What happened to school choice?

I’m told it’s the political power of unions. Makes me wonder about all the good teachers trapped in a system without the power to express or carry out their own ideas.

Dr. John Sparks is concerned, too, and we spoke late last week about the problems. Here’s how he expressed it in his latest column for the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.

In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal calls 2011 the “year of school choice.” Parents and the legislators who represent them, particularly in inner-city schools, are tired of waiting for the promised effects of “educational reform” on the public schools their children attend. Therefore, according to the Wall Street Journal, in one form or another, 13 states have passed school-choice legislation, and similar changes are proposed in 28 other states. Such legislation often permits the formation of publicly financed “charter schools,” which are run by new schools boards whose members insist upon an educational environment that will produce real learning.

Despite progress in many places, New York City children, many of them African-American, may not be able to return to charters or start in them anew in the fall due to a lawsuit instituted against the NYC’s Department of Education by what would seem to be a tragically ironic twosome: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

What? That doesn’t make sense. Sparks makes the point, connecting the dots.

One would certainly assume that NYC’s charter program—which would allow parents to withdraw their children from the 22 poor public schools in New York and move them to effective charter or other schools—would be eagerly supported by the NAACP and the UFT. After all, these are schools deemed (by pre-established criteria) to be “failing.” But that is not the case. Why?

Perhaps one could understand the UFT, long an ideological champion of public schools, no matter how poorly they perform, engaging in such a suit, but why the NAACP, in light of its announced commitment to black and Latino youths and their parents? Here is a case where political/ideological dedication to the public-school monopoly is stronger than loyalty to the very people which the NAACP is pledged to help.

Fortunately, NYC parents with children attending or about to enter charter schools in the fall are not committed to this ideological blindness. They simply want the good schooling for their children that educational choice provides, and they are speaking out.

Good for them. In fact, Hooray for them. Outraged parents are telling the UFT their time’s up.

The same could be said to the NAACP. How can an organization supposedly committed to helping blacks and other minority groups climb the educational ladder file a lawsuit to obstruct educational opportunities for what amounts to 7,000 of New York’s most disadvantaged kids? Black parents have a right to be perplexed, frustrated, and outraged by such a stance.

The Economist reports that another parent, Ny Whittaker, whose child attends a Harlem charter school, summarized it well: the “NAACP is on the wrong side of history.”

So is the US Department of Education, at this point. In operation only since 1980, note this part of its original stated mission:

The Department’s mission is: to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Seriously. Each time I’ve brought that up in an interview, someone inevitably expresses incredulous surprise.

Which makes the case for a movement to respect education and equal access to it as the civil rights issue it is.

Abolish the Department of Education

I’m hearing this from more voices now.

The most recent being columnist Dennis Byrne.

Here’s a way for taxpayers to save billions of dollars while improving education:

Get rid of standardized tests. Get rid of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires the tests. Get rid of the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the tests. Free us from having to pay for this pointless extravagance.

This should be especially apparent with allegations of adult cheating (Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere) to boost student test scores to meet idealized benchmarks set by legions of “experts.” Those allegations, of course, require the deployment of more legions of experts to hunt down frightened or fed-up teachers and administrators caught in the gears of this Rube Goldberg contrivance.

You don’t need more studies or tests to know that this whole scheme has done little in the years since it was installed as a national priority to quiet the alarms about American students. But the alarms have become more thunderous, requiring the application of ever more stringent and costly measures. It’s as mindless as Dark Ages bleeding; if bleeding off a pint doesn’t improve the patient, take a quart.

Attention-grabbing, but because it so resembles the truth.

Last week I had Dr. Anthony Bradley as a guest on my radio show and this was the topic of conversation for that ‘closer look’ at inner-city schools and the failure of the bureaucracy of education.

As Congress moves toward reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the problem is not that the Department of Education is not doing enough but that it suffers from an acute case of what psychologists call “organizational narcissism.” If they really wish to address America’s inner-city public school crisis, federal education officials must look beyond the boundaries of their own agencies and recognize the crucial role of churches.

Steven Churchill, of the Center for Organizational Design, explains that organizations can have a grandiose sense of self-importance and an inflated judgment of their own accomplishments, leading to “an unreal, self-defeating preoccupation with the company’s own image.” For example, even with overwhelming evidence that, other than family support, church involvement is the most consistent predictor of academic success for inner-city children, the organizational narcissism of the education industry prevents it from tapping into the resources of black and Latino churches.

He made many good points, in fact the hour was loaded with them. The ‘War on Poverty’ has failed. Education reform hasn’t improved our public schools and especially inner-city schools, or access to them. Government programs separated from the influence of families and local churches fail. This is proven and easy to see, for anyone who looks.

In “Faith in the Inner City: The Urban Black Church and Students’ Educational Outcomes,” Dr. Brian Barrett, an education professor at the State University of New York College at Cortland, describes the unique contributions black churches play in cultivating successful students in the inner-cities. He observed that “religious socialization reinforces attitudes, outlooks, behaviors, and practices … particularly through individuals’ commitment to and adoption of the goals and expectations of the group” that are conducive to “positive educational outcomes.”  In fact, back in 2009 Barrett reported that for black inner-city youth who reported attending religious services often, the black/white achievement gap “was eliminated.”

Barrett reports that one of the most important advantages of inner-city churches is that they provide “a community where Black students are valued, both for their academic success and, more broadly, as human beings and members of society with promise, with talents to contribute, and from whom success is to be expected.” Churches also affirm inner-city youth as trusted members of a community that celebrates academic success, and the practices that produce it, which overrides the low expectations communicated at school. Additionally, Barrett highlights the ways in which black churches, because they are equipped to deal with families, are effective at sustaining and encouraging parental educational involvement from the heart as well as providing contexts where youth can have regular contact with other adults for role-modeling and mentoring.

