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credit: my.mccombs.utexas.edu

credit: my.mccombs.utexas.edu

Here we go again, with an article by David Harsanyi in The Federalist titled: Public School Is Often The Most Destructive Institution In American Life (Yet Democrats demand the status quo).

There’s something perverse about an ideology that views the disposing of a child in the third trimester of pregnancy as an indisputable right but the desire of parents to choose a school for their kids as ‘zealotry.’  Watching Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, answer an array of frivolous questions was just another reminder of this warped worldview.

Many liberals, for instance, tell us that racism is one of the most pressing problems in America. And yet few things have hurt African Americans more over the past 40 years than the inner-city public school system. If President Obama is correct, and educational attainment is the key to breaking out of a lower economic strata, then no institution is driving inequality quite as effectively as public schools.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, nothing so needs reforming as a type of education one doesn’t favor. While one can’t call out leftist hypocrisy too often or too loudly, and while inner city schools are generally as Harsanyi describes them, he’s making quite a hasty generalization. As I’ve often noted when someone cries loudly for education “reform,” as though everyone agrees completely and knows precisely what must be reformed and how, most public schools, particularly those not in states and cities wholly owned by the Democrat party and the two primary teacher’s unions, do quite well at providing an educational opportunity to their students. Were it not so, virtually every American–particularly those with school age children–would be up in arms, and they’re not. Most Americans are generally pleased with the schools their children attend.

Actually, teachers unions are the only organizations in America that openly support segregated schools. In districts across the country — even ones in cities with some form of limited movement for kids — poor parents, most typically black or Hispanic, are forced to enroll their kids in underperforming schools when there are good ones nearby, sometimes just blocks away.

credit: health communities.com

credit: health communities.com

Harsanyi must know he’s being misleading. Properly run school districts generally assign school attendance based not at all on race–that’s illegal–but on geography and staffing needs. They try to avoid bussing students wherever possible, and do their best to send kids to school as close to their homes as possible. At the same time, as public institutions, they must use public resources as efficiently as possible. Half empty schools aren’t efficient. If schools are hiring and retaining incompetent teachers, that’s another issue entirely.

Harsanyi points out, quite correctly, teacher unions pour millions into Democrat politicians, who are, in ridiculous and unethical ways attacking Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos for daring to favor school choice. He also points out minority kids in major cities are doing less well than white kids in achievement, which is also generally true.

Mostly though, the liberals on the committee attacked DeVos because she has a history of contributing her own money to help private and Christian schools expand their reach. She also supported school vouchers proponents and public charter schools that open doors to poor kids. Those dollars have likely done more to help minority students than all the committee members’ efforts combined.

As many Americans surely know, rich and middle-class Americans already have school choice. In most places, the whiter the neighborhood the better the school system, and the better the school system the higher the prices of homes, making it impossible for those who aren’t wealthy to escape substandard schools (rural schools also often suffer.) This is the status quo Warren, Murphy, and Murray hope to preserve.

Here too Harsanyi is being misleading. Better off communities tend to have better schools for two primary reasons: they provide a larger and more lucrative property tax base, which is the almost exclusive means of funding K-12 education. It’s fascinating that Democrats actually want to force people to live in urban environments–apartments–which produce little or no property tax revenue. Money does matter in education, not just in terms of facilities, but in terms of hiring the best teachers, and most importantly, because such parents tend to see education as far more important than most minority cultures, and insist their children take maximum advantage of the opportunity schools provide. Race tends to be incidental in such matters. Black and Hispanic parents that live in such communities–yes, they too are educated–do the same.

Yes, school reform is complicated and challenges vary from place to place. Many have shown improvement. But teachers unions and their allies opposed magnets, charters, home schooling, religious schooling, and virtual schools long before data about the effectiveness of these choices was in, and now long after quality research is indicating their improvement on the union-preferred system.

“Have shown improvement?” That’s pretty vague. Indeed, teacher’s unions are generally detrimental to competent education and tend to be socialist apparatchiks, with all the waste and stubborn incompetence that entails, but the other types of schools mentioned are no panacea. I have seen good and bad schools of all those types. All suffer from the fact their administrators and teachers must be hired from the same human race that provides public school staff. Granted, a charter school without all the insane state and federal mandates and fad-based lunacy all too common in public schools probably has a greater potential to be academically excellent. Properly run private schools also have such potential, in large part because they can pick and choose their students and expel them at will.

By the parameters we often judge these sort of things, public schools are racist institutions — even if that’s unintentional. They have an even more destructive effect on communities than all the dumb words and racist (real and imagined) comments that upset the public on a regular basis. It’s not surprising that poll after poll shows minority parents support educational choice. Unfortunately, partisanship allows Democrats to take voters for granted and ignore the issue.

Whew! The generalizations are flying fast and thick. Harsanyi has not, for a second, proved his thesis: all public schools are inherently racist and the most destructive institutions in America. I suspect very few could possibly fit that description. Certainly some, particularly in major cities, which are uniformly run by teacher’s unions and the Democrat Party, are a mess, and those schools tend to have large minority populations. If they’re racist, one must ask why everything touched by Democrats, why do the very places they live and proclaim oases of civilization and culture, tend to be such cesspools of violent crime, drugs, hatred, lack of respect for education, no personal reliability or hard work and racism

Without question, the Democrat’s treatment of DeVos is rude, cruel and patently stupid. Their education policies are generally destructive and abusive, and have little to do with educating individual students. However, that could be said of many public school administrators everywhere, because they too, regardless of political affiliation, tend to be far more concerned with the sanctity of whatever policy they’re currently pushing than with individual people.

Harsanyi, and most school critics, grossly neglect the role of students and their parents in school performance. Remember, all the greatest teacher in the world can do is provide the best educational opportunity their abilities and resources allow. That’s why more affluent districts generally have the potential of providing a superior opportunity. However, if the students do not care about learning, if their parents aren’t involved and don’t make them do what is good for them, if they don’t take full advantage of their opportunity, there is nothing teachers, educrats, politicians, or even the President of the United States, can do about it. Policy is meaningless if the people the policy is intended to transform don’t play along. That’s a huge factor in the education debate, but most ignore it, because they can’t address it with policy or money.  They don’t want to tackle the hard stuff.  Teachers know this all too well, but what the hell do they know about education? No one ever asks them about policy.

It’s more than a little disturbing that Republicans, supposedly espousing the glories of small government, individual determination and local control of schools, tend to sound and behave just like Democrats where school issues are concerned. That does nothing for the children about whom they all claim to be so concerned.

School choice? Sure, as long as it can be done without destroying the public school opportunities of every other student, because the truth is most schools, most places, do a good job–no wholesale top-down federal reform necessary.

Oh, and Mr. and Ms. Politician: you might want to actually speak to competent teachers about what works in education. Would you speak with the administrator of a paper company about how to wire a house or fix the plumbing? Ask the real professionals.

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