Commentary: Wasting away again in Unionville

Some people claim that there is school choice to blame, but we know, it’s all Randi’s fault.

The nonprofit research organization Northwest Evaluation Association, also known as NWEA, released an analysis recently called Education’s long COVID: 2022–23 achievement data reveal stalled progress toward pandemic recovery showing that students suffered a pronounced slowing of academic growth during the 2022-23 school year. This is incredibly sad but not incredibly surprising; kids that don’t learn to read during their K-3 window tend to fall further and further behind grade level as they age through the system. Such students grow increasingly frustrated and tend to begin dropping out of school entirely starting in late middle school. In addition, following the example of many adults, legions of students seem to have developed the idea that school attendance is optional.


The key thing to appreciate about the above chart would be the school year: 2022-23, post-COVID shutdowns and during the period in which the federal government literally gave schools more money than they could figure out what to do with. If you are waiting for an academic bounce back or delayed reaction recovery, stop being silly: it’s not in the cards. If they create a Pulitzer Prize for understated headlines, the New York Times is in the running with this recent gem:

Schools Received Billions in Stimulus Funds; It May Not be Doing Enough

How are all those billions of dollars in K-12 education funds being spent as un-remediated students fall ever further behind grade level work? The Times very helpfully supplies examples:


The districts have it coming and going: their ZOOM-school era kids are likely to begin dropping out in higher numbers. Year by year a baby-bust cohort of kindergarteners will replace the diminished cohorts exiting. Enrollment will shrink, but at least we’ll have those new baseball bleachers.

Years ago, a wildly mistaken group of people began talking about “peak oil.” Sometimes you’ll hear someone drop an ideological catchphrase like “late capitalism” as your cue to stop taking them seriously. “Peak school district enrollment” however is a thing, and it is a thing that lies in the past. Ironically, it lies in the past because the unions inflicted it upon themselves.


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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.