NAEP Is Telling Us Again That It’s Past Time to Close Long-Standing Resource Gaps By Denise Forte
Those who study educational disparities know that money matters in education. And it’s not just about how much money is allocated, it’s about resource equity, that is, how effectively state and district leaders spend their funds and whether funds are distributed equitably.
From this perspective, the story behind this year’s lackluster NAEP results began nearly a decade ago. The eighthgraders whose test results were captured by NAEP’s long-term assessment were born right before the Great Recession. They started kindergarten around 2012-13 as federal relief dollars for schools dried up, impacting the very factors that are essential to ensuring a high-quality learning experience.
Consider that state preschool program access and quality declined as a result of the economic downturn and have yet to return to pre-recession trends. Also, between 2008 and 2012, the K-12 public education system lost nearly 300,000 jobs, the largest reduction in our nation’s history. Of the jobs lost, more than 120,000 belonged to elementary and secondary teachers with layoffs disproportionately affecting schools serving students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
Even when district leaders were able to reinstate classes and programs that were reduced or eliminated during the recession, there were teacher shortages, especially in math, science, and special education. It has taken years to begin rebuilding the teacher workforce. Yet, the nation still has fewer public school teachers today than it did in 2008 and remains a long way from developing a racially and culturally diverse workforce that reflects the diversity of the student population.
It’s also important to remember that while the Great Recession ushered in significant funding disparities, it only made worse those that have been in place for decades. Across the U.S., school districts serving the largest populations of Black, Latino, or Native students receive roughly $1,800, or 13 percent, less per student in state and local funding than those serving the fewest students of color. And while courts have declared state funding formulas unlawful for shortchanging school districts serving large percentages of students from low-income backgrounds, this unfair practice continues in far too many places today.
In all, the latest NAEP results show the need for education leaders and advocates to come together to mobilize the right combination of resources to unlock high-quality learning experiences for every student. This means tackling persistent inequities in access to high-quality early childhood education, strong and diverse educators, advanced coursework, positive school climates and cultures, school funding and other essential supports provided inside and outside the classroom.
There’s no overstating the devastating impact of the pandemic on the students and families who have been systemically underserved, but there is an opportunity here. The Biden administration and Congress have stepped up and invested an unprecedented sum — a total of $190 billion to support the needs of K-12 students as part of pandemic relief.
But again, it’s not just the amount of money that matters in education, but how well state and district leaders spend funds and if those funds are distributed equitably. This federal investment is a tremendous opportunity to address the unfinished learning that students have experienced due to the pandemic, to invest in evidenced-based and effective policies and practices to support the social-emotional and academic well-being of students who are systemically underserved, and to finally close long-standing resource gaps.
While the NAEP results are sobering, we, at The Education Trust, know that progress is possible when leaders prioritize the needs of students from underserved communities. And these latest scores show advocates and policymakers alike where to make necessary investments to do just that.