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A student leans back in fatigue or frustration during a lesson. Photo: Courtney Perry for the Washington Post via Getty Images

America's eighth graders in public schools are falling behind in math and especially reading, with their tests declining in more than half of states, according to the latest results from the Nation's Report Card, per the New York Times.

Why it matters: In prepared remarks on Wednesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will note these findings as justification for policy change. DeVos, who is pushing for a $5 billion school choice program, said they "must be America’s wake-up call."

By the numbers: About a third of eighth graders are proficient in reading and math. Among fourth graders, about a third are proficient in reading, and more than 40% are proficient in math, per AP.

  • Fourth-grade reading scores dropped in 17 states, with New Jersey seeing the biggest drop. Mississippi and the District of Columbia both showed gains.
  • Big-city schools still performed below the nation as a whole, but narrowed the gap.
"The results are, frankly, devastating. This country is in a student achievement crisis, and over the past decade it has continued to worsen, especially for our most vulnerable students."
— Betsy DeVos

The big picture: Students made big gains in math in the 1990s and 2000s but have shown little improvement since then. Reading scores have risen a little since the tests began in 1992.

Methodology: States and measures 4th and 8th graders’ abilities in reading and mathematics every two years. Results are tabulated at the state and national levels and for 27 large school districts in the nation.

Go deeper: Why Betsy DeVos' private school tax credit may not be be the answer

Go deeper

Democrats' hypocrisy moment

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Ray Tamarra/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo should be facing explicit calls to resign from President Biden on down, if you apply the standard that Democrats set for similar allegations against Republicans. And it's not a close call.

Why it matters: The #MeToo moment saw men in power run out of town for exploiting young women. Democrats led the charge. So the silence of so many of them seems more strange — and unacceptable by their own standards — by the hour.

Police officers' immunity from lawsuits is getting a fresh look

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd, advocates of changes in police practices are launching new moves to limit or eliminate legal liability protections for officers accused of excessive force.

Why it matters: Revising or eliminating qualified immunity — the shield police officers have now — could force officers accused of excessive force to personally face civil penalties in addition to their departments. But such a change could intensify a nationwide police officer shortage, critics say. 

The U.S. coronavirus vaccines aren't all the same

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The U.S. now has three COVID-19 vaccines, and public health officials are quick — and careful — to say there’s no bad option. But their effectiveness, manufacturing and distribution vary.

Why it matters: Any of the authorized vaccines are much better than no vaccine, especially for people at high risk of severe coronavirus infections. But their differences may fuel perceptions of inequity, and raise legitimate questions about the best way to use each one.