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Supreme Court's Education Ruling is a Real Opportunity for Progress

By Ross Kaminsky

The many liberals, Democratic presidential candidates, and African-American leaders assailing last week's Supreme Court decision disallowing the use of race alone to assign students to public schools are missing both the point and a very important public policy implication of the decision.

All but the most muddle-headed who consider public schooling issues should realize that diversity, while possibly a worthy goal, must rate a distant second to the goal of actually providing a good education to America's youth. The quality of our population's education will be the single most important factor in the United States' long-term competitiveness in an ever more global world economy.

While some of the "diversity" crowd also hate globalization, our integration with the wider world is a fact of life that cannot be undone. And while many think of "economic competitiveness" as buzzwords spoken by Republicans and oh-so-menacing multinational corporations, what it really represents is whether we will continue to be a country of highly productive workers earning, on average, good wages and enjoying a high quality of life or whether we will end up becoming to China, India, and Mexico what they are to us today.

On a more individual level, a good education represents the opportunity for a person to improve his or her quality of life and that of his or her family. It can be the difference between "having a better life than my parents" or being stuck in a vicious cycle of poor education and low income and passing that cycle on to one's children.

A brief review of the two school districts which were the subject of the recent Supreme Court case, Seattle, Wash., and Jefferson County, Ky., shows that not only have they substantially failed in meeting their No Child Left Behind improvement goals, but also that the school systems are substantially failing African-American students despite the integration policies that the Supreme Court just invalidated.

What jumps out immediately from the 2006 NCLB report for Jefferson County is that in all the racial/cultural groups identified, the only group that did not meet its "annual measurable objectives" for both reading and math was African-American. Every other racial/cultural group met its objectives.

The 2006 NCLB report for Seattle schools is disturbingly similar. Twenty-five out of the district's 30 schools are on the federal "needs improvement" list and not meeting all 2006 goals. Among the 12 schools which show any breakdown by race/culture, 11 show African-Americans not meeting math improvement goals, two show Hispanics not meeting goals, and none show Asians or Whites not meeting goals.

It appears that whether African-Americans are a majority or a minority within a school, they far more than any other group do not show the improvement necessary to allow the schools with the now unconstitutional student selection policies to get off the "needs improvement" list.

There is a compelling argument to be made that these results represent factors outside the school districts' control. But the critical fact is that whether because of the school's actions or because of their inability to counteract other factors, African-Americans are not succeeding as well as their peers despite hopes that intensive integration might improve that outcome.

Instead of bemoaning the Court's decision as "overturning 50 years of progress", people who actually care about African-American kids' educations, which excludes teachers' unions (how can a group who fights against schools being able to fire bad teachers be taken seriously as a force for progress?), should, if not cheer the ruling, at least recognize it as their best chance to make a radical change in education policy -- a change which could actually help those Americans who most need it.

One obvious change is the wider introduction of school choice and vouchers. Because of the relative newness of choice programs around the country, data is still thin on how much improvement has come from them. Early results range from no significant improvement to measurable improvement. But in no case are voucher outcomes worse than the pre-voucher situations. Additionally, there is substantially increased parent satisfaction, which should at least marginally increase parental involvement in their child's education, possibly the single most important factor in a successful education in the K-12 years.

Improving education for African-Americans will not be easy. Whatever factors keep African-American kids from succeeding in the same schools where other kids do succeed will not magically go away.

There is also political opposition. The Democratic Party's fealty to teachers' unions causes it to oppose the educational reforms that their loyal African-American voters most need. Until African-Americans begin to abandon the Democratic Party in substantial numbers, the Party will continue to spout its baseless arguments against vouchers to keep the teachers' unions as rich and powerful as possible, knowing union power and money will be used to aid Democrats in elections. The National Taxpayers Union reported that from 1990 through 2002, the National Education Association was the nation's second biggest political donor and that 95% of that money went to Democrats.

It is the height of Democrat hypocrisy to market themselves to African-Americans as the party that cares about them while opposing many policy changes or experiments which would most benefit African-Americans, Hispanics, and low-income Americans of all cultures and colors.

In these days when fundamental civil rights for African-Americans are no longer in question, the focus must not be on "integration" and "diversity," but on creating the best possible education for all Americans. By opening the window for Americans, and African-Americans in particular, to refocus on the real goal of schooling, the Supreme Court deserves our thanks.

Ross Kaminsky blogs at Rossputin.com

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