Bacon Bits: Government Failure, Private Initiative

Will Metro ever get its act together? The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has pulled the 7000 series of rail cars from service after a derailment on the Blue Line and discovery of more than two dozen wheel-assembly defects similar to those that had contributed to the accident, reports the Washington Post. “The potential for fatalities and serious injuries was significant,” said National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy, “This could have resulted in a catastrophic event.” The news represents the latest in a long series of setbacks for the commuter rail system, which serves Northern Virginia. It comes at at time when transit officials were hoping that ridership, devastated by the COVID-19 epidemic on top of a history of safety and service issues, might rebound. But never fear, the federal government has a printing press and it has limitless dollars to prop up failed enterprises.

K-12 education in crisis. The crisis in K-12 education has far deeper roots than the COVID-19 epidemic. Nationally, 13-year-olds saw unprecedented declines in both reading and math between 2012 and 2020, according to scores released a week ago by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Despite relentless efforts to close the racial achievement gap, the “Nation’s Report Card” shows that Blacks are falling behind even faster than Whites, Asians, and Hispanics. Declines were most severe in the bottom 10th percentile. “It’s really a matter for national concern, this high percentage of students who are not reaching even what I think we’d consider the lowest levels of proficiency,” said George Bohrnstedt, a senior vice president and institute fellow at the American Institutes for Research, as quoted in the 74 Million blog.

Dumb and dumber. Speaking of the NAEP scores, fewer than half of Virginia’s 4th graders score “proficient” or higher  in the NAEP tests. By the 8th grade, they fall even farther behind. Here are the most recent numbers (2019):

Over the long haul — since 1990 — Virginia 8th graders perform significantly higher in math. But that positive trend has plateaued. Meanwhile, reading scores were measurably lower in 2019 compared to 2017 for both 4th and 8th graders.

Who can blame them? The New York Times profiles the Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy in Moneta, Va., in an article examining the surge of enrollment in private schools, Christian schools in particular. Five years ago, the academy was struggling with just 88 students. Today, the school has 420 students and turns away others for lack of space. In the 2019-20 school year, the NYT says, 3.5 million of the 54 million American schoolchildren attended religious schools, including 600,000 in “conservative Christian” schools. In the wake of the COVID epidemic and Critical Race Theory controversies, interest in private-school education is soaring.

I find it intriguing that, while Virginia public school educators advocate pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into building new schools, Christian schools make do with jury-rigged settings. The Smith Mountain Christian Academy held classes in a Baptist Church before moving into a 21,000-square-foot mini-mall two years ago. Weekly chapel service is held in what used to be the Bottom’s Up Bar & Grill. Christian schools, I would conjecture, set different priorities. The money goes into the classroom, not expensive buildings and ranks of administrators.