Friday, March 7, 2014

How the Public Education Monopoly harms Black Americans

What follows is my Op-Ed in today's Orlando Sentinel.  I hope you will share it with people you care about and maybe even people you don't...

Another February has come and gone, and Black History Month also comes to a close.

As a white father of three kids — two who are home-educated — I have enjoyed over the years sharing biographies with my sons that examine the lives of great Americans like Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson.

My boys will never know what it is like to be a descendent of slaves. They will also never know what it is like to belong to a race of people that arguably still suffers from the vestiges of slavery. For that I am simultaneously grateful and outraged.

Fifty years after President Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty in America, the picture for black Americans is not good.
In addition to higher levels of poverty, unemployment, out-of-wedlock births and incarceration, black people in the United States suffer from a less visible but far more insidious form of discrimination that has no end in sight.

Consider this.

If you are a rich parent in the United States, you have complete school choice. You can send your kids to elite private schools, a religious school or home-school them, firm in the belief that the resources will be there to provide your child with the best educational opportunities money can buy.
Middle-class parents, though not always able to pay for the top-end private schools, can with some effort also place their children in the more desirable home-school or private-school setting.
Then we come to poorer Americans and the realistic choices they face.

The facts are clear. If you are poor in America — and you are unlucky enough to live in a ZIP code where school choice or charter schools are not accessible — you are stuck with the school your local government forces you to attend. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could not be segreted by race. Today they are segregated by economic status.

The same low-income parents who are allowed to shop anywhere they want for food, clothing, home appliances, cellphones, etc., are told by the government that they must send their children to the school they are zoned for. Translation? They must attend the local monopoly.

Monopolies always charge high prices and give poor service because they face no competitive pressure. Look at what we see in the public-school monopoly: In America we spend, on average, more than $10,000 per child, per year (much more in New York, D.C. and other places), and yet we routinely see our kids finish near the bottom in international math, science and general-education tests.

In much of Europe, tax dollars are attached to the children so they can go wherever they want. This means that schools are forced to deliver high-quality services or face extinction.

Moreover, in countries like Finland, to teach any subject, a person has to have a master's degree in his field of study and six years of on-the-job training before he is allowed to teach on his own.
In America, our education colleges routinely turn out people who have four years largely devoted to teaching-methodology training, but we do not often see experts in chemistry, business, engineering and so forth becoming teachers. This means that in addition to parents having no choice where they can send their kids, poor children often have teachers who are not experts in their subject matter and thus not as prepared to impart subject mastery as they should be.

Compounding matters is the issue of tenure and union power. Over and over we hear about incompetent or borderline dangerous teachers who are first exposed, then protected by archaic rules that protect their jobs and heavy-handed union support that makes it difficult for schools to fire bad teachers.

The victims of this largely hopeless government education model are, and always will be, poorer Americans.

With the highest poverty rates in the country, it is black Americans who are the primary losers in this monopolized market structure.

Until that changes, black Americans will continue to be the primary victims of laws that limit their freedom of mobility and choice.


  1. You ignited quite the firestorm over at OS online. 24 comments and counting. Rebel rouser, you.

  2. Whoops. Make that Rabble Rouser.
    Rebel Rouser is apparently an instrumental song from the 50s, which you are definitely not.

  3. I agree with this article as a black woman who attended zoned public school in Florida, I was able to experience first hand how dysfunctional the educational system is. Take for example my AP history class didn't even have proper history books for all the students.
    It was 2008 and a class of 20+ students had to share the 7 AP history books that were available to us. When I asked "why", I was told it's because we are a "F" school, so we didn't get enough money to supply all the students with history books this year.
    Even though I knew this was wrong, I didn't understand why it was wrong or what I could do about it. After all I was zoned for this school, and no matter how many times my father spoke to the school board, we got the same response if we wanted to go to a better school we had to move.
    It wasn't until college when I attend my micro-economics course with professor Chambless, did I finally realize what was wrong with our educational system and what I could do to make sure my children didn't suffer the same fate.

  4. I only disagree in that in my eyes, black people don't have to be limited by anything anymore. Have you noticed the percentage of black Americans currently at Valencia alone? They, hopefully will get themselves out of zip codes that limit their upward mobility but especially, that of their children.