The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—better known as the Nation’s Report Card—“gives us a window into the state of our K-12 education system.” The results provide educators, policymakers, elected officials, and parents across the country with information regarding how much students are learning in the United States.
The scores on the latest test taken earlier this year—after the nation’s COVID panic subsided—were released last week, and looking in that “window” revealed some scary stuff.
In a nutshell, the scores showed that just 33 percent of the nation’s fourth graders are proficient in reading and 36 percent are proficient in math. Eighth graders did even worse: 31 percent are proficient in reading, while a painful 26 percent showed proficiency in math. According to the report’s authors, “the national average score declines in mathematics for fourth- and eighth-graders were the largest ever recorded in that subject.”
The brightest spot in a sea of ugly appeared in Catholic schools, most of which shut down very briefly, if at all, in 2020 and 2021. Scores in these schools were 17 points higher than the national public school average. In eighth-grade reading, the average score for Catholic school students was 20 points higher than the national public-school average, or about two grade levels ahead.
While it is clear that the test score plunge was affected by the pandemic-related shutdowns, there are some blurry areas. For example, not every school in a given state closed when COVID hysteria gripped the nation, so state-by-state comparisons don’t necessarily yield conclusive data on the effect of online learning.
There is a cohort that is trying to dismiss the shutdowns as a cause for the terrible scores out of hand, however. Typical is Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson who writes “all the bitter back-and-forth between red and blue states about how quickly to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic was nothing but political theater, as far as test scores are concerned. Student performance suffered across the board, and it could take years to make up the ground we’ve lost.”
Not surprisingly, teacher union president Randi Weingarten, one of the shutdown’s prime perpetrators, sent out a tweet quoting from a part of Robinson’s column. Notably, neither Robinson nor Weingarten nor any of the other naysayers ever bothered to explain why kids in Catholic schools fared so much better on the test.
But the deniers are actually on to something, in the sense that there’s more to the problem than shuttered schools. In a RealClearEducation piece, penned before the latest NAEP results were announced, scholars Lance Izumi and Wenyuan Wu wrote, “Why Are Student Test Scores Plunging? Look at Politicized Education.”
The authors disclose that many students report increased ideological indoctrination in the classroom, and that is leading to weaker standards and lower expectations. “One California student reported that a teacher at his school told the class that perfectionism and striving for perfection was part of white supremacy culture. Another one of his teachers ‘made it seem like it was bad to have a good work ethic or to be supportive of meritocracy.’ In his school, grades were inflated, low grades were eliminated, late assignments were allowed, and multiple retakes of exams were permitted. Rigor simply disappeared.”
Additionally, the teaching of critical race theory and other forms of radical subject matter don’t leave as much time for traditional concepts such as reading and math. Many on the Left, of course, downplay the widespread nature of CRT in the classroom, more or less subjugating it to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” file. But two policy analysts at the Manhattan Institute show that CRT is most definitely being taught. Zach Goldberg and Eric Kaufman queried 18- to 20-year-old respondents (82.4 percent of whom attend public schools) “whether they had ever been taught in class or heard about from an adult at school each of six concepts—four of which are central to critical race theory.”
For CRT-related concepts, 62 percent reported “either being taught in class or hearing from an adult in school that ‘America is a systemically racist country’” and 69 percent said they were taught or heard that “white people have white privilege.” Also, 57 percent asserted that they learned that “white people have unconscious biases that negatively affect non-white people,” while 67 percent said they were exposed to the notion that “America is built on stolen land.” Additionally, 53 percent say they learned that “America is a patriarchal society.” And just for good measure, 51 percent disclose that they were taught or heard that “gender is an identity choice” regardless of biological sex.
Teacher hiring is also affected by the radical agenda. A blatant example of the new racialism came in March when the Minneapolis Public School system adopted a race-based layoff provision which stipulates that white teachers will be laid off or reassigned before “educators of color” in the event Minneapolis Public Schools needs to reduce staff.
Teacher training certainly has not escaped the CRT incursion. The Pacific Educational Group, a San Francisco-based consulting firm founded in 1992, believes that “systemic racism is the most devastating factor contributing to the diminished capacity of all people, and especially people of color and indigenous people, to achieve at the highest levels.”
The father of a high school student in Pennsylvania helped to expose this training scam by suing his local school district. After wrangling over confidentiality issues, it was revealed that documents explicitly citing critical race theory were emailed from 2019 to 2021 by Pacific Educational Group to district administrators in advance of various training seminars. A rubric dated February 4, 2020, encourages participants to “Deconstruct the Presence and role of Whiteness” in their lives.
A March 17, 2020 presentation lists “aspects and assumptions of white culture” in the United States. “Win at all costs,” “wealth = worth,” and “don’t show emotion” are front and center. “Planning for future” is also considered a blight that infects white culture.
The presentation also spells out five tenets of critical race theory to “better understand the critical intersection of race and schooling.” One tenet, the “permanence of racism,” is the idea that “racism is endemic to all our institutions, systems and structures” in the United States.
Clearly not every teacher takes this ideology into the classroom, but as the Manhattan Institute study shows, many do.
Another clue that it’s not just the shutdowns that have affected America’s youth is the sinking ACT scores. These tests are used for college admission, and the national average ACT score for the class of 2022 fell to 19.8 out of 36, down from 20.3 in 2021, according to data released this month by the nonprofit that administers the test. Looking through a longer lens, the news gets worse—this is the fifth consecutive year that ACT scores have declined. Hence, things were deteriorating long before the COVID-related lockdowns came to be. Also, the average score is now lower than it’s been since 1991.
So yes, the pandemic related shutdowns did damage but they are now in the rearview. The CRT trend continues unabated, however. Even sadder, a poll administered by researchers at USC in August-September reveals that almost half of all Americans have never heard of CRT or say they have heard of it, but don’t know anything about it.
While many parents are awakening to the reality that they must find out exactly what their kids are being taught, and abandoning their local public school if necessary, too many are still unaware that their school might be somewhat less than beneficial for their children. For the good of their kids and the future of the country, more parents need to get more involved in education matters soon. Very soon.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared at FrontPage magazine.