Honest Talk About Education

Our friend Mitch Pearlstein, President of the Center of the American Experiment, is one of the country’s leading experts on education and on the family. See, for example, his most recent book, Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future. Today on the Center’s web site, Mitch published a blog post on education that is one of the most candid discussions of that topic I have seen in a long time:

Another year of tepid-to-lousy Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment results in which key players, once again, have studiously steered clear from saying and asking what cries to be said and asked, with two omissions above others.

Do we really believe that many thousands of local children growing up in fractured and often chaotic families can do as well academically, on average, as other kids growing up in much more stable homes? Honestly? …

And isn’t it finally time to concede that Minnesota officialdom, in relying entirely on public schools, is disserving many children who doubtless would do better in private, including religious schools? Which is to say, isn’t it time to take advantage of vouchers, tax credits, and educational savings accounts in the same ways growing numbers of other states are doing? In writing yesterday about recent MCA scores, [former Minneapolis mayor] R. T. Rybak, executive director of Generation Next, opened by citing the need for “fundamental questioning of the status quo” – and then proceeded to leave every single basic component of the status quo favored by Education Minnesota and the rest of the educational establishment intact.

Exactly: they may say they want change, but real change is absolutely the last thing they have in mind.

As for achievement gaps, 67 percent of white kids, for example, met or exceeded reading standards, while only 36 percent of Hispanic students and 34 percent of black students did so. In math, 55 percent of white students were proficient as opposed to 24 percent of Hispanic students and 18 percent of black students. …
In the words of the Star Tribune again, “The fresh results come as state officials have pledged to cut the achievement gap in half by 2017.” It’s not going to happen. I would argue that as long as about 85 percent of African American children in Minneapolis and St. Paul come into this life outside of marriage, gaps between their academic performance and that of white children will remain immense, likely staying bigger than achievement gaps in most other American cities and metropolitan areas. This will be the case regardless of how much more money we spend on education, which is already about $21,000 per student annually in Minneapolis Public Schools.

The liberals’ answer is, as always, spend more money. But this isn’t because they actually think spending more money will do much good. In the liberals’ world, government spending is an end in itself, probably because liberals cash most of the checks.

I also would argue that as long as it’s financially infeasible for more than a relatively small handful of at-risk children to take advantage of the distinctive nurturing often found in religiously animated schools, needlessly large numbers of young people in Minnesota will continue floundering and failing. And not just until they’re eighteen.

Period. Hard stop. End of sad and dangerous story.

Mitch is right. This familiar story is not only sad, but dangerous. But as long as we keep doing the same things–spending more money every year on the same false premises–we are going to keep getting the same results.