California is failing its students. Where is the outrage?

By Dean Drescher, Special to CalMatters

There has been radio silence from California’s public education leadership after the recent release of the National Assessment for Educational Progress scores, otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The National Assessment for Educational Progress, considered the gold standard in educational testing, is a low-stakes test that has been administered in the United States since the late 1960s. 

It’s the largest and most continuous nationally representative assessment of what American kids know. It’s also how the public can draw apples-to-apples comparisons about how kids are doing across different states. 

Californians are facing grim results, but this isn’t the case for all states. Mississippi made gains in fourth grade reading. Louisiana was first in the nation in for gains in eighth grade math. And, in addition to celebrating the World Series victory, Washington, D.C. can celebrate that it has made the largest gains of anyone in fourth grade reading in the three decades that it has administered the National Assessment for Educational Progress. And its students in poverty now consistently perform higher than similar California students. 

In California, eighth grade scores fell in both reading and math. Los Angeles Unified scores fell by the most of any of the urban districts across the country. California ranks at the bottom of the nation in reading and math for fourth and eighth graders, but at the top of the nation in the size of its achievement gaps. This is, indeed, a crisis. So what are the state’s education leaders saying? 


While the subgroups of students who have historically been above grade level continue to do well, many groups of California students, including ones the Local Control Funding Formula promised to help, are struggling. 

California’s low-income fourth graders rank 48th in the country, above only West Virginia, Alabama and Alaska. The gap between white and black students increased in fourth and eighth grade math. Hispanic eighth graders’ math scores rank 44th in the country.

None of that elicited even a tweet from the California Department of Education.

California invested over $90 billion in the public education system this year alone. New task forces have been created. New departments within the California Department of Education have been proposed. 

And the only breaking news this cycle was California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, an arm of the state dedicated to school improvement, is investing in a new website. But what’s the word on a plan to fix what is clearly not working for students? 

California’s children who just took the National Assessment for Educational Progress are the future of this state. They deserve leaders who are boldly advocating for their future and making noise about equity of opportunity. 

Policy leaders have been loud and clear stressing patience and incremental improvement and cheerleading increased funding. But California’s children, the majority of whom live in poverty, cannot sit and wait at the bottom of the nation’s barrel. They deserve more than crickets.


Dean Drescher is the policy director at EdVoice, a nonprofit advocating to eliminate inequality of educational opportunity in California public schools, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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