Tuesday, May 18, 2004



A couple of anonymous educators didn’t like my recent story marking the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. I said that the evidence is clear that what disadvantaged pupils really need are the right educational methods, not more money.

These two critics apparently favor the ‘’equity lawsuit’’ filed by the Omaha Public Schools and others, contending that since they have more poor kids and immigrants to educate, they deserve more state aid. The argument makes as much sense as getting a court order to put 40 gallons of gas into your car when it will only hold 20.

Now, ‘’equity’’ means ‘’fairness’’ and ‘’justice.’’ What’s REALLY inequitable is the lousy return on investment that taxpayers have gotten out of public schools in the sad, sorry state of affairs for our neediest pupils, the ones who need great schools most of all.

It really isn’t about money. It’s about leadership — and recovering from the effects of erroneous assumptions and bad habits by people such as these two critics.

Over the next few days, I’ll refute them point by point.

I hope that at the very least, they’ll educate themselves at a truly important website, www.noexcuses.org, for ‘’lessons from high-performing, high-poverty schools.’’ There, they’ll learn that it isn’t more bucks that make the difference for poor kids. It’s better leadership -- well-informed leadership -- empowering strong principals, and insisting on solid, measurable goals.

This book and website are crucial because they defeat the old ‘’bait and switch’’ that educators always use to keep getting more funding. At last, a legitimate comparison can be made.

Here’s the key: you don’t get anywhere comparing academic achievement between inner-city or rural low-income schools, and suburban, high-income schools.

You focus right in on what low-income, high-achieving schools are doing -- most of them private schools -- and that’s what you do, if you really want to help low-income, low-achieving schools do better.

If you really want change, you’ll stop being defensive, and start getting smart.

Leadership and goals: that’s all it takes. Not more money. Not at all.

The lack of those two things is why 58 percent of the low-income fourth-graders in this country, most of them members of minority groups, can’t read, despite the multi-billions of dollars of funding and public support we’re giving our schools.

I lay the blame squarely at the feet of educational leaders like the ones who tried to attack me. They’re obviously not putting the kids first. if they were, we wouldn’t have this sad state of affairs.

No excuses, gentlemen.

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