President Bush's bipartisan education reform initiative, The No Child Left Behind Act, has increased public school education spending by 40 percent and has provided more funds to poor children than any other education bill in this country's history.
So why is the secretary of education, Rod Paige, so upset?
"The most egregious issue that we must confront as a minority is the achievement gap between the performance of minority kids and their peers," Paige said, while pacing behind a long lacquered table in his downtown D.C. office.
According to the 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test, 63 percent of black, inner-city fourth-graders and 58 percent of urban Hispanic fourth-graders are unable to demonstrate a "basic" proficiency in reading. The major implication being that four decades after Brown v. Board of Education, our public schools remain unequal.
So why are black and Hispanic students performing far worse than white students? Part of the problem is bound up in economic segregation. Since public school districts mirror housing patterns, economically segregated communities have produced economically segregated public schools. According to the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, "More than 70 percent of the nation's black students now attend predominantly minority public schools."
In all likelihood, too many teachers in these schools believe that these poor students - mostly of color - cannot really do much better and so they tolerate a system with incredibly low achievement rates. President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, was designed to redress this "soft bigotry of expectations." The education reform initiative holds entire schools accountable when subsets of students - defined by income, race, etc. - lag behind in test scores. The act would withhold large amounts of federal funding to those educational institutions that are failing to properly educate their students. At the same time, the Senate recently approved a private-school voucher program for D.C. parents. Both plans represent a fundamental policy shift toward holding perpetually dysfunctional public schools accountable for their failures. (The standard tact had been to reward underachieving schools with more money.)