The health of U.S. public and charter schools

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 1st of May, 2018.

Glad to have you along today. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

First up on The World and Everything in It: the health of U.S. public and charter schools.

Every other year, students in fourth and eighth grades take a test to assess proficiency in math and reading. The test is The National Assessment of Educational Progress. You will an analyst refer to it by the initialism NAEP.

Strong scores tend to indicate strong schools. In the last decade, scores have flatlined, with little change from year to year.

REICHARD: Well, the 2017 results are in. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has this report.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Educators and policy experts eagerly awaited the results of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress results, hoping to see at least some national gains in math and reading. But the news wasn’t good.

Overall test scores barely changed from 2015 to 2017.

Here’s Lindsey Burke with the Heritage Foundation.

BURKE: What’s concerning is that we’re seeing this trend and really stagnant outcomes on the NAEP for kids in fourth and eighth grade.

Eighth-grade reading and math scores both increased by just one point on a scale of 1 to 500. While fourth-grade reading dropped a point and math scores remained unchanged.

Testing showed just 36 percent of eighth-graders are proficient in reading. And that’s some of the better news, because it represents a 2 percent increase.

Only one state, Florida, posted gains in both fourth and eighth-grade math, while an astounding 33 states saw declines in math in at least one grade. Not a single state increased in fourth-grade reading performance.

BURKE: So overall no significant changes or no meaningful changes for kids across the country in both fourth and eighth grade reading and math.

What’s behind the disappointing test scores? Suspicions vary. Some education analysts say schools are still catching up from reduced education spending during the Great Recession while others blame a lack of test-based accountability in states.

Burke believes the root problem is too much federal intervention in schools. Education spending has nearly tripled in the last four decades, but that money comes with rules and regulations that add up to heavy compliance costs.

BURKE: There have been reports over the decades from the Government Accountability Office and other federal agencies that, that roughly 60, perhaps 70 percent of federal education spending actually makes its way back to the classroom.

Also concerning was that the report shows the achievement gap between students scoring at the top and the bottom continues to grow. 

So what’s the solution? That one state that scored math gains may offer some clues. In Florida educators have incentivized teacher pay, stopped automatic grade promotions, and moved toward more school choice. Those changes and more have translated to sustained gains over the last 15 years.

As Peggy Carr of the National Center for Education Statistics put it, “Something very good is happening in Florida.”

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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