Walter E. Williams

Instead of President Obama addressing school students across the nation, he might have accomplished more by focusing his attention on the educational rot in schools in the nation's capital. The American Legislative Exchange Council recently came out with their 15th edition of "Report Card on American Education: A State-by-State Analysis." Academic achievement in no state is much to write home about but in Washington, D.C., by any measure, it approaches criminal fraud. Let's look at the numbers.

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Only 14 percent of Washington's fourth-graders score at or above proficiency in the reading and math portions of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. Their national rank of 51 makes them the nation's worst. Eighth-graders are even further behind with only 12 percent scoring at or above proficiency in reading and 8 percent in math and again the worst performance in the nation. One shouldn't be surprised by Washington student performance on college admissions tests. They have an average composite SAT score of 925 and ACT score of 19.1, compared to the national average respectively of 1017 and 21.1. In terms of national ranking, their SAT and ACT rankings are identical to their fourth- and eighth-grade rankings -- dead last.

Washington's political and education establishment might excuse these outcomes by arguing that because most students are black, the schools are underfunded and overcrowded. Let's look at such a claim. During the 2006-07 academic year, expenditures per pupil averaged $13,848 compared to a national average of $9,389. That made Washington's per pupil expenditures the third highest in the nation coming in behind New Jersey ($14,998) and New York ($14,747). Washington's teacher-student ratio is 13.9 compared with the national average of 15.3 students per teacher, ranking 18th in the nation. What about teacher salaries? Washington's teachers are the highest paid in the nation, having an average annual salary of $61,195 compared with the nation's average $46,593. Despite the academic performance of Washington's students, they have a graduation rate of 61 percent compared to the national average of 70 percent. That suggests the issuance of fraudulent high school diplomas.

Currently, Washington, D.C. has an Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allows qualified low-income families to claim up to $7,500 per student toward a private education of their choice. Obama's Democratic Congress, acting on the behalf of the education establishment, has killed the program and there's the possibility that the 1,700 students currently enrolled will have to return to D.C. public schools.

The staunchest opponents of school choice are hypocrites. They want, demand and can afford school choice for themselves but for others not so affluent school choice it is a different matter. President and Mrs. Barack Obama enrolled their two daughters in Washington's most prestigious Sidwell Friends School, forking over $28,000 a year for each girl. Whilst senator from Illinois, the Obama's enrolled their girls in the University of Chicago's Laboratory School, a private school in Chicago charging almost $20,000 for each girl. A Heritage Foundation survey found that 37 percent of the members of the House of Representatives and 45 percent of senators in the 110th Congress sent their children to private schools. Public school teachers enroll their own children in nonpublic schools to a much greater extent than the general public, in some cases four and five times greater. In Cincinnati, about 41 percent of public school teachers send their children to nonpublic schools. In Chicago it is 38 percent, Los Angeles 24 percent, New York 32 percent, and Philadelphia 44 percent. The behavior of public school teachers is quite suggestive. It's like my offering to take you to a restaurant and you find out that neither the chef nor the waiters eat there. That suggests they have some inside information from which you might benefit.

For people in power to tolerate the Washington, D.C. school system is despicable. For a black president to do so might qualify as betrayal.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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