Nation’s ‘report card’ shows federal intervention has not helped students

By Lindsey Burke | The Daily Signal

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law in 1965, he vowed the unprecedented new federal intervention in K-12 education would “bridge the gap between helplessness and hope” for “educationally deprived children.”

When President Jimmy Carter signed the Department of Education Organization Act into law in 1979 creating the Department of Education, he exclaimed that “the time has passed when the federal government can afford to give second-level, part-time attention to its responsibilities in American education.”

When President George W. Bush began making the case for No Child Left Behind, he elegantly stated that his federal education policies would end the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Public domain

On Tuesday, the National Center for Education Statistics at the Department of Education released the highly anticipated results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP. The scores are a particular indictment of Obama-era education policies.

And when President Barack Obama signed into law the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, more commonly known as the “stimulus”—sending an unprecedented $98 billion to the Department of Education—he said that it represented “the largest investment in education in our nation’s history” and would ensure American children wouldn’t be “out-educated” on the international stage.

Yet more than half a century after Johnson signed Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law, and 38 years after the Department of Education became operational, it has become clear that federal intervention in K-12 education has failed to achieve its primary goal: reducing gaps in academic outcomes between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers.

On Tuesday, the National Center for Education Statistics at the Department of Education released the highly anticipated results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation’s “report card,” underscoring that point.

The scores are a particular indictment of Obama-era education policies, including historically high levels of spending, the addition of new programs, numerous federal directives, and perhaps most consequentially, Common Core.

Here are the key results.

Raw Scores (and Student Achievement) Flatline

Eighth-grade reading increased one point in 2017 from 2015, up to 267. Fourth-grade reading was not significantly different, declining from 223 in 2015 to 222 in 2017. Fourth-grade math scores were unchanged, at 240 in both 2015 and 2017, and 8th-grade math scores did not significantly change, moving from 282 in 2015 to 283 in 2017.

Both the math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are measured on a point scale of 0 to 500.

In terms of the percentage of American students considered proficient in math and reading, the 2017 report card has little to cheer.

  • 37 percent of 4th-graders scored proficient or better in reading, unchanged from 2015.
  • 36 percent of 8th-graders scored proficient or better in reading, significantly better than in 2015, when 34 percent of 8th-graders reached proficiency or better. This was the only subject and grade level to show any significant improvement since 2015.
  • 40 percent of 4th-graders scored proficient or better in math, unchanged from 2015.
  • 34 percent of 8th-graders scored proficient or better in math, which was not significantly different from 2015.

Only a single state — Florida — posted gains in 4th-grade math since 2015. Florida was also the only state to post gains in 8th-grade math. And while nine states saw improvements in 8th-grade reading, not a single state increased fourth-grade reading performance over 2015 levels. Fourth-grade math scores also decreased by two points in the nation’s largest districts.

Achievement Gaps Persist

The achievement gap between white students and their nonwhite peers also remained unchanged. The gap actually widened between students who were the lowest performers in math and reading, and students who were the highest performers.

For example, 8th-graders in the lowest 25th percentile of performance saw a statistically significant two-point decline in math, from 258 to 256, while 8th-graders in the 90th percentile of math performance saw a significant increase from 329 to 333.

A Trend Line Emerges

Although the 2017 scores are uninspiring, they should be particularly concerning when considered in conjunction with the 2015 results, the most recent release prior to this year’s report card.

The 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress represented the first time math and reading scores had declined or remained stagnant since the test was first administered in 1990. Further declines and an overall stagnation in 2017 suggest a trend—namely, scores are going in the wrong direction.

Forty-nine out of 50 states were stagnant on the 2017 report card, and achievement gaps persist. Historically, federal education spending has been appropriated to close gaps, yet this spending—more than $2 trillion in inflation-adjusted spending at the federal level alone since 1965—has utterly failed to achieve that goal.

Increasing federal intervention over the past half-century, and the resulting burden of complying with federal programs, rules, and regulations, have created a parasitic relationship with federal education programs and states, and is straining the time and resources of local schools.

Instead of responding first to students, parents, and taxpayers, federal education micromanagement has encouraged state education systems and local school districts to orient their focus to the demands of Washington.

