Thursday, December 24, 2009

Black Education

by Walter E. Williams

Detroit's (predominantly black) public schools are the worst in the nation and it takes some doing to be worse than Washington, D.C. Only 3 percent of Detroit's fourth-graders scored proficient on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, sometimes called "The Nation's Report Card." Twenty-eight percent scored basic and 69 percent below basic. "Below basic" is the NAEP category when students are unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at their grade level. It's the same story for Detroit's eighth-graders. Four percent scored proficient, 18 percent basic and 77 percent below basic.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the D.C.-based Council on Great City Schools, in an article appearing in Crain's Detroit Business, (12/8/09) titled, "Detroit's Public Schools Post Worst Scores on Record in National Assessment," said, "There is no jurisdiction of any kind, at any level, at any time in the 30-year history of NAEP that has ever registered such low numbers." The academic performance of black students in other large cities such as Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles is not much better than Detroit and Washington.

What's to be done about this tragic state of black education? The education establishment and politicians tell us that we need to spend more for higher teacher pay and smaller class size. The fact of business is higher teacher salaries and smaller class sizes mean little or nothing in terms of academic achievement. Washington, D.C., for example spends over $15,000 per student, has class sizes smaller than the nation's average, and with an average annual salary of $61,195, its teachers are the most highly paid in the nation.

What about role models? Standard psychobabble asserts a positive relationship between the race of teachers and administrators and student performance. That's nonsense. Black academic performance is the worst in the very cities where large percentages of teachers and administrators are black, and often the school superintendent is black, the mayor is black, most of the city council is black and very often the chief of police is black.

Black people have accepted hare-brained ideas that have made large percentages of black youngsters virtually useless in an increasingly technological economy. This destruction will continue until the day comes when black people are willing to turn their backs on liberals and the education establishment's agenda and confront issues that are both embarrassing and uncomfortable. To a lesser extent, this also applies to whites because the educational performance of many white kids is nothing to write home about; it's just not the disaster that black education is.

Many black students are alien and hostile to the education process. They have parents with little interest in their education. These students not only sabotage the education process, but make schools unsafe as well. These students should not be permitted to destroy the education chances of others. They should be removed or those students who want to learn should be provided with a mechanism to go to another school.

Another issue deemed too delicate to discuss is the overall quality of people teaching our children. Students who have chosen education as their major have the lowest SAT scores of any other major. Students who have an education degree earn lower scores than any other major on graduate school admission tests such as the GRE, MCAT or LSAT. Schools of education, either graduate or undergraduate, represent the academic slums of most any university. They are home to the least able students and professors. Schools of education should be shut down.

Yet another issue is the academic fraud committed by teachers and administrators. After all, what is it when a student is granted a diploma certifying a 12th grade level of achievement when in fact he can't perform at the sixth- or seventh-grade level?

Prospects for improvement in black education are not likely given the cozy relationship between black politicians, civil rights organizations and teacher unions.


Failing Public Schools Cost Us All

Everyone knows our public schools aren't what they should be. The nation spends more than $500 billion per year on K-12 education. That's much more than other countries – yet we still rank in the middle on international tests measuring the educational performance.

Many parents take comfort, assuming that their local schools are better than the average. They know there are places where the public schools are little more than expensive, dangerous, holding pens in which little education occurs. They think of Detroit, where only about a quarter of high schoolers will receive a diploma. They think of Baltimore City, where little more than a third of students are expected to graduate high school. And they think of Washington D.C., which spends more than $14,000 per year per student but produces only 15% of students who are proficient in reading and math. Parents figure those places weigh down the U.S.'s performance on those worldwide tests; other Americans need to worry about education reform, but not them.

Certainly, communities with the worst schools have the most to gain from education reform. Yet we are all affected by the outcomes of our nation's education system. Most people understand intuitively that we are better off with a more educated populace since educated people are less likely to commit crimes and can better contribute to their communities.

It makes sense that our country would be better off if all of our citizens were better prepared to contribute and compete in today's global, knowledge-based economy. But this is too often lost in our discussions about education policy, which tends to be an emotional subject. Education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a successful life. By perpetuating an inadequate system, we let down a generation of children. Kids who may have grown up to be scientists, professors, doctors, or authors will be forced to settle for more modest aspirations as they fail to acquire needed skills while passing through our lousy schools.

But education isn't just a moral imperative: it’s an urgent national priority that is critical to long term growth and prosperity. Few seem to comprehend that we are actually paying a price in dollars and cents because of the failures of these school systems. The management consulting firm McKinsey and Company looked at the effects of our failure to provide a quality education in order to estimate its impact on the economy. They compared it to a “permanent national recession” that made our country hundreds of billions of dollars poorer each year. Imagining how much better off we would be if our education system achieved the superior results of other countries, analysts concluded that “if the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher.” That's between $4,300 and $7,600 per person.

