As the Washington Post put it this week in its detailed report on the state of American education, public education is facing a crisis of epic proportions. Most people knew that long-shuttered schools and hurriedly assembled remote learning programs would harm student achievement. The emerging data confirms our worst fears. According to the Post, one leading national assessment found that, among third-graders, 39% scored below grade level in math, compared to the usual 29%. More upsetting, because third grade is a pivotal year in developing reading skills, 38% of students failed to reach grade level, as opposed to the usual 31%.
The Oklahoma data are no better. In the pre-2021-2022 school year assessment, 44.3% of kindergartners, 51% of first-grade students, 53.6% of second-grade students, and 47.7% of third-grade students were classified as “at risk” in reading. Compare this assessment to 2015-2016, when 36.3% of kindergartners, 39.7% of first-graders, 40.1% of second-graders, and 40.1% of third-grade students were classified as at risk in reading. The performance testing conducted last spring told a similar story as the number of Oklahoma students testing at grade level or above in reading, science, and math, except for one subject in one grade, significantly dropped in every subject in every grade.
Any hopes that this school year might bring a return to full in-person learning and revitalized institutions were dashed by shortages – even before the omicron variant made the situation infinitely worse – in faculty, substitute teachers, bus drivers and other staff. Facing schools mired in disarray, more and more families have decided to leave public schools, with a nearly 3% drop in public school enrollment this year.