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Jewish World Review Dec. 25, 2002 / 20 Teves, 5763

Walter Williams

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Consumer Reports

Fiddling whilst Rome burns | Casey Lartigue, policy analyst for the Washington, D.C., based Cato Institute, has written a report in the Dec. 10 issue of Policy Analysis that constitutes a devastating indictment of public education. The title is, "The Need for Education Freedom in the Nation's Capital."

The title suggests the solution -- namely, education reform must be more than simply spending more money to prop up schools that are little more than holding pens. Washington politicians must create a climate where education entrepreneurs can flourish and thereby produce education competition. Parents must have control over the education of their children. Tuition tax credits or education vouchers would facilitate both objectives.

"That's not the answer, Williams," you say. "More money and smaller class sizes are what's needed." That's what the education establishment would have us believe. however, if money were the answer, Washington public schools would be the best in the nation -- if not the world. Per student expenditures are $10,500 a year, second highest in the nation. With a student-teacher ration of 15.8, they have smaller-than-average class sizes. What is the result?

In only one of the city's 19 high schools do as many as 50 percent of its students test as proficient in reading, and at no school are 50 percent of the students proficient in math. At nine high schools, only 5 percent or fewer of its students test proficient in reading; and in 11 high schools, only 5 percent or less are proficient in math. The story gets worse when we look at the percentages for "below basic" performance, which means that the student has little or no mastery of subject skills.

At 12 of 19 high schools, more than 50 percent of the students test below basic in reading, and at some of those schools the percentage approaches 80 percent. At 15 of these schools, over 50 percent test below basic in math, and in 12 of them 70 percent to 99 percent do so.

But that's not the worst of the story: Each year, more than 80 percent -- and up to 96 percent -- of high school students are promoted to the next grade. This is nothing but fraud, dishonesty and deception, plain and simple. While the education establishment can rightfully point to education problems beyond their control, -- irresponsible parents, students with alien and hostile minds, and rotten teaching conditions -- they bear the sole responsibility for fraudulent promotions and fraudulent diplomas.

The bottom line is that if one didn't know better, one would think that Washington's predominantly black public school system was being run by the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, hell-bent on a mission to sabotage black academic excellence. Instead, it's a system being run by blacks for blacks. As such, it means generation after generation of blacks will not be able to academically measure up. Calls for racial quotas and preferences will exist in perpetuity. And, in a world of increasing technology, many blacks are condemned to near uselessness in the job market.

But what about Sen. Trent Lott? You say, "What in the world does Trent Lott have to do with rotten education received by blacks in D.C.?" I'd say nothing, but judging by the time and political capital spent by black politicians and civil rights groups attacking Trent Lott, you'd think that he was the No. 1 black problem, followed closely by the Confederate battle flag.

The attachment of black politicians and civil rights groups to spending resources on symbolism rather than substance is equivalent to Nero's fiddling while Rome burns. I'm sure that if the outrage directed toward Lott's indiscreet remarks were instead directed at fraudulent education delivered to black youngsters across the nation, solutions might be found.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate