Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Remember those firehoses they used on civil-rights activists who were trying to get a fair deal for black children in the schools of the South, a half-century ago? Well, let’s get those hoses out again, and crank open those hydrants full blast. Only this time, let’s aim them at school officials, because of this atrocious factoid:

Nebraska’s white students are third in the nation in the rate of high-school graduation. But our black students rank about 40th and our Hispanic kids are about 42nd in that important measurement of educational attainment.

That’s according to a study by distinguished education researcher Jay P. Greene, Ph.D., using 1998 federal data,
www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_baeo.htm (Note: not all states had sufficient data to be in the study, so the rankings might be slightly different in actuality. But this is alarming enough.)

In Nebraska, 90% of the white students graduate from high school, but only 53% of the African-American students do, and 50% of the Latino kids.

That means for nine out of 10 white kids, parents and taxpayers get a satisfactory result from the expenditure of all those tax dollars over a K-12 education. But only about one out of two children of color obtain the same benefit.

What do you call that? Suggestion: “racism per se.”

Overall, Nebraska’s graduation rate is 85 percent, behind only Iowa (93%) and North Dakota (88%).

In terms of white kids graduating, our 90% mark is behind only Iowa’s white kids, at 95%, and Wisconsin’s, at 92%.

But our African-American students rank close to the bottom in graduation percentages. Only 10 states are lower than us: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, our Hispanic students have only a 50-50 chance of receiving that high-school diploma, and those odds are worse than all but these eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon and Tennessee.

I know there are umpteen reasons why this is happening, and I’m not saying anybody anywhere in Nebraska is doing this on purpose.

I’m only saying that what is, is . . . and can’t be tolerated a moment longer. They’ve had 50 years to fix this, and an unbelievable amount of tax dollars. It’s time to recognize that it’s a systemic problem, one that requires breakthrough thinking and a new structure.

If I were the Big Kahuna of Nebraska education, I’d immediately use those firehoses on the top-ranking officials of state government and local school districts who have allowed this situation to exist. I mean yes, state officials would be out of a job. And pressure in the form of direct competition and public exposure of the data on their failure would be put on local ed officials to shine the light on the racial inequalities in their districts.

Harsh? Yes. But so is racism.

Then I would go to work creating incentives for entrepreneurs to get in there and build lifeboats for these kids. I’m talking about using the courts to create a completely voluntary, no-strings attached, school-choice system for minority students in Nebraska. However much money their home district receives for their enrollment in state aid to education should instantly transfer to the private school of their parents’ choice.

There should be no assessment or record-keeping requirements associated with this other than your basic health, safety and enrollment data, to avoid having the public schools’ methods taint the private-school alternatives.

The knowledge that a doable sum of money will be there for each student would be enough to motivate charitably-minded entrepreneurs to set up private, nonprofit “lifeboat” schools to serve kids of color. Right now, there aren’t any because the economics are so impossible for starting private schools. But I know, from talking to countless people, that there is great concern and people want to help.

Tuition would be nearly covered by the state-aid vouchers, and surely the voucher students would be joined by others whose parents would have to come up with the money on their own.

Supplemental revenue would come from typical private-school fund-raising campaigns. There’s a wave of people now in their 70s, with money, who remember the civil rights battles well enough to see that our “solutions” just haven’t cut it, and another generation is going down the tubes.

An enterprising lawyer could make a case for this using the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, along with the “disparate impact” regulation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Why? Well, obviously the huge discrepancy in graduation rates among the races indicates that the education system in Nebraska has a disproportionately adverse effect on children of color.

And that ain’t right.

C’mon, now: this is highly embarrassing for Nebraska, to see these kids’ futures going up in flames.

It’s an emergency! Let’s break glass and get them away from these schools where their dreams are going up in smoke. Let’s get them into private schools, which are demonstrating nationwide (
www.noexcuses.org) that they are the schools which will give kids their educational rights.

Those rights include phonics, traditional math, handwriting instruction, spelling correction, quality kiddie lit, ability grouping, and solid curriculum K-12 instead of Political Correctness.

That’s how we can rekindle the flame of hope and opportunity.

That’s not blaming the public schools. That’s not mean. That’s using our heads. How do we prevent prairie fires and forest fires from getting out of hand? We clear out the dead underbrush that could fuel the fire.

It’s the same thing with schools that haven’t fixed this appalling gulf between the races in providing educational opportunity.

It’s practical, compassionate and smart. That’s more like the Nebraska we all know and love than the shocking statistic that only one out of two brown-skinned Nebraskans is in a cap and gown on Graduation Day.


Here’s a quote on point:

"One last, seldom-praised function of competition in economic growth, is that it eliminates obsolete forms of economic activity, clearing away the underbrush, or if one prefers, burying the economically dead. This function is not to be taken for granted: consider the difficulty experienced by the political sphere in getting rid of programs that are obsolete or that have simply failed."

--How the West Grew Rich, Rosenberg and Birdzell, 1986 (p. 276)

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