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Walter E. Williams
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Obama's Educational Excellence Initiative


President Barack Obama recently wrote an executive order that established a White House initiative on educational excellence for black Americans that will be housed in the Department of Education. It proposes "to identify evidence-based best practices" to improve black achievement in school and college. Though black education is in desperate straits, the president's executive order will accomplish absolutely nothing to improve black education. The reason is that it does not address the root causes of educational rot among black Americans. It's not rocket science; let's look at it.

The president's initiative contains not one word about rampant inner-city school violence, which makes educational excellence impossible. During the past five years, Philadelphia's 268 schools had 30,000 serious criminal incidents, including assaults — 4,000 of which were on teachers — robberies and rapes. Prior to recent layoffs, Philadelphia's school district employed about 500 police officers. In Chicago last year, 700 young people were gunfire victims, and dozens of them lost their lives. Similar stories of street and school violence can be told in other large, predominantly black cities, such as Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland and Newark.

If rampant school crime is not eliminated, academic excellence will be unachievable. If anything, the president's initiative will help undermine school discipline, because it advocates "promoting a positive school climate that does not rely on methods that result in disparate use of disciplinary tools." That means, for example, if black students are suspended or expelled at greater rates than, say, Asian students, it's a "disparate use of disciplinary tools." Thus, even if blacks are causing a disproportionate part of disciplinary problems, they cannot be disciplined disproportionately.

Whether a student is black, white, orange or polka-dot and whether he's poor or rich, there are some minimum requirements that must be met in order to do well in school. Someone must make the student do his homework, see to it that he gets a good night's rest, fix a breakfast, make sure he gets to school on time and make sure he respects and obeys his teachers.

Here's my question: Which one of those requirements can be accomplished by a presidential executive order, a congressional mandate or the edict of a mayor? If those minimal requirements aren't met, whatever else is done is for naught.

Spending more money on education cannot replace poor parenting. If it could, black academic achievement wouldn't be a problem. Washington, D.C., for example, spends $18,667 per student per year, more than any state, but comes in dead last in terms of student achievement. Paul Laurence Dunbar High School was established in 1870 in Washington, D.C., as the nation's first black public high school. From 1870 to 1955, most of its graduates went off to college, earning degrees from Harvard, Princeton, Williams, Wesleyan and others. As early as 1899, Dunbar students scored higher on citywide tests than students at any of the district's white schools. Its attendance and tardiness records were generally better than those of white schools. During this era of high achievement, there was no school violence. It wasn't racially integrated. It didn't have a big budget. It didn't even have a lunchroom or all those other things that today's education establishment says are necessary for black academic achievement.

Numerous studies show that children raised in stable two-parent households do far better educationally and otherwise than those raised in single-parent households. Historically, black families have been relatively stable. From 1880 to 1960, the proportion of black children raised in two-parent families held steady at about 70 percent; in 1925 Harlem, it was 85 percent. Today only 33 percent of black children benefit from two-parent families. In 1940, black illegitimacy was 19 percent; today it's 72 percent.

Too many young blacks have become virtually useless in an increasingly high-tech economy. The only bright outlook is the trickle of more and more black parents realizing this and taking their children out of public schools. The president's initiative will help enrich the education establishment but do nothing for black youngsters in desperate educational need.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



