With new research showing widespread underperformance among middle class students in states across the country, Nevada’s recently enacted nearly universal education savings account (ESA) program could not have come at a better time.
Under Nevada’s new program, for parents earning above the low-income level, the state will deposit funds totaling 90 percent of the average statewide support per pupil, or roughly $5,100, into an individual education savings account for each child. For parents earning below the low-income level, or who have children with special needs, the state will deposit 100 percent of the average statewide support per pupil, around $5,700, into the child’s ESA. Parents can withdraw funds from their ESAs to pay for a variety of educational services, such as private school tuition, distance-learning online programs, and tutoring.
Failing Middle Class Students
Giving all parents, regardless of their income level, the opportunity to choose the best education for their children makes sense. Not only because many middle class parents, struggling from paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet, don’t have the resources to afford private school tuition or tutoring services, but also because many public schools are failing to raise the performance of middle class students. Nevada is a perfect example.
On the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the nation’s report card, 59 percent of non-low-income Nevada 8th graders failed to score at the proficient level on both the 2013 NAEP reading and math exams.
Students at many predominantly middle class Nevada public schools also fail to achieve proficiency on the state’s own math and reading tests.
For example, Incline Village, located on the shores of beautiful Lake Tahoe in northern Nevada, is a popular vacation destination for skiers and golfers. At Incline Middle School, only one of every four students is classified as low-income. Yet, on the state’s 2013 math exam, half of Incline Middle School’s 8th graders failed to score at or above the proficient level.
A National Problem
New research shows such underperformance among middle class students is not limited to Nevada.
A series of recent studies by the Pacific Research Institute found large percentages of middle class students in states as different as Michigan and Texas are failing to achieve proficiency in reading and math.
In Michigan, 55 percent of non-low-income eighth graders failed to reach the proficient mark on the 2013 NAEP reading exam, and 58 percent of these mostly middle class students failed to reach proficiency on the NAEP 8th grade math exam.
In addition, out of the 677 Michigan traditional public schools with predominantly non-low-income student populations—what many would call “middle class” schools—316, or 47 percent, had half or more of their students in at least one grade level fail to meet or exceed the proficient level on the 2013 Michigan reading or math exams.
At Scott Elementary School in the Lansing suburb of DeWitt, which CNN Money once named to its list of 100 best places to live in the United States, only 13 percent of the school’s students were categorized as “low income” in 2013, but 60 percent of Scott Elementary 3rd graders failed to meet or exceed the proficient level on the 2013 Michigan math exam.
Travails in Texas
In Texas, 54 percent of non-low-income 8th graders failed to achieve proficiency on the 2013 NAEP reading exam, and 47 percent failed to reach proficiency on the 8th grade math exam.
Out of the 1,115 Texas traditional public schools with predominantly non-low-income student populations, 672, or 60 percent, had half or more of their students in at least one grade level failing to meet or exceed the state’s recommended benchmark of proficiency on Texas’ reading or math tests in 2013.
At Cottonwood Creek Elementary School in Coppell, a well-to-do suburb of Dallas, only 4 percent of students were classified as “low income” in 2013. On the Texas reading exam, 52 percent of the school’s 3rd graders failed to hit the state’s final recommended benchmark of proficiency, and 68 percent of third graders failed to achieve the recommended proficiency level on the state math exam.
The bottom line is many of the public schools in this country that serve middle class students are not as good as people think they are. It is therefore critical for states to enact programs, such as Nevada’s groundbreaking education savings accounts, to give all parents the ability to choose the best educational options for their children. Choice is a right for all, not just for some.
Lance Izumi ([email protected]) is Koret Senior Fellow and senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the 2015 study “Not as Good as You Think: Why Middle-Class Parents in Michigan Should Be Concerned about Their Local Public Schools” and the 2014 study “Not as Good as You Think: Why Middle-Class Parents in Texas Should Be Concerned about Their Local Public Schools.”
Image by Ken Teegardin.
Alicia Chang and Lance Izumi, “Not as Good as You Think: Why Middle-Class Parents in Texas Should Be Concerned about Their Local Public Schools,” Pacific Research Institute: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/not-good-you-think-why-middle-class-parents-texas-should-be-concerned-about-their-l
Anne Schieber, “Affluent School Districts Don’t Guarantee Better Academic Performance,” Michigan Capitol Confidential: http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/21293
Lance Izumi, “Lance Izumi: Suburban Lansing’s public schools underperform,” Lansing State Journal: http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/opinion/contributors/viewpoints/2015/05/21/lance-izumi-suburban-lansings-public-schools-underperform/27384411/