verboten and not welcome in polite society—the invisible elephant in the room. It’s the most blatant abdication of leadership in our lifetime.
Lee Jacobsen says
The solution is obvious, year round schooling….
Parents will lament…”what about family vacations?”….Not a problem with other countries, simply arrange with the school in question to take up to 3 weeks off, the family picks the date. I even did this as a kid, not hard to catch up 3 weeks of learning vs 3 months.
Obviously the teachers will object, that was one of the perks of teaching, the 3 months of summer off to travel or do whatever. I don’t know about you Ludwig, but I still work ‘year round’ , and can’t figure out why teachers can’t do so as well, especially as most of the rest of the world is doing it already, some even haviing school on Saturdays…..Japan comes to mine, perhaps one reason their kids seem to be smarter….. I would like to think we are more innovative, but when was the last time a flat screen TV was made in the USA? Not recently , that’s for sure.
History tells us the summers were off to help plant and harvest the crops, we were 90% agrarian…..now the farmers are less than 5%, and robot vehicles are doing most of the planting, and , if Roush has his way, doing most of the weeding as well…..:} That means the summer is available for learning, and , since our kids now rank 39th in the world in math, and falling, time to join the rest of the world with year round education.
K. Tom says
The data and concerns cited here apply to public, taxpayer-funded education only, operated under the nominal charge of school boards whose politically biased members are voter-selected via campaign platitudes, and who are increasingly devoid of power and influence.
Public education now does not educate, motivate or discipline; it is simply a funding mechanism for administrators, buses and bus drivers, and (increasingly unionized) teachers, who have to have teachers’ aides, etc., institutions where single parents can park their kids.
Our social rot is from within, and the decay of public education is but one symptom. I had a great public education, but that was a half-century ago.
Jim Windham says
Sad, but true.
Robert Hux says
All of the above comments have hit home and you did hit the nail on the head which is “Political Will”. We ready don’t need innovation but simply go back to the days of readin’, writin’ and rith-matic starting out in the first grade (or even kindergarten). Teachers Unions continue to be a big problem across the nation – even with the dismal results you have pointed out the teachers want more money for failing to do their jobs and the home situation has not helped by any stretch. Start failing kids and making them repeat the grades until they pass or drop out!!
Could go on and on as could all — in the end Politicians want to get elected and unions want dues! The kids suffer as does our nation.
Danny Billingsley says
Given what you said here regarding the gutted educational requirement in Texas, does the TEA grading system for schools really mean much? Danny
Jim Windham says
Not as much as it should, because the underlying standards don’t adequately reflect post-secondary readiness, when only 5 end of course exams are required for graduation and none in reading and math beyond Algebra I and English II.