If Public Education Were a Business, It Would Be Bankrupt

Published October 31, 2023

There has been, for some time now, optimism about a post-Covid recovery for American public school students, but sadly, there is no good news to be had.

Looking through a long lens, government-run education has been an enterprise rife with failure. The National Commission on Excellence in Education released a report in 1983 titled “A Nation at Risk,” which used dire language, asserting that “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.”

The report also stated: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Well, that war is still on, and it has been a massacre. A Gallup poll from earlier this year revealed that just 26% of Americans have a “great deal/fair amount” of confidence in public schools. To wit….

ACT scores

The average scores on the American College Testing (ACT) exams, which are used for college admission, have fallen the last six years in a row and are the worst since 1991. The average scores for reading, math, and science all fell below benchmark levels that are necessary for students to have a chance at succeeding in their first year of college.

To make things even worse, the education establishment’s “fix” for the problem is to put lipstick on the proverbial pig. According to an ACT research report, while students’ ACT scores have deteriorated, student course grades have increased sharply.

The K-12 proficiency problem

The ACT downturn is hardly surprising if you look at the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, which show that nationwide, 29% of 8th-graders are proficient in reading, and just 26 % are proficient in math.

In California, the most recent Smarter Balanced test scores released in late October indicate that just 46.7% of students are meeting literacy standards, and a meager 34.6% are proficient in math. The tests are given to all students in grades 3–8 and grade 11.

Big cities, notably, are not faring well. In Los Angeles, proficiency rates are 41.2% in English and a paltry 30.5% in math.

In Chicago, minorities are especially poorly educated, with 11% of Black and 17% of Hispanic students reading at grade level.

But Los Angeles and Chicago schools are exemplary compared to Baltimore, where the latest NAEP scores show that just 10% of 4th-graders and 15% of 8th-graders are proficient in reading. Additionally, at 13 Baltimore high schools, not one student tested proficient on the 2023 state math exam.

Students aren’t showing up

Additionally, as reported by The 74two out of three students were enrolled in public schools with high or extreme rates of chronic absenteeism during the 2021-22 school year – more than double the rate in 2017-18. Students who miss at least 10% of the school year – for any reason – are considered chronically absent.

Also, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 35 states and more than two-thirds of school districts are serving fewer students than they did five years before the pandemic shutdowns. Six and a half million more students missed at least 10% or more of school days in the 2021-22 year than in 2017-18, which translates to 14.7 million students being chronically absent.