Wrong education direction

Home to the nation’s largest school district, New York City is often influential on educational matters and thinking. Big mistake.

In the latest Census Bureau report, NYC’s education spending level at $25,199 per pupil exceeds the national average by 89 percent. When it comes to throwing money at students, the Big Apple has no peers. It spends more on teacher salaries and benefits than the total per-pupil expenditure of 44 other states.

When it comes to fourth-graders’ reading, however, there’s a tremendous disconnect between dollars and effect.

NYC isn’t anywhere near first in the nation in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress reading proficiency scores. And even though big cities get graded on a curve, NYC isn’t anywhere near the top of that 27-city list, either. One out of four Big Apple fourth-graders can’t read proficiently at grade level.

Incredibly, despite our challenges in poverty and rurality, the average Arkie fourth-grader’s reading score was higher than the average New York City dweller’s. And Arkansas spends only $9,967 per pupil—60 percent less than NYC.

The normal value expectation would be that the more money spent would be tied somewhat to more performance output. That’s often been the education claim, anyway. But while NYC spends more than double on its students, their reading scores aren’t any better than ours. Indeed, the nation’s highest-spending school system’s fourth-graders get outscored by 46 states (and significantly so by 35 states).

With that kind of disparity between education investment and student literacy return, one might think NYC would be trying to figure out how to learn from other states and districts that spend a lot less and score a lot higher.

But no. NYC is hanging its hopes on implementation this year of a Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education framework. The definition of CR-SE is overpopulated with all the latest “progressive” education jargon: The framework is designed to help create learning environments that “affirm racial identities,” “elevate historically marginalized voices” and “empower students as agents of social change,” among other things.

It references a “complex system of biases” that creates inequity and disadvantage based on “linguistic background, gender, skin color” and other characteristics or “identity markers.” CR-SE purports to promote and perpetuate “cultures, languages and ways of knowing that have been devalued, suppressed, and imperiled by years of educational, social, political, economic neglect and other forms of oppression.”

The CR-SE definition concludes (in appropriate eduspeak generality) with a commitment to “improving learning results” and “achieving dramatic gains in student outcomes.”

Not a word about teaching kids to read.

In the framework’s entire 64-page outline publication, which features guideline sections for students, teachers, school and district leaders, families and community members, and policymakers, the word “reading” appears only twice in text (both in one example of teaching method) and three times in bibliography titles.

No one reading this mishmash would think there was any problem with student reading scores, and certainly no emphasis on correcting the deficiency of education’s premier gateway skill.

On the contrary, the general attitude seems to downplay literacy, at least as traditionally understood, as one of the various forms of cultural oppression. One Staten Island high school teacher readily admitted to a Wall Street Journal reporter that she’d be fine if students graduated without ever being exposed to Shakespeare.

The list of phrases whose genesis can be traced back to the Bard is exceedingly long; the silliness of such a statement is that students already are and will continue to be exposed to Shakespeare. The question is whether they will be well-taught enough to know it.

And while there is merit to the basic notion of expanding the offering of classroom books and authors in terms of race and gender, that’s a meaningless gesture if students can’t read them.

Adoption of CR-SE required additional teacher training and professional development, of course, to teach teachers how to help students “see themselves in their lessons.”

In tandem with the CR-SE initiative, the NYC district was presented with a report from the city’s School Diversity Advisory Group called “Making the Grade: The Path to Real Integration and Equity for NYC Public School Students.”

Again, below-average literacy scores figure invisibly: in 118 pages, the word “reading” appears only three times. The report introduces 5Rs of Real Integration (as opposed to a fake variety, presumably): Race and Enrollment, Resources, Relationships, Restorative Justice, and Representation.

If the term “Restorative Justice” gave you pause, there’s a meaning clarification a couple of pages later: “Restore justice by interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline through community-building and appropriate responses to conflict.”

Conflict reached record proportions in NYC schools last year, which reported 17,991 violent and disruptive incidents, including 8,894 assaults, 3,073 weapons violations and 3,524 sexual offenses. With the highest incident rate in the state, the district is almost a prep school for prison.

There’s much to learn from watching NYC’s system, namely what not to do. Focusing on non-learning excuses inherently pulls attention from teaching fundamentals. That’s the wrong direction to correct stagnant test scores and stubborn violence.

