DC Democrats Sell Minority Students’ Education Short

Editor’s note: The following is the first in a series of FrontPage articles that will unmask the racial injustice of Democrat-controlled education by examining some of the nation’s worst (and most well-funded) school districts. Our first exposé features the Washington, DC public school system and will be followed by similar examples from across the country.

The Washington, DC State Board of Education has come up with a novel plan to address the fact that a mere 56% of students who attend the city’s non-charter public schools manage to graduate within four years, and that a large percentage of those who do earn a diploma are nonetheless functionally illiterate. Indeed, DC students nowadays score, on average, a paltry 1220 out of a possible 2400 on the SAT exam—lower than their counterparts anywhere else in the United States, and light years below the national average of 1500. As a “solution” to this educational disaster, the Board of Ed is now proposing to eliminate its current requirement that students, in order to graduate, must take a civics class that teaches how the U.S. government is structured and how it functions. The Board’s logic is quite simple: Only a tiny percentage of DC students earn respectable scores in the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test; thus, if schools will only eliminate their pesky civics requirement—and replace it with art, music, gym, and off-campus sports programs—test scores should rise.

It bears mention that this demeaning scheme—which treats the majority-black students of DC as incompetents who cannot be expected to achieve even the barest shred of academic mastery—was concocted by a Board of Education that is run almost entirely by Democrats and progressives. In this regard, the DC schools have much in common with all the other failed, urban school systems that currently pepper the American landscape: As author Jonah Goldberg points out, Democrats and progressives have “controlled the large inner-city school systems for generations.”

In their effort to explain away the failures of the public schools in DC and elsewhere, progressives have predictably trotted out their one-size-fits-all mantra: insufficient funding. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for one, calls for greater “investment” in education at every level. Congressional Progressive Caucus member Maxine Waters laments that “educational systems … are failing” because “we don’t really invest” in them. Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman suggests that increased spending on education today would relieve society of the much greater burden of having to pay the costs associated with incarcerating uneducated prisoners later on. Barack Obama, pledging to “continue to make education a national mission,” has repeatedly called for increased educational expenditures. The highly influential Center for American Progress urges “continued investment in education in order to grow our economy and rebuild the middle class.” And the Economic Policy Institute has derided policymakers at federal, state, and local levels “for not devoting more resources to education.”

But the notion that the U.S. spends too little on public education is a blatant falsehood. American taxpayers already spend some $600 billion per year on public elementary and secondary schools, with average per-pupil expenditures nationwide currently at an all-time high of about $11,000—a nearly fourfold increase (in constant present-day dollars) since 1961. But even this figure is dwarfed by the $29,400 per-pupil cost of a public elementary and high-school education in Washington, DC. That astounding sum is nearly as much as the yearly cost of an undergraduate education at Harvard. But as evidenced by the dismal academic performance of DC students, American taxpayers are getting essentially nothing of any value in return for their enormous outlays.

The failure of public schools in DC and other major cities to properly educate American students—particularly nonwhite minorities—can be attributed largely to the policies and priorities of the teachers unions. Most significant are the 3.2 million-member National Education Association (NEA) and the 1.5 million-member member American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Devoted to promoting all manner of left-wing political agendas, these unions rank among the most powerful political forces in the United States. The NEA, for instance, employs a larger number of political organizers than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined. Key among those organizers is a corps of directors, known collectively as UniServ, who assist local teachers unions with collective bargaining and the dissemination of the NEA’s political messages. UniServ has consistently been the NEA’s most expensive budget item.

Fortune magazine routinely ranks the NEA among the top 15 in its “Washington’s Power 25” list of organizations that wield the greatest political influence in the American legislative system. The Association has earned that rating, in large measure, by making almost $31 million in campaign contributions to political candidates since the early 1990s. The AFT, for its part, has given more than $28 million to its own favored candidates. Of the $59 million in combined NEA and AFT campaign donations—which do not include expenditures on such politically oriented initiatives as television ads or get-out-the-vote efforts—more than $56 million (i.e., 95%) has gone to Democrats.

Even as students in DC and other big cities are condemned to a high likelihood of academic failure, teachers unions everywhere object to proposed merit-pay legislation that would reward good instructors and punish bad ones, in some cases even filing suit to overturn such laws. Moreover, the unions have made it enormously expensive, laborious, and time-consuming to get any tenured teacher fired, no matter how incompetent he or she may be.

The teachers unions likewise oppose voucher programs that would enable the parents of children who attend failing, inner-city public schools, to send their youngsters instead to private schools where they might actually have a chance to succeed academically. Most noteworthy is the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), a federally funded voucher initiative that provides scholarships to help low-income students in Washington attend private schools of their choice. Not only does DCOSP produce far higher student-graduation rates than the city’s public schools, but it does so for a small fraction of the cost—$8,000 per K-8 student, and $12,000 per high-school student.

