National Education Scores Paint Bleak Picture, But There Is Still Hope

By Mike Long

You do not need me to tell you that education was flipped on its head, like many aspects of our lives, when the pandemic arrived in the Spring of 2020.

Schools and classrooms shutdown and while the merits of that can be debated elsewhere, what cannot be are the impacts those shutdowns had on our children. It was a heavy burden on educators, families and students.

We heard from parents and families who knew, even in the early days of the pandemic, that their children had to get back to in-person instruction as soon as possible. That is why we saw accelerated school choice opportunities and why today more than 25% of students in our state are attending private schools, public charter schools or home schools. 

We cannot control a pandemic, but now that we have experienced one, we can certainly learn from it. The pandemic proved that there are cracks in the armor of the public education system that directly led to real learning loss across our nation.

This week, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores were released and sadly, but maybe not unexpectedly, the results are not good. 

4th and 8th graders lost decades of progress in reading and according to the report many of our students are on par with their peers in the 1990s.

A third of those students couldn’t read at even the “basic” achievement level. In addition, the nation saw the most significant drop in math performance in 4th and 8th grades since the testing program began. You can view the full assessment results at

As dreadful as these conditions are, it still gives me hope and pride to see how North Carolina parents are responding to this education crisis, and it is a credit to school choice in our state.

New parents and families are flocking to school choice programs; 21,000 applications for the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) and 4,200 applications for the ESA+ program were submitted this year. We estimate that 22,000+ students will attend the school of their choice for the 22-23 school year thanks to the OSP, as well as an additional 2,000 through the ESA+. 

Despite ongoing efforts by the teacher’s union in North Carolina to end the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and failed attempts by Governor Cooper to eliminate school choice funding for scholarships, the need for equal access to schools of choice has clearly never been greater.

I go back to my recent trip to Arizona, as I was with Governor Doug Ducey and local leaders to witness the signing of a historic school choice expansion law in their state.

With a successful track record and high demand for school choice, North Carolina is positioned to follow the path that our friends in Arizona just paved. It proves that school choice for all is possible and is always worth fighting for, and I remain grateful that leadership in the North Carolina General Assembly, under Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), has prioritized school choice growth in North Carolina.

The bottom line, we are witnessing an education crisis that is impossible to deny. The good news is what has been broken, North Carolina has already been fixing. School choice is here to stay, and expanding it to all North Carolina families must be our top priority.