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November 10, 2011 Print

What Happened to Our $600 Billion Investment in Schools?

by Candi Cushman

Amid all the news lately about political candidate and coach scandals, it was easy to overlook the results of national tests on students’ reading and math skills.

 But when you consider that our nation annually spends close to $600 billion on public education, we can’t afford to ignore it. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of what’s commonly known as The Nation’s Report Card or the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)— a reading and math assessment test given to 4th and 8th graders nationwide every two years.

The 2011 report is sobering, if not downright sad: For those billions of dollars we invested the last couple of years, overall, it turns out we’ve raised scores all of one percentage point.

Here’s the breakdown: Math scores for 4th and 8th graders were on average 1 percentage point higher (on a 500 point scale) than they were in 2009. Likewise, there was only a one percentage point gain measured for 8th grade reading tests. And there were no overall gains measured in 4th grade reading.

A mere 34 percent of 4th and 8th graders were deemed “proficient” in reading skills.

The flatlining educational progress in this country is nothing short of shocking after the flood of high-profile federal education campaigns and spending in recent years throughout both the Bush and Obama administrations.

That’s why we believe the answer doesn’t lie in more government spending or programs. We believe the answer is found in strengthening the bedrock of our nation—our families. One way to strengthen them is to empower parents to make the best decisions for their children, rather than encouraging, and in some cases even forcing, them to surrender that responsibility to Uncle Sam.

That’s where school choice comes in. As I explained in a Citizen magazine feature story, school choice comes in many shapes and forms—including charter schools, opportunity scholarships, tax credit programs and education savings accounts.  But the most important idea driving this movement is that taxpayer money should follow the children, and benefit them instead of a bureaucracy.

In the words of Clint Bolick, a prominent school choice lawyer I interviewed for the story, “With school choice comes a fundamental transfer of power from bureaucrats to parents. In fact, what happens is that every parent, every child, becomes an empowered consumer … and that means the school system has to pay attention to their interests.”

In short, it’s time to stop increasing the nanny state and start increasing parents’ power to choose what’s best for their kids.

For more information, you can read other commentaries on the NAEP results here and here.

To learn more about school choice issues, visit our analysis section on this topic.