What has not been truly known, until new data was recently released, was just how badly student achievement had fallen well before the lockdowns took their toll.
Updates to The Nation’s Report Card, our only nationwide assessment of student achievement, show bleak and distressing results. In fact, they show the first recorded decline in math and reading scores for 13-year-olds in the 50-year history of the assessment.
Consider but a few examples of just how bad things are:
Math scores for the lowest performing 10 percent of 13-year-olds fell by 13 points since 2012. Their scores are the same now as they were in 1982.
Reading scores for the lowest performing 10 percent of 9-year-olds fell by 7 points since 2012.
Math scores for 13-year-old black students fell eight points, while Hispanic students’ scores declined by 4 points—only further widening the gap between them and their white peers.
Not even high-performing students recorded any measurable achievement gains. There wasn’t a single bright spot to be found anywhere in the data. No student, of any age, of any subgroup, saw their performance improve since 2012. Most saw declines.
It bears repeating: this is all pre-pandemic data. Every indication is that the achievement data we’ll get this spring will show massive declines on top of these already abysmal results.
The education establishment would have you believe the lack of results stems from a lack of spending. But that is a total falsehood.
When the U.S. Department of Education was established in 1979—a pay-off from then-President Jimmy Carter to the teachers union bosses who funded his campaign—federal taxpayers have spent more than one trillion dollars on programs explicitly designed to close the achievement gap.
That doesn’t include what families are forced to spend at the state level. Per-pupil spending has nearly tripled since the 1960s, and today American taxpayers spend, on average, 35 percent more per pupil than every other major developed nation.
Yet all that spending clearly has not moved the needle when it comes to results.