Instead of building on the failed policies of the past and continuing top-down education mandates from Washington, a drastically different approach should be taken to significantly limit federal meddling in education and to empower state and local leaders.

It is time for the federal government to re-examine its intervention in local school policy.

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8 thoughts on “Nation’s ‘report card’ shows federal intervention has not helped students

  1. The public education monopoly isn’t about the kids, it’s all about union jobs and money. The kids are just a vehicle to deliver the money to the union jobs.

  2. C’mon. Time to get real. The reason gaps in academic outcomes between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged peers are not reduced is simple. IQ. Nobody wants to face that reality, but it’s true. If you don’t have many smarts you just are not going to succeed in the academic world. Same reason most people who are poor just aren’t equivalent in intelligence to their more affluent counterparts. And this crosses all races; all cultures. And throwing more money at this ‘discrepancy’, just ain’t gonna hack it.

    • Not so Mr. Morgan.

      Economics may affect IQ at the margins. Parental stimulation, drug use, diet and so forth. But consider the George Washington Carver’s of this world, who succeeded despite being born into slavery and raised in abject poverty. And then consider the ‘affluenza teen’ who’s defense for killing 4 while driving drunk was the disadvantage of growing up with money. Pure sophistry.

      What’s missing in our education system are incentives for the average person to succeed. Parents and students need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions and outcomes.

      Meanwhile our education system frowns on individual success as discrimination against the less-able, the disabled, the less meritorious. They seek the lowest common denominator because it is ‘fair’ and ‘equal’. Again, pure sophistry.

      There is no substitute for motivation and hard work. I may not be the sharpest tack on the wall. But no one works harder than I do to offset what shortcomings I may have. And I work hard because I learned that an achievement is always better than an excuse.

      “There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”
      Eric Hoffer, The True believer

      • I didn’t say ‘economics affects IQs’; I said IQ’s determine economics and it runs in the family. IQ’s are not totally affected by outside sources. People are simply not ‘created equal; (except under the law) and cannot be made the same no matter how similar or disparate their upbringings and exposure to outside stimuli is.

        • Regardless of what comes first, economics or IQ, motivation and hard work have the greatest effect on success, despite one’s initial standing. And, I agree of course, …no two people are the same (i.e. ‘equal’).

          The point I’m making is that the de-emphasis of individual motivation and effort are the primary reasons Vermont’s education costs increase and performance (academic and administrative) continues to decline.

          Again, we need choices. We need to be responsible for our own actions and outcomes. Without that sense of personal efficacy, motivation and effort disappear.

          Even for those people who are motivated by ‘public service’ – that’s their personal choice. But, as our current education system exemplifies, even that ‘public service’ is diminished when individual motivation and hard work decline.

          School Choice is the most important social and economic issue of our time.

  3. Same old same old…. These complaints about Federal education programs ignore the State programs that do the fed’s bidding. Local school districts are tantamount to shell corporations manipulated by the State which is, in turn, manipulated by the U.S. Congress – all of whom are manipulated by massive, national, special interest groups (the various public-sector education unions).

    The NAEP announced yesterday that Vermont’s student academic performance continues to fall. Even while Vermont’s K-12 education expenditures per student are the highest in the nation ($24,500+). Compare that to Idaho, for example, that spends less than $7000 per student with student performance equal to Vermont’s.

    Clearly, its time to give parents the authority to take an education voucher and choose the school, public or independent, that best meets the needs of their children. Stop complaining about the U.S. Department of Ed., the Vermont Agency of Ed. and the State School Board that does the agency’s bidding. Take government out of the equation and let the market work its magic. School Choice.

  4. The DoE has only been around since 1979 and hasn’t shown to do any good. If I’m elected to US Senate I will fight to audit and dismantle the Department of Education, as well as other, money pit, federal departments.

  5. Tell me one Federal Program that is in the BLACK or has even had a chance to succeed ?

    As we all know the Government always have a catchy name for there programs and with
    that, they are doomed !!

    But if the schools would start teaching ” Reading ,Writing & Arithmetic ” instead of
    ” Gender Studies ” and other useless academy, taught by these Liberals pushing
    there agenda and trying to indoctrinate our youth, they just might learn something
    useful in life and test scores will be better.

    Teachers Need to be the Adult in the room, not a Friend !! Friends are those in the
    school yard !!

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