Viewpoint

Best way to help black students? School choice

Last summer’s Ferguson, Mo., disturbances revealed that while blacks were 67 percent of its population, only three members of its 53-officer police force were black. Some might conclude that such a statistic is evidence of hiring discrimination. That’s a possibility, but we might ask what percentage of blacks met hiring qualifications on the civil service examination. Are there hundreds of blacks in Ferguson and elsewhere who achieve passing scores on civil service examinations who are then refused employment? There is no evidence suggesting an affirmative answer to that.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the Nation’s Report Card, most black 12th-graders’ test scores are either basic or below basic in reading, writing, math and science. Put another way, the average black 12th-grader has the academic achievement level of the average white seventh- or eighth-grader. In some cities, there’s an even larger achievement gap.

Black students and their parents believe their high-school diplomas are equivalent to those received by whites. Therefore, differences in employment or college admittance are likely to be seen as racial discrimination. The fact of business is that if seventh- or eighth-graders of any race compete with 12th-graders of any race on civil service exams or the SAT, one should not be surprised by the outcome.

In terms of public policy, what to do? It all depends on the assumptions one makes about black mental competency. If one assumes that blacks cannot academically compete with whites, the “solution” is to eliminate the “disparate” impact of civil service exams and college admittance requirements by dumbing them down in order to achieve “diversity.” I do not make that assumption, so what to do?

Many black parents want a better education and safer schools for their children. The way to deliver on that desire is to offer parents alternatives to poorly performing and unsafe public schools. Expansion of charter schools is one way to provide choice. The problem is that charter school waiting lists number in the tens of thousands.

The National Education Association and its political and civil rights organization handmaidens preach that we should improve, not abandon, public schools. Such a position is callous deceit, for many of them have abandoned public schools.

Nationwide, about 12 percent of parents have their children enrolled in private schools. In Chicago, 44 percent of public-school teachers have their own children enrolled in private schools. In Philadelphia, it’s also 44 percent. In Baltimore, it’s 35 percent. That ought to tell us something.

Politicians who fight against school choice behave the way teachers do. Fifty-two percent of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have school-age children have them enrolled in private schools. Thirty-seven percent of House members and 45 percent of senators who have school-age children have them enrolled in private schools.

The education establishment says more money is needed, but more money does not produce higher quality. Parents, given vouchers and choice, could do a far superior job in the education of their children – and at a cheaper cost.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

  Comments