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October
17
2022

Why Are Student Test Scores Plunging? Look at Politicized Education
Lance Izumi & Wenyuan Wu

Recent national student test scores showed a massive decline in learning in reading and math. This achievement implosion has several explanations – one is the increasing politicization of classroom instruction, which is reducing rigor and diverting attention from improving students’ foundational knowledge and skills.

From 2020 to 2022, reading scores for nine-year-olds on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the nation’s report card, registered the largest decline since the 1990s, while math scores declined for the first time ever. These score comparisons were the first nationally representative snapshot of student learning during the pandemic.

While school closures and ineffective distance-learning efforts were important reasons for the slide in test scores, former North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue, who chairs the board responsible for the NAEP, warned, “We can’t keep blaming COVID.”

Indeed, other important reasons exist for the nosedive in student performance.

Many students report that increasing ideological indoctrination in the classroom is leading to weaker standards and lower expectations.

One California student reported that a teacher at his school told the class that perfectionism and striving for perfection was part of white supremacy culture. Another one of his teachers “made it seem like it was bad to have a good work ethic or to be supportive of meritocracy.” In his school, grades were inflated, low grades were eliminated, late assignments were allowed, and multiple retakes of exams were permitted. Rigor simply disappeared.

To not teach hard work and to not teach a work ethic is going to be disastrous for the kids who kind of cruise along in public schools,” the student reflected.

The ideological instruction that this student experienced is happening across the country. It is pushed by special interests such as teachers’ unions.

The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the country, pushes the critical race theory-inspired position that systemic racism permeates all American institutions and must be taught in our schools so that kids challenge “the systems of oppression that have harmed people of color.” In 2021, the NEA adopted a resolution that would mandate race-based ideological instruction in public schools across the country.

According to the resolution, the union intends to disseminate its own study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” The NEA specifically says that critical race theory is one of the methods that should be used to teach these topics in school districts around the country.

Unions are also using race to undermine teacher quality in the classroom. In a recent announcement, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers reached an agreement with Minneapolis Public Schools to lay off white teachers regardless of seniority or merit before laying off minority teachers in the name of “anti-bias, anti-racism.”

As one analyst noted, the Minneapolis agreement seeks “to achieve ‘equity’ by reducing standards and replacing white teachers,” while the “sensible (and legal) goal is to expand the pool and retention rate of all qualified teachers.”

When confronted with the reality of historically low academic performance, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, attempted to flip the script, blaming conservatives and Trump-era education policies for harming learning.

Yet, many teachers disagree and are speaking out against politicized classrooms.

Virginia public school teacher Laura Morris quit her job and told her school board, which had pushed race-based indoctrination, “I quit your policies, I quit your training, and I quit being a cog in a machine that that tells me to push highly politicized agendas to our most vulnerable constituents – children.

The politicization of classroom instruction leads not only to indoctrination but also, as the California student noted, to lower student achievement. “It’s not a school’s place to impose on the students any viewpoint,” he observes. “What we need to do is really encourage achievement for all people.”

 

 

Lance Izumi is Koret Senior Fellow and Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the highly praised 2012 book Obama’s Education Takeover (Encounter Books), which details the centralization of education policymaking in Washington under President Obama. Izumi is also the co-author of the groundbreaking book Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice and co-executive producer of the award-winning 2009 PBS-broadcast film documentary Not as Good As You Think: The Myth of the Middle Class School. He also appears in Academy Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim’s 2010 education film documentary Waiting for Superman, which was voted best U.S. documentary at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Izumi is an editorial advisor for School Reform News.

Izumi is a member of the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges, the largest system of higher education in the nation.  First appointed to the Board in 2004, he is now the Board’s longest serving member.  He served two terms as president of the Board of Governors from 2008 through 2009.


Wenyuan Wu holds a Ph.D. in International Studies from the University of Miami and is the Executive Director of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. She previously served in the same capacity for the historic No on 16 Campaign. Dr. Wu has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, National Review, NBC News, ABC News, NPR, Quartz, Ed Source, College Fix and others. She writes for Minding the Campus of the National Association of Scholars and sits on the board of Parents Defending Education Action. 

Since late 2020, Wenyuan has focused her advocacy and research work on combatting the intrusion of critical race theory (CRT) in American public life. In addition to participating in frequent public speaking engagements on the topic and giving expert testimony in various state legislature hearings, she and her team launched a website (www.rejectcrt.org) to provide practical resources for everyday Americans facing CRT. Wenyuan also authored a booklet on CRT in spring 2021 and organized a bi-partisan and multi-racial coalition against CRT. In 2022, she is working on a book project with Dr. Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institution on CRT’s propagation in public education and empirical cases of a growing counter-movement against CRT. Wenyuan can be reached at [email protected]

 

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