Public Schools Especially Disserve Black Students

Last time I mentioned that the public-school system especially disserves black kids.  The simple fact is that, while public schools generally do a poor job of educating kids, they’re particularly incompetent when it comes to black children.  That’s made clear by data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a.k.a. the nation’s report card.

The NAEP gathers data on kids in the fourth, eighth and twelfth grades from 27 different urban school districts across the country.  It does so for a variety of subjects including math, science and reading.  It’s been tracking the results year by year for 20 years and the results for children generally aren’t good.  For example, just 24% of 12th graders are considered “proficient” or better in math, 35% are rated as “basic” and 40% “below basic.”  The U.S. is one of the worst at educating its children among the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.  Here’s how Pew Research described it in 2017:

The most recent PISA [Program for International Student Assessment] results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.

Averages, of course, conceal extremes.  The U.S. has a lot of astonishingly intelligent, accomplished and hardworking kids who will grow into adults who make great contributions to society and the human race.  But averages also inform public policy, or at least they should.  So when the U.S. ranks a dismal 30th out of 35 nations with which we should be competitive, we might think it’s time for reform.

But, however deficient the U.S. is in primary and secondary education generally, the news is particularly bad for black kids.  As William McGurn, writing in the Wall Street Journal says of the NAEP results,

Of the 27 U.S. urban school districts that reported their results for 2019—from Boston and Chicago to Fort Worth, Texas, and Los Angeles—not a single one can say a majority of the black eighth graders in their care are proficient in either math or reading.

It isn’t even close. In a number of these school districts, proficiency rates for black eighth graders are down in the single digits (see Detroit’s 4% for math and 5% for reading, or Milwaukee’s 5% for math and 7% for reading). Most are in the low teens.

This is not because we don’t spend enough on education.  New York City, Boston, Washington, DC and Atlanta spend, respectively, $28k, $27k, $22k and $17k per pupil per year for primary and secondary education and yet the achievement of their black pupils is as bad as it is elsewhere and often worse.  Plus, the U.S. ranks tenth in pre-college spending on education among 38 OECD countries.  As I said last time, the amount we spend (in constant dollars) on education is over 250% of what it was in 1970, but our results remain essentially unchanged.

Neither do our poor results stem from teachers spending too little time in the classroom.  In fact, U.S. teachers spend more time teaching than do those of almost any other country in the OECD.

With the exceptions of lower and upper secondary teachers in Argentina and Chile and lower secondary teachers in Mexico, teachers in the U.S. teach for many more hours than in other countries (OECD average: 782 hours for primary education, 704 hours for lower secondary, and 658 hours for upper secondary).

Needless to say, the poor results turned in by black children aren’t because they can’t learn.  After all, in many charter schools, they do extremely well and not because charter schools cherry-pick the best students.  Black writers like Jason Riley and economist Thomas Sowell have extensively related the success black kids have when rigorous standards are expected to be met.  Even in the depths of Jim Crow, Dunbar High School in Washington, DC produced students the equal of graduates of the best white schools.  Those children came from working class families, not the cream of the black professional class.

All this tells a sorry tale, one that seems never-ending.  It’s a tale of the American Left’s fealty to public school teachers’ unions whose vast campaign contributions ensure lawmakers friendly to the unions and hostile to reform.  Witness public policy’s resistance to charter schools and homeschooling.  If our kids aren’t performing well in school and if black kids particularly aren’t, look no further than the unholy combination of teachers’ unions and the most destructive factor of all – single parenthood.

However deficient public schools in general are, they’re not the only problem with our children’s academic failures.  Kids from non-intact families tend strongly to underperform their peers with two parents.  They do so over a wide range of behavioral, social and psychological areas all of which redound to the detriment of the children’s education.

And of course, just like teachers’ unions, single-parenthood is, to a great degree, a function of leftist policies.  For decades now, the Left has done everything in its power to marginalize fathers in the lives of their children and with considerable success.  Until about 1960, rates of non-marital childbearing for blacks and whites were about equal at around 8%.  Beginning with Great Society welfare policies that offered poor mothers cash incentives to sideline fathers, to no-fault divorce, to child support laws, alimony laws, adoption laws, domestic violence laws and practices, the absence of any law against paternity fraud and the practices of child welfare agencies, leftist law and policy conspire to deprive children of fathers.  By now in the U.S., almost one child in four lives without his/her father. 

To its everlasting disgrace, the Left promoted all of that and utters not a word of protest against the terrible damage fatherlessness does to society and to children in particular.

Public education in the United States is in grave need of repair.  So are family law, practice and policy.  The former cannot proceed without the latter.  Both desperately need to happen.




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