Wednesday, March 09, 2005


The Omaha City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to annex Elkhorn, and short of a miracle in court, it’s going to go through. Assume the position, as they say.

The annexation battle has brought into sharp focus a clear parallel between how big and small units of government handle another kind of public service besides city government, one which is closer to a lot of our hearts: public education.

Ironically, there probably wouldn’t be an Elkhorn if not for the fact that the schools are a little better there, and a lot of people found out and moved, to give that advantage to their kids. It’s the same thing all over the country: it’s where the suburbs came from.

So in a way, what’s happening with this annexation mess is the fault of none other than the state’s largest school district, the Omaha Public Schools. I contend that “white flight” in the 1960s and ‘70s had nothing to do with race – it had to do with the perception of quality. If urban schools had been doing a better job, people with kids might’ve stayed put.

Today, OPS spends $8,420.69 per pupil in its operating budget alone, and its kids average 20.4 out of a possible 36 on the ACT. That’s barely good enough to get in to the University of Nebraska, much less more selective schools. It figures to $168,400 for an average classroom of 20 students.

In contrast, Elkhorn spends $7,311.25 with a 22.7 ACT (2003 figures based on Average Daily Attendance, from
http://ess.nde.state.ne.us and www.ops.org). It figures to $146,220 per classroom per year. So OPS spends over $22,000 more per classroom than Elkhorn, with a significantly weaker result.

And when it comes to race, uff da. Remember the ACT average for all of OPS, 20.4? Well, the white kids averaged 21.6, which is bad enough as it is. But the African-Americans averaged only 17.3, and that’s no matter where in OPS they go to school, east to west.

Meanwhile, California Achievement Test scores for the lily-white grade schools, Columbian and Catlin, were in the 94th and 90th percentile of the nation, while the of-color, inner-city Druid Hill and Miller Park scored in the dismal 35th and 30th percentile levels. (See
www.ops.org for the figures)

OPS has had darn near two generations of time by now to plug those gaps since Brown v. Board of Education. But the racial inequalities are gradually getting worse, not better. OPS refuses to do the obvious thing: change its teaching methods in the early grades to nothing-but-phonics and nothing-but-computation practice in math. The more money and power they have, the less they do the cost-effective things that all kids really need.

A lesser education is literally annexing those kids’ futures and constraining their achievement and opportunity.

Therefore, in the interest of justice, civic betterment, and high humor, I hereby call for the Elkhorn Public Schools to annex the Omaha Public Schools.

You think I’m kidding? I’m not. The Elkhorn staff and school board have shown that they can do a better job with kids. They “keep it simple, stupid.” Let them take over OPS, and see what happens. Do it with the stroke of a pen, the way the Omaha City Council took over city government in Elkhorn.

Look. Schools where impoverished children of color are excelling academically are all over this country – see
www.noexcuses.org and www.marvacollins.com – and it doesn’t take boatloads of money and legions of high-paid educrats. It doesn’t take a huge bureaucracy and all kinds of “strategies” like OPS has.

It takes the time-tested, solid, common-sense, color-blind methods that might have been murdered by the bureaucracy in the big urban districts, but are still alive out here in the sticks.

I say it’s time for the farm schools to take over their much bigger city cousins, and show ‘em how it’s done.

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