Warning: This piece will make you angry.
Time to take a break from Trump TV and learn about a chronic, pervasive, under-reported national crisis severely impacting America’s current and future economy. This crisis may also help explain why a government guaranteed job program is potentially the next huge political wedge issue for the 2020 presidential election. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, such a program is supported by 46 percent of Americans.
But the core crisis is abysmal test scores from the “Nation’s Report Card.”
Test results released in April from both public and non-public school eighth and fourth graders reveal that 66 percent of eighth graders are “not proficient” in math and 64 percent are “not proficient” in reading. Yes, you read the right, two-thirds of the nation’s eighth graders!
Fourth graders fared slightly better with 60 percent “not proficient,” in math and 63 percent “not proficient” in reading.
The tests are administered every two years to fourth and eighth graders (but less frequently to twelfth graders) by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The “Nation’s Report Card” is a congressionally mandated project within the Department of Education.
Unfortunately, despite all the billions spent annually on education the biennial results stay roughly the same or worse in some states.
Look no further than NAEP’s Grade 12 “report card” from 2015 (most current data) illuminating how this education crisis morphs into a socio-economic crisis when millions of low-achieving high-school graduates enter the job market.
Here is the percentage of Grade 12 public and non-public school students at or above proficiency by subject and race in math and reading:
Math: 25 percent student average. By race: Asian 47 percent, white 32 percent, Hispanic 12 percent, African American, 7 percent.
Reading: 37 percent student average. By race: Asian 49 percent, white 46 percent, Hispanic 25 percent, African American 17 percent.
Writing: 27 percent all students.
Science: 22 percent all students.
U.S. History:12 percent all students.
This Grade 12 report card helps explain why those late-night show “people on the street” interview questions often elicit such uninformed, comical answers.
Moreover, with the national population rapidly growing more diverse, NAEP’s 2018 student achievement data by race is distressing especially in regards to Hispanic and African American eighth-grade math achievement —a developmental benchmark.
Percentage of 8th graders at or above math “proficiency” for last two test years:
White (2017) 44% (2015) 43%
African American (2017) 13% (2015) 13%
Hispanic (2017) 20% (2015) 19%
Asian: (2017) 64% (2015) 61%
Now let’s circle back to the aforementioned April 30 Rasmussen poll of likely voters finding that 46 percent of Americans support a “proposed federal government program that guarantees all Americans a job with health insurance.”
In fact, such a job program is gaining traction, most notably from three potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates —Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Therefore, expect to hear more about this socialist-like proposal leading up to the 2020 presidential primaries. Then, don’t be surprised when the concept eventually morphs into a hot-button or political wedge issue. That leads us to the question: “Is there a correlation between consistently low student achievement in the nation’s three largest racial groups and almost half of Americans supporting (at least in theory) a guaranteed federal job program?” I believe the answer is not just “yes,” but “hell yes.”
Responding to the NAEP’s report card, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a stern warning about the future economic implications of a low-skilled workforce. Haley Ast, the Chamber Foundation’s senior program coordinator, wrote:
“NAEP results show that there are too few students equipped with the skills they will need to succeed in college and the workforce. With more than half of our 4th graders scoring below grade level in reading and math, the businesses of tomorrow will not be able to employ the students of today.”
Compounding the problem are trends toward the elimination of menial jobs through workplace automation and robotics, in addition to a shrinking retail sector while numbers of low-skilled American workers are growing.
Our nation is quickly moving toward an unforgiving economy where low vs. high skill workers contribute to the ever-widening rich vs. poor gap resulting in a growing underclass that translates into a heavier reliance on government funding and services.
That reality politically explains why three 2020 Democrat hopefuls are proponents of a “pie in the sky” government guaranteed job program supported by close to half of Americans.
Furthermore, those same Democratic presidential wannabes instinctively know that class warfare is the next great domestic war. With a growing civilian “army” sustained by low student achievement in a hi-tech economy, America’s future will likely be politically dominated by the needs of the least skilled.
A “call to action” is what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation calls the National Report Card, “not just to those in the education system, but also to the larger community of policymakers and leaders who must do more to provide opportunities for all students.”
Does the overused phrase “provide opportunities for all students” need a total makeover? It sure appears that way since NAEP’s report card going back years proves that throwing billions of dollars at schools yields the same disturbing results.
Alternatively, should schools begin training for specific real-world jobs starting in eighth grade? It’s a radical concept contrary to our college-dominated K-12 education system. Still, it may be a viable option for millions of low-achieving students headed toward lifetimes of low-wage or even future, “government guaranteed” jobs.
The hard truth is future employment prospects for legions of low-achieving students are a massive growing problem clearly seen in the Nation’s Report Card. Thus, educators should encourage creative solutions from the private sector with the government offering financial support and incentives, but mostly cheering from the sidelines.