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Cal Thomas: Cheating the children out of an education

From the commentary: There is no excuse for this. Robbing a child of a good education is a form of abuse. It also deprives a nation of its future and ability to compete on the world economic and intellectual stage.

Eighth-grade students at Wilson Middle School in San Diego sit at a classroom table.
Eighth-grade students at Wilson Middle School in San Diego sit at a classroom table. National test scores show that eighth-graders in nearly every state across the nation, including California, saw drops in average math scores since the pandemic.
(Howard Lipin/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
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While President Biden is trying to win a court victory for his student debt forgiveness proposal, he should be focusing instead on the latest dreadful report by the National Assessment for Educational Progress.

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In what is called the nation's report card, NAEP has released its latest findings on the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders in such critical subjects as math and reading. It makes for unpleasant reading.

As The New York Times reports, the NAEP says students in most states and significantly across all demographic groups have experienced troubling setbacks in these subjects, representing the deepest declines recorded since the organization began compiling data in 1990.

While some blame the pandemic, which led to the closing of many schools and a shift to remote learning, the NAEP says the numbers were declining before the pandemic struck.

Interestingly, the NAEP conducted a study of public vs. private schools in 2005 and concluded "Students at grades 4, 8, and 12 in all categories of private schools had higher average scores in reading, mathematics, science, and writing than their counterparts in public schools. In addition, higher percentages of students in private schools performed at or above Proficient compared to those in public schools."

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That is one more argument favoring school choice.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FLA), who promoted school choice that has now been implemented in some form in more than three dozen states, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. Bush's response to the NAEP is a list of what he called "simple solutions" (imagine that) to the decline in especially math and reading proficiency.

Bush writes that parents — or any other trusted adult — "(who) were called on to step up when COVID-19 kept kids at home" can help close the learning gaps. Bush proposes a regimen of reading at least 20 minutes per day: "In addition, research has found that 30 minutes a week of extra math work can help students who are struggling or behind."

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People who are not math whizzes — like me — can find numerous helpful and easy-to-understand resources online.

Bush might have added that reducing the power of teachers unions to dictate educational content would also help, as would banning the teaching of subjects that advance a secular progressive agenda and have nothing to do with empowering children so they might someday find good-paying jobs and be able to support themselves.

Other nations are faring much better than the United States in educating their children in critical academic subjects. A 2017 report by the Pew Research Center "placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science." The latest NAEP report shows nothing has changed since then and, in fact, has gotten worse.

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There is no excuse for this. Robbing a child of a good education is a form of abuse. It also deprives a nation of its future and ability to compete on the world economic and intellectual stage. As Jeb Bush notes, the solutions are simple. The problem is and almost always has been that too many in the education and political establishments prefer the status quo, because for many it serves their interests more than the interests of the nation's children.

This Cal Thomas commentary is his opinion. He can be reached at cthomas@wctrib.com.

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