Big-City Schools: Where America’s Most Vulnerable Kids Languish

Democrats and Republicans alike say they’re fully committed to seeing that every child receives a quality education.  Bipartisan agreement notwithstanding, school children in urban America have gotten the short end of the learning stick for a long, long time.  How can anyone defend the following statistics?

  • In 2010-2011, public schools in the nation’s capitol spent$29,345 per pupil — nearly $600,000 per each classroom of 20 students —  yet the District’s 8th graders finished dead last in a nationwide proficiency test in math and reading.
  • According to a 2015 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 96 percent of 8th graders in Detroit’s public schools tested not proficient in math, and 93 percent tested not proficient in reading.
  • According to a 2017 investigation by Project Baltimore, 13 of the city’s 39 public high schools had zero students who tested proficient in math.  Zero!  Of the 3,841 students in the remaining 26 high schools, only 14 tested at or above proficiency in math, less than one-third of one percent.

For a half-century running, Democrat-run urban schools have robbed minority children of a realistic chance for a decent education.  In addition to earning an F-minus in their assigned duty to adequately educate students under their care, the three school districts named above have something else in common: they all are run by highly-paid Democrat administrators whose foremost priority is catering to the demands of teachers unions, one of the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituencies.

In school systems with teachers unions exist, Democrats look the other way as the interests of teachers take precedence over the interests of children.  And no wonder. The overwhelming share of union dues paid by teachers is money-laundered straight through to the coffers of the Democratic Party.  According to a Brookings Institution study, nearly 99% of teachers union political donations in 2012 went to Democrats.  In 2016, teachers unions gave $43 million to Democrats, $260,000 to Republicans.

Teachers First, Children Second

Once sub-standard teachers have tenure, a Herculean effort is required to get rid of them.  The teachers-first, children-second pecking order in the school systems cited below exists in virtually every urban school district in America, where a king’s ransom of precious educational funding is frittered away to protect bad teachers.

  • New York City public schools operate 16 reassignment centers, also known as “rubber rooms.”  Rubber rooms are off-campus facilities where teachers accused of incompetence or gross misconduct are warehoused, as their glacial, union-mandated appeals process drones on, often for years.  While receiving full pay and benefits, teachers in rubber room limbo spend each six-hour day napping, reading magazines, playing cards or other leisure activities.  Despite constant complaints that it would do a better job of educating minority children if only it’s given more money, the city’s bloated and incompetent public school system squanders $150 million a year paying hundreds of unionized teachers to do little more than kill time while waiting to find out if they’ll be fired.  Wasting $150 million would be one thing if the city’s public schools did even a minimally acceptable job of educating disadvantaged minority children, but New York City has some of the sorriest public schools in America.
  • Getting rid of bad teachers is so difficult in Democrat-run school districts that Milwaukee’s public schoolscameup with a mitigation plan called The Dance of the Lemons.  Because teachers union contracts protect all teachers, including those deemed unfit to teach, school principals in Milwaukee found it virtually impossible to fire bad teachers.  To cope with the problem, principals hold a meeting at the end of the school year, where one principal swaps his or her worst teachers in exchange for another principal’s worst teachers, with both principals hoping the lemons they get won’t be as bad as the lemons they swapped.  How are the interests of students served when unfit teachers are shuffled around from one school to another in an endless game of musical chairs where every bad teacher gets a seat?
  • New York City and Milwaukee aren’t the only places where unionized, Democrat-run schools fail miserably at adequately educating minority children.  A 2010 investigation by L.A. Weekly found that the Los Angeles Unified School District spent$3.5 million trying to fire seven teachers for poor classroom performance.  Only four of the seven were eventually fired at the end of their union-mandated appeals process, which dragged on for an average of five years at an average cost of $875,000 per fired teacher.  Despite blowing through enormous sums of education funding, Los Angeles public schools graduated just 44% of its high school students in 2006, making it one of the worst-performing school districts in America.  Graduation rates in Los Angeles have since improved, but only after the Democrat-controlled California Department of Education changed its formula for determining graduation requirements.

Inexcusably sorry public schools in Democrat-run cities are nothing new.   They’ve existed continually for the last half-century, with millions of minority students left unprepared to succeed in later life.

The High Cost (to Students) of Bad Teachers

Just as it’s true that good teachers can have an extraordinarily positive impact on the future lives of their students, it’s also true that bad teachers can cause lasting harm to the futures of their students.

According to a study cited by Eric A. Hanushek, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, “a high-value-added teacher in grades 4-8 has a noticeable impact on subsequent long-term outcomes, including college attendance, earnings and family creation.”  How can young adults who were stuck with sub-standard teachers in the public schools they attended possibly do well in later life?  To be fair, socio-economics also plays a role in poor outcomes, but which party is responsible for the welfare-for-votes policies that inevitably lead to broken homes, generational poverty and chronic despair?

School Choice to the Rescue

How can our society help urban students get out of rotten public schools, and into the same kind of safe, high-performing private academies attended by children of affluent families?  The surest way is through federally-funded school choice vouchers.

Unfortunately, the mutually back-scratching alliance between Democrats and teachers unions blocks school choice at every turn.  In doing so, their unholy confederation wreaks unmitigated havoc on inner city communities by robbing generations of urban children of a realistic shot at a decent education.

Although Democrats and teachers unions know better, they say private schools aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.  Anyone who thinks that should ask the two brothers in the video below.  Their story should be the story of every disadvantaged child in America.

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