This year, reports of California’s budget cuts to its education system have dominated the education headlines. From districts having to cut art and music classes, to the cancellation of summer classes and tuition hikes in California’s public university system, it feels like our education system is imploding. And now, a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think-tank in Washington, DC, says that K-12 students across the nation are not being academically challenged in school.

The report, “Do Schools Challenge Our Students?” by Ulrich Boser and Lindsay Rosenthal, examines student surveys from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. According to the brief, the author’s methodology was limited to looking at student questionnaires that asked students to evaluate their teacher’s performance. The student questionnaires also collected student information such as demographics, and sought to capture student perceptions of access to academic resources and classroom experiences.

Student surveys, previously dismissed as an official measure of teacher effectiveness – replaced by such things as degree requirements -- are now being incorporated into many studies, as reliable sources for evaluating education.

Among the findings:

• 62% of 8th grade math students in California feel that they are learning -- yet 77% of 8th grade students in California says they are not being taught engineering or technology.

• 74% of high-income 4th grade students feel that they understand their science teacher; meanwhile only 56% of low-income students report understanding their science teacher.

• The authors of the report found that “students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have access to more rigorous learning opportunities.”

• The authors suggest policymakers create higher and more challenging standards, and develop and utilize more student surveys.

In the wake of the Obama Administration’s recent decision to release the states of Washington and Wisconsin from the federal No Child Left Behind mandate in early July, the CAP report begs the question: What are appropriate education standards that will motivate learning, while not oppressing schools with far-fetched demands and a obsessive focus on testing?

With 26 states now having been relieved from No Child Left Behind, and 11 more states actively requesting to be released from the mandate -- including California – it’s a question that needs to be addressed.