Like the teachers unions, progressive Democratic lawmakers—whose political lifeblood is oxygenated by union cash—adamantly oppose voucher programs on the theory that they siphon vital funds away from public schools. That opposition, however, does not prevent these same well-heeled politicos from sending their own children to the most elite, expensive private schools in existence. When former Vice President Al Gore, for example, was asked why he opposed school vouchers while sending his own son to a private school, he reluctantly acknowledged: “If I was the parent of a child who went to an inner-city school that was failing, I might be for vouchers, too.” Similarly, Barack Obama, another longtime opponent of voucher programs, sends his two daughters to the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in DC, where annual tuition costs exceed $33,000. Meanwhile, a high percentage of DC’s other students—whose parents cannot afford to send them to Sidwell or anyplace like it—are forced to squander away more than a decade of their lives in schools where they learn nothing, and where rivers of taxpayer dollars are routinely flushed into a putrid cesspool of incompetence and unaccountability.

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  • Mary Sue

    They just want more money to line their own pockets while turning out John Dewey's vision of the future: the Low Information Voter that is naturally inclined to vote Socialist.

  • http://twitter.com/onegoodnathan @onegoodnathan

    the fact that DC schools spend 30k a year per student and this is their product is mind blowing. It's infuriating that that the so called small govt, personal responsibility GOP isn't pounding home these failures 24/7 in the public arena. Theses Republicans are nothing more that an enabler and contributor to the Statist agenda. We need new leadership in this country. It has truly become the political class, one party statists vs the people, everybody wake up please!

  • Parenthetical Phrase

    $30,000 a year per student in DC is an outrage. It needs to be pointed out though schools where the majority of students are poor and come from families with little or no education or English proficiency is not necessarily a "death sentence" regarding education. Generations ago, public schools in certain immigrant neighborhoods in New York produced very high achievers. It isn't only the teachers who are at fault, or even the school boards. It also depends on the culture of the families and the students. Regarding vouchers, I have talked to a great many parents of kids in private schools who don't want vouchers (even though one would think it would help them). The reason: they don't want their kids going to school with those they consider "riff raff" and vouchers might make that possible. Personally, I think the system will go belly up and we will have to start considering many, many different education alternatives — including home schooling. The system as it stands now will just break down.

    • Mary Sue

      they want to line their own pockets while indoctrinating the next generation of Low Information Democrat Voters.

  • kafir4life

    That picture is a fabulous shot of the outcome of the wonderful union run educational system!! That's the future of the democrat party. I suspect that's a picture of the cream of the crop for the DC schools.

  • AnOrdinaryMan

    Well, look at what happened to Michelle Rhee. She's a tough, no-nonsense administrator, who was going to reform the DC school system. She made a good start, but almost immediately ruffled some feathers, by firing one or two incompetent staffers, who couldn't get the proper textbooks from the warehouse to the schools. How long did she last? All of two years, maybe? Meaningful reform of failing public school systems by one person is all but impossible. As Newt Gingrich says, the NEA and AFT are too strong and too entrenched.

  • Demetrius M

    Could we arguably say this is the new millenium version of Democrats enslaving blacks yet again? Why don’t they get angry about being used as props for an agenda that has never been beneficial?

  • well now

    Let's all remember that the first thing Obama did at the start of his 1st term was end the voucher system in DC schools, it was the Senate and Congress who reinstated it.

  • steven chavez


    New Mexico Senator TOM UDALL, wrote an article in the University of New Mexico during his 2008 campaign that said "TUITION WILL BE FREE" and four years later, IT'S NOT FREE but it got he and Obama elected.

    Now Obama and Harry Reid planned the vote on higher rates on student loans two months before the election and the REPUBLICANS WERE FORCED TO AGREE WITH THE DEMOCRATS or they would be seen as making these poor students pay off their loans at a higher interest rate.

    Now there is a STUDENT MOVEMENT, actually a program conceived by the CPUSA, to go after WALL STREET (Occupy Wall Street/Code Pink) and those evil bankers who hold those student loans. Signatures of one million students who will agree to stop paying their loans is now a nationwide campaign.

    STUDENTS NOW HOPE THAT OBAMA WILL FORGIVE ALL STUDENT LOANS and you can bet that before the 2014 election, the Democrats make that promise and students will again vote for them! After the Democrats get voted in, they'll say, "SUCKER!"

