••• Education •••

NAEP scores, SCOTUS decision highlight need for expanded school choice

Two recent unrelated events concerning education should be considered rallying cries for expansion of school choice, especially here in Kansas. First, from the 2022-2023 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long Term Trends (LTT) exam of 13-year-olds, results show a disturbing, but not surprising, decrease in both reading and math scores from the previous exam. This is a trend that began years before the forced closing of schools (including Kansas) in reaction to COVID-19. Second is the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that ends the use of race as a factor in college admissions, essentially ending the practice of affirmative action in the selection of students on college campuses.


The NAEP LTT exam has been given since the 1970s and, as the name indicates, is structured to report trends in both math and reading over long periods. It differs from the biennial NAEP in that the LTT employs a nationwide sample of students, whereas the NAEP takes a sample from each state. Thusly, there is no state specific LTT information, as there is for the regular NAEP. The latest LTT was administered to 13-year-olds during the 2022-2023 school year. To say the results are not good would be a gross understatement.

Although there is no state specific LTT data, the results are nearly a mirror image of how Kansas eighth-graders (the closest testing group to 13-year-olds) did on the last two NAEP tests, given in 2019 and 2022 (the 2021 test was pushed back a year due to school closings).

The table shows how the LTT scores dropped appreciably from 2020 to 2023 and that the Kansas 8th grade NAEP scores for the past two years did virtually the same.
It’s important to note that in nearly every student group for both the LTT and the Kansas NAEP, the drop in scores is statistically significant, meaning the reduction in scores is not attributable to chance, due to sampling of the testing populations.

It would be easy to dismiss these declines as a function of the pandemic, but it is also important to understand that these decreases began in 2012, long before the forced closure of schools. These closures were questionable at the time and now nearly universally recognized as abject failures for students, especially the poor.

Several states have already addressed this issue by expanding school choice options. Recently Ohio and South Carolina joined the others by creating/expanding school choice options. Kansas came close this past legislative session, but the education establishment continues to successfully thwart an ESA-type program like those passed in Iowa, Utah, and Arkansas. To those who continue to be opposed, including legislators and Governor Kelly: look at these numbers, what additional evidence do you need that Kansans deserve better educational opportunities?

George F. Will, writing in the Washington Post, reacted to the NAEP results by declaring “mediocrity might be an aspiration.” Unfortunately, that also applies in Kansas.

U.S. Supreme Court decision

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you are aware of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that effectively ends the practice of affirmative action in college admissions. The court decided by a 6-3 vote in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard that higher education cannot utilize racial preferences during the admissions process.

What does this have to do with school choice? The Wall Street Journal reports that “race-based admissions policies of Harvard, North Carolina, Princeton and other ‘elite’ schools are the result of so many black Americans being unprepared by their public schools.” The end of affirmative action will now put public education under the microscope as undoubtedly the rate of African American and Hispanic students will drop precipitously at these elite institutions. This is due not to the innate ability of minority students but to the relentless efforts to keep them trapped in underperforming schools.

How will the entrenched public-school cartel respond to this issue? By doing nothing but deflecting the issue. American Federation of Teachers union president Randi Weingarten is Exhibit A. She denied her own role in the issue of creating racial disparities by claiming the decision “ignores the original sin of this country – it’s a throwback to a cruel, racist past that admissions policies tried to repair.” She should have read the brief filed by her rival union, the NEA, which wrote, “our schools, from K-12 to higher education still struggle to provide equitable opportunities for students of color.” The operative word in that quote is “opportunities.” The irony is that the education establishment, in which teachers’ unions are an integral piece, has fought for decades to deny “students of color,” along with everybody else, “equitable opportunities” to improve their education.

Charles Barkley, former NBA superstar and hall-of-famer turned TV personality, reacted to the court’s decision by changing his will to donate $5 million in scholarships to African-American students at his Auburn University alma mater. Certainly, Charles can do what he pleases with his wealth, but the money would be better spent by donating that $5 million in private school scholarships to K-12 students to allow them to escape the entrapment of underperforming public schools.

Undeniably, the Kansas public school system has failed and continues to fail African-American students. Only 5% of African-American high school students are considered “post-secondary ready” per 2022 state assessments in math and 9% the same in English language arts (ELA). The most recent average ACT composite score for African Americans is 16.2 with only 5% considered college/career ready by ACT.

With affirmative action now receding in the rearview mirror, and given public education’s embedded resistance to change, it’s time for real educational opportunities in the form of school choice.