Even though our public schools approach disaster, there are grounds for optimism.
The stimulating thinkers Walter Williams of George Mason University and Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal have drawn attention to the moral, intellectual and pragmatic decay of our country’s public school systems. At the same time, one of the meanest and perhaps most immoral steps against the black community has been taken by civil rights leaders of yesteryear who have turned their backs on these families. While a variety of religious and ethnic groups want out of our public schools, many blacks are eager to consider a substitute as well.
The reason for the abandonment is that the leaders, in their self-interest, have developed alliances with educational political powers – teacher unions; leading figures in local Democratic politics; and other local symbols of influence such as judges, district attorneys and others who make sure the channels of litigation are kept full of petitions for injunctions and other legal challenges.
Black families feel frustrated and disappointed because the public schools are failing: education failures, disciplinary failures, value failures, you can name your failure. Charter schools and others of similar purpose were launched to mitigate this problem, but the teacher union-Democratic alliance has been a powerful political obstacle to their development.
The media declare inadequate public funding as the important factor in this decline, and noisily cite the Detroit area as a classic example of such shortfalls. But according to Williams, the Detroit School District, which houses a large proportion of black students, ranks in the top 6 percent of all 871 Michigan districts in state spending per student – $13,743.
At the national level, the Democratic Party has weighed in through the departments of Justice and Education to wreak legal havoc at charter school formations by ensuring that federal grants of funds to local schools do not support in any way charter schools or school vouchers – another means that deprived students may acquire a decent education.
The leading cause of discontent is educational content failure, which includes subject matter as well as quality of teaching, or the delivery of content, and which has been well documented by many special commissions sponsored by so many interest groups. An examination of Google on this topic reveals a flood of reports, studies and recommendations on the state of public school education.
School systems do not fail at just educational content, but at discipline as well. The disruptive student not only fails to learn but also prevents conscientious students from learning. Even those schools that try to control such behavior are frequently confronted with lawsuits; unruly parents; and federal notices concerning student rights, which are more intimidating than helpful at reducing disruptive behavior, physical assaults of teachers by students and student-on-student assaults.
Moreover, students are not taught how to listen, to concentrate or to give speakers the undivided attention they deserve. Too often students use the expression “boring” to describe a teacher’s presentation, or the topic, which is frequently a cop-out for a failure to listen.
Of course, parents are not as supportive of school discipline as they once were, and that is disappointing. Further, there is failure to teach generally accepted common values; what was behind the U.S. colonies’ revolution; and what forms the basic philosophy of the U.S. Constitution. To the reader who says this is boring, he is asked to read again our section on listening.
Let us return to the issue of the abandonment of young black students by civil-rights elites through their rejecting of support for charter schools throughout the nation. The evidence is documented: Students in charter schools perform at least as well as, if not markedly better than, those in regular schools. Critics of this conclusion offer the objection that since charter schools cherry-pick the superior students, this finding is not surprising.
There are several counter-positions to this argument.
One, even though the average intelligence of charter students is superior to those in other public schools, the “cherries” were not compelled to transfer. They picked themselves, indicating that they and their parents were informed of a potentially valuable opportunity.
Two, while it is difficult to obtain comprehensive data, considerable anecdotal evidence indicates that when students transfer to charter schools, where they are challenged, allowed to bloom and freed from disruptive, harassing students, their performance is even stronger than when attending other public schools. This hypothesis merits scientific testing.
Students in many public schools are not only subject to receiving weak educational content, but often are subject to bullying, physical assaults, robbery and, when trying to learn, to the actions of disruptive students.
I ask that the NAACP, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, President Obama, the Clintons, et al., to reverse their stance and become vigorous supporters of charter and voucher programs. And they should continue this advocacy until all public schools become equivalent to charter schools, with corresponding high standards.
There is a widespread argument that since a public-school black student is a refugee of the legacy of slavery, they must be unable to benefit from charter school standards. This is a tragic myth. Many, many blacks have demonstrated successful attainment of charter school standards. If given the tools and properly taught, with the appropriate values they can prepare themselves for the advanced educational and job opportunities that are abundantly available. But they must be prepared.
If elites would support charter schools and voucher opportunities, then in time we can expect to be pleasantly surprised at, and proud of, the reduction in poverty, especially among blacks.
Enrolling these educationally deprived students into charter schools, or the equivalent, is crucial – not just for their successful
career development, but for increasing the supply of society’s professionals and its well-educated leaders – those whom society relies on for the nation’s survival.
(The writer is a professor emeritus of financial economics at the University of Georgia. He lives in Aiken, S.C.)