Fact Check: Biden States 4 More Years of Public Education Will Allow U.S. Students to ‘Compete in 21st Century’

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CLAIM: President Joe Biden told a joint session of Congress Wednesday night that offering four more years of public education to U.S. students will allow them to “compete in the 21st century” with others around the world.

VERDICT: FALSE. The overall performance of American students attending K-12 public schools in the core areas of reading and mathematics has been in decline since the adoption of Common Core State Standards over a decade ago. The addition of four more years of taxpayer-funded public education, without a significant move to raise the academic performance of America’s lowest-achieving students, is unlikely to make U.S. students competitive again.

In his address to Congress, Biden said he would be introducing the American Families Plan, which would address “access to a good education.”

“When this nation made 12 years of public education universal in the last century, it made us the best-educated and best-prepared nation in the world,” he continued. “But the world is catching up. They are not waiting.”

The president added that “12 years is no longer enough today to compete in the 21st Century.”

“That’s why the American Families Plan guarantees four additional years of public education for every person in America – starting as early as we can,” he said, promising “two years of universal high-quality pre-school for every three- and four-year-old in America … and then we add two years of free community college.”

Most Americans, however, say providing parents with the means to choose their children’s place of education, greater academic success can prevail.

Biden, nevertheless, a supporter of teachers’ unions, is at odds with the popularity of school choice. Without acknowledging the damage progressive reforms have had on the quality of public school education, he made the claim that by diverting “public funds to private schools we undermine the entire public education system”:

A study released in April 2020 by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute revealed a historic drop in national reading and math scores among U.S. students since the adoption of the Common Core Curriculum Standards over a decade ago.

The study, titled “The Common Core Debacle” and authored by education policy researcher Theodor Rebarber, asserted the “shocking trends” in American student performance in critical math and reading skills, since the creation of the U.S. Education Department 40 years ago, calls for a reevaluation of federal involvement in education.

Performance in reading and math since the adoption of Common Core especially declined in the nation’s lowest-achieving students – many of whom come from low-income families and failing public schools – widening the achievement gap and creating further inequality.

Just as Biden’s claim that four more years of public education will help American students become competitive again, proponents of Common Core touted the Obama-era federally incentivized standards would be “rigorous” and also “level the playing field.”

The Common Core State Standards Initiative boasted standards would “promote equity by ensuring all students are well prepared to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad.”

Rebarber observed, however, that while national fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores were rising at about half a point each year from 2003 to 2013, since then, reading scores dropped.

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance,” Dr. Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said in October 2019 following the release of the Nation’s Report Card [National Assessment of Educational Progress] assessments in math and reading for fourth- and eighth-graders.

“The lowest performing students – those readers who struggle the most – have made no progress in reading from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago,” she added.

Rebarber affirmed U.S. school children suffered as a result of the poor-quality Common Core, yet another progressive education reform touted at the federal level:

Dissatisfied with the pace of improvement, most states were persuaded to set aside their own efforts for the promise of a single set of national curriculum standards: the Common Core. Substantive criticism of the national standards, especially by a group of scholars and experts associated with Pioneer Institute, found them not to be internationally competitive, weak on literary content, and based on misguided progressive instructional assumptions and dogmas. In response, Common Core proponents mostly circled the wagons and refused to address substantive criticism of the quality of the standards.

“The sustained decline we’re now seeing, especially among our most vulnerable students, simply cannot be allowed to continue,” Rebarber said.

“It’s time for federal law to change to allow states as well as local school districts to try a broader range of approaches to reform,” he added. “With a more bottom-up approach, more school systems will have the opportunity to choose curricula consistent with our international competitors and many decades of research on effective classroom teaching.”

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