The fact that they don’t or won’t see this at the federal level, while layering on more and more federal jobs in the Department of Education, proves Bradley’s point about the ‘organizational narcissim.’ He also adds that those bureaucrats know that with increased involvement of churches, the Department of Education would lose the lock on control they now have. Never mind that it’s dysfunctional.

“When more government programs came the breakdown of the family,” Dr. Bradley told me. “It fostered a culture of irresponsibility. The whole system needs to be radically restructered. It’s not a resource problem. Throwing more dollars into more technology for classrooms isn’t the solution, clearly. We need to ask better questions. Why isn’t the church part of the educational policy for this administration? Black pastors haven’t been invited into the Obama administration Department of Education planning.” He makes this point in his article ‘Inner-city education fails without the church.’

In 2008, President Obama rightly acknowledged that, “There is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child’s education from day one.” This is an indisputable truth. What should baffle every American citizen is that the role of inner-city ethnic churches is oddly missing from the Obama administration’s education reform vision.

Faith-based initiatives work when they are tried. School choice and the voucher system do, too. The principle of subsidiarity works.

Dennis Byrne concludes:

It will take nothing less than a revolution by fed-up Americans to break the hold that this cartel has on our children.

Anthony Bradley concluded, on radio, that…

We need a lay movement to be launched. We need paople to operate out of their convictions that this problem must be solved. We need people in the pews to be at school board meetings to put forward new solutions, backed by data, what’s known to work. And that’s new for us as Americans, because we’re used to coming to the aid of people in crisis in other countries. This is in the crisis category, but it’s happening here.

We need a bailout, from government intervention.

Suddenly, an old television public service spot just came to mind. “It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?”

It’s school time, and the same question applies.

The Department of Education fable

It’s remarkably like The Emperor’s Clothes. Only this one is a true story.

Hard to believe that it is.

As Congress moves toward reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the problem is not that the Department of Education is not doing enough but that it suffers from an acute case of what psychologists call “organizational narcissism.” If they really wish to address America’s inner-city public school crisis, federal education officials must look beyond the boundaries of their own agencies and recognize the crucial role of churches.

That rests on the big “if”. According to Bradley, they do not so wish.

…even with overwhelming evidence that, other than family support, church involvement is the most consistent predictor of academic success for inner-city children, the organizational narcissism of the education industry prevents it from tapping into the resources of black and Latino churches.

They have what he calls an “education monopoly” and enjoy wielding power and receiving big paychecks while devising new programs to address problems they’re responsible for in the first place. Though the Deparment of Education is unaware of that, since that would require institutional integrity.

This should not be happening, for many reasons. Here’s one:

In 2008, President Obama rightly acknowledged that, “There is no program and no policy that can substitute for a parent who is involved in their child’s education from day one.” This is an indisputable truth. What should baffle every American citizen is that the role of inner-city ethnic churches is oddly missing from the Obama administration’s education reform vision.

It’s because of politics and power, says Bradley. And the distinct lack of initiative to change or even seriously confront ‘the system’ that’s broken. “We have a graduation crisis,” he told me, citing statistics from major cities of around 28-35 percent of black males graduating from high school. Which leads, he continues, to a lack of not only education but skills and ambition, which leads to unemployment, drug use, crime and incarceration, teen pregnancy, hopelessness…

This is intolerable. And, as Bradley pointed out to me at least twice, it isn’t an achievement gap based on race but opportunity for access to involvement of families and community based churches.

A series of 2010 studies in Howard University’s Journal of Negro Education (JNE), one of America’s oldest continuous academic journals focusing on black people, reported how church involvement increases education success in inner-cities. In “Faith in the Inner City: The Urban Black Church and Students’ Educational Outcomes,” Dr. Brian Barrett, an education professor at the State University of New York College at Cortland, describes the unique contributions black churches play in cultivating successful students in the inner-cities…

In fact, back in 2009 Barrett reported that for black inner-city youth who reported attending religious services often, the black/white achievement gap “was eliminated.”

There. It’s verifiable…as if evidence were needed for the benefit of character development and the foundation of morals.

Barrett reports that one of the most important advantages of inner-city churches is that they provide “a community where Black students are valued, both for their academic success and, more broadly, as human beings and members of society with promise, with talents to contribute, and from whom success is to be expected.” Churches also affirm inner-city youth as trusted members of a community that celebrates academic success, and the practices that produce it, which overrides the low expectations communicated at school.

The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’. What improvement has realization of this made in the past 5-10 years?

None.

Barrett is not alone. In another JNE study of 4,273 black students titled, “How Religious, Social, and Cultural Capital Factors Influence Educational Aspirations of African American Adolescents,” Hussain Al-Fadhli and Thomas Kersen, sociology professors at Jackson State University, report that “family and religious social capital are the most potent predictors for positive student college aspirations.” These scholars explain that “students who attend church and believe religion is important may be more likely to interact with more adults who can help them with their school work and even provide guidance about their futures goals and plans.” The authors conclude that students with an “active religious life, involved parents, and active social life have greater opportunities and choices in the future.”

So the answer is…

Lost on the Department of Education, which remains caught up in its organizational narcissism. And new schemes to justify its existence. In a dysfunctional system. Amazing.

Bradley suggests citizen involvement with the black ministerial alliance in the inner-cities, separate from any government agency, is the beginning of the solution to the crisis in the schools. And that seems like the least we can do, and the best place to start to impact the lives of these students.

“Provide a new narrative,” he told me, and we give them an alternative and the chance for success.