September 1, 2016 by Dan Mitchell
I’ve explained many times that an economy’s wealth and output depend on the quantity and quality of labor and capital and how effectively those two factors of production are combined.
Let’s look today on the labor portion of that formula. And since I’ve already expressed my concerns about the quantity of labor that is being productively utilized, now let’s focus on the quality of labor. In other words, we’ll look at the degree to which the workforce has the skills, knowledge, and ethics to be productive.
This is why education is very important, but also why we have big reasons to be concerned in the United States. Consider, for instance, the late Andrew Coulson’s famous (and discouraging) chart. It shows that politicians routinely increase the amount of money that’s being spent (on a per-student basis, American schools get more funding than any other nation), yet student test scores are both mediocre and flat.
But that’s just part of the story. We also have the national disgrace of substandard education for minority communities.
Here’s some of what Walter Williams wrote about the scandalous failure of government schools to produce quality education for minority children.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the Nation’s Report Card, nationally, most black 12th-graders’ test scores are either basic or below basic in reading, writing, math and science. “Below basic” is the score received when a student is unable to demonstrate even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for proficient work at his grade level. “Basic” indicates only partial mastery. Put another way, the average black 12th-grader has the academic achievement level of the average white seventh- or eighth-grader. …In terms of public policy, what to do? …Many black parents want a better education and safer schools for their children. The way to deliver on that desire is to offer parents alternatives to poorly performing and unsafe public schools. Expansion of charter schools is one way to provide choice. The problem is that charter school waiting lists number in the tens of thousands. In Philadelphia, for example, there are 22,000 families on charter school waiting lists. Charter school advocates estimate that nationally, over 1 million parents are on charter school waiting lists.
The above excerpt from Walter’s column is scandalous.
The excerpt that follows is nauseating.
The National Education Association and its political and civil rights organization handmaidens preach that we should improve, not abandon, public schools. Such a position is callous deceit, for many of them have abandoned public schools. Let’s look at it. Nationwide, about 12 percent of parents have their children enrolled in private schools. In Chicago, 44 percent of public-school teachers have their own children enrolled in private schools. In Philadelphia, it’s also 44 percent. In Baltimore, it’s 35 percent, and in San Francisco, it’s 34 percent. That ought to tell us something. …Politicians who fight against school choice behave the way teachers do. Fifty-two percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have school-age children have them enrolled in private schools.
By the way, what happens when ordinary black children have a chance to escape the government’s monopoly school system?
Thomas Sowell has opined on the amazingly positive results that occur when black children have this opportunity.
We keep hearing that “black lives matter,” but they seem to matter only when that helps politicians to get votes… What about black success? Does that matter? Apparently not so much. We have heard a lot about black students failing to meet academic standards. So you might think that it would be front-page news when…ghetto schools not only meet, but exceed, the academic standards of schools in more upscale communities. …Only 39 percent of all students in New York state schools who were tested recently scored at the “proficient” level in math, but 100 percent of the students at the Crown Heights Success Academy school scored at that level in math. Blacks and Hispanics are 90 percent of the students in the Crown Heights Success Academy. The Success Academy schools in general ranked in the top 2 percent in English and in the top 1 percent in math. …Black students in these Success Academy schools reached the “proficient” level more than twice as often as black students in the regular public schools. What makes this all the more amazing is that these charter schools are typically located in the same ghettos or barrios where other blacks or Hispanics are failing miserably on the same tests. More than that, successful charter schools are often physically housed in the very same buildings as the unsuccessful public schools.
But Prof. Sowell echoes the point Prof. Williams made about poor children being trapped in bad schools because of limits on school choice.
If black success was considered half as newsworthy as black failures, such facts would be headline news — and people who have the real interests of black and other minority students at heart would be asking, “Wow! How can we get more kids into these charter schools?” …minority parents have already taken notice. More than 43,000 families are on waiting lists to get their children into charter schools. But admission is by lottery, and far more have to be turned away than can be admitted. Why? Because the teachers’ unions are opposed to charter schools — and they give big bucks to politicians, who in turn put obstacles and restrictions on the expansion of charter schools. …If you want to understand this crazy and unconscionable situation, just follow the money and follow the votes. Black success is a threat to political empires and to a whole social vision behind those empires. That social vision has politicians like Bill de Blasio and Hillary Clinton cast in the role of rescuers and protectors of blacks.
Notwithstanding everything written up to this point, the purpose of today’s column isn’t to argue in favor of school choice.
Yes, that’s critical for the nation and vitally important for minority advancement.
But I want to focus instead on the question of why school choice hasn’t become the civil rights issue of the 21st century. And to be even more specific, I want to explore the scandalous decision by some people at the NAACP to betray black children.
