Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why Blacks Should Oppose Fake School Reform byby Lee H. Walker

Yes, here I go again, arguing it is racist to keep fooling Chicago's black parents about their children's lack of academic progress. Black youths have become the farm team for the prison system. Does anyone really care about our students, trapped in the burning building of mediocrity?

Legislators in Springfield are chomping at the bit to pass some version of the so called "tax swap" before the end of the current legislative session. Armed with a veto-proof majority in both the house and senate, Democrats want to pour more money into a failing school system without addressing the root causes of failure. The false pretexts for the bill, HB750, are that schools are under-funded and differences in per-pupil funding between school districts harm poor students.

The black community in Chicago should be up in arms over this fake reform. These legislators are using our children as propaganda material to advance other agendas. The same folks who cite black dropout rates as an excuse to increase the state tax burden have not lifted a finger to give black parents more control over their children's schooling.

Instead of redesigning the system so that tax dollars follow students to schools selected by their parents, politicians want to give more money to the same bureaucrats who have been more committed to securing lucrative contracts for teachers unions and beefing up retirement plans than improving academic performance.

So long as the black community believes more money is all it will take to fix public schools, this broken system will continue to deliver the same disastrous product. Currently 50 percent of black high school students in Illinois fail to graduate, and 94 percent of Chicago Public School students will never earn a college degree.

The achievement gap between black and white students persists despite rising per-pupil school spending. The Chicago Tribune conducted a study in 2004 demonstrating that funding levels do not determine student performance. For example, Lake Forest district spent $20,173 per-pupil while Will County district spent $4,829 per-pupil, yet students passed state tests at similar rates in both districts. Even a $15,000-a-year spending difference didn't make a difference in student achievement!

The myth of the poorly paid teacher is also frequently trotted out to squeeze more money from state taxpayers. However, the National Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that teachers earn an average of $34.06 an hour, 36 percent more than comparable white-collar workers. The average teacher's base salary in Illinois is seventh best in the country and 16 percent higher than the national average! Add to this generous compensation the job security of tenure and the promise of a state pension far more generous than what is offered in the private sector, and it's clear teachers are not underpaid.

How much longer will the black community allow teachers unions and government bureaucrats to exploit them? Black families must raise their voices to demand true reform, reform that places them in control of the schools their children attend.

The achievement gap could be solved by giving parents the power to send their children to schools that work, and then ensuring that tax dollars follow the student to those schools. Schools would have to compete for students and funds rather than receive money whether or not they are doing a good job.

A good first step would be to expand charter school programs, setting schools free from the stifling constraints of school district bureaucracies. By making every public school a charter school, principals and teachers would be free to innovate and meet the unique academic needs of their students.

Legislators should also implement a statewide student scholarship program enabling parents to choose among competing schools, both public and private. Such a system would reward successful schools and discipline under-performing ones. Because parents would control the schools' purse strings, school administrators could no longer ignore their concerns.

True reform may frighten teachers unions and their political patrons, but black families cannot afford to stay silent. Our elected officials should abandon the "tax swap" charade and take action to truly help our children.

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