Education Opportunity in America Isn’t the Problem: It May Be Just Us, For Decades Now

The Setting: Media’s Mayhem Reporting Recent Scores

In recent months the Associated Press and other news entities have been reporting the recent release of assessment test results from some public-school districts nationwide.  The overall tone of the reporting has been grim with repetitive statements that these declines in math and reading score are a result of the “covid slump” and further evidence that students being absent from physical classrooms spells disaster for their scholastic progress: “massive crisis” said Stanford education professor Sean Reardon as reported by the Education AP writers on October 28, 2022: https://trib.com/news/national/a-massive-crisis-learning-setbacks-show-covids-toll-on-kids-a-district-by-district-analysis/article_f2f92c58-e717-58f7-8ff5-11dccb80eabb.html?utm_source=trib.com&utm_campaign=%2Fnewsletter-templates%2Fmarketing%2Fspecial&utm_medium=PostUp&utm_content=378f4207005ab9d46b50cf2d8c09c15955b07b75

Yet if we were to take a closer analysis of some school districts like Wyoming’s towns of Clearmont and Arvada, it was also found that “third graders topped the state for reading and writing scores last year, with 75.5% of them in the proficient and advanced categories.” (from www.cowboystatedaily.com September 27, 2022 article entitled “Some Small Wyoming Towns Dominate on Test Scores While Largest School Districts Languish.” https://cowboystatedaily.com/2022/09/27/%EF%BF%BCsmall-towns-shine-on-school-tests/

As the article notes, Sheridan county superintendent Chase Christensen “said he’s new to the job, but so far has been ‘amazed’ with the entire elementary school staff, their willingness to try new strategies and push the whole school forward.” Immediately we can note that in this little corner of America, there is support for the teaching staff to be creative in how they approach the needs of their students, yielding wonderful results in their reading and math proficiency.  

“Christensen also credited the small community and small class sizes in the district, which was an advantage reported by many of the top-scoring districts…Also, many parents are for the kids.”

“It’s clear that education is valued and supported,” he said. “We’ve got great parents, and teachers who want to be here.”

This particular area in Wyoming where their students showed steady growth in their technology access and increased scores, the argument that America’s students are destined for disaster because of the 2020 pandemic can fall short.  

Also lacking from the AP post-Covid report card are measurements of charter, private, online, hybrid and exclusively home-schooled education programs.  It’s impossible, therefore, to have a comprehensive picture of how American students have fared.   The unfortunate fact is that this release of scores is not that much different from the results of similar assessments of public-school students prior to 2020.  The effectiveness of our nation’s education systems in general have been in question for decades.

Op-Eds Opine the Decline of Education

Within days of each other, respective writers from The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson and Catherine Rampell would write about the ominous test scores released earlier this fall.

First came Rampell’s article on November 4, “Boosting the Middle Class By Degrees”: her approach comes at it from the lack of enrollments in higher education, juxtaposing it with statements like “What’s happening? Usually when the economy is bad, higher education does well, and vice versa.” She is making the argument that she’s confused why there is a marked drop in enrollments for colleges and universities.

She continues “when job opportunities are scarce, people seek shelter in the higher education, where they can upgrade their skills and make themselves more marketable. In the pandemic recession, though, people avoided college even though unemployment was sky-high…possibly because the traditional college experience became less attractive while classes were conducted remotely.”She was explaining that the threat of an only online class experience for higher education was an aversion to prospective students. I agree with her premise but still believe there is a place for hybrid learning that would include both online and in-person classroom experience.

The very next day following Catherine Rampell’s publication, Robinson’s released on November 5, 2022 entitled “Plummeting Tests Scores Not a Red vs. Blue Issue” and starts with a confusing monologue statement: “It turns out that all the bitter back-and-forth between red and blue states about how quickly to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic was nothing but political theater, as far as test scores are concerned.”  

I read his op-ed several times and my initial thought is that he was trying to argue that because the low testing scores were pervasive, that’s why he says that it didn’t matter whether or not schools were re-opened sooner than others.  However, I also recognize that there is a fallacy in his supposition because the data available is not enough to rule out that those students who were in school earlier or attended to by their caregivers non-withstanding if their schools were “open”.

Robinson continues with his ire, “Enough, already, with the performative outrage about imaginary critical race theory, a handful of transgender students who want to play sports and what pronouns teacher can and cannot use.” Again, here I find his anger misdirected.  

As an educator and friend to many others active in school systems across our nation, I’ve witnessed unfortunate things in our American education system that have accumulated to bear the fruit of waning literacy and work ethic in our students. Also, teacher burnout was a thing before the Covid-19 pandemic made it a constant headline.  The over-emphasis on standardized testing continued to fatigue veteran and new teachers alike from the turn of the 21st century onward.

When our nation was immersed in the chaos of the Covid-19 2020 year, I attempted to pitch a couple Op-Eds to newspapers like the Wall Street Journal like this one and was grateful for the input I received from friends and colleagues who’ve been in the trenches of American education for decades as well: https://medium.com/@greekramona/pandemic-pause-on-americas-education-system-e92937effc9a

Author’s Work and Education Background

Personally I’ve worked in various aspects of our nation’s education system: collegiate work as an “America Reads” tutor during President Clinton’s administration, a teaching position at Bannockburn School in Illinois’ public school system, a legislative aide to a U.S. congressman during the “No Child Left Behind” George W. Bush administration years, a graduate student for Education and Business Administration and today as a hybrid homeschooling parent of three children for nearly 15 years as well as an online academy educator.  

However, I don’t think of myself as a so-called expert on education because as I’ve been teaching my own children for years: I believe that children and adults alike are in “school” together every day.  A person begins their learning journey from the moment they are alive and while the details of when that moment actually occurs might be a political subject up for debate—we can all agree that a newborn infant is learning the moment they are born.

Just as a garden needs good soil/nutrients, sunlight and water to yield crops via photosynthesis, a student needs support through educators, family and surroundings to better equip them in their natural learning processes. Simply put, teacher + student + family = student’s success in education. In order for our American education system to evolve and thrive to keep up with the needs of our next generation, we must be willing to adapt to new ways of teaching and engagement with our students. Handing our kids technological gadgets as a social pacifier before they can speak words is an example of one of our recent mistakes as we learn new things alongside having to raise the next generation.

When our nation was immersed in the chaos of the Covid-19 2020 year, I attempted to pitch a couple Op-Eds to newspapers like the Wall Street Journal like this one and was grateful for the input I received from friends and colleagues who’ve been in the trenches of American education for decades as well: https://medium.com/@greekramona/pandemic-pause-on-americas-education-system-e92937effc9a

Calling Out the Our Collective Failure

The collective idea being shared in recent months that our nation’s students are helpless to learn and achieve better reading and math scores without a well-funded federal education system in place troubles me greatly.  It seems the speed of our advanced connectivity in cyberspace over recent decades hasn’t translated into our ability to evolve in our understanding of what our children truly need to learn and grow.  

Incidentally, I propose that it could be that our adult addictions to and distractions with our electronic devices like smartphones loaded with countless apps like Twitter and TikTok have contributed to an environment of apathy and neglect that has influenced the decline in our nation’s literacy scores. It doesn’t matter if a student is able to attend an intensive private school that costs thousands of dollars a year, if that student doesn’t have engaging educators and a home situation that includes parents or caregivers who are interactive in their learning program both inside and outside the classroom then the student is more prone to fail.  

In the political arena of education politics, I recognize that my home state of Florida has been the epicenter of social media outbursts with the recent marketing of polarizing terms like “Don’t Say Gay” affecting our state’s education system per our Governor Ron DeSantis.  This goes back to The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson having such an issue with the political debates, in particular as it references our state.

In short, please allow me to attempt to diffuse this offensive verbiage immediately: Your kids can learn about gays or whatever else in Florida if you feel this is such a concern.  Truly, please ask yourselves when was the last time your student checked out several books from their library and felt they couldn’t consume information as they feel compelled? 

The embarrassing reply to most parents that comes to mind is that your student has NOT been checking out library books on a regular basis. In fact, many are hard-pressed to say if they actually read physical books.  I’m not trying to judge anyone but I am trying to redirect misallocated ire by well-intentioned individuals—especially actual parents to school-aged children.

While these Covid and culture wars have been raging in our nation,  there have been countless teachers, parents and others who have stayed focused on the actual needs of their students. They’ve continued to work at equipping them with the basic tools for learning like literacy and understanding of how to tackle problems like mathematics and scientific discovery.  

My hope and prayer as this year comes to a close is that we’ll be more positive in the realm of education despite data or dark times. That parents recognize that they are their children’s first and most important teacher and that whatever path they take for their education, what matters is their love and presence in their lives.

R.V.S.B.

As an aside, please recall that many of us grew up looking at models of dinosaurs who were scaly and gray and now if you walk into an exhibit like ours at the Cox Science Museum and Aquarium in West Palm Beach, Florida.   There are dinosaurs with colorful feathers—a true testament that learning continues for all of us, adults and adolescents alike!

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