A depressing report this morning on new educational data from the New York Times:
An achievement gap separating black from white students has long been documented — a social divide extremely vexing to policy makers and the target of one blast of school reform after another.
But a new report focusing on black males suggests that the picture is even bleaker than generally known.
Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.
A couple of thoughts about this:
- Even though proficiency standards for white students is much higher, it’s still abysmal.
- Words can’t express how appalling it is that this racial achievement gap exists, and it needs to be on every American’s radar screen. Fixing our education system needs to be a much bigger part of our local and national political discussions.
- While the article linked above does discuss how parenting and social problems contribute to the educational problem, it does describe the extent of the problem and everyone needs to come to terms with it: 72 percent of black children in America are born out of wedlock. That is a ginormous problem and it needs to be addressed.
- I empathize with teachers in the classrooms because it’s hard to help kids in the face of such big social problems. However, it is abundantly clear that our teachers unions have distorted our politics and have consistently opposed nearly all sensible attempts at school reform, be it charter schools, school choice, empowering districts to fire bad teachers or merit pay. Either teachers unions get with the program and justify their existence by actively embracing reform, or they need to be removed as an obstacle — by any means necessary.
- It is also clear that school reform has been put on the back burner because the Democratic party is beholden to teachers unions. Voters concerned about the future of education in this country need to let Democrats know they are in favor of school reform efforts, and will not stand for special interest politics dooming poor black kids to poverty and illiteracy. This is doubly true in urban areas where schools are the worst and Democrats have a near monopoly on local politics. (Note that teachers unions just spent $1 million to oust D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who whatever his faults, was one of the most pro-school reform mayors in the country.)
- And obviously, the flip side of that last point is that black voters and the GOP need reevaluate their relationship. African-Americans are clearly not benefiting from Democratic policies and would do well to take a second look at the party of Lincoln. And as far as the GOP is concerned, they have largely failed to take minority outreach seriously and actively make inroads among black voters. Republican voters need to let their local and national party leaders know that they need to make an effort to better market Republican solutions to all Americans, and that they need to step it up and start meeting with black churches and community leaders. Education reform is a great starting point for discussion. I don’t say this as an explicit endorsement of all things GOP, but simply out of the belief that competition among parties helps cut down on corruption and provides healthy policy alternatives. Even marginal increases in Republican influence in heavily Democratic cities could have big impact shifting the debate in favor of education reform efforts.