New book sounds alarm on America’s ‘failing’ public education system

Public schools are failing American children, even 40 years after a Ronald Reagan-appointed commission warned that a “rising tide of mediocrity” was eroding our “educational…

Public schools are failing American children, even 40 years after a Ronald Reagan-appointed commission warned that a “rising tide of mediocrity” was eroding our “educational foundations.”

This, according to a new book by two authors who have become well-known for their calls to reform public education.

Connor Boyack is president of the Utah-based Libertas Institute and author of the popular Tuttle Twins book series for kids. Corey DeAngelis is executive director of the Education Freedom Insitute and a popular school choice advocate.

Mediocrity takes its name from the warning above in the Reagan-era report, A Nation at Risk, published exactly 40 years before the book’s release on Wednesday.

Boyack and DeAngelis hope to make it painfully obvious that America’s public schools, which they call government schools, are abysmally failing. 

“Despite a general recognition that America’s schools are in a sad state,” the authors write, “too many parents and grandparents are unaware of just how pervasive the problems are. They may be concerned about the rising tide of mediocrity but unaware just how badly the educational foundations have eroded in recent years.” 

And so, the authors spend forty short, readable chapters pulling back the curtain on the defects of the educational status quo.  

“Like a good warning sign, the purpose is to encourage you to change your behavior,” they write. 

Public schools are government schools

The authors emphasize from the start that public education consists of schools “operated and controlled by the government,” which was never clearer, they say, than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when bureaucrats shuttered schools, leading to profound learning loss for students. 

“The government’s cruel response in managing its schools during and after COVID-19 set back the educational progress of many students,” Boyack and DeAngelis write. “‘Two weeks to slow the spread’ became two years to increase mediocrity for millions of students.” 

The pandemic also uncovered how K-12 instruction has gotten away from the “three Rs” – reading, writing, and arithmetic – and instead teaches socially and morally controversial issues related to gender identity and sexuality, both in class and through school-sponsored clubs. 

“What was once a goodwill gesture of homosexual and heterosexual children befriending one another,” the authors write of GSA clubs, “has now been co-opted into a breeding ground for radical left-wing teachers to promote gender discussion and dysphoria among highly impressionable children, even at very young ages, without their parents having any knowledge about or say in the matter.” 

Parents as allies or enemies?

Besides plummeting performance and questionable content, something else significant has happened over the past three years: frustrated parents began packing school board meetings, demanding change. 

“Research confirms what we all implicitly understand to be true: more parent engagement in a child’s school experience leads to improved educational outcomes,” the book states. 

And yet, the Biden administration clamped down on the parental pressure, culminating in U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s directive to the FBI and other federal agencies to investigate parents, Boyack and DeAngelis recount. 

“If that [parental] involvement is constrained to a tiny range of acceptable input,” they write, “then when parents scrutinize things outside of that range or demand change, teachers may likely become defensive and perceive the pushback as ‘harassment’ or ‘intimidation’ as Merrick’s memo suggested.” 

Public education is a monopoly in need of competition

Mediocrity also argues that public schools are a monopoly, dominating the education market, squashing competition, and leaving their “guaranteed” customers with no other choices.  

“When a school has a monopoly on its students, the incentive to produce excellence is diminished,” the authors write. “And the absence of competition in education can lead to parents being viewed as a nuisance rather than valued clients who may seek alternatives if they are not satisfied. …If we want to fix the current mediocrity, we have to dismantle the monopoly.” 

These are just a few of the forty issues the book addresses, and if you’ve watched news coverage of public education’s decline during the past three years, many of the topics and stories in the book will be familiar.  

But Mediocrity brings them all together in one place to make a larger, powerful point, which should shock the reader into action: education has not improved and, by many measures, has declined over the past 40 years – and it’s time for change. 

“It has never been easier to step off the government school conveyor belt and explore other paths,” Boyack and DeAngelis write in the book’s conclusion. “Whether you choose private schools, microschools, homeschool co-ops, online learning, tutoring, cloud-based classrooms, or another option in a quickly evolving landscape of education entrepreneurship, there are solutions out there for every child.” 

Mediocrity is published by Libertas Press and is available for purchase online. Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos writes the forward, and the book has also received endorsements from Glenn Beck, Pete Hegseth and Christopher Rufo.