Tuesday, November 12, 2002


Eek! Eek! Eek! Nobody wants to use the "r" word -- "racism" -- in discussions about why children of color aren't doing as well as white children within the Omaha Public Schools.

But it's going to come up as people tussle with why massively expensive busing for racial-integration purposes failed, and what that should tell us about devoting more millions to inner-city schools now.

Despite years of pouring extra millions of dollars into busing, we now have as many or more minority students who are truant, in alternative schools, failing their standardized tests, struggling with poor grades and dropping out.

People also are asking why the millions poured into the new "academies" within inner-city OPS are so far producing only meager results. There are legions of inner-city kids revealing themselves on standardized tests to be functionally illiterate or nearly so, despite millions of extra dollars spent on them.

Is it possible that racism has clouded the real cause of academic underachievement among certain student groups within the state's largest school district?

Is it possible that more money won't solve it . . . but proper teaching methods will?

Is it possible that the answer is staring us in the face, and that inner-city and minority kids don't need more millions . . . but the equal opportunity for academic achievement that comes only with plain, old, simple, tried-and-true, effective reading instruction in the early grades?

Have we forgotten to "Keep It Simple, Stupid"?

I think so. I think that's why disadvantaged kids are struggling so much. Kids from families with moderate or high incomes have ways to compensate for ineffective curriculum and instruction to help develop them, outside of the classroom. Poor kids have only their schools. When they're good, poor kids will succeed, and have done so throughout American history. But when they're bad, poor kids show it first and most.

The high price of whole language, whole math, child-centered classrooms and other costly school "deforms" is being paid most of all by disadvantaged and minority kids who are denied a level playing field by not being taught to read, write, think and figure in those early grades.

But it's not that white people with money don't care. They do; I can promise you that. They want what's best for all kids from all demographic groups. They just don't think that has to come at an exorbitant cost, as shown by the 60%-40% vote in OPS last week against higher taxes. And they're right. Good education is NOT high-priced . . . even for those children with the most learning challenges.

I also think there is a strong undercurrent of racial tension going on in all of this, and it needs to be exposed, dealt with and put behind our community and our state, once and for all.

What other explanation is there besides racism for the fact that children of color whose families have the same incomes as children of the beige persuasion still do worse on standardized tests?

Are we racist, Omaha? Have we been denying equal opportunity to children of color and children from poverty?

Just a few minutes of studying what other inner-city educators have been doing, and the good results they've been getting, in books like "No Excuses" (www.noexcuses.org), and it becomes pretty apparent that OPS has been doing the wrong things for the right reasons . . . for years . . . and it's long past time for them to set a course for success that, paradoxically, will cost taxpayers less money, not more.

The possibility of widespread, systemic racism within Nebraska in general, and the Omaha Public Schools in particular, has to be included in the upcoming debate over what should happen with the hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to education.

OPS is apparently getting ready to argue that because it has so many more low-income, minority and immigrant children, it deserves more money per pupil than other Nebraska districts.

But enter one of Nebraska's best-known black leaders . . . with a serious message.

Glenn Freeman is an Air Force veteran with 30 years of service who rose to assistant chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party and member of the State Equal Opportunity Commission, along with numerous other public-service positions. He's a black conservative and an elder in society -- someone to be listened to.

The dangers of throwing money at a problem like black underachievement in schools are addressed in his book, "Good Racism -- Bad Racism" (Vantage Press, 1999).

"Affirmative action, set-aside programs, busing, Head Start, and redistricting all support the premise that Blacks are inferior," Freeman writes on p. 8. "The simple reality is that racism against Blacks will continue to flourish as long as Blacks are willing to accept the premise that they are inferior."

He adds, "What Blacks need is freedom and opportunity, not quotas and handouts."

Freeman wisely points out that affirmative action, multicultural education, Afrocentric history, busing and other "good racism" programs may have been well-intentioned, but in the end are demeaning and counter-productive for children of color . . . not to mention colossal wastes of taxpayer dollars.

"Too many of our people, young and old, use racism as an excuse for not trying," Freeman writes (p. 16). "We have to spread the word that racism, unfair though it may be, need not stand in the way of their success. . . . Opportunity alone isn't enough. We must also teach the value of preparation and application."

You know . . . he's right.

Any claim OPS tries to make, that it needs more money because it has more minority and poor children, needs to be swatted flat.

Any approach OPS tries to take, other than classic children's literature, systematic, intensive phonics and traditional math in those early grades, needs to be swatted flat.

Education is the key to equal opportunity, and the right methods are key to the quality of education that our neediest children need most of all.

Let's not shut up 'til they get it.

Comments: Post a Comment