Sadly, the media tends to miss the benefits that will accrue to communities and individuals with better education. For example, the press all but ignored the recent debate about the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. This program, launched in 2004, helped over 1700 students from low-income families in Washington D.C. to attend schools of their parents' choice. Last year, a U.S. Department of Education study proved that this program was working: test scores showed that students using vouchers were performing two years ahead of their public school peers on standardized reading tests. These are incredibly powerful results for a modest investment. In fact, the program actually saved taxpayers money, as tuition at the average private school attended by a scholarship recipient was just $6,600 – a fraction of what is currently being spent per pupil in D.C. dysfunctional public schools.

Yet Congress moved to defund this program, condemning future low-income D.C. students to the public school system that we know fails so many. The President and the Secretary of Education had promised to pursue “whatever works” when it comes to education reform. However, it is increasingly clear that was just empty rhetoric. The all-powerful teachers unions loathe any program that helps kids exit the public schools, and Democratic leaders seem to have calculated that teachers unions’ interests are more important than the future of those students.

Politically, Congress’ decision probably made sense. After all, the teachers unions give loads of money to politicians in order to maintain the status quo. Clearly, the poor families receiving opportunity scholarships in Washington D.C. don't. And, for the most part, those around the country—even those who are sympathetic to the cause of education reform and school choice—don't see a debate about a program out in the nation's capitol as their fight.

But it should be all of our fights.

A dynamic, effective education system is in everyone's self-interest. Our public schools are a drag on the economy, bringing everyone down. We are poorer and have lower standard of living because we have allowed this problem to persist. Americans need to fight for meaningful reforms and against those who cling to the dysfunctional status quo. For a stronger nation, education reform should be everyone's cause.


British universities in big financial trouble

Universities will have to make severe cuts after Lord Mandelson abruptly slashed teaching budgets by millions of pounds yesterday. Departments are expected to close, degree courses will be scrapped and students will have to pay higher fees.

Academics were furious at the plan to claw back £135 million and condemned the timing of the announcement. Universities had already been ordered to find £180 million in savings in the next 18 months.

When savage spending cuts were announced in the Pre-Budget Report, schools were given immunity but universities were not. The cuts mean that funding per student has fallen in real terms for the first time in ten years.

A review of tuition fees that began last month and will conclude after the general election is expected to recommend that they be raised considerably from the current £3,225 a year.

The Business Secretary said that universities should move from the three-year, full-time undergraduate degree model towards a “wider variety of provision”, such as foundation and fast-track degrees. They will be encouraged to focus more on the skills and knowledge demanded by employers rather than on academia for its own sake. Those that disobeyed the Government by taking on too many students this autumn will be penalised in next year’s grants at a rate of £3,700 per extra full-time student.

Lord Mandelson made his position clear in the Secretary of State’s annual letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He said: “My predecessor repeatedly made clear the risks of student over-recruitment putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budgets.” The council will inform universities of their individual grants in March.

Lord Mandelson said that teaching grants would be cut by £51 million but urged universities to minimise the impact on teaching and students. The remaining £84 million will come from capital budgets. After adjustments, the overall higher education grant will fall from £7.8 billion to £7.3 billion. The Times reported earlier this month that universities were already slashing thousands of jobs, scrapping courses and putting campuses out of use to meet budget constraints. The 10,000 extra unfunded places the Government allowed this year for science, technology, engineering and maths degrees will disappear next year, even though the recession means that unprecedented numbers are expected to apply for places.

Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said that the cost of subsidising tuition fees would jeopardise the quality of the student experience. “The sector will not be able to deliver more with less without compromising our longer-term sustainability and international competitiveness.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “You cannot make these kinds of cuts and expect no consequences. We will see teachers on the dole, students in larger classes and a higher education sector unable to contribute as much to the economy or society.”

Wes Streeting, of the National Union of Students, said: “The Government was quick to take credit for avoiding a student places crisis earlier this year, but is now shamefully cutting teaching funding to the very universities that helped it achieve it.”

The university research grant is protected, meaning that newer universities that focus mainly on teaching will feel extra pressure. Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of Million+, which represents some of these institutions, said: “December 22 will go down as a good day for the Government to bury bad news for universities and students.

David Willetts, the Shadow Universities Secretary, said: “Universities are being fined for meeting targets set by this Government. Higher education should be available to all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue it, and who wish to do so.”


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