Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Public Education; Superwoman Resigns

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Mark Twain

(This is a short version of an essay which appeared in American Thinker and elsewhere on 5 Oct 10. This op/ed appeared in the 10 Oct edition of the DC Current newspapers.)

Education, like the economy and terrorism, has been elevated to a national security problem. Unfortunately, alarmist rhetoric is seldom matched by decisive action at the personal, municipal, or national level.

In the nation’s capital, the President sends his kids to private schools. The average taxpayer, who exercises choice, pays twice; once for public schools and again for a private school where achievement is more likely. The District of Columbia has the worst public schools in the country. If educators were sued for malpractice; the school house might improve over night.

The nexus of urban decay is often single party rule – a political sinecure where the incentives for reform are few. The recent Mayoral primary in the District of Columbia provides a cautionary tale.

Unlike most urban Democrats, Adrian Fenty was a genuine reformer. He hired an Education Chancellor, Michelle Rhee; and gave her the power to fire teachers, relieve principals, and close failing schools - at the risk of putting her boss out of work. Indeed, Mayor Fenty lost the recent Democrat primary to Councilman Vincent Gray and now Ms. Rhee has resigned too. None of this is good news for kids. Predictably, the local union has already filed a suit to reinstate those 241 teachers fired for “poor performance.”

When Fenty and Rhee touched the third rail of reform, the academic left mobilized. Randi Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and law professor Mary Cheh made common cause. Weingarten is the anti-hero of Waiting for Superman, a documentary about public education in which Variety claims she is cast as “a foaming satanic beast.”
Satanic may be a bit of a stretch, but Weingarten might be the worst thing to happen to public education since head lice.

Council members Cheh and Gray may be best remembered for taxes on plastic bags and soda pop – and removing chocolate milk from school lunches.

Icons of the past often foretell the future. Other Gray supporters included Marion Barry and Eleanor Holmes Norton. Barry is best known as a drug addled former mayor. Delegate Norton and her Democrat colleagues in Congress killed the popular DC Voucher program which allowed over 3,300 lower-income children to escape the “ghetto” schools.

The dim prospects for genuine schoolhouse reform in cities like the District of Columbia is not just a local phenomenon. The national outlook is grim too.

When the academic Left brought the AFT into the DC mayoral race, the President and the Secretary of Education went to ground. As Fenty and Rhee were getting mugged by teacher union money, the national party leadership refused to campaign for education reform in their own front yard, the nation’s capital.

Democracy is a bit of an odd duck; sometimes we get what we want and, just as often, we get what we deserve. A pathetic schoolhouse is only possible where no one has the courage or integrity to put children first. In self-segregating cities, the likely victims of inverted models are minorities, black kids in particular. Indeed, the most notorious example of “black on black” crime might be our public school system.

Take the Dexter Manley case. Manley was an athlete who went through the entire Texas public school system and then played football for the Washington Redskins. After football, Manley landed in the Washington Lab School where he tested as a functional illiterate.

Manley was victimized by a system that gave him a permanent hall pass for his race or his jockstrap, or both. If Manley’s teachers applied the same rigor for academics as his coaches did for athletic achievement, Dexter might be a different man today.

For two generations, public school systems have been bottom fishing. Most grade and high school teachers come from the dregs of baccalaureates. And many of these underachievers are credentialed with “education” degrees with little or no substantive knowledge. And many of those weak teachers are now principals or administrators. In short, K through 12 has become an affirmative action program for unionized nitwits. Such swamps are not easily drained; and the muck is now generational.

Yet black parents continue to vote for the urban plantation. Marion Barry ran and won four terms as mayor in DC. If he ran today, he would probably win again. Fenty, sober and progressive in the best sense of the word, was tossed after a term. One of the great ciphers in the wake of Martin Luther King’s death is black urban voters who continue to vote against their own best interests.

On Sunday, 26 September, Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared on Meet the Press and preached that “we must have the moral courage” to change. We have no evidence that Messrs. Gray, Duncan, or Obama have the courage or integrity to adopt any education policy any more enlightened than ‘business as usual.’ And who waits for superman if superwoman has been run out of town?

The author is a graduate of Cardinal Hayes HS in the Bronx. He also writes at G. Murphy Donovan and Agnotology in Journalism.

No comments: