Writing on Townhall.com, Dr. Walter Williams asks an important question: “What’s to be done about this tragic state of black education?”
Williams highlights the shockingly low test scores of students in predominantly African American cities like Detroit, where only 3 percent of 4th grade students scored proficient on the NAEP exam. He also examines a number of problems that contribute to the failing condition of black education in America, including: too much trust in the education establishment’s favored—but unsuccessful—policy solutions (including more school funding and teacher pay), a lack of parental and student commitment to education, and a shortage of talented teachers.
Unfortunately, Williams sees little reason for hope: “Prospects for improvement in black education are not likely given the cozy relationship between black politicians, civil rights organizations and teacher unions.”
But all hope is not lost. Across the country, there are a growing number of examples of innovative reform programs and schools that offer are benefiting African-American students. School choice programs like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program (which predominantly serves black students) have been proven to significantly improve participating students’ reading achievement. High performing charter schools in many cities are proving that the right school culture can lead to remarkable improvement in students’ academic achievement. In Baltimore City, for example, KIPP Ujima Village Academy (which in 2007 served 98 percent African-American students) has some of the highest test scores in all of Maryland, despite serving mostly economically-disadvantaged students.
Perhaps the most promising success story is Florida, where African-American and Hispanic students in Florida have made dramatic progress on state and national tests over the past decade. As we have explained before, Florida has led the nation in implementing aggressive state-level education reforms, including school choice, quality state testing, ending social promotion, and strengthening teacher quality. A decade later, the state has seen dramatic improvement in students’ academic achievement, particularly by minority children.
Since 1998, Florida’s African American students have made dramatic progress compared to the national average on the NAEP exam. In fact, in 2007, Florida’s African-American students outperformed the statewide average of all students from Mississippi and Louisiana on the NAEP 4th grade reading exam. If they keep improving in 2009, Florida’s African-American students are in striking distance of overtaking the statewide average of all students in several more states. Florida’s African-American students are showing serious improvement on other reliable measures of academic achievement. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of African American students passing Advanced Placement (AP) tests has tripled.
The bottom line is that, by implementing the right reforms and creating quality school environments, African-American students—and all children—can succeed academically. Dr. Williams is right: serious political challenges must be overcome. But states like Florida are proving that it can be done. It’s going to be up to parents and taxpayers across the country to demand that politicians in state capitals and on Capitol Hill stop standing with the special interest groups and stand-up for children’s interests. Millions of children’s futures are at stake.