A better direction: the opposite.

False educational god

If you haven’t read “My Pedagogic Creed,” you don’t know Dewey.

John Dewey (not to be confused with no-relation Melvil, who devised the library classification system) is universally recognized as one of the fathers of modern education. What history is more fully revealing him to be, however, is the sire of universal schooling’s greatest failing and bastard offspring: chronic illiteracy.

In the 4,076 words Dewey devoted in 1897 to his declared educational beliefs (each of the 73 paragraphs begins with “I believe”), the word “reading” appears only three times in two sentences—and in one it is negatively described: “I believe that we violate the child’s nature … by introducing the child too abruptly to a number of special studies, of reading, writing, geography, etc., out of relation to this social life.”

The word “social,” conversely, appears about 55 times.

It also serves as the principal pedagogical anchor to which teaching is tethered: “I believe, therefore, that the true centre of correlation of the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social activities.”

A year later, in 1898, Dewey’s anti-literacy philosophy took a more frontal-assault approach in his essay “The Primary-Education Fetish.”

“There is … a false educational god whose idolaters are legion, and whose cult influences the entire educational system,” he wrote.

What was this unworthy golden calf and who were its classroom blasphemers? Language studies and elementary school English teachers.

The idea that “learning to read in early school life” was important foundationally, he suggested, was a “perversion” since young minds would struggle with the language nuances and rhetorical devices that make great literature great.

Besides, he also asserted, young eyes aren’t ready for the close-up detail reading requires. “The oculist tells us,” he wrote, “that the vision of the child is essentially that of the savage.”

Finally, learning to read at a young age reduced it to a mechanical action that lacks relevance to a child’s interests.

The legacy of Dewey’s dismissal of early reading as irrelevant drudgery is catalogued in the annual Kids Count Data Book and–just as he wished–two-thirds of America’s fourth-graders can’t read at grade level.

Significant problems arise today regarding continuing fidelity to Dewey’s “progressive” thinking about education.

First, the passage of time changes things, and what might have been progressive 100 years ago can actually become regressive today. Indeed, that was Dewey’s main argument against what he called “high literacy” in the first place.

He prefaces his entire premise on the claim that as American society had changed, it rendered traditional teaching methodology ineffective. He acknowledged that focusing the first three years of schooling on reading had been historically productive.

“It does not follow, however, that because this course was once wise it is so any longer. … [T]he fact that this mode of education was adapted to past conditions is in itself a reason why it should no longer hold supreme sway,” he wrote. What were those past conditions? The relative isolation of rural communities, in which the main distinction between the educated and uneducated person was the ability to read and write.

Dewey freely admitted that where such conditions still existed (and in 1898, there were many), his ideas had no meaning. But using old education methods in newer, more connected, more densely populated, more industrial environments would leave individual students “stultified, if not disintegrated; and the course of progress is blocked.”

“It is in education, if anywhere, that the claims of the present should be controlling,” he declared definitively.

Our present is now nearly 20 years into the 21st century, and it looks as different from Dewey’s 1898 America as his time did from the epoch of the Constitutional Convention.

So many assumptions he took for granted regarding general society, social structure, family constructs, community mores and morality, gender attitudes, race relations, et al., are themselves now relics of a former time. The fetish has now come full-circle: There is social overdose today, and literacy starvation.

By Dewey’s well-reasoned conclusion—that a revolution has taken place in “the relation which the intellectual activities bear to the ordinary practical occupations of life”—our education problems in 2019 can’t possibly be solved by the methods of his “bygone days.”

The over-saturation of information for children today, especially those in disadvantaged circumstances, creates its own intellectual poverty, not unlike that which Dewey himself said required early reading skills.

“If any escape existed from the poverty of the intellectual environment, or any road to a richer and wider mental life,” he wrote, “the exit was through the gateway of books.”

By books, Dewey meant classic humanities literature containing timeless principles and ideas, not the under-thought pulp churned out today that simply adds to the clutter.

Progressive thinking today would mean a turn away from the Old Education of Dewey’s then-modern dreams. He could not have envisioned the steady march of civilization producing so much more drug abuse and violent crime, so many more broken homes, so much less active parenting.

Without the gateway skill of reading, young schoolchildren can and do suffer insurmountable setbacks.

The false god whose cult needs undoing is Dewey.

Hometown reminiscence

Just days after saying hello and goodbye to old and often faraway classmates at my Walnut Ridge High School reunion, I was confronted with another farewell ripe with reminiscences.

“Bland family to sell The Times Dispatch,” was the headline in my hometown’s weekly newspaper.

The TD, as it’s nicknamed locally, is the quintessential community chronicle. For most people in Lawrence County for decades (almost 10 of them) it carried the distinguishing moniker of simply and ubiquitously being called “the paper.”

I first appeared in the paper as a kid, because The TD faithfully featured local school and sports coverage. Thus every manner of student news—from field trips, spelling bees and science-fair finalists to honor-roll mentions, clubs and athletes—was reported, and often photographed.

The TD also published local high school newspaper editions, and one of my first columns (perhaps the first) appeared in the Walnut Ridge High School publication The Cat’s Dispatch.

In local newspapers, the publishing family is often synonymous with the institution, and there was no truer example of this than the Blands, several of which I am most fortunate to have known professionally and personally.

The late James Bland Jr. (“Jim”) made my first journalistic byline a reality when he hired me as a part-time feature writer and reporter not long after I graduated college.

His late wife, Virginia, gathered social and society news for the “People” pages of the paper, perhaps the most scoured and scrutinized section, since it carried short family blurbs from every county precinct.

His son, John, went out on a limb a few years later and gave me my first weekly column-writing opportunity.

For the Bland family, the paper blurred all lines: It was their job, their business and their life. Across the generations, they were both part of the community and apart from it, as the voice of goings-on and the bearer of all news good, bad and ugly.

It was undoubtedly a labor of love, which it needed to be since it was a laborious vocation that eschewed regular hours but required immutable deadline routine. The news, as often as not, happened at night. And, ready or not, the paper’s weekly press time didn’t waver.

My time in The TD newsroom was inspiring in many ways, not least because it opened my eyes to the trust relationship at the heart of every successful weekly newspaper.

Readers weren’t simply customers, and they didn’t view the 50-cent publication in their hands each week as merely a purchase.

One observation by a longtime community journalist likened local small-town newspaper readers to stockholders; there’s almost an implied contract or covenant between them and the paper, and I saw it live and in person at an impressionable age.

People came in to The TD office to submit news, to buy ads and to pick up copies of that week’s edition–not transactionally, but relationally. They knew the Blands not only as operators of the paper, but also as neighbors and fellow church-goers, as civic club members and local shoppers and diners.

All these years later, I’m sure the same dynamic still plays out daily, right there on the same corner.

At the same time, there’s always been something subtly bigger than life about the local paper because it embodies a key national concept in a very Main Street sort of way.

Freedom of speech and of the press is found in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. The instrument maximizing that freedom in smaller places was historically the weekly newspaper, which created a performance standard and expectation above that of other normal commercial establishments in town.

Most of what small community residents touch has little direct connection with the U.S. Constitution. But the local newspaper is ordained as an entity of light to protect democracy at the grass-roots level.

Done well, community journalism is a powerful force for good in small towns. The paper connects, informs, educates and empowers local folks. It encourages, promotes and facilitates local commerce.

It’s a forum for public debate, a watchdog with boots on the ground (good luck ever finding an Internet journalist at the local courthouse), and a sole spotlight on the more rural outposts dotting low-population-density counties.

It’s frequently the face, spirit and soul of a small city, county or community.

Local papers are expected to tell it like it is, and at The TD, the publisher’s column was appropriately named “Frankly Speaking.”

In the final edition of that commentary, John and his sister Beth expressed profound gratitude to both readers and staff.

A Bland has been at the helm of The TD since 1921, and there’s a bittersweetness to seeing that 98-year era come to an end.

But all farewells are double-edged. Every goodbye makes us pause, think, appreciate.

To paraphrase A.A. Milne from Winnie the Pooh, how lucky we are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

This goodbye, thankfully, is also followed by an immediate hello to the new owner of The TD, Paxton Media Group, who will be taking up and continuing the life’s work of a fine family.


Team Jonesboro’s gift

Two hundred-eleven votes. In Tuesday’s context as the margin of defeat for Jonesboro’s proposed sales tax, the figure is reminiscent of Della’s one dollar and 87 cents in the classic O. Henry tale.

Both stories are about pennies; both numbers are small potatoes against a larger purpose.

Two hundred-eleven votes in defeat translates into 106 changed minds out of 10,000 votes cast. Or 212 more supporters finding their way to a polling place out of 26,000 registered nonvoters.

Team Jonesboro is the grass-roots group that proposed the one-cent sales tax to fund public safety and amenities. It helped create an Oversight Integrity Council giving citizens a voice and adding a layer of sunlight accountability on the city council. The election’s unofficial final tally was 4,805 for and 5,016 against.

For the Team Jonesboro faithful, the past three months tripped by on rosy wings, to borrow O. Henry’s “hashed metaphor.” It started with 500 people attending the first reading of the proposed initiative—so many that the council chambers overflowed an hour before the meeting, and the annex room was packed. Old-time observers reported seeing opposition mobs that size in the past, but never such a crowd in support of something.

From there the fresh, young movement ascended and accelerated, the way Della wriggled from her chair to rush to Jim when he first caught sight of her cut-off hair.

Volunteer form submissions poured in from the Team Jonesboro website, as did online donations. Nearly 1,000 people signed up on the team roster, and site traffic reached 12,000 page views in 100 days. Team Jonesboro videos on Facebook were watched some 80,000 times. The page’s posts collected countless likes and shares and comments, and as many derivatives across others’ pages.

Yard signs lined streets everywhere, in front of houses small and large, in neighborhoods old and new.

Standing on a busy downtown corner, holding a sign on election day, I saw innumerable motorists smiling and waving, giving a thumbs-up, honking and a few shouting “Go Team Jonesboro” like cheerleaders.

Yet amid a veritable sea of active engagement and manifest support, 211 drops kept the tide from turning for Jonesboro.

Most municipalities would give anything for a bottle of the energy drink that Team Jonesboro brought to town. When local politicians post videos online, they hope for 800 views; they can only dream of 80,000. A local press conference of any sort would call 40 a “crowd,” while Team Jonesboro’s launch event gathered 400.

The razor-close electoral defeat notwithstanding, the Team Jonesboro movement has mobilized people who are sick and tired of frequent shootings and crime. Who are fed up with hometown hypocrites that happily pay higher sales taxes in every other place but not their own (Jonesboro’s sales tax is below the state average).

Who want, as Jonesboro continues to grow in population, to have above-average things for their families and children that other similar-sized cities invest in through local taxation: museums, sports complexes, performing arts facilities, amphitheaters, parks and pathways, bicycle trails, aquatic centers.

In providential fashion, the day after the election I attended a Patriot’s Day ceremony featuring a speech by retired Rev. Stuart Hoke.

Hoke was assistant pastor of historic Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York, just blocks from the World Trade Center towers, and witnessed the terrorist attack 18 Septembers ago.

In a riveting 20-minute talk, he related the initial innocence of a subway skipped stop because of a “problem” at the North Tower; the ear-splitting sound of the second jet and the holocaust of flame as it flew into the South Tower; the “bam-bam-bam-bam” sound and 4.0 Richter scale shudders as the “unthinkable” occurred when the first of the two collapsed.

He described walking preschool children away from danger, and being assisted when a Metro Transit Authority bus materialized, looking to help. He told of how hundreds of private watercraft, from fishing boats to pleasure yachts, all piloted by “normal people like you and me,” ferried 100,000 people to safety off the island.

Hoke’s story of hope bringing good from bad, light from darkness, life from death—whether in the most monumental atrocities, like 9/11, or in the most mundane disappointments, like a local sales tax vote—couldn’t have come at a better time. His call to remember how our nation put aside its differences to come together in a moment of raw pain and despair couldn’t have struck a more resonant chord.

Team Jonesboro may have lost the election on Tuesday, but it had already won the hearts of the people. A silly stumble of a paltry 211 votes at the polls won’t stop them now.

They have begun to sense what a safer, stronger community can feel like. For maybe the first time, locally, they truly understand E pluribus unum.

Team Jonesboro was, and is, unity out of many. They gave all, but gained in losing. They are the Magi.

And for the rest of the state interested in inspiring local goings-on, their movement and what they intend to accomplish will be worth watching.

Self-government foundation

Smart conservatives support local taxation for a number of solid reasons, but none more important than this one: It’s the first-order foundation of self-government.

Going all the way back to colonial times, taxation itself (which Oliver Wendell Holmes called the price we pay for civilization) has never been the problem. What the colonists resented and resisted was unrepresented taxation commandeered by faraway Parliament for its purposes.

Conservatives have rightly cast a wary eye toward tax schemes that send money to state capitals and Washington, D.C., where bureaucracies create waste, inefficiency and unintended consequences. Communities that tax themselves locally, however, are the purest form of the American experiment.

In the early days of the republic, the federal government had no money, and local communities had no expectation of financial assistance from it.

Their schools, crime issues, health care, streets and sanitation, and economy were all matters of primary importance, and the people responsible for looking out for their best interests were themselves. Their famed town-hall meetings boiled down to collectively prioritizing community needs and figuring out how to formulate local tax strategies to fund them.

Those communities with the most foresight, vision and planning tended to thrive. Those with the most infighting, naysaying and non-planning tended to struggle.

It’s a pattern that continues to this day.

In cities as in life, failing to plan is planning to fail. Looking over the state map, a given city’s fortunes can change pretty quickly, and often do. Some formerly prominent cities and towns are empty shadows of what they once were. Some formerly obscure places have ballooned beyond what anyone thought they could be.

In those places struggling with lost population and hard times, residents often remark how fast the decline befell them. In those celebrating growth and prosperity, they routinely point to heroic efforts by local crusaders, which typically included investment through local taxation.

Great communities don’t happen by accident. Prudent self-government is attained by self-taxation. How to best fund and plan growth is something cities large and small constantly grapple with. A timely example is the one-cent sales tax campaign in Jonesboro.

Voters on Tuesday will decide the fate of the grass-roots proposal that introduced an innovative accountability twist: Its ordinance restricts revenue uses to police, fire and a few specific “quality of life” capital categories. It created an “Oversight Integrity Council” to review and recommend eligible projects. That committee heard preliminary requests from citizens and nonprofit groups last week, and, intrigued by the concept, I sat in on some of the presentations.

I’d been in the Chambers room, and others like it in nearby towns, before. I’d also watched live-streamed video of council or subcommittee meetings from there—most of which, let’s face it, can be pretty dry. The feeling I normally get from such meetings, true or false, is that much of the discussion and decision-making seems to have already happened backstage.

This Oversight Integrity Council was surprisingly different.

In ordinary municipal meetings there are a lot of bored expressions around the table. But the council members were as engaged as the presenters. It was obvious from their questions that they were active listeners and paying close attention.

The presenters were all passion-filled people and strong believers in the projects they proposed. Each articulated well-planned dreams for a better city. All the projects sought to provide real community benefits to people and visitors via parks, recreational facilities, museums, arts centers, libraries, bicycle paths, sidewalks, and more.

I’d call it de Tocqueville déjà vu. Here were ordinary citizens, many of them making do with underfunded ingenuity to serve Jonesboro’s surging population needs, coming alive with vibrant ideas on how their city can catch up to its better-funded peers on high-value public amenities.

You couldn’t have cut the energy in that room with a lightsaber.

It was impressive. It was powerful. It was uniting. It was inspiring.

I wish everyone could have seen what I saw.

My rural address is outside the city limits, so I can’t vote for the penny tax in Jonesboro. But I can say with confidence that it has kindled the kind of animating force that propels communities forward when they confront a seminal moment of truth, as all cities must do at certain population milestones.

Raising the sales tax would bring Jonesboro right in line with the state average, but still below all the central and northwest Arkansas cities of comparable size, and a full penny or more lower than most neighboring towns.

The proverbial penny-wise/pound-foolish lesson unfortunately remains lost on some well-meaning conservatives who lump national and local taxation together as equal evils. As with other blinder/blunder situations, the big picture suffers.

Once tax dollars leave a city and get sent to bolster budgets in Washington or Little Rock, they never come back whole. And whatever fraction does filter back usually winds up funding reactive safety-net programs, not fueling proactive civic and community investment for progress.

Only local tax proceeds can do that, and they do it at full strength and face value.

Smart conservatives should understand that. And vote accordingly.

Glimpse of a gun criminal

Gun-control advocates need to get out more. Specifically, they need to meet some of the real people who repeatedly commit gun crimes.

One such individual in Craighead County made the news this past weekend by posting a Facebook video in which he admitted to killing a woman, and also threatened to kill others as he drove toward Jonesboro.

As he cursed incessantly, he occasionally reached over, grabbed a handgun and held it up for emphasis.

In an mf-bomb-laced monologue, he was brazen about his alleged crime (“the b * * * h deserved it”), who his next victims might be (“I’m coming for y’all … in Jonesboro”) and what his intentions were (“I’m shooting in the m * * * * * f * * * * * g face”).

The man filmed himself while driving around in the victim’s vehicle, and later surrendered to police and was charged with capital murder. Despite his video-recorded comments and police reports of a full confession, he is presumed innocent of the murder charge until proven guilty in a court of law.

But like so many other gun criminals, he’s guilty of plenty of previous crimes–including breaking gun laws without blinking.

He pleaded guilty to first-degree terroristic threatening and possession of a firearm by a felon in 2008, and it’s disconcerting to consider the possibility that ever since he could have been illegally carrying guns around.

Like so many other domestic-violence victims, the murdered woman had taken out a protective order against the man on Aug. 8. It now looks like he violated his parole, the restraining order, and the prohibition against possessing a firearm.

Once again, we have a prime example of the rampant recidivism among gun criminals.

When it’s clear that the main violators of gun laws are criminals who “don’t give a f***,” as this man said over and over on his video, about what the law says about guns, it’s laughably ludicrous to suggest that the way to stop them is to enact additional gun laws.

Once again, the operative word in the phrase “gun criminal” is the second one. Criminals who decide to carry guns often wind up using them. A violent felon can always get a gun as long as he is part of free society.

It’s so common for a felon with a previous gun crime to wind up committing another gun crime that it’s essentially predictable. And all too often, the severity of the crimes escalate; what started out first as flashing a gun for effect ultimately becomes firing a gun in a murder or maiming later on.

Had this man gotten 15 years of prison time without parole instead of a suspended sentence in 2008, he would not have been free to shoot anyone. And the victim would not have died Saturday from multiple gunshot wounds.

It’s time for a two-prong, divide-and-conquer fundamental change in our crime fighting strategy and justice system.

The first prong: Divide criminals in a way that aligns with human nature. Some people are capable of maliciously hurting innocents on a regular basis, others are not. It’s logical, smart and right to treat them differently.

With repeat violent offenders, the question isn’t if, but when. It’s much easier to simply keep a ticking bomb far away from a neighborhood than to try and protect the local population from an imminent detonation next door.

People also need to know who the dangerous criminals among them are, which is why Arkansas needs a violent offender registry (like the sex offender registry), with double asterisks on those convicted of gun crimes.

The latest state to add a violent offender registry is Ohio, where the measure passed the state’s House unanimously and the Senate 24-3.

Also, anyone convicted of a felon-in-possession charge who becomes the subject of a protective or restraining order needs to be immediately searched as a matter of protocol. They should be presumed recidivist, and primed and ready to open fire if certain situations escalate.

Felons have no Fourth Amendment protections, and if an illegal gun is found in his home or car, he can be immediately jailed—which will provide real restraint and protection for the petitioning woman who fears for her safety.

The second prong: Conquer gun crime by stiffening sentencing laws for felons who possess firearms before they graduate to actually shooting people.

That’s the point in time—before they’ve killed anyone—to put them away for enough years so they will come out older, weaker and perhaps wiser than when they went in.

If a twice-convicted felon re-arms himself, it should be a life sentence, period. That’s the best way to protect society from what is the highest-risk criminal known to police: a repeat gun offender with a violent past.

Longer sentences will run prison costs up. But a steep reduction in gun crime will push victimization costs, such as health care and missed work and lost productivity, down to offset the increase in incarceration expenses.

Life is the most basic right and the priceless precursor to other rights deriving from liberty and pursuit of happiness. Filling prisons with disarmed felons will undoubtedly save innocent, productive lives.

