Steve Nelson is a retired educator. He was headmaster of The Calhoun School in New York City. He writes here about the reactions to the decline of NAEP scores since the onset of the pandemic.

He writes:

“The beatings will continue until morale improves” is a rather familiar quip of unknown origin.  Two recent news stories remind of just how apt the saying remains.

The first was an astonishing New York Times report on the reinstitution of paddling as a disciplinary tool in a Missouri school district. Surprisingly, paddling children in school remains legal in 19 states, although the practice is not widespread. Paddling children is barbaric, humiliating and utterly ineffective. Corporal punishment makes children more aggressive and disruptive. The Missouri abusers attempt to mitigate their own cruelty by saying they only whack kids whose parents give permission. It takes little imagination to understand why a child of such parents would have difficulty in school and draw more negative attention.

Few readers will disagree with my condemnation of beating childen. I suspect the rest of this post will be more controversial.

The educational world was aghast at the news this week of the “alarming” results from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP is the supposed gold standard of measurement, also called the nation’s report card. The 2022 tests of reading and math were conducted to assess pandemic “learning loss” and produced the data that researchers anticipated. Reading scores were down 5 points and math scores down 7 points compared to 2020 levels.

“The beatings will continue until scores improve” is the nearly inevitable consequence as education pundits, economists, policy-makers and most parents, wax apoplectic over the “precipitous” drop.

“I was taken aback by the scope and the magnitude of the decline!”

“No more of the arguments, and the back and forth and the vitriol and the finger pointing. Everybody should be treating this like the crisis that it is.”

Pity the children, especially poor children of color for whom the results were somewhat more statistically “significant.” This is a tempest in a teapot and the solution will be far more damaging than the problem.

It is likely to be a reprise of the reaction to A Nation at Risk, a 1983 report that allegedly showed educational achievement in serious decline. It was not true – a statistical phenomenon led to misinterpretation of the data – but the report drove a frenetic response of testing and accountability that continues until today. And here we go again.

Read on to learn Nelson’s response to the doom-and-gloom prescriptions for the nation’s children: longer days, longer weeks, longer years.

Steve Nelson disagrees.