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Jewish World Review Jan. 14, 2000 /7 Shevat, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Success ignored -- P.S. 161 IN BROOKLYN has 35 students per class and 91 percent of those students are black, with another 8 percent being Latino. Three quarters of these students come from families poor enough to qualify for either free or subsidized lunches.

Another educational disaster? Not this time. Actually, P. S. 161 students have the second-highest reading scores in the state! "It's a lot of garbage that poor kids can't succeed," says principal Irwin Kurz.

P.S. 161 wasn't the only school to prove that. Students at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem have had test scores that ranked 12th out of 235 middle schools in the city. Then there is Kipp Academy in the poverty-stricken South Bronx black and Hispanic ghetto, as well as another Kipp Academy in Houston, Texas. In California, there is the Bennett-Kew Elementary School in a rough, low-income neighborhood. All are producing better results than they are supposed to be capable of.

When Bill Bennett was Secretary of Education, he called Chicago's public schools "the worst in the nation." But that did not stop Helen DeBerry from creating a high quality elementary school in a 99 percent black Chicago neighborhood. In Detroit, the Catholic Cornerstone Schools Association has produced similar results in low-income, minority neighborhoods.

Despite much political talk about "concern" and "compassion" for minority students by many liberals, studies of minority schools that succeed have usually been done by conservatives. Information on the schools mentioned above is from a study titled "No Excuses," published by the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that children in schools on military bases score higher on tests than children in the public schools. That has been particularly true of minority students. Only 7 percent of black children in the public schools score above the national average on standardized tests but 32 percent of black children educated on military bases do.

Apparently almost anyone can do a better job of educating children than our so-called "educators" in the public schools. Children who are home-schooled by their parents also score higher on tests than children educated in the public schools.

Imagine if we discovered that people with no medical training were performing surgery in their kitchens with better results than surgeons operating in hospitals. We would be astounded -- and we would wonder why we were spending billions of dollars on medical schools and hospitals.

No such fantastic scenario is likely in medicine. But it happens all the time in education. That is why the medical profession is in fact a profession, while the field of education is often little more than a sham, spouting lots of jargon to try to sound like a profession when it is not. The home-schooling movement was spearheaded by evangelical Christians, who wanted to take their children out of the moral anarchy of the public school. Few of these evangelicals were products of Ivy League colleges and most had no training in the education courses required of those who make a career in the public schools. Yet home-schooled students score higher on tests than the students of those who claim to have "expertise" in education.

Many top-notch private schools not only do not require their teachers to have taken courses in education, they prefer people who do not have this "expertise." That should not be surprising, given the drivel that schools and departments of education teach.

If you do not have the time or the stomach to visit schools of education, read "Ed School Follies" by Rita Kramer to get some idea of the kinds of people and the kinds of fads being fed into our public schools. You may already know that students studying to become teachers have lower mental test scores than other college students, but there is nothing like seeing specifically how this translates into confusion and susceptibility to fads.

Many of these would-be educators do not even know enough to realize how little they know -- or how dangerous it is for them to play psychologist or propagandist for politically correct causes.

Successful education shows what is possible, whether in charter schools, private schools, military schools or home-schooling. The challenge is to provide more escape hatches from failing public schools, not only to help those students who escape, but also to force these institutions to get their act together before losing more students and jobs.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate