There is little point in sugar-coating the dumbing down of America and the consequences attending the decline demonstrated by plummeting test scores. Recent revelations of a steep drop in US national basic math and reading skills put the long-term US capability to sustain technology parity with global competitors at risk. Some blame the COVID pandemic. Writing for Liberty Nation, Kelli Ballard portrayed school kids unable to attend regular in-person classes as victims. And indeed they were. The alarming impacts of the shutdown of America’s public schools have been wide-ranging.
A marginally educated society can portend dangerous consequences. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) statistics, or “America’s Report Card,” as the numbers are sometimes called, are not encouraging. The Washington Times’ Tom Howell Jr. explained:
“A paltry 26% of eighth graders were considered proficient in math in 2022 — down from 34% in 2019, which was prior to the pandemic and the most recent year in which the national report card was issued. Fourth graders in over 40 states saw their math scores decline. Only 36% were considered proficient, down from 41%.”
Howell characterized the diminishing quality of output by US primary and secondary public schools as the most significant deterioration since 1990, when the NAEP began sampling test data from fourth and eighth graders. What then is the prognosis for eighth graders in five years when these students are entering the job market or applying to college? One could surmise they would be at a marked disadvantage at a time when the United States depends on their skills and abilities for maintaining a competitive edge in productivity and innovation.
Declining Student Test Scores Impact National Security
In their Foreign Affairs article “America’s Education Crisis Is a National Security Threat,” Nicholas Eberstadt and Evan Abramsky make the case that education drives the relative success of countries in global economic, technological, and military competition. “Education is a crucial component of human capital and, by extension, of national might. A better-educated citizenry means a more productive economy and thus greater military potential,” the authors explained. It’s clear the United States is not meeting the critical need for educated talent.
US students participating in international math and science competitions fell from second place to third from 2020 to 2021. So, where does China, America’s number one economic and military threat, rank overall in education? In 2018, China took the first spot in mathematics, science, and reading. In math, the United States was just above Belarus and Malta in 38th place. The statistics were hardly better in science and reading, coming in 19th and 14th, respectively, edging out Sweden and Belgium in the former and the United Kingdom and Japan in the latter.
Poorly Educated Recruits Challenge Military Services
National security suffers when soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, and Guardians are in short supply because so many potential recruits haven’t been schooled to reach the necessary standards. A sad commentary, to be sure, but special programs are being developed by the US military to make up for this widespread failure to reach the required education levels. “In response to declining test scores, the Army established a pilot prep course for those considering enlisting but fall below the minimum standards in academics and physical fitness,” Liberty Nation correspondent Jeff Charles explained.
Blaming COVID may be a red herring. “Even before the pandemic upended school, test scores in both reading and math declined for 13-year-old students, the first drop registered in a half century in testing meant to measure student proficiency over time,” Antonia Leonard pointed out in her Princeton University-sponsored article “How Does America Rank in Education?” The slippery slope downward in academic achievement is not new. However, the fresh batch of failing data should remind us that deficits in educating our youth not only diminish their opportunities but also endanger our economic and military future. Americans should demand better.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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