Friday, February 04, 2011

Black Education

Walter E. Williams

In my "Black Education Disaster" column (12/22/10), I presented National Assessment of Educational Progress test data that demonstrated that an average black high school graduate had a level of reading, writing and math proficiency of a white seventh- or eighth-grader. The public education establishment bears part of the responsibility for this disaster, but a greater portion is borne by black students and their parents, many of whom who are alien and hostile to the education process.

Let's look at the education environment in many schools and ask how conducive it is to the education process. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nationally during 2007-2008, more than 145,000 teachers were physically attacked. Six percent of big-city schools report verbal abuse of teachers and 18 percent report non-verbal disrespect for teachers.

An earlier NCES study found that 18 percent of the nation's schools accounted for 75 percent of the reported incidents of violence, and 6.6 percent accounted for 50 percent. So far as serious violence, murder and rapes, 1.9 percent of schools reported 50 percent of the incidents. The preponderance of school violence occurs in big-city schools attended by black students.

What's the solution? Violence, weapons-carrying, gang activity and student or teacher intimidation should not be tolerated. Students engaging in such activity should be summarily expelled.

Some might worry about the plight of expelled students. I think we should have greater concern for those students whose education is made impossible by thugs and the impossible learning environment they create.

Another part of the black education disaster has to do with the home environment. More than 70 percent of black children are born to unwedded mothers, who are often themselves born to unwedded mothers. Today's level of female-headed households is new in black history. Until the 1950s, almost 80 percent of black children lived in two-parent households, as opposed to today's 35 percent.

Often, these unwedded mothers have poor parenting skills and are indifferent, and sometimes hostile, to their children's education. The resulting poorly behaving students should not be permitted to sabotage the education of students whose parents are supportive of the education process.

At the minimum, a mechanism such as tuition tax credit or educational voucher ought to be available to allow parents and children who care to opt out of failing schools. Some people take the position that we should repair not abandon failing schools. That's a vision that differs little from one that says that no black child's education should be improved unless we can improve the education of all black children.

What needs to be done is not rocket science. Our black ancestors, just two, three, four generations out of slavery, would not have tolerated school behavior that's all but routine today. The fact that the behavior of many black students has become acceptable and made excuses for is no less than a gross betrayal of sacrifices our ancestors made to create today's opportunities.

Some of today's black political leadership is around my age, 75, such as Reps. Maxine Waters, Charles Rangel, John Conyers, former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, Jesse Jackson and many others. Forget that they are liberal Democrats but ask them whether their parents, kin or neighbors would have tolerated children cursing to, or in the presence of, teachers and other adults. Ask them what their parents would have done had they assaulted an adult or teacher. Ask whether their parents would have accepted the grossly disrespectful behavior seen among many black youngsters on the streets and other public places using foul language and racial epithets. Then ask why should today's blacks tolerate something our ancestors would not.

The sorry and tragic state of black education is not going to be turned around until there's a change in what's acceptable and unacceptable behavior by young people. The bulk of that change has to come from within the black community.


School Reform Advocates Champion Choice

Hundreds of Chicagoland residents flocked to a townhall meeting on education reform last week, as school choice advocates continued a nationwide push to highlight the issue during National School Choice Week. The program, which was co-sponsored by local conservative talk station AM 560 WIND, featured a panel discussion among syndicated talker Michael Medved, political strategist and author Dick Morris, and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The trio traded ideas on how to improve America’s schools and attempted to diagnose a number of the system’s key flaws in a discussion moderated by John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute.

“Our current system is wrong. Competition is the bedrock of America, and it’s time that education reaches the market economy,” Hastert asserted, prompting nods of agreement from his co-panelists. “It come down to a core American value: equal opportunity,” Medved added. “Conservatives don’t believe in equal outcomes. But from the time of founding, part of what this country is about is everybody gets a shot. That’s what we’re affirming here tonight,” he said.

Morris suggested that by injecting greater competition into the system, individual schools and districts could serve as educational laboratories. “We’ve tried testing, standards, and funding increases. The only remaining option is opening up the status quo to experiments,” he said, arguing that outcomes should dictate future priorities. “Let’s find out what works, and let the money go with the kids. At that point, when people ask which schools to close, the answer is the empty ones.”

During the wide-ranging discussion, the panel explored a number of potential experimental programs, from inner city public boarding schools, to significantly shortening summer break, to reinstituting trade schools as a viable and respected option for students.

“We have this idea in the US that every child is the same. We also have this idea that every single American child should go to college. That’s not a good idea. College prep work sets up a huge number of children for guaranteed failure. It’s perfectly possible to make a great living and be a wonderful citizen without being a college prep student,” Medved said.

