Why Are Kids Failing in School?

By Greg Baer M.D.

May 11, 2023


Alarming Statistics of Kids Failing in School

53% of public school kids in this country FAIL the MINIMUM competency tests for math, to pick just one subject. In some sub-groups that failure rate was as high as 95-96%. As a country, our children are pretty math-stupid—and nearly all the jobs in high demand now require WAY more math than minimum competency. One fairly large school district reported in 2022 that in grades 3-8, 88% of all their students were not math-proficient.

65% of 4th graders are not competent readers. 2/3 of our fourth-graders can’t read! And the numbers get WORSE through high school.

In science 64% of American fourth-graders are not proficient in science, while 78% of high school seniors are not. 59% of high school seniors didn’t meet even a basic level of performance in science, which pretty much closes them off from any possibility of getting any of the jobs that are presently most in demand.

Let’s keep going. 87% of eighth-graders fail to meet proficiency standards for U.S. history, which doesn’t mean they didn’t understand detailed dates and names. No, it means they can’t explain even the major themes, periods, events, people, ideas and turning points in the country’s history.

About 80% of students fail the proficiency level in civics.

Geography? 50% of 18-24 year old people could not identify New York on an unlabeled map of the U.S.

WAY more than half our children appear to be headed toward a lifetime of unemployment—or certainly under-employment, with jobs where they will struggle to meet their basic physical needs.

Who is to Blame for Kids Failing in School?

Why? Oh, we love to blame. Love it.

  1. It’s the schools. No real proof of that, except that lately more and more time has been devoted to teaching sexuality, gender orientation, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  2. It’s the teachers. No study can PLACE a finger firmly on that group, although we don’t hesitate to POINT our fingers.
  3. It’s COVID. Nah, although there was certainly a dip in performance after prolonged periods of closed classrooms, the scores have been declining steadily for the past twenty years, not just during and after COVID.

The one place we never, ever look is what is called the third rail of social commentary—parenting. For those who don’t live near a subway system, some trains—typically those used for public transit—are powered by high-voltage electricity that runs through a third rail placed between the two rails the train wheels run on. If you touch the third rail, you die. Social security is referred to as a third rail issue in politics. If a politician messes with it, they die.

Parenting is a metaphorical “third rail” because anybody who dares to comment on it is beheaded by parents who are offended. Apparently, I live on the third rail. I don’t mind.

Test scores for American children have been declining for about the past 20 years, especially the past dozen or so years.

Hmmm, is there a correlation between the period of those declining scores and anything else that was happening in the world at that time? Yes, turns out there is. Briefly:

  • 1969    Internet invented as research project
  • 1971    first email message
  • 1973    first cell phone
  • 1970s   first commercial video games
  • 1983    first commercially available cell phone (huge)
  • 1988    first Samsung hand-sized phone
  • 1992    first text
  • 1993    Web established
  • 1994    first smartphone
  • 1996    first keyboard phone
  • 1997    first commercially widespread video game on phone (Nokia)
  • 1999    first phone to browse Internet, first phone with camera
  • 2003    early social media platforms
  • 2004    Facebook, but not public
  • 2007    iPhone
  • 2009    4G technology

                       Facebook users could publicly “like” posts with the click of a button

                       Facebook algorithms feed users what they liked

                       Video games growing exponentially.

  • 2012    Facebook went public, with declared intent of rewiring how we spread and consume information.

stop your child from failing school Now!

Screens and the Effect on Kids Failing in School

So, in the last 20 years or so—especially the last 13 years—screens have become exponentially more available and better designed to keep the user riveted to the screen—forever.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the average daily hours on a screen by age group: 8-10 years old: Six hours. 11-14 years old: Nine hours. 15-18 years old: Seven and 1/2 hours.

Let’s roughly average that and say that kids spend 8 hours per day on their phones/pads/laptops. They’re in school for eight hours at least—including travel—much more if they play a sport, which is common.

The American Pediatric Association states that kids of those ages should be sleeping 8-11 hours a day. We’ll call it 9.5. Add up just the hours for school, screens, and sleep, and the total is 25.5 hours per day—with no time for reading, homework, eating, or family teaching and other activities.

You can’t flex math, so the kids are not sleeping or studying. They arrive at school sleep-deprived, in a screen coma or screen withdrawal, and unprepared for their classes. Is there any wonder that their learning is impaired, which is reflected by their poor test scores? No, no wonder.

The Effect of Parenting on Kids Failing in School

And who governs the time a child goes to bed—more than 50% of them with a phone touching their body as they sleep? The school? The teachers? No.

Who follows up on homework and gets them the help they need? School? Teachers? No again.

Who governs how much screen time they get? Not the school or teachers.

Surprise! Our children’s learning is decreasing because of US, the PARENTS. I have spoken to thousands of parents over the past 30 years, and I have learned with absolute certainty what parents want most as they interact with their children. Want to guess?

  • For their children to learn to be responsible? No.
  • For their children to be loving toward each other? No.
  • For their children to prepare for a lifetime of rich and loving relationships? No.

Of course, parents will say that those are their goals, but the reality is that parents want this from their children:

  • No disapproval. Nothing stabs a parent more than the look of disapproval they get when a child glares or argues or demonstrates defiance when a parent requires a child to be responsible, or to stop using their phone, or to stop fighting with a sibling.
  • Approval. Parents light up when a child is grateful for a gift, or the child expresses delight at a new toy or great vacation. Parents NEED approval, and they use their children to get it. Giving them screen time is one way to accomplish that.
  • Peace and quiet, in great part so the parents can spend time on their own screens.

Parents are terrified of taking screen time from their kids, but until they do, children will learn less, with lifelong and disabling consequences.

As usual, the problems we face are all about the parents. Learn how we can loveandteach our children at RealLoveParents.com.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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