Lessons for Taxpayers from Record Low SAT Scores

Nearly 1.7 million high school students took the SAT college aptitude exam this year—a record high. But the good news appears to stop there. According to Bloomberg Business:

Students in the high school class of 2015 turned in the lowest critical reading score on the SAT college entrance exam in more than 40 years, with all three sections declining from the previous year [math, writing, and science].

The SAT reports on the percentages of students earning College Readiness Benchmark scores, indicators suggesting a strong likelihood that they will pass college-level courses in core subjects. The results indicate alarming numbers of students are not prepared.

Less than two-thirds of American college-bound high school students earned benchmark scores in English (64 percent), dropping to below half in reading (46 percent), math (42 percent), and science (38 percent). Less than one-third of college-bound students (28 percent) earned benchmark scores in all four core subjects. (For individual state reports, go here.)

Some might be tempted to blame such low scores on the growing number of English learner students taking the SAT. This is a mistake because frankly, a significant majority of native speakers aren’t performing well in core subjects either. According to the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, just 36 percent of eighth grade public school students are proficient or better in English and math, dropping to 33 percent in science and 27 percent in writing. (Eighth grade is the latest level for which scores across subjects and student groups are available.)

Obviously, student learning doesn’t seem to improve once they enter high school—even though average per-pupil spending now exceeds $13,000.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.  Over a corresponding 50 year period, presidents and DC politicians have all promised a federal “fix” to poor educational performance, staring with LBJ’s Great Society programs.

Major programs of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, dubbed No Child Left Behind by President George W. Bush, have not worked after decades of tinkering.  Case in point:

  • By 1984, illiteracy will be eliminated. That didn’t work.
  • By 2000, high school graduation rates would reach 90 percent. Nope.
  • Also by 2000, American students were supposed to be global leaders in math and science. That didn’t work, either.
  • By 2014 all students will be proficient in reading and math. Nope again.

Rather than learning from history, we’re allowing Congress to reauthorize the NCLB/ESEA rather than simply ending it and returning funds to taxpayers. Even worse, most states recklessly signed on to Common Core long before the standards were even finalized.

And as far as I can recall, not one Common Core advocate has ever explained why this time we should expect different–much less better–results from continued federal “leadership” in education.

What we should be doing is putting parents in charge of their children’s education dollars by enacting education savings accounts, or ESAs. So far five states have done so: Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Nevada. Under such programs parents use funds the state would have sent to public schools for their preferred education providers instead, including private, online, or home schools, as well as tutoring and other services. And, leftover funds can be used for future expenses such as college.

Parents’ chosen providers have to get real results or risk losing students to other providers that will. Competition for students and funding works. Heavy-handed “accountability” mandates and more empty promises from government don’t.

Until we put the real experts back in charge of education, namely children’s parents, we can expect more over-promising and under-delivering from politicians in our states and Washington, DC, and worst of all, more under-performance from students who haven’t mastered basic subjects.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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