Let’s not make the mistake of blaming it all on the pandemic

A new report demonstrates the decline in math and reading ability of elementary students caused by the interruption of classroom learning during the pandemic. This seems especially true for students with limited or no access to home computers, tablets, etc.

No doubt the pandemic will claim the headlines for poor math and reading skill scores, but this is not a new story. US students have generally had poor proficiency in key areas, especially among minorities.

The standardized test scores are especially concerning given that before the pandemic experts were already sounding the alarm about high rates of students across the nation not meeting basic proficiency in reading and math.

“The data prior to the pandemic did not reflect an education system that was on the right track,” said U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “The pandemic simply made it worse. It took poor performance and dropped it down even further.”

From the Los Angeles Times

So, who is to blame, teachers, school boards, parents, politicians?



  1. I read an article (10/27/2022) that found Catholic schools outperformed national, charter, and public-school averages for black, Hispanic, and low-income students as well – on all four NAEP tests. “Using a core competency-based curriculum, with clear and enforced expectations, is a hallmark of Catholic education”, according to the article.

    Imagine teaching the basics.
    I am sure that parental involvement also helped here too.


  2. I can’t disagree with any of the comments. There is plenty of blame for all involved. I do wish that Governors would quit meddling with education as well as Presidents. Hold parents, school boards, superintendents and teachers to a high standard and kids to an even higher standard since they have the most to lose in the system.


  3. Data may be misleading. Averages are often misleading.

    A better measure would be the 50th percentile. My bet is that there are a whole bunch of school districts well above and pulling the average up, while the majority are substantially below the average. That is, I believe the median is noticeably below the average … that the 5 point and 7 point reductions would be greater at the median.

    Just as important, if they can’t read and add, how did they get to the 4th grade? Who promoted them? Why do we insist on a grade/age education structure when promotion should be subject by subject (as many subjects, especially match, build on acquired skills) based on measured improvement and capability? And, of course, reading and writing are pretty much basic for all other studies.

    Much of the challenge comes from the home environment. While the math would probably be suspect, I’d bet you can draw a direct correlation to the increase in single parent families and the lack of progress in test scores (8.2MM children in single parent homes in 1970, 19.2MM children in single parent homes in 2021).

    Finally, we’ve pretty much increased spending but only managed to maintain most of the status quo. Johnny couldn’t read back in 1983 and, today, 40 years later, his grandson can’t read, either. See: https://web.archive.org/web/20201029222248/https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/index.html

    While that report was primarily focused on secondary education, consider these two findings, from 40 years ago:
    – A study of the school week in the United States found that some schools provided students only 17 hours of academic instruction during the week, and the average school provided about 22.
    – A California study of individual classrooms found that because of poor management of classroom time, some elementary students received only one-fifth of the instruction others received in reading comprehension.

    My bet is that if we redid the study, but focused on the primary grades, the report might be titled: A Nation Degraded and Declining.


  4. Parents need to get more involved in their child’s education. They need to see what they are being taught and how and then hold the others you listed accountable


  5. Well, I can’t speak for others but I believe that it is the system of public schools. My son had to resort to home schooling. His son was being taught to the level of the slowest kid in class. Lucky for his children, his wife has her master degree in education and is well qualified and a stay at home mom. She spend 6 months getting their son caught up to being at grade level.

    In my town this year, they started a new reading program. The second grade teacher I know is activity looking for a new job after 25 years. She has students that cannot identify the letters of the alphabet. The reading program is that she must read to the class and then the class silently reads to themselves 30 minutes a day. She is supposed to grade them on their silent reading. She was told by teachers in another district to follow the money to see who got the kickbacks to get that program approved.

    Then there is common core math. Bridges and building will start falling down if engineers start guessing at the answers like common core teaches you to do.

    I think the pandemic just highlighted the problems even faster.

    On a side note, the highest rated 4th grade school district in the country was in Florida which came out of the lockdown faster than most areas. However, there was still a 4 or 5% drop in scores even for them in both reading and math.


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