Dr. Ed Moore: With Education, the More Things Stay the Same,‭ ‬the More Test Scores Decline

This article is the first of a series.

I have always believed that the real energy for change in public affairs and public policy is to provide something that appeals to the voters more than what they already have.‭ ‬Over the past forty years or so, in education, we have seen a lot of new ideas,‭ ‬new fads and fiddling with a car that is already creaky,‭ ‬has defective parts‭ ‬and is long past having the warranty expired.‭ ‬Based on the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress‭ (‬NAEP‭) ‬scores, the predictions can only be more of the same unless our country takes a serious look at how we are providing our children’s education across the country.

When then-President George W.‭ ‬Bush spoke about the‭ “‬soft bigotry of low expectations,‭” ‬he signaled an alarm that should have resonated across American classrooms.‭ ‬Children,‭ ‬wherever they arrive each day as they enter America’s classrooms,‭ ‬can learn,‭ ‬want to learn,‭ ‬and have every right to expect paths to reach their ultimate potential.

The most recent NAEP scores should bring us all sorrow.‭ ‬Nationally we have ignored the alarm bell.‭ ‬This is also increasingly evident as we see colleges and universities dropping requirements,‭ ‬lowering standards,‭ ‬and discontinuing the use of standardized tests.‭ ‬While we publish entrance requirements,‭ ‬we signal expectations.‭ ‬When we drop them,‭ ‬we signal no expectations.

It seems we have moved from low expectations to a hard bigotry of no expectations.‭ ‬When we set a low bar,‭ ‬we cease to be better as a society tomorrow than we are today.‭ ‬It is as if we have raised the white flag and signaled the effort is too hard to do,‭ ‬that getting better as a whole is beyond our reach,‭ ‬and that it is just fine with us that students do not need to achieve more than we see now.‭

Yes,‭ ‬the real energy for change has to be presenting something better than we have,‭ ‬but based on the scores, this should not be hard.‭ ‬I have been involved in educational policy for more than three decades.‭ ‬Do I think we are better now than we were back when I was still a student‭? ‬I am not sure if we are on the learning end,‭ ‬but I am sure we are on the sociological end.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬all those social progress variables weaken when we lose focus on the needs of every student,‭ ‬no matter where they start from or where they return to after school each day,‭ ‬deserves our best efforts at lifting them up,‭ ‬building their knowledge base and allowing them to be all they can be.‭ ‬We need for all of this to happen.‭ ‬We cannot afford as a society to have as many as two-thirds of students tested not being at grade level.

Education reform. ‭ ‬Now that is a phrase we have all heard over the decades,‭ ‬maybe to the point of redundancy.‭ ‬When the phrase was used more than three decades ago,‭ ‬it likely referred to curriculum revisions or changes in instructional requirements in the preparation of teaching personnel.‭ ‬We all recall such timeless favorites as‭ ‘‬”Writing to Read‭‬,”‭ “‬New Math‭,” ‭ “‬Hooked on Phonics‭‬, “‭ ‬and the list is long. My favorite was‭ “‬Writing to Read‭‬,”‭ ‬because it assured me that when my kids got older,‭ ‬they would be as bad a speller as their dad is.‭ ‬Thank goodness for spell-check.‭ ‬Historically speaking,‭ ‬the larger,‭ ‬more structurally focused changes have had the greatest effect on advancing education access for all,‭ ‬and yet,‭ ‬our test scores languish. ‭ ‬Changes in curriculum formats and styles have blended in and out through the ages,‭ ‬as have the tools used to convey materials in the classrooms,‭ ‬but the larger,‭ ‬more broadly applied,‭ ‬sociological changes have had the greatest effects on learning in America.‭ ‬We take for granted the easy access to public school systems that are available to every child in the U.S.‭ ‬In some respects,‭ ‬they have become like the fast-food options,‭ ‬the drug stores,‭ ‬and the mattress stores that are ubiquitous and visible to us as we go about our daily business.‭

Once you no longer have children in the schools,‭ ‬they usually just become a part of the neighborhood landscape,‭ ‬except when you receive your annual property tax bill and catch a glimpse of that line item.‭ ‬For a brief moment in time,‭ ‬the schools matter,‭ ‬and then your busy life gets in the way.‭ ‬We forget just how important our schools have been in the advancement and development of our modern society and how,‭ ‬over time,‭ ‬they became the necessary ladders to success for everyone,‭ ‬no matter your economic status.‭ ‬We are now deep into the fall season and our students are once again back to face-to-face learning.‭

