In his first State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Joe Biden pushed for an unprecedented expansion of federal spending in education.

“While we salute the aspiration to create the ‘best-educated generation in U.S. history,’ this goal can come about only if students have access to schools that work for them,” said Jeanne Allen, the founder and chief executive of the Center for Education Reform (CER). “Instead, the Biden Administration wants to issue a blank check to institutions that have failed the vast majority of students attending them.”

Indeed, according to the Nation’s Report Card, more than 40 percent of students lack proficiency in core subjects. In math, 41 percent of fourth graders and 34 percent of eighth graders perform at or above proficiency. In reading, the numbers are similar: 35 percent of fourth graders and 34 percent of eighth graders are proficient. This is to say nothing of civics, where fewer than 24 percent of eighth graders are proficient, and history, where the number is barely 15 percent.

“If achievement was not enough of an issue before, the system’s failure to respond to the needs of families during COVID, even after receiving billions of dollars, shows both its ineffectiveness and inefficiency,” continued Allen. “To suggest that we should give the government more responsibility for our youngest children, with no evidence that universal, government-organized pre-K works, flies in the face of the goal of education.”

• Pre-K. Studies show that early gains are often short-lived and fade out by the time students enter elementary school. A number of factors, including quality, students’ cognitive needs, and a lack of assessments from kindergarten through second grade leave many publicly managed pre-K programs unable to show real achievement or core growth in knowledge. The solution is providing families with the resources to select the pre-schools they believe meet their needs, rather than expanding programs in traditional public education systems.

• Teacher Training and Retention. Additionally, more federal funding won’t solve the biggest issue facing teachers, which is a lack of autonomy, rewards, and professionalism that force them into a system where there’s little incentive to perform better, no reward for investing more time, and no ability to craft one’s own position or to be paid for one’s expertise.

“These are the problems the president should be working to solve. Instead, he’s advocating an unaccountable, new spending program that perpetuates the status quo,” said Allen.

• Community College. Finally, the move to make community college free rests on a flawed assumption: that community colleges transform lives and result in the kinds of skills and training that the US needs. The facts tell a different story: community college retention, which is 40 percent, is attributable predominantly not to financial challenges but to the fact that most students are unable to access the education, training and skills that community colleges were founded to help them secure.

“Hoping that more federal spending will lead to ‘the best-educated generation in history’ demonstrates an utter disregard for data. This emotional argument ignores the failure of too many government institutions and the need for transformational and innovative approaches to learning,” said Allen.

Allen continued: “Every parent in America today wants and needs one thing — and that is to find the best educational pathways, pre-K through career, that meet the needs of their own children, who are diverse in all aspects. Most of our national leaders still haven’t gotten that message, even though the data is clear: communities that afford parents the power to make decisions yield better-educated students.”

Allen concluded: “The best-educated generation in U.S. history will come when every parent can select the education they think is best and not have to depend on districts that have shown themselves to be ineffective and federal funds that have so many strings as to make the system totally ineffective.”

Founded in 1993, the Center for Education Reform (CER) aims to expand educational opportunities that lead to improved economic outcomes for all Americans — particularly our youth — ensuring that the conditions are ripe for innovation, freedom and flexibility throughout U.S. education.