Does Obama’s Education Initiative Miss the Root Cause?

Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University, writes in to condemn President Obama’s recent White House initiative on educational excellence for black Americans as being essentially useless. The problem, as Williams identifies it, is that the initiative completely neglects the root causes of poor educational experience and outcomes for black Americans.

The president’s initiative contains not one word about rampant inner-city school violence, which makes educational excellence impossible. During the past five years, Philadelphia’s 268 schools had 30,000 serious criminal incidents, including assaults – 4,000 of which were on teachers – robberies and rapes. Prior to recent layoffs, Philadelphia’s school district employed about 500 police officers. In Chicago last year, 700 young people were gunfire victims, and dozens of them lost their lives. Similar stories of street and school violence can be told in other large, predominantly black cities, such as Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland and Newark.

Williams’s point is that educational excellence is unattainable if rampant school crime is not eliminated. That the White House initiative forgoes any mention of inner-city school crime — instead preferring empty corporate rhetoric — condemns it to failure. Indeed, Williams fears that the initiative may even further erode the educational attainment of black Americans.

If anything, the president’s initiative will help undermine school discipline, because it advocates “promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools.” That means, for example, if black students are suspended or expelled at greater rates than, say, Asian students, it’s a “disparate use of disciplinary tools.” Thus, even if blacks are causing a disproportionate part of disciplinary problems, they cannot be disciplined disproportionately.

The solution to the problem of black Americans underachieving in education is not to simply throw more money at it, says Williams. Indeed, he argues that the problem isn’t even politically based and can’t be corrected by Presidential mandate. What is needed is a return to parental responsibility and guidance. It is up to the parents of the students to raise their children to treat their peers and teachers with respect, to make sure the child does their homework, to get the child to school on time and make sure they are properly fed and rested. Without these minimal standards for all students, which can only be provided by the students’ guardians, there is very little that can be done for the child at school.

Too many young blacks have become virtually useless in an increasingly high-tech economy. The only bright outlook is the trickle of more and more black parents realizing this and taking their children out of public schools. The president’s initiative will help enrich the education establishment but do nothing for black youngsters in desperate educational need.

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