The applause turned to boos and jeers at any mention of teacher’s unions -- although panelists were quick to draw a distinction between what they called the corrupt practices of unions and individual teachers. At one point, public school teachers in the crowd were asked to raise their hands. They were greeted with a prolonged ovation. “Good teachers transform lives, but not every teacher is equal, unless you’re talking to the unions,” Morris said, echoing a sentiment featured in a short film trailer that played during the event.

Medved added a word of caution: “Let’s not just make the teacher’s unions the big bad enemy,” he implored the audience, citing his own mother’s publicly-funded health benefits that helped her afford medical treatment after suffering a stroke. “Teachers making a respectable living and receiving good benefits is not something to oppose. If we do, we’ll lose that argument. The problem is the corruption of unions who protect the worst teachers who have no business being in a classroom. We are not on the side of bad, lazy teachers,” he said.

Each speaker praised innovative steps that have already been taken by some jurisdictions, including tying driver’s licenses to school attendance for teens. Ultimately, though, government policies can only go so far, Hastert contended. “It’s not just money or policy that leads to success. Parents need to care. Then, teachers will care because parents care. We can’t legislate that, but we should encourage it,” he said. “Home schooling is the epitome of that idea, and the people involved in that movement are very vocal. I take my hat off to them.”

Many of the audience questions dealt with breaking the disproportionate strength of the unions, which led to an extended discussion of Governor Chris Christie’s ongoing battle with the New Jersey Education Association. “Christie has started to do what people say can’t be done. He is changing the psyche of the public. But for us to do here [in Illinois] what he’s doing out in New Jersey, we need a different governor,” he said to loud applause. Democrat Pat Quinn was elected to his first full term as Governor of Illinois in November.


Geography lessons 'not good enough' in half of British schools

Children’s knowledge of capital cities, continents, world affairs and the environment is in sharp decline because of poor geography lessons, inspectors warned today. In a damning report, Ofsted said teaching in the subject was not good enough in more than half of English state schools.

Geography – traditionally a cornerstone of the curriculum – is often undermined by a lack of space in school timetables after being edged out by exam practice and other subjects such as citizenship.

Many primary teachers lacked specialist geographical knowledge, the watchdog said, meaning classes often descended into a focus on superficial stereotypes. The subject had practically “disappeared” in one-in-10 primaries.

In secondary schools, classes were often merged with history to form generic “humanities” lessons that focused on vague skills instead of geographical understanding.

Ofsted said the decline severely reduced children’s ability at all ages to grasp key geographical issues, identify countries or capital cities and even read maps properly. In the worst secondary schools, most students were “spatially naïve” and unable to "locate countries, key mountain ranges or other features with any degree of confidence”, the study said.

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said: “Geography provision was outstanding in over a quarter of all the schools we visited but just over half were not using geography to good effect to support pupils in understanding their role in their locality, their country and the wider world.” She added: “Where provision is weaker, schools should focus on developing pupils’ core knowledge in geography, particularly their sense of place.”

Geography is currently a compulsory subject for pupils aged five to 14. But Ofsted’s study – based on inspections of 91 primary and 90 secondary schools – found serious weaknesses in the teaching of the subject throughout the education system.

Geography was “more or less disappearing” in one-in-10 primary schools, the report said. In half the schools visited, pupils in some classes were taught no geography at all.

Improvements were often undermined by primary teachers’ “weak knowledge of geography, their lack of confidence in teaching it and insufficient subject-specific training”, the report said.

Teachers’ lack of expertise occasionally led to a focus on “cultural or exotic aspects” of some countries which could reinforce stereotypes, it was claimed. One lesson for eight and nine year olds seen by Ofsted began with a teacher asking what pupils knew about India. Children said Indians were “famous for their camels”, “do yoga”, “wear colourful clothes” and “ride on elephants”, but the teacher did little to challenge their stereotypes and misconceptions, Ofsted said.

At secondary level, more than half the schools visited cut the amount of time spent teaching geography in the first three years. In many cases, tuition was reduced because timetables were overloaded with other subjects, such as citizenship, or time spent providing “catch-up sessions in English and mathematics”.

Around a third of schools merged history and geography together to form "humanities" lessons, but these classes "tended to focus on generic learning skills rather than knowledge and understanding that was specific to geography", inspectors warned.

The report said “uninspiring teaching” at the start of secondary school led to a reduction in the number of teenagers opting to take a GCSE in the subject. Some 97 secondaries failed to enter a single pupil for GCSE geography in 2007 but by 2009 it increased to 137. Almost one-in-10 academies – the independent state schools championed by the Coalition – shunned GCSE geography altogether, it was claimed.

The report – Geography: Learning to Make a World of Difference – recommended better on-the-job training for teachers, a more rigorous focus on geography in the first three years of secondary education and a rise in the number of fieldtrips for all ages.


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