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Our Public Schools Are a National Disaster

A Commentary By Stephen Moore

Perhaps what's most distressing about the latest collapse in high school test scores is that no one seems to be very distressed.

You've probably heard the news that ACT scores have fallen for the sixth straight year. Our high school kids are less equipped for a job or college than at any time in three decades.

Why isn't anyone in Washington or anyone in our $800 billion education bureaucracy sounding the alarm and declaring this a national emergency? It certainly puts our national security, our technological superiority and our economic prosperity in grave danger.

Instead of outrage, it is almost as if Americans have become anesthetized to bad news about our kids.

One theory is that Americans feel about their local schools as they do toward Congress: They love their own representative but think the rest of the members are corrupt and incompetent.

Yes, there are some excellent public schools, and yes, there are thousands of great teachers.

But I live in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and we had to pull our kids out of the public schools because they were so bad -- and because they shut down during COVID.

I shudder to think what's going on in the Baltimore schools down the road.

Exactly 40 years ago, the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued its findings on the state of the schools in its 1983 report entitled "A Nation at Risk." Here was the grim conclusion: "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.

The nation never paid attention. If you think I'm blowing one bad report out of proportions, the National Assessment of Educational Progress report that came out earlier this year found similarly dismal student performance in the public schools.

Reading and math proficiency collapsed over the past four years in part because of the teachers unions' insistence that public school stay closed during COVID -- a national act of child abuse.

The Left obsesses about income inequality and the gap between rich and poor. Yet, they are so captive to the teachers unions that they do (SET ITAL) nothing (END ITAL) about what is arguably the most regressive policy in America: our failing public school system. The decline in test scores is only half the story. The other part of the story is that the biggest declines in learning and achievement are among the poorer families.

I'm the furthest thing from an education expert, but I have had five kids. It's pretty clear that three essential components to an enriching education are discipline in the classroom, high expectations and a classical curriculum. This isn't that complicated. It's not like solving a Rubik's Cube.

Today, most public schools fail all three of these standards.

California recently announced it is going to make climate change a standard part of the school curriculum. Really? They are going to scare the bejesus out of kids with a propaganda campaign telling them the world is coming to an end.

Why don't they just try phonics so kids can read?

The school blob's pitiful response to this abject failure to teach is to call for more money. We've tried that for 40 years.

Per student spending in the public schools after adjusting for inflation is up 50% in 30 years, which almost entirely inversely correlates with the continual test score slide.

The one glimmer of hope is the burgeoning school choice movement in America, which allows the dollars to follow the students and parents to choose the best schools for their kids -- public, private, Christian, Jewish, or whatever works.

Ten states this year have expanded school choice.

Meanwhile, the teachers unions argue with a straight face that school vouchers would hurt the public schools. Have they seen the test scores? How could they possibly perform worse?

Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and an economist with FreedomWorks. His latest book is "Govilla: How the Relentless Growth of Government Is Devouring Our Economy."


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See Other Commentaries by Stephen Moore.

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