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Back to school? Upon further reflection, why?

Back to school? Upon further reflection, why?

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In one fashion or another, the education of our children will resume in a matter of weeks. To parents in dire need of child care, the prospect of children returning to school is cause for rejoicing. Working parents have been quite vocal about the burden created by young children at home.

And that’s a serious problem. But how often do we hear parents lament that their kids aren’t learning anything while schools are closed? Shouldn’t public schools be more than glorified day care centers?

I’m always on the lookout for serious education reform proposals, but they are few and far between. This, despite the fact that ignorance of civics and American history is the norm, and about half of our kids can barely read. We should consider nothing short of a draconian overhaul.

Every few years, the establishment introduces a “revolutionary” new program that ends up like its predecessors: the public policy equivalent of a resounding, skin-blistering belly-flop from the high-dive. The latest example here on the local front is North Carolina’s much-ballyhooed “Read to Achieve” initiative, which was designed to abolish the “social promotion” of third-graders who struggle to read.

But very few kids have been forced to repeat third grade, and, according to an article in these pages on Jan. 10, “reading scores have declined since the program began.” Belly-flops can be highly amusing, of course, but they’re not nearly as funny when illiterate kids are shoved off the high dive.

The average reading proficiency rate in Guilford County Schools is 43%, and falling. On the 2019 NAEP reading assessment, the district’s fourth- and eighth-graders scored even lower than they had in 2017.

When confronted with these shortcomings, many educators will not express regret or strive to make improvements; they will pooh-pooh academic standards. When asked about why so many struggling third-graders are nevertheless ushered along to fourth grade, North Carolina’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, Mariah Morris, “pointed to how state law says proficiency is only one factor in determining whether a student is promoted.”

The education establishment’s priorities have been out of whack for decades. Typical of the mindset was an op-ed in these pages a few months ago by Robert Pianta, dean of the school of education at the University of Virginia, from whom we discovered “what ought to be the No. 1 educational priority: higher teacher salaries.”

It seems to me that teaching kids how to read should be the top priority.

Last week we learned that the State Board of Education has delayed new social studies standards “so that more research can be done into the best ways to teach difficult topics such as slavery and racism.” Perhaps reading instruction could be curtailed to allow more time for nation-bashing and liberal indoctrination.

With all of this in mind, I was intrigued by a recent headline in National Review: “Destroy the Public Education System,” by David Harsanyi. It’s a well-written catalogue of the system’s failures.

“State-run schools,” Harsanyi writes, have “created millions of civic illiterates who are disconnected from long-held communal values and national identity.” Witness the buffoonish nihilists and anarchists who destroy monuments dedicated to abolitionists and other great Americans.

Most of us have read multiple articles about the ignorance of American youth. Harsanyi writes about a recent study which found that 60% of Americans would fail a U.S. Citizenship Test. As you’d expect, older folks performed fairly well (74% could pass), but respondents 45 and younger thoroughly embarrassed themselves: only 19% could pass the exam. That is striking evidence of the failure of public education.

Maybe we shouldn’t send the kids back to school.

Charles Davenport Jr. is a News & Record columnist. His column runs the first and third Sundays of the month. Contact him via email:


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