As Florida’s students return to class,‭ ‬more than the bells for the start of the day are ringing.‭ ‬Alarm bells are ringing about a very serious public policy problem‭; ‬the continuing and increasing shortage of qualified teachers in every classroom.‭ ‬Recent estimates indicate as many as‭ ‬9,000‭ ‬classrooms are lacking a certified,‭ ‬full-time,‭ ‬qualified subject matter teacher.‭ ‬We have long struggled to place teachers in complex subjects such as physics,‭ ‬chemistry,‭ ‬and advanced math,‭ ‬but the problem has expanded.‭ ‬This is not just a rural problem.‭ ‬It is a statewide problem.‭ ‬Certainly some of the obstacles and issues might vary,‭ ‬but the net results are the same‭; ‬not enough teachers and even fewer taking course loads in colleges across our state in preparation for a teaching career.

‭ ‬Housing costs in our more urban communities are vastly different than one might find in the more rural counties,‭ ‬but availability might still be an issue.‭ ‬Teachers are leaving the profession in greater numbers for many reasons.‭ ‬This has been a long time coming and,‭ ‬in part,‭ ‬can be attributed to the common discourse about education.‭ ‬We place the blame on the classrooms without thinking through the much larger picture of causations.‭ ‬I have been engaged in education policy and related issues for many years and many fads.‭ ‬I chaired a state study commission two decades ago on the issues of teachers and the teaching profession.‭ ‬Two decades have not changed the discourse,‭ ‬in fact,‭ ‬it has gotten worse and the recruitment and retention of teachers has now reached a point where the state needs to take a hard look at what changes must be made and how soon.‭ ‬Florida is not alone in this dilemma but,‭ ‬in my view,‭ ‬we have a chance right now to take a national lead in making changes to alter the state of the classrooms across our state.‭

Take the time to go back over the history of public education in America.‭ ‬It has not always been there, and for so many, it was a very long time coming.‭ ‬Massachusetts,‭ ‬under the persistent efforts of one Horace Mann,‭ ‬began the very first public school system.‭ ‬He became the very first State Superintendent of Schools and made it his life’s work to create access for the children of Massachusetts.‭ ‬It took centuries for access to be available for young males from across the economic spectrum alone in the various states.‭ ‬We have seen tremendous changes in access for all children,‭ ‬starting with access for females to all aspects of education in the early‭ ‬20th Century,‭ ‬and then later—with the passage of Title IX—all races,‭ ‬all national origins,‭ ‬etc.‭ ‬Many Eastern Seaboard cities saw the creation and expansion of parochial systems,‭ ‬at first in reaction to the waves of Irish immigrating in the mid-to late‭ ‬1800s,‭ ‬and then huge numbers of other European immigrants in the‭ ‬30‭ ‬years from‭ ‬1890-‭ ‬1920.‭ ‬It was not that long ago that poorly directed nationalistic attitudes combined with outright bigotry limited even many‭ “‬white‭” ‬children from receiving proper instruction.‭ ‬The‭ ‬1950s and Brown vs.‭ ‬Board of Education opened the doors even wider and even with that it took another‭ ‬15‭ ‬or more years for schools to be schools,‭ ‬not black or white schools.‭

All of these sociological changes fell heavily upon the public and parochial school systems to manage.‭ ‬When bricks fall upon a school,‭ ‬the teachers have to lift and carry those bricks.‭ ‬We have asked much of our teaching professionals,‭ ‬all the while being a highly critical society.‭ ‬It is one aspect of our lives where we all form opinions‭; ‬after all,‭ ‬most all of us spent at least‭ ‬12‭ ‬years of our lives experiencing it.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬that does not make us experts.‭ ‬Far from it.‭

My view is that even the so-called experts do not have a true handle on where we go now.‭ ‬We are in a period of the most rapid changes society has ever seen.‭ ‬I hesitate to write this,‭ ‬but the reality is that students starting college this fall will more than likely be preparing themselves for a workforce filled with jobs that have yet to be created.‭ ‬This is why I cringe when I hear politicians calling for a focus more on specific jobs rather than on the value of learning for learning’s sake.‭ ‬If you are‭ ‬20‭ ‬today,‭ ‬you had better be preparing yourself for a lifetime of learning,‭ ‬and the re-creation of who you are and what role you will play in a constantly changing economy.‭

This is the first article in a series which is taken in part from a piece this author wrote for the Journal of the James Madison Institute published in Fall‭ ‬2022.

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