SAT scores among the nation's test-takers are at a 40-year low.
As The Washington Post reports, “Reading scores on the SAT for the high school class of 2012 reached a four-decade low, putting a punctuation mark on a gradual decline in the ability of college-bound teens to read passages and answer questions about sentence structure, vocabulary and meaning on the college entrance exam.”
The decline over the decades has been significant. The average reading (verbal) score is down 34 points since 1972. Sadly, the historically low SAT scores are only the latest marker of decline. Graduation rates have been stagnant since the 1970s, reading and math achievement has been virtually flat over the same time period, and American students still rank in the middle of the pack compared to their international peers.
On the heels of the news about the SAT score decline, President Obama filmed a segment with NBC's Education Nation. The president notably praised the concept of charter schools and pay for performance for teachers.
But those grains of reform were dwarfed by his support of the status quo. During the course of the interview, Obama suggested hiring 100,000 new math and science teachers and spending more money on preschool. He also stated that No Child Left Behind had good intentions but was “under-resourced.”
NCLB is about as “under-resourced” as the New York Yankees. The $25 billion, 600-page law (technically, a reauthorization and revision of 1965 legislation signed by President Lyndon Johnson) has been on the receiving end of significant new spending every decade since it was originally passed nearly half a century ago.
In fact, if more “resources” (read: spending) were the answer, we should have seen SAT scores triple over the past 40 years. That's what happened with spending over the same time period. Taxpayers have financed a near tripling of inflation-adjusted federal education spending since the 1970s.
President Obama was also pressed on the issue of education unions by host Savannah Guthrie:
“Some people think, President Obama gets so much support from the teachers' unions, he can't possibly have an honest conversation about what they're doing right or wrong. Can you really say that teachers' unions aren't slowing the pace of reform?”
Obama responded: “You know, I just really get frustrated when I hear teacher-bashing as evidence of reform.”
Criticizing education unions for standing in the way of reform should not be conflated with criticizing teachers. The unions have blocked reforms such as performance pay and charter schools (which the president supports), have opposed alternative teacher certification that would help mid-career professionals enter the classroom, and have consistently fought the implementation of school choice options for children.
If we ever hope to move the needle on student achievement — or see SAT scores turn in the right direction again — we'll need to implement many of those exact reforms, particularly school choice.
And as he has in the past, Obama stated that his administration wants to “use evidenced-based approaches and find out what works.” We know what works: giving families choices when it comes to finding schools that best meet their children's needs.
Instead of continuing to call for more spending and more Washington intervention in education, let's try something new: choice and freedom.
Burke is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation.