The Wisconsin Coalition for Educational Freedom has an unexpected member. It is the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce group, which is the largest and most influential business association in the state. Their lobbyist, Scott Manley, recently stated that the organization is unhappy with the latest graduates' lack of proficiency in math and reading. Their business members are taking note of academic failings which are set to impact job opportunities for the next generation of workers.
National and local testing of students is a leading indicator of job readiness and is delivering debilitating results. ACT scores hit a thirty-year composite low score of 19.8 in 2022. COVID learning loss is concerning and can be factored in over the last year or two as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, with the first-ever decline in math testing of 9-year-olds since the 90s. Still, this dwindling student proficiency is a longer-term problem.
For example, in North Carolina, almost 56% of third through eighth graders failed the reading test in 2018, before Covid, and a third of students did not perform at the “basic level” of reading according to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the Nation’s Report Card. In Baltimore Public Schools in 2019, reading and math proficiency hovered around twenty percent. Compare that to 2010 when it was just over sixty percent. How did this happen?
Throwing more dollars at the problem is not the solution. Ramped-up federal funding became all the rage in the early 21st century. Heritage Foundation revealed that since 2000 federal education programs through No Child Left Behind, School Improvement Grants, Race to the Top, and Common Core the US Department of Education budget ballooned from $38 billion to $70 billion. All those tax dollars were sent to the rescue and still math and reading scores among high school students have “remained completely flat” to date.
Those aren’t the only dollars being spent on failed programs. Just last week a study released by Parents Defending Education, entitled Cracked Foundations revealed “philanthropy's bid to control public school,” including none other than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Wallace Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Windward Fund. Their purpose is to promote equity programs and materials in schools to the tune of $200 million in 70 school districts across the nation from 2017-2021.
PDE pointed out students' failing math and reading scores while funding to advance equitable math was underway. Breitbart reported last year that the Bill and Melinda Gates primer on equitable math “criticizes the concept of “getting the ‘right’ answer” in math, stating that, “The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so. Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuates objectivity [sic] as well as fear of open conflict [sic].”
Equitable math is likely hurting and not helping student scores. What else is at play here? Could it also be the distracting focus on woke topics - like discussions around pronouns - that suck up teacher-student time and draw young minds and emotions away from core academics? More renowned than ever, social-emotional learning, or SEL, was championed as a solution to assist with student performance but appears to have failed at playing psychologist.
Schools should promote behaviors and attitudes that support academic proficiency, like maintaining self-control, learning to stay focused, and working well with others. These old-fashioned values worked well overall for hundreds of years and are more effective than navel-gazing.
In the meantime, teachers who are willing can take courage and focus on the tried and true. Past generations benefited from the character qualities built in students' lives through a teacher’s encouragement. The second most trusted adult in a child’s life could well be their teacher. They carry a lot of weight in helping set a child up for success in school and life even when parents are disengaged or unsupportive.
As a nation, we are concerned about the academic proficiency of our kids. We need to cast off failed funding and approaches, return to the tried and genuine focus on academics and basic self-discipline, and remove the distractions of woke cultural topics from the classroom.