13 Comments | Post Comment
You have a way of making a point that may not be politically correct, nor popular, but definately hard to refute. I find this thinking, an economic line of thinking, is usually much more logical that contemporary political thinking........perhaps we need a 3rd party......a party of I'm really dreaming aren't I.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mike Matull
Mon Aug 13, 2012 6:21 PM
Teaching 20 students at the lowest boring level and trying to maintain discipline is no longer a workable educational system. Interactive individualized audio visual computer instruction with rewards and adjusted to the learning speed of the student is the long term solution to the presently dysfunctional education system. My book EDUCATION REFORM available on Kindle or Nook Book shows how to do it in detail.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Uldis Sprogis
Tue Aug 14, 2012 4:14 AM
For shame for blaming this on problems in the black community and not the inherent racism of white people.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Liam Astlel
Wed Aug 15, 2012 3:09 AM
Re: Liam Astlel I'm hoping that is sarcasm.
Comment: #4
Posted by: David Henricks
Wed Aug 15, 2012 5:39 AM
Without disagreeing with the relevance of the main point here, I want to direct your attention to the prevalence in our public schools, and in our universities, of unlearnable lessons. By that I mean lessons, books, handouts, etc., that defeat any kind of actual comprehension of the concepts and principles which are supposed to be being taught. This means inaccurate, inconsistent, and unintegrated material, as well as material presented in a way that defeats anything but a rote memorization of word associations.
The educational publishing industry is shot through with disregard for accuracy and adequacy of the contents of their large, heavy, expensive textbooks! How does National Geographic put out a workbook that has maps with major U.S. cities in the wrong states?
The reality of the basic educational inadequacy of our schools--including public and at least some private schools, even in very up-scale areas--is beyond belief. So you must look into it yourself. Only first-hand experience will, I believe, convince anyone of the actual state of affairs.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Mindy Newton
Wed Aug 15, 2012 7:50 AM
Excellent, excellent column. For more information on this disturbing "disproportionate discipline" issue, see the column by Heather MacDonald on City Journal. Maddening.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Doug Morelly
Wed Aug 15, 2012 8:05 AM
Re: David Henricks

Don't worry it is.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Liam Astlel
Wed Aug 15, 2012 10:49 AM

Re: Liam Astlel

Good thing -- I was about to dump on you myself. Don't do that!
Comment: #8
Posted by: Derel Schrock
Wed Aug 15, 2012 12:13 PM
You can lay most of those problems at the feet of the teachers' unions and indifferent supervision. Also, the business of textbook companies is to make money, not to be accurate.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Derel Schrock
Wed Aug 15, 2012 12:21 PM
(Re: Derel Schrock) Above was a reply to Mindy, but somehow her name is missing. DS
Comment: #10
Posted by: Derel Schrock
Wed Aug 15, 2012 12:23 PM
Uldis, why would any of us need to know education reform in detail? "Its mess up and here is why", is about all the average person needs to know. Walter's article do that very well.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Aug 16, 2012 9:29 AM
Re: Mindy Newton - Interesting and informative comment. It seems that parents don't review their children's education materials nor go to the schools and demand accurate educational materials. This too falls within Dr William's column about a lack a parental involvement. Throughtout the years I have heard nothing from people I know that they ever went to one of their child's schools and complained. People feel free to blame the government but if more parents took some responsibility and time over the past decades, I don't believe we would be in this bad of a situation. Thank you for speaking out about it.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Mandy
Sun Aug 19, 2012 4:35 AM
Overall, I agree with this article. It is interesting that the Black students academic success started to decline during the start of the Civil Rights movement and integration. Many folks have stated that blacks were better off before integration. My understanding is that this is also the time period when drugs and illegal guns started to become an issue in the inner city as well. HMMMMM! Makes you wonder when you think about who controlled the flow of illegal guns and drugs from the top or was the timing coincidental. This is also the time when America was building the great suburban communities of this country which created millions of jobs in all of these towns (firemen, policemen, landscapers, roofers, plumbers, teachers, etc). This was also the time wthen the US govt was investing billions of stimulus dollars into the Highway Act which built the highway systems in this country. Politicians were also all in when it came to building the middle class which left Blacks out for the most part. The period between 1950 and 1975 really should be studied more closely. City College in NY was also free until Blacks and Latinos took the school to court based on their exclusion and won. Shortly after winning, the school abandoned the free college model. With this said, Obama will have a very difficult time with this new initiative because the social problems that exist today have been in place for too many decades.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Nick Jackson
Mon Aug 27, 2012 2:37 PM
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