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An End to Educational Racism

This years Colorado Student Assessment exams produced some terrific news for schoolchildren across the state. According to the September 30 Rocky Mountain News, Education Commissioner William Moloney rejected excuses from schools that too many of their children are poor and have social problems that make learning difficult.[1] Maybe, just maybe, educators are starting to believe that all children can be taught to read and write.

What Commissioner Maloney took issue with is the educational establishments despicable habit of categorizing childrens learning abilities according to their skin color, family income, and sex. Ritual invocations of diversity, societal racism, and parental inattention are routinely used to excuse poor performance and irresponsible behavior by children with darker skins and low incomes. Schools warehouses these children, pandering to their supposed cultural sensitivities with execrable offerings like Ebonics. They are told they are doing well no matter how miserable their academic progress. When the schools they attend degenerate into cesspools of ignorance and incivility, administrators shrug and point to the fraction of students eligible for government subsidized lunches.

At the same time, outstanding achievement by children with white or yellow skin goes unrewarded. Boys who ace science and math tests provoke horror. They are rewarded with quotas on college admissions and by having the scoring on the National Merit Scholarship exam biased against them.[2]

Paul A. Trout, an associate professor at Montana State University, summed the situation up nicely in the Spring 1997 issue of Academic Questions. Thanks to this witchs brew of low expectations, dumbed-down standards, and perversely misapplied therapeutic and humanitarian practices and policies, students learnon their way to collegethat hard subjects will be made as easy as possible; that schmoozing about life roles or movies is more fun than analyzing Macbeth or learning calculus; that teachers will pass them on to the next grade despite substandard work; that homework will be sparingly assigned and seldom monitored; that if students have trouble with math, the mastery of computational skills will be declared counterproductive, that if they cannot read, the definition of literacy will be expanded, and, that if they fail tests, their scores will be readjustedNo wonder so many studentsregard education with contempt.[3]

Proof that poverty and social problems are no bar to learning comes from the handful of public and private schools that have discarded educational racism in favor of treating children as individuals with minds and hearts. When Houston Principal Thaddeus Lott arrived at Wesley Elementary in 1975, just 18% of third graders could read at grade level. Five years later, the figure was 85%. Located in a violent, drug-infested neighborhood, every student in the 99% minority school qualifies for funds earmarked for disadvantaged children. Its a myth, says Lott, that if youre born in a poor community and your skin is a certain color that you cant achieve on a higher level.[4]

Year after year, the inner-city schools of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York have provided poor children with an education superior to that of the public schools at half the cost. The Catholic schools expect that everyone, regardless of his skin color, social status, or family structure, will tackle tough subjects and behave in a civil fashion. This makes a huge difference for children from chaotic family backgrounds because, as sociologist James Coleman recognized, the school becomes an island of stability, safety, and structure.[5]

This year, the Heritage Foundation awarded the Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship to seven school principals who have proven that there is no excuse for failing to teach poor children. Their schools have seven elements in common. The first is a principal dedicated to the proposition that all children can learn who has the freedom to decide whom to hire and what to teach. Second is a clear vision of the measurable goals that the school will achieve and an unrelenting determination to hold every teacher personally responsible for taking the steps required to meet those goals. Third is a commitment to searching for and developing the very best teachers.

A rigorous and regular testing program to measure progress comes next, followed by the understanding that achievement is the key to discipline. Close contact with parents in an effort to show them how they can support their childrens efforts to learn comes sixth, though students are ultimately held responsible for their own successes or failures. Finally, effective schools demand that students spend a great deal of time on task and meet detailed course requirements. Whether it takes extended days, extended years, after-school programs, or summer school, students must demonstrate mastery before they progress.[6]

Successful schools accept no excuses and make children work towards their own success. Commissioner Mohoney appears to understand that. Perhaps someday, the rest of Colorados educational establishment will join him.

[1] Brian Weber. 30 September 1999. Owens frowns at school scores, Denver Rocky Mountain News, p. 5A.
[2] School Reform News. February 1997. New PSAT Test De-emphasizes Math Scores. Chicago: The Heartland Institute.
[3] Paul A. Trout. Spring 1997. Disengaged Students and the Decline of Academic Standards, Academic Questions, 10, 2, p. 49.4 Tyce Palmaffy. January/February 1998. No Excuses, Policy Review, 87, p. 18.
[5] Diane Ravitch. 1 October 1996. Testing Catholic Schools, The Wall Street Journal, p. A22. For a related article see Peter M. Flanigan. 12 February 1991. A School System That Works, The Wall Street Journal.
[6] Samuel Casey Carter. 1999. No Excuses: Seven Principals of Low-Income Schools Who Set the Standard for High Achievement. Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation.

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, lt;https://i2i.org/gt;. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
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