JWR Roger SimonMona CharenLinda Chavez
Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellWilliam PfaffRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Political Cartoons
Left, Right & Center

Jewish World Review / June 15,1998 / 19 Sivan, 5758

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas Let the children go

TWO BUSINESSMEN, Ted Forstmann, a venture capitalist, and John Walton, heir to the huge Wal-Mart fortune, have pledged to raise $200 million that would allow at least 50,000 urban poor children to escape from failing public schools.

Normally, this would be an ideal issue for liberals, who regularly wail against the "unfair advantages" enjoyed by "the rich." Not this time. The education establishment and the politicians who receive its political contributions think it's perfectly fine that kids can't read or write at grade level when they graduate from many of these schools. And the decay there is physical as well as intellectual and moral.

Forstmann and Walton have started what may turn out to be the greatest revolution in public education.

That there is a hunger for educational choice is beyond dispute. In New York City, 22,000 applications for the Choice Scholarship Program are received each year for the 1,000 slots available. In Washington, D.C., more than 7,000 applications were filed for about 1,000 scholarships. San Antonio has the first city-wide scholarship program for poor children, thanks to area businesses concerned about the quality of employees they are getting from the government-funded and -controlled education system.

In wealthy Palm Springs, Calif., the Desert Sun reported last fall that for every 700 students enrolled at Palm Springs High School, 200 will drop out, 455 will receive their high school diploma and not enter college, 39 students will enter college and quit without graduating and just six students will graduate from college.

The education establishment predicted school choice wouldn't work and would drain public-school resources. They argued that more money is needed in a system that is already spending record amounts, but getting ever-lower returns on the public's investment. If a mutual fund were performing as poorly as public schools, a good financial advisor would recommend the client to sell and find a better investment.

In Wisconsin, where school choice for low-income residents has been an option in some cities for more than seven years, and was affirmed on June 10 by the state supreme court, even when the choice is for religious schools, the results are beginning to come in. Dr. Howard Fuller, a former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public School system, says the magnitude of the improvements is so great he recommends the choice program be expanded to new cities. Several studies from educational professionals indicate "quite large" gains in math achievement and reading. Surveys also indicate widespread parental satisfaction and more stability in attendance patterns.

A newer school-choice program in Cleveland shows similar academic gains, as well as markedly improved parental and child satisfaction. In Milwaukee and Cleveland choice schools, academic achievement in several subjects improved dramatically after as little as three years in a new environment.

Only the teachers' unions and the politicians who need their votes and campaign money are upset. Unable to deny the evidence of improvement, many have taken to distorting the research and attempting to shut down choice experiments.

Prof. Lawrence Stedman of the State University of New York illustrated the depth of the education problem for the minority community trapped in failed public schools. In a presentation last year to a Brookings Institution conference, Stedman said: "(Twelfth-)grade black students are performing at the level of middle-school white students .... They lag four or more years behind in every area, (including) reading, math, science, writing, history and geography. Latino seniors do somewhat better than 8th-grade white students in math and writing but, in other areas, are also four years behind white 12th-graders."

While the federal government attempts to break up the alleged monopoly of the highly successful Microsoft, it tries to maintain a failing education monopoly. Forstmann, Walton and their Choice Scholarship Program spell freedom and a future for students and parents who can't afford the ``luxury'' of private schools. The politicians and education bureaucrats, who increasingly place their kids in private schools, want to leave poor children behind. Forstmann and Walton are like Moses crying to the education pharaohs: "Let these children go." Oregon.

6/9/98: Oregon: the new killing fields
6/5/98: Speaking plainly: the cover-up continues
6/2/98: Barry Goldwater: in our hearts
5/28/98:The Speaker's insightful remarks
5/26/98: As bad as it gets
5/25/98:Union dues and don'ts
5/21/98: Connecting those Chinese campaign contribution dots
5/19/98: Clinton on the couch
5/13/98: John Ashcroft: another Jimmy Carter?
5/8/98: Terms of dismemberment
5/5/98: Clinton's tangled Webb
4/30/98: Return of the Jedi
4/28/98: Desparately seeking Susan
4/23/98: RICO's threat to free-speech and expression
4/21/98: Educating children v. preserving an institution
4/19/98: Analyzing the birth of a possible new nation
4/14/98: What's fair about our tax system?
4/10/98: CBS: 'Touched by a perv'
4/8/98: Judge Wright's wrong reasoning on sexual harassment
4/2/98: How about helping American cities before African?
3/31/98:Revenge of the children
3/29/98: The Clinton strategy: delay, deceive, deny, and destroy
3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.