Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Recent national student test scores showed a massive decline in learning in reading and math. This achievement implosion has several explanations – one is the increasing politicization of classroom instruction, which is reducing rigor and diverting attention from improving students’ foundational knowledge and skills.
From 2020 to 2022, reading scores for nine-year-olds on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the nation’s report card, registered the largest decline since the 1990s, while math scores declined for the first time ever. These score comparisons were the first nationally representative snapshot of student learning during the pandemic.
While school closures and ineffective distance-learning efforts were important reasons for the slide in test scores, former North Carolina governor Beverly Perdue, who chairs the board responsible for the NAEP, warned, “We can’t keep blaming COVID.”
Indeed, other important reasons exist for the nosedive in student performance.
Many students report that increasing ideological indoctrination in the classroom is leading to weaker standards and lower expectations.
One California student reported that a teacher at his school told the class that perfectionism and striving for perfection was part of white supremacy culture. Another one of his teachers “made it seem like it was bad to have a good work ethic or to be supportive of meritocracy.” In his school, grades were inflated, low grades were eliminated, late assignments were allowed, and multiple retakes of exams were permitted. Rigor simply disappeared.
“To not teach hard work and to not teach a work ethic is going to be disastrous for the kids who kind of cruise along in public schools,” the student reflected.
The ideological instruction that this student experienced is happening across the country. It is pushed by special interests such as teachers’ unions.
The National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the country, pushes the critical race theory-inspired position that systemic racism permeates all American institutions and must be taught in our schools so that kids challenge “the systems of oppression that have harmed people of color.” In 2021, the NEA adopted a resolution that would mandate race-based ideological instruction in public schools across the country.
According to the resolution, the union intends to disseminate its own study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” The NEA specifically says that critical race theory is one of the methods that should be used to teach these topics in school districts around the country.
Unions are also using race to undermine teacher quality in the classroom. In a recent announcement, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers reached an agreement with Minneapolis Public Schools to lay off white teachers regardless of seniority or merit before laying off minority teachers in the name of “anti-bias, anti-racism.”
As one analyst noted, the Minneapolis agreement seeks “to achieve ‘equity’ by reducing standards and replacing white teachers,” while the “sensible (and legal) goal is to expand the pool and retention rate of all qualified teachers.”
When confronted with the reality of historically low academic performance, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, attempted to flip the script, blaming conservatives and Trump-era education policies for harming learning.
Yet, many teachers disagree and are speaking out against politicized classrooms.
Virginia public school teacher Laura Morris quit her job and told her school board, which had pushed race-based indoctrination, “I quit your policies, I quit your training, and I quit being a cog in a machine that that tells me to push highly politicized agendas to our most vulnerable constituents – children.”
The politicization of classroom instruction leads not only to indoctrination but also, as the California student noted, to lower student achievement. “It’s not a school’s place to impose on the students any viewpoint,” he observes. “What we need to do is really encourage achievement for all people.”
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