Students are bearing the brunt of America’s broken educational system.

“13-year-olds’ reading and math scores have dropped to levels not seen in decades.” Following the release of the most recent NAEP long-term trend data for 13-year-olds, the responses were expected: brief articles in the national news and apologies on education blogs. We were informed that COVID-19 was still looming large. children are doing worse than ten years ago, and lower-performing children are less proficient in arithmetic today than they were thirty-five years ago, despite the federal government having spent approximately $200 billion on K–12 education in an emergency.

Read More: what is wrong with the American education system

The commentary on the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores has revealed a startling sense of generalized fatigue. The announcement was hailed as “tragic,” “alarming,” and “terrifying.” What about the replies? Nat Malkus of AEI writes at the end of his article about the results that “nothing less than Herculean efforts will make up for such shortfalls,” but he doesn’t say what those efforts should entail. Political scientist Vladimir Kogan writes for The 74 that “the new federal data send a clear message that we must do better” but again provides no details on how.

Other reactions have been expected. “Will politicians whip up a panicked response and demand more of what is already failing, like charter schools, vouchers, high-stakes testing, and Cybercharters?” wondered Diane Ravitch in her blog. or [sic]will they spend more money on paying teachers more and having smaller classes? Her reply highlights a well-known division in the field of education policy: Proponents of public education point the finger at a number of issues, including an excessive emphasis on teaching to the test and long-standing underfunding of schools and teacher pay in particular. Conversely, conservative opponents of them point to inadequate teacher preparation programs, a dearth of school choice, and—more recently—the woke invasion of classrooms.

Naturally, both views are somewhat accurate: Regressive per-pupil financing is a result of certain states’ substantial dependence on local property taxes to support education. This means that more money is allocated to the education of more affluent pupils. The medical profession made a critical shift a century ago, moving away from clinical experience and toward textbook theory, which is still too prevalent in teacher education today. Exams, particularly those pertaining to reading, are ill-designed (e.g., “Hamlet was confused because — circle the right response.”). Far too many parents are forced to send their kids to inadequate schools.

However, they are only signs. Beyond the walls of the school, there are still a lot of factors that have a significant influence, such the legacy of redlining based on race, the underfunding of health care for the poorest citizens, the opposition to maternity leave and child care, and other social and economic policies. However, the main reason for subpar results inside the educational system is that those in charge of education policy have undermined the instructional core and intentionally created a structure that is unfavorable to learning.

Because pre-kindergarten education is so unstructured, children often arrive at kindergarten with significant gaps in their preparedness to learn. The disparities never narrow since children aren’t evaluated thoroughly until they are eight years old, at which point it is too late to begin long-term intervention. With few exceptions in Louisiana, examinations do not measure students’ comprehension of the contents used in schools, and curriculum, assessments, and teacher education programs are all deeply siloed, resulting in a disjointed system where instructors lack the necessary training to instruct students in the subjects they teach.

American education systems are almost unusual among developed industrialized nations in that they separate student rewards from testing. Although state exams are used to assess schools, students frequently find them to be irrelevant: Just 11 states still require high school graduates to pass exit examinations, and those who do not pass can usually pursue other options. Instead of utilizing high school graduation exam scores to determine admission to colleges, we use grade-point averages and assessments such as the ACT and SAT, which are not related to course curriculum. In relation to GPA, we have been inflating grades at school and in college for a long time. We just refer to what was formerly failure as achievement.

We have also ranked the subjects in a recommended order. those who excel in robotics, graphic design, the arts, environmental science, and other fields are not eligible to take high school exams that count for admission to universities. Instead, those who excel in reading, arithmetic, and science receive the most attention. However, our career and technical learning alternatives pale in comparison to the best in the world, with a few notable exceptions: While Switzerland creates rigorous career tracks that include possibilities for a return to higher education, America sends millions of students down dead ends when they find their career-training experience has not produced a certificate that is marketable. These same students wind up attending community institutions, where graduation rates are quite low.

Academic performance itself is becoming less fashionable, maybe as a reaction to two decades of dismal outcomes. While “21st century skills” like critical thinking, metacognition, tenacity, and a positive outlook are in, mathematical proficiency is out. We appear to have forgotten that subject mastery is a precondition for critical thinking; kids cannot think critically about nothing in particular.