Common core consequences

Few bandwagons were jumped on so quickly by so many, and with such voluminous fanfare, than the one bearing the banner of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative. Nine years ago this month, nearly every “crat” from every governmental and civic bureau united in leaping ovation behind “new standards” that would revolutionize and modernize American education.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary, dove completely off the deep end in rabid support, claiming the Common Core standards could wind up being “the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.”

Well, not quite.

Following a seven-year federal study, the national data are in and the “Race to the Top” funding that drove Common Core adoption wound up creating a Twist toward the Bottom effect on student achievement.

“Contrary to our expectation” is how researchers at the Center of Standards, Alignment, Instruction and Learning (C-SAIL) described the CCSS’s derailing of an upward trend in observed fourth-grade reading scores from 2005 to 2010. Between 2010 and 2017, “[t]he table reveals significant negative effects for grade 4 reading,” the study noted.

The findings got even worse: the C-SAIL authors calculated a “counterfactual,” predicting what the National Assessment of Educational Progress composite scores would have been had states not adopted CCSS.

The reading achievement “would have improved significantly more after the adoption of the new standards had the states continued with their old standards,” they concluded. In layman’s language, students would have been better off had critics of Common Core (and there were many) been listened to.

Karen Lamoreaux’s 2014 viral video lampooning the CCSS “critical thinking” solution to a simple math problem has been viewed more than 3.5 million times—and comments are still being posted on it as recently as this week. She called her example, in which students were expected to draw circles and count hash marks rather than employ simple division, as “not rigorous.” I called it ridiculous.

It turns out the C-SAIL study validates us both: Eighth-grade math scores also suffered a “significant negative effect,” with observed scores in the wake of Common Core interference actually dropping below where they were in 2006—four years before adoption.

And if that’s not bad enough, researchers found it “troubling” that the achievement declines got worse over time.

Common Core is the disaster that just keeps on damaging. But the billions in lost funding and countless wasted hours pale against the colossal opportunity costs inflicted, as indicated by a 2016 Harvard University study linking student performance on math tests to state GDP growth per person.

Besides demonstrating that raising all states’ math test scores to “basic” levels would add $32 trillion to the national economy, gains were estimated for each state. The positive economic impact of lifting student achievement would be greatest in states where achievement levels are lowest, like Arkansas.

If all states could improve math scores to the top-performing state’s level (Minnesota), the projected GDP gain in Arkansas would be nearly 700 percent, or somewhere around $800 billion.

Like other leviathans spawned by the national education-industrial complex, even opposite-of-desired effects aren’t enough to discredit the “experts” who foisted Common Core on schools, teachers and parents who all knew better.

True believers, like Duncan, remain unrepentant. The only lesson they learned is the same old bureaucrat’s blame-game excuse: They didn’t spend enough money.

If anything, the uncommonly awful Common Core spectacle should spark increasingly credible calls for the abolition of the federal Department of Education (a lamentable Jimmy Carter legacy).

Its focus was flawed from the start, looking at schools as a massive system to be tweaked, instead of individual students to be taught. And its lens forever skewed by the Washington tendency to use funding as a policy club to beat states into submission.

Federal money can be a blinder, as the C-SAIL study so clearly reveals. State education departments and schools all clamored for the Common Core financial reward, only to discover nine years later that not only did the standards fail to improve learning, but succeeded in impairing it.

Signed into law 40 years ago this fall, the federal education department has overseen more than $1.7 trillion in spending ostensibly to make schools better. Should continued funding be the consequence for instead making them worse?

It’s tough to name any laws, regulations or policies emanating from the Washington education bureaucracy that don’t prompt a disapproving head-shake among the real educators in our schools—teachers in the classrooms.

The department can’t even justify its existence with any evidence-based performance metrics. Ironically, the C-SAIL study was funded by the Obama administration for the purpose of proving Common Core’s effectiveness.

A bill to end the 4,000-bureaucrat education department was re-introduced by Kentucky Republican congressman Thomas Massie in February, mostly as a symbolic gesture since Democrats in control generally want the federal government to have an even heavier hand in education policy.

Four decades of failure is enough for any federal department, especially one that’s become demonstrably detrimental to its supposed constituency.