Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

July 27, 2012

Obama creating African-American education office – WRONG.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is creating a new office to bolster education of African-American students.

The White House says the office will coordinate the work of communities and federal agencies to ensure that African-American youngsters are better prepared for high school, college and career.

Obama is announcing his election-year initiative Wednesday night in a speech to the civil rights group the National Urban League as he seeks to rally black voters. Aides say his executive order, to be signed Thursday, will set a goal of producing “a more effective continuum” of programs for African-American students

Obama’s recent announcement about creating a new office to bolster the education of African-American students is a perfect example of why politics and education should never meet and why government agencies in America should get out of the business of education. The very suggestion of such an office is an affront to the American citizens in the black community because it relegates black students to the Jim Crow days of the antediluvian South, just before the Civil War and 58 years before Brown v. Board of Education (1954).  And there’s an answer to the needs in Obama’s own USDOE and staring him right in the face.  His decision to create such an office demonstrates how he will use anything, even children, as grist for his political mill.  But Obama’s efforts and announcement does admit one thing.  America’s government schools ARE failing students in the black community, among others as well.

Immediately one has to ask, “Why now?” Obama has been in office for three and one-half years.  Why does he wait this long to create such an office?  The much-tauted Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, has had the same time to establish programs and offices to meet these cited needs.  Have things deteriorated that much in such a short period of time?  Not in turns of educational outcomes, unfortunately.  It seems Mr. Obama is using students to regain lost prestige and influence in the Black community of Americans who have lost faith in their leader due to other unpopular political moves recently.  Politics and education just don’t mix.  But Mr. Obama hasn’t learned that lesson.

Some would argue that the entire US Department of Education (USDOE) was established for the very purpose Obama outlines.  Every mandate, every grant, every so-called “competitive grant” from the USDOE is designed to favor young American citizens of color. The department has failed consistent with the failure of their charges. Millions have been spent on programs, offices, equipment, and the employee of thousands of adults but not one cent in achievement or academic  results.  If all this money-spending had succeeded, then why the need for yet another office?  Millions of dollars have been spent but that money failed to achieve results except in two areas—private schools and voucher programs.

Besides the usurpation of the college grants program, the largest federal program for the USDOE is The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (of which the No Child Left Behind is only the most recent iteration). NCLB has spent over $130 Billion in the past six years to create level playing fields in America’s government schools, programs designed specifically to assist the poor among us. It has failed miserably—except in one area.  The only place where the learning gap between kids of color and all others in the US has closed has been for those attending private schools!  The services rendered under NCLB for poor kids and kids of color attending private schools have had a demonstrable effect: they gained academically. The success occurred because the grants/services went to institutions that knew how to use them.

But now Obama wants to target Black American students with a new office.  He’s basically creating a separate-but-equal office just for Black students.  I thought separate-but-equal was outlawed de facto and de jure in Brown v. Board of Education back in 1954. It was found to be illegal to create a separate program just for black students, separate from all others.  How about the rest of America?  Will he create an office for Hispanic students when he needs their parents’ vote?  How about Syrian-Americans or Muslim-Americans? Will they also get an office?   The very purpose of education is to bring kids out of that singular experience that is theirs into the greater whole of mankind’s experience. You know, e pluribus unum.  Obama hasn’t learned that lesson as well.

The greater irony in this case is that the answer lies right in front of him: the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) in Washington, DC.  The OSP provides a voucher to needy students (kids of color) to attend the school of their choice, usually a private school. In order to give these students this opportunity, the political dynamics required the buy-out of the local teachers’ union.  But the program succeeded because the students succeeded.  Indeed, the USDOE’s own research has demonstrated the success of the OSP program. The students in this program were “better prepared for high school, college, and career.”  But Obama defunded the program.  Twice.  He put these kids and their families on an educational roller coaster than is unconscionable. Just as they were making progress he pulled the rug out from under them.  The problem was that they were succeeding and he wasn’t.

Education, while valued at a national level, is NOT a Federal issue. Nowhere in the Constitution will you find any reference to schooling… NOWHERE.  It’s not their job.  Likewise, when the USDOE was established under the then Carter administration, the lawmakers included exacting and express restrictions on the office from influencing and/or interfering with schooling at the local level in any way, shape, or form.  This includes creating “a more effective continuum,” whatever that means. That descriptor is vague enough to drive a truck through: it could allow anything.

More money is not the problem, that’s been proven time and time again. American schools have plenty of money; they just don’t spend what they have wisely. Classroom size reduction is not the answer, that’s been proven by research over 270 times. Early Childhood education isn’t the answer; Headstart research has demonstrated that all the skills learned in their program were lost by the time the student reached second grade in the government schools. A new bureaucracy is not the answer, that’s been demonstrated year-after-year since 1965.  Separating kids off into separate-but-equal programs is not the answer, let alone for the fact that it’s against the law. Mandates from Washington are not the answer; that’s like crowd control from the air—it never works.

The answer lies is in competition and parental choice at the local level.  Give parents the opportunity to choose what is best for their kids and they will. And those students will succeed.  We don’t need new offices, new systems, and more regulations.  Simply distribute the funds available per child each year and stick it into the backpack of every school-age student and have their parents decide where they should go.  All kids, regardless of their background or color, will succeed. The key is to get government out of the business and out of the way.

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