Public Schools are Racist

First of all, let’s call them what they are: government schools. Yes, the public funds them through our hard-earned tax dollars, but the government controls them—local, state and, increasingly, the Federal government. Attend all the PTA meetings you want, but don’t count on having any real influence on curriculum, standards, teachers or much else.

Secondly, let’s stipulate the following, so that we can get to the juicy stuff quicker:

  • That the public in some form has a responsibility to fund schooling for those unable to pay for it.
  • That there are some very good government schools.
  • That many successful Americans are the products of government schools.

Whoa! Hold the phone! Stop the presses! I was prepared to ask that we also stipulate that government schools generally don’t do as good a job by our kids, especially black kids, as private schools, but I just happened upon a brand-spanking-new book by a couple of “education” scholars from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that claims otherwise. In The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, Professors Christopher and Sarah Lubienski contend that when controlling for demographic factors, government schools are actually outperforming private schools. Soooo, we’ll have to revisit some well-established—and re-established—facts before we move on to my central thesis that the public school system is inherently racist. Sorry, please bear with me.

I have no intention of reviewing here The Public School Advantage or even ever reading it, but I suppose it would be unfair to write it off merely because its authors are part of the education establishment and conveniently use subjective factors to “prove” a theory that refutes forty or so years of data and analysis that show government schools en masse are significantly less effective than private schools.

This isn’t the first time this type of study has been attempted, nor is it the first time such a study has been found wanting. A 2006 U. S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) study compared the performance in reading and math of 4th and 8th graders attending private and government schools and concluded that after statistical adjustments were made for “student characteristics,” 4th grade government school students bested their private counterparts by 4.5 points in math and equaled them in reading. And after the same adjustments were made for 8th graders, private schools still held a 7-point advantage in reading, but government schools achieved parity in math.

But Paul Peterson and Elena Llaudet from Harvard University countered in their report On the Public-Private School Achievement Debate that the NCES measures of student characteristics were flawed by “inconsistent classification across the public and private sectors and by the inclusion of factors open to school influence.” Using the same data as NCES, but substituting better measures of student characteristics, they estimated three alternative models that identified a private school advantage in nearly all comparisons. It’s only a matter of time before someone a lot smarter than I takes a close look at the “new” research in The Public School Advantage and finds deep flaws in the selected demographic factors, but for a couple of reasons we don’t even have to wait that long to set aside this study.

First, in a 2009 study, Comparing Public, Private and Market Schools: The International Evidence, Cato Institute’s Andrew Coulson set out to answer the question, “Would large-scale, free-market reforms improve educational outcomes?” Coulson looked at decades of international research, homing in on sixty-five independent studies comparing different school systems in 20 nations—from the U.S. to Colombia and the “urban slums of Hyderabad to the rural fishing villages of Ghana”—and found that “in more than 150 statistical comparisons covering eight different educational outcomes, the private sector outperforms the public sector in the overwhelming majority of cases.” So, at the very least, those inclined to believe in The Public School Advantage have some more homework to do.

The second reason we can move on is that in an interview about their book in Atlantic Magazine, the Profs Lubienski were asked, “Most of the schools in your study are religious schools. What about private schools that serve purely academic purposes? Are they also underperforming?” Answered Sarah, “Actually, that was not a category in any of the data that we worked with. There’s this category of ‘other private’ that doesn’t fit into Lutheran, Catholic, conservative Christian, etc., but that’s really a catch all-category. A very small sample. So we weren’t able to study that.” That’s darn convenient. Just leave out the best-performing schools entirely! Sure, these schools represent only 20% of private school students, but that’s the second largest private block after Catholic schools, which, by the way, are declining in numbers while non-sectarian are the most rapidly proliferating.

Equally revealing is Professor Christopher’s guess at why private schools are not as good as government schools:

It appears that there is a danger in the autonomy that private schools have. The teachers aren’t required to be certified, there is less professional development happening, they’re not held accountable to the same kinds of state curriculum standards and tests. And so when we look at scores on those things it just makes sense that the schools who are hiring teachers who are certified and have been educated in a way that helps them understand all the current educational reforms and the research on learning—that those teachers would be more effective.

So, there you have it. Because they are not being held to government’s lower standards and because they don’t necessarily subscribe to the latest fads in educational reform, private schools are lagging. Enough said.

It really would be sufficient to stop here and say that government schools are racist because poorer people don’t have much of a choice and blacks are disproportionately poor. Therefore, blacks are stuck with inferior schools. But there’s plenty more evidence.

  • In the 2009-10 school year, the nationwide government school graduation rate for whites was 83% while only 66% for blacks.
  • The lowest state graduation rates for white students are close to the highest rates for black students.
  • Some of the states with the best overall graduation rates have some of the worst graduation rates for black students.
  • Wisconsin has the worst graduation rate for black students at 40% even though it had the third best overall graduation rate.
  • Minnesota, which has the second worst black graduation rate at 43%, has one of the highest overall graduation rates.
  • Sixteen of the 50 largest school districts failed to graduate more than half of their black students.
  • New York City graduates 80% of its white students but only 42% of its black students.
  • Only four public school districts nationwide are able to graduate 75% or more of their black students.
  • The fifteen cities with the worst black graduation rates also have some of the highest percentages of black residents (including Memphis, Mobile, Cleveland and Milwaukee).

