Eighth-Graders Are Doing Fifth-Grade Work. No Wonder Our Kids Aren't Ready for College.

Sep 25, 2018 12:00:00 AM


I just read a report that, as a father, makes me question my own kid's school. I mean, if these problems are happening in so many classrooms, what are the chances they’re happening in my son’s classroom? Don’t get me wrong. I love my school, and I think they’re doing amazing things, but most parents think their schools are great. This isn’t Lake Wobegon. All our kids can’t be above average. But this report suggests that most schools are letting kids down. TNTP, a national education nonprofit, just released The Opportunity Myth. There’s a lot to say about this report, but for me, it finally explains why, despite so much talk about improving education, despite all the policies and laws designed to make schools better, we still have so many kids struggling. The Opportunity Myth shows why, despite students’ best efforts, their good grades and big dreams, so many graduate high school and find themselves being forced into remedial classes in college. Those classes costs them thousands for stuff they should have already learned for free in the public school system. What’s worse, [pullquote]students who start college with remedial classes are unlikely to ever get that degree.[/pullquote] They find themselves unable to grasp the opportunities they thought they were ready for. They were told: Work hard. Get good grades. Stick it out and get that diploma, and you can succeed in college and get on that career path you’ve dreamed of. But it’s a myth. Most students aren’t even getting the opportunity to do the hard work and learn the skills that will prepare them for the life they want. I read the report and I was shocked by what I found. TNTP heard from more than 4,000 students, visited hundreds of classrooms and looked at thousands of assignments. They spent time in class and observed nearly 1,000 lessons. Ultimately, they identified four “resources” that all students need to be successful. Four things a lot of students aren’t getting, especially low-income and minority students. I’m going to focus on just one for this post, but you can read it all in The Opportunity Myth for yourself.

Grade-Appropriate Assignments

Most students are doing the work asked of them.
  • 90 percent of students are doing their classwork.
  • Students are meeting the demands of their assignments 71 percent of the time.
  • More than half are getting A’s and B’s. 80 percent are getting at least a C.
  • Classes are aligned to the Nation’s Report Card test (also known as The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP).
But schools aren’t helping many students do the right work. Only 17 percent of assignments give students a chance to do grade-level work. TNTP found fourth-graders being asked to do first and second grade math problems. And this fifth-grade-level reading assignment shocked me (see my screenshot below)! They asked eighth-graders to read it and complete a problem where the vowels in the word “habitat” are blanked out. I couldn’t believe it. That’s a real assignment from a real eighth-grade English literacy class. When I look at stuff like this, it’s no wonder our kids aren’t ready for college. No wonder they’re not succeeding on standardized tests. A big cause of the problem, according to the report, is that teachers are often going it alone when it comes to finding assignments and materials to teach their students. Many times they create their own materials. The result is that only 1 in 5 assignments is aligned to the grade-level academic standards kids are supposed to be learning. It gets slightly better when they use what the district has to offer. Districts choose materials that align 38 percent of the time. That’s not good enough. When students actually got grade-level assignments and homework, it’s as if they had nearly two more months in school than their peers who didn’t. They just learned that much more. High-quality classwork is even more valuable for students who start out a year behind their peers. The data shows [pullquote]they learn, on average, 7.5 months’ worth of material more than kids who don’t have grade-level appropriate schoolwork.[/pullquote] The Opportunity Myth has been exposed. Now it’s time to bust it by giving kids what they need to thrive. They shouldn’t have to wait years for something schools could do in months.

Lane Wright

Lane Wright is Director of Strategic Growth at Education Post. In addition to this role, he tells stories that help families understand how their schools are doing, how to make them better and how policy plays a role. He’s a former journalist and former press secretary to Florida’s governor, and he’s got a knack for breaking down complex education reform policy issues into easy-to-understand concepts. During his time at Education Post, and with previous organizations, Lane has interviewed teachers, students and local school leaders. He’s spent time watching them work in the classroom and helped them raise their voices on issues they care about. He’s also helped parents advocate—in the news, and before lawmakers—for a better education for their own kids. Lane, his wife, and three children live in Tallahassee, Florida, where his kids attend a public charter school.

The Feed


  • What's an IEP and How to Ensure Your Child's Needs Are Met?

    Ed Post Staff

    If you have a child with disabilities, you’re not alone: According to the latest data, over 7 million American schoolchildren — 14% of all students ages 3-21 — are classified as eligible for special...

  • Seeking Justice for Black and Brown Children? Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

    Laura Waters

    The fight for educational equity has never been just about schools. The real North Star for this work is providing opportunities for each child to thrive into adulthood. This means that our advocacy...

  • Why Math Identity Matters

    Lane Wright

    The story you tell yourself about your own math ability tends to become true. This isn’t some Oprah aphorism about attracting what you want from the universe. Well, I guess it kind of is, but...