The Wall Street Journal opined about this topic today.
The outfit that helped end segregation in public education now works to trap poor and minority kids in dysfunctional schools. Last month the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People introduced a resolution at its national convention in Cincinnati calling for a moratorium on charter schools… The resolution must be formally adopted at a board meeting later this year.
Here’s some very relevant data.
Some 28% of charter-school students are black, which is almost double the figure for traditional public schools. A report last year from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that across 41 urban areas black students in charters gained on average 36 extra days in math learning a year and 26 in reading… Black students in poverty notched 59 more days in math. This is the definition of “advancement.” …A 2013 poll of black voters in four southern states by the Black Alliance for Educational Options found that at least 85% agreed that “government should provide parents with as many choices as possible.” …Another sign of support is the hundreds of thousands of black students nationwide who sign up for lotteries for a seat at a charter.
The conclusion is very unflattering.
The group’s real motive is following orders from its teacher-union patrons. …The National Education Association dropped $100,000 in 2014 for a partnership with the NAACP.
Jason Russell of the Washington Examiner was similarly scathing about the NAACP’s actions.
One of the few education reforms that has actually succeeded in helping African-American students get a better education is school choice, especially the growth of public charter schools. So it didn’t make much sense, to put it kindly, when the NAACP approved a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. …Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, told the Washington Examiner that…”The fact that the NAACP wants a national moratorium on charter schools, many of which offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class black children, is inexplicable,”…Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, also criticized the NAACP in a statement. “The public charter school moratorium put forward at this year’s NAACP convention does a disservice to communities of color,” Jeffries said. …Steve Perry, founder and head of Capital Preparatory Schools,…said the national group is “out of touch even with their own chapters … This is more proof that the NAACP has been mortgaged by the teachers union and they keep paying y’all to say what they want to say.”
Since this has been a depressing topic, let’s end with an uplifting video from Reason TV about the success of various models of charter schools.
P.S. Even though I’m not partisan, I understand that coalition politics are important. Reagan, for instance, had his three-legged stool of small-government libertarians, social conservatives, and military/foreign policy hawks. All three groups were united in the belief that their respective goals could be advanced by Reagan, even if they bickered with each other about the relative importance of various issues and occasionally had fights with each other (one of my first battles in Washington was advocating for a sequester during Reagan’s second term over the objections of the hawks, a battle that was repeated back in 2013).
With this in mind (and especially since the teacher unions bring a lot of campaign money to the table), I definitely understand why Democratic politicians are willing to sacrifice the interests of black families and their children by opposing education reform. I even partially understand why the NAACP feels pressure to accommodate the demands of teacher unions (and I fully understand, from the perspective of coalition politics, why the NAACP made absurd accusations against the Tea Party).
But surely there must be a point where coalition politics has to take second place and the interests of black families should be in first place (an issue addressed in another great video from Reason).
P.P.S. Some folks on the left are willing to break ranks. Jonathan Alter wrote about charter schools for the Daily Beast. Here are some excerpts.
…the backlash against education reform among liberals who should know better has been disheartening. …the top quintile of charters—the highly effective ones run by experienced and widely-respected charter operators—not only beat traditional public schools serving students in the same demographic cohorts, they often outperform them by 20, 30, or even 50 points on many metrics.
He cites New Orleans as an example.
New Orleans is a good example of where charters, which now educate 95 percent of New Orleans public school students, are working. A decade ago, New Orleans had the worst schools in the country…The results in New Orleans are impressive. Over the last decade, graduation rates have surged from 54 percent to 73 percent, and college enrollment after graduation from 37 percent to 59 percent. (There’s also a new emphasis on helping those who attend college to complete it.) Before Katrina, 62 percent of schools were failing. Today, it’s 6 percent. The biggest beneficiaries have been African-American children, who make up 85 percent of New Orleans enrollment. The high school graduation rate nationally for black students is 59 percent. In New Orleans, it’s 65 percent, which is also much higher than the state average. Test scores are still low overall, but thousands more African-American students are taking the ACTs and doing better on them.
And even Newark.
In Newark, where 25 percent of students attend charter schools, the percentage of African-Americans choosing charters is closer to 50 percent in some grade levels. Contrary to the claim that charters succeed only by “skimming” or “creaming” the students from more stable and middle-class families, Newark’s charters enroll a higher percentage of poor students than district schools.CREDO numbers show Newark charter school students gaining the equivalent of more than five months per year in performance in reading and math—a huge advantage over their counterparts in district schools. The percentage of black students in Newark who are doing better than the state average for African-Americans has more than doubled.
I guess this means I’ll have to add Mr. Alter to my collection of honest leftists.
As for the NAACP, I can’t even imagine how the advocates of the resolution can look at themselves in the mirror.