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Some days it seems like a divided America is riding on separate trains, all of them headed for the same wreck.

There is the climate crisis, which too many of our top decision makers don’t seem to believe is happening. There is the political bifurcation in Washington that is preventing lawmakers from working together to solve major problems.

And then there is the growing education crisis, the latest numbers of which indicate America may be losing one of the most important global races in the nation’s history.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress — more commonly known as the nation’s report card — is conducted every two years. The latest assessment shows too many students failed to make progress in reading and math.

This latest report card reveals that more than half of the nation’s fourth and eighth-graders are losing ground when it comes to reading proficiency.

All of which compelled Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to declare a “student achievement crisis.” She’s right about that.

Losing math proficiency is one thing, because young people can almost always rely on machines to do their adding and subtracting. But the decline in reading skills is almost as frightening as hearing an air raid siren in the nuclear age. That happened by mistake in Hawaii a while back, and it caused a wide-scale panic.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress report on reading and math for fourth and eighth-graders is convincingly comprehensive. This year’s report card is based on test scores of roughly 600,000 students in 50 states and the District of Columbia. It showed a decline in performance in almost all categories.

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Average scores were more or less about what they were in 2009. Lower-performing students generally fared worse this year than they did in the report card from a decade ago. All of which tells us that our methods for teaching kids the basics are not getting the job done.

Eighth-graders’ reading and math scores decreased from the 2017 report card. Fourth-graders dropped in just their reading scores, and the average math score for fourth-graders was only a point higher this year than two years ago. Just 35 percent of fourth-graders were considered proficient in reading in the 2019 test results, down 2 percentage points from 2017. Among eighth-graders, only 34 percent were proficient in reading, also a decline of 2 percent. The big picture is that two-thirds of American students can’t read at grade level.

So, what’s the problem, and how do we solve it?

One of the issues is that so many adult parents aren’t good readers and cannot read well enough to pass a simple grade-school reading test. The same is true for math. If parents haven’t mastered these fundamental academic disciplines, who motivates their children to excel?

Here may be an answer to that earlier question about how to solve this problem: Mississippi is one of the poorest states, but also one of the few whose fourth and eighth-graders showed improvements in math and reading. That state’s school superintendent Carey Wright said the good scores prove what is possible “when some of the best teachers, school leaders and students in the U.S. work together to improve public education. …”

It seems cooperation and team work could resolve a lot of America’s problems, from infrastructure to education to political dysfunction. Instead, too many states either decide to spend more money to mitigate the problems, or worse, cut funding for vital programs.

Secretary DeVos believes privatization will solve education problems. What do you think?

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