You can find more disheartening stats in the NCES National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 and of 2002 and The Manhattan Institute’s High School Graduation Rates in the United States.

Let’s summarize so far:

  1. If you’re a government school student, you’re a lot less likely to graduate than a private school student.
  2. If you’re a black government school student, you’re a lot less likely to graduate than a white student.
  3. If you’re a black government school student living in a predominantly black city or county—the system is completely stacked against you.

As if that weren’t bad enough, take a look at the government school crime stats:

  • During the 2010-11 school year, there were 25 homicides in elementary and secondary schools.
  • During the 2009–10 school year, 85% of schools recorded one or more incidents of violence, theft or other crimes, amounting to an estimated 1.9 million crimes. This figure translates to a rate of approximately 40 crimes per 1,000 students.
  • In 2009–10, about 74% of schools recorded one or more violent incidents of crime.
  • Between 1993 and 2011, 5% of students reported carrying a weapon to school on at least one day during the past 30 days.
  • In 2009, approximately 22% of students  reported that gangs were present at their school.
  • During the 2009–10 school year, 43% of schools reported the presence of one or more security staff at their school at least once a week during the school year.

I can’t find any break down by race for the recent stats above, but the worst scenarios are reported in urban schools in the most crime-ridden cities, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that blacks are over-represented among the crime victims. Also, in a study titled School-Associated Violent Deaths in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that black children comprised 40% of the victims of homicide in government schools from 1994-1999—over 5 times the rate for white children.

Meanwhile, spending on education at all levels of government continues to grow and grow and grow. And politicians and educators everywhere are hollering for even more spending.

total government spending on education

But the spending hasn’t helped.  Here’s just one example provided by Cato’s Andrew Coulson during testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce…

black - white reading score gap











Says Coulson, “we have little to show for the $2 trillion in federal education spending of the past half century. In the face of concerted and unflagging efforts by Congress and the states, public schooling has suffered a massive productivity collapse—it now costs three times as much to provide essentially the same education as we provided in 1970.”

But that hasn’t stopped our current president from launching yet another program. By Executive Order President Obama brought to life The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans in July, 2012.

A few of the initiative’s more amusing goals:

  • Increase general understanding of the causes of the educational challenges faced by African American students.
  • Implement successful and innovative education reform strategies.
  • Reduce the dropout rate of African American students…in part by promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.
  • Identify evidence-based best practices that can provide African American students a rigorous and well-rounded education.

In launching this new initiative, the President did, however, get one thing right: “African Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools and challenging college-preparatory classes.” Yep. And the white education establishment and its boosters have known it for years and have vociferously defended the status quo—while demanding more tax-payer money.

Where is the outrage? Where are the professional race-baiters? Florida Congressman Alan Grayson is lauded by the left for proclaiming that the Tea Party is no better than the KKK because many of its members supported the brief and ineffectual government shut-down, but they have no anger for a system that ensures that 44% of black government school kids won’t graduate? Why aren’t the Revs Al and Jesse shouting “RACISM!” and leading marches on the Department of Education? For once, they’d actually be right. Why do black communities accept horribly sub-standard education and dangerous schools, while rich bankers, lawyers and doctors send their privileged progeny to lily-white public schools at no cost? I’ll say it again, where is the outrage?

Alternatives have been and are being tested.  Charter schools, magnet schools and limited voucher programs are all worthy efforts, but don’t go far enough.  The time for tinkering is over if we expect significant improvement.  So, what to do?

Total government expenditure per public school student this year is $12,098. Average private school tuition is $8,549. Math so simple that a second-grader could—whoops, scratch that—a tenth-grader with a calculator, a tutor and an innovative education reform strategy could handle it: split the difference, cut a check for $10,323.50 per student to every public school family, and let those families CHOOSE where they will send their offspring. That’s right, I’m saying let’s scrap the current system entirely and just let parents decide what’s best for their children. What do we have to lose?

The first few years will, of course, be incredibly frustrating and inefficient. For many families, the benefit will seem illusory—only a minority will be truly satisfied as demand for good schools quickly overwhelms supply. Families will flock to private schools and better-performing government schools. It will be first-come, first served. Unfair, but better. Tax-payer-funded tuition will go up initially because we’ll still have to pay for the bloated government education apparatus and most of the under-performing schools. And we would keep those lousy schools open as long as necessary during the transition, which is where many students would be enrolled anyway. And let’s be honest, would that temporary heartburn be worse than the never-ending crap-factory we have presently?

In a year or two, we could means-test and cut richer folks from the gravy-train. Simultaneously, the government schools could be gradually sold off to entrepreneurs with an expertise and passion for education. In time, we could finally dismantle the Department of Education freeing its thousands of bureaucrats to get jobs with the DMV. The states would also be free to downsize or eliminate their education departments.

All of which would finally put an end to our peculiar institution that has kept far too many of our black countrymen from realizing the American dream.