    • http://twitter.com/onegoodnathan @onegoodnathan

      R's in congress are just as complicit in government growth and unkept promises. middle class and students have a reason to be pissed off at wall st. we have a crony economic system that recycles error for profit. since the housing bubble banks are bigger and stronger, the super rich are more wealthy, and the middle classes asset wealth and median income has been destroyed. the financial markets are being hollowed out in our country at a much greater pace than the slow death of the public school system. get out of the R vs D paradigm, we have a one party statist system. big banks are as 'evil' and destructive to free markets and personal sovereignty as the NEA, recognize that.

      • Tiberius

        Yes this is true about there being one party that has two different animal mascots. However since Democrats do have the majority vote in the Congress for at least 4 decades and education almost becoming the 4th rail of untouchable entitlements, one will have a difficult time to derail this. The fact that most Americans still get most of their news from the leftist mainstream media does not help either.

  • http://www.clarespark.com clarespark

    The teachers unions are the greatest obstacle to education reform. I wrote about charter schools here, along with other innovations: http://clarespark.com/2012/05/03/index-to-blogs-o…. Index to blogs on education reform. I recommmend my review of Steve Brill's Class Warfare for starters. "Blogs on education reform." Civics is essential, but so are economics and science.

  • Therev1953

    The dumber they are, the more likely they will remain loyal leftists .

  • mmac

    Then all private schools should cost $8,000 to $11,000 or are you planning to invest $33,000 for each inner city child that leaves the public school or a private school charter? Contractors as everyone knows have loyalty only to their wealth. When Money doesn't line their pocket fast enough they either sale out, close down or go bankrupt as one did recently to the amount of 18,000,000 instantly loss to that state. Teaching is a team activity if there ever was one merit pay encourages hoarding of skills and knowledge. What idiot shares an idea that might get someone else a raise and not you? Anyone working for contractors smiles says and does the right thing and starts planning for the next job as soon as they arrive or they are a fool.

    • 11bravo

      They were a fool to begin with if that is their mind-set. THATS the problem.
      I would turn the entire DC school system over to private hands my first term as prez. I would evoke executive powers for national security reasons, and violating the civil rights of these children. I bet the SCOTUS would uphold it.
      I would spend the first 2 yrs re-interviewing teachers and ALL admin people. Take the good – hire more good – do not care about the bad. Start yelling sat kids again! Shaming them if they do not turn in assignments. Hire truancy officers to go track down the parents in person, return kids to school etc…
      You know, the system I was in from 1964-78. I got swats in the principles office until 6th grade. Stand with nose in the corner in front of the class.

  • mmac

    Contracts can be dropped, sold, change management for the worse, ended and shut down and all sorts of reason to limit loyalty even if you act loyal for the moment. The whole idea of a contract is to deliver a product and make as much money as you can from it and in the case of charter schools the investors won't have their kids in the room with the inner-city kids they are "helping", or live anywhere near one or teach in one. Teachers in public schools often have their own kids there at the school they teach at, often live in the community, go to the churches and the stores, drive the buses, and coach the teams and clubs. Want to help then pay to send teachers to school or intern work for deeper training in a special area or to design better training and pay for some fancy NON-teacher professional to want to visit and teach for a year or two while the professional teacher advances skills. Design new buildings and curriculum with student input. They are after all the receivers of this effort and can help make changes

    • 11bravo

      You are kidding right? Students giving input? Do you think you were qualified for that at 16, 17, 18? Get out of town. Inclusion, multi-culturalism, diversity, equality, moral relevance, moral equivalence, all garbage! The old teaching methods performed waaaay better. Look up Thomas Sowell's research on this. There is an absolute straight line down!! from "X" date. The year the progressives thought they could make utopia. It continues today. If you are a teacher today, you were taught a LIE in college when it comes to teaching techniques. Just like the lies they put out about US History in schools today.

  • κατεργάζομαι

    ~ Barack HUSSEIN Obama – – – Mmm, mmm, mmmmm!"

  • Tiberius

    Living in a mostly poor, hispanic neighborhood, I have seen how these public schools do no better with influx of money. I asked many voters who were in line getting to vote last November on many local sale tax hikes and parcel taxes. All of them could just tell me its good because it is for the "children's education." I asked them that just 2 years ago we had a hike in the income tax for these same schools and now we are at it again. There response was eithe 1) there was not enough money to begin with, or 2) the Republicans cut funding for the schools. I pointed out that the state (California) has a Democratic majority and that the Republicans can do squat to prevent any Democratic proposal. Thats when the personal attacks began as to hating children, being a Repulican lackey, or not want children to get a good education. I responded by 1) I have children so why would I hate them if I do not know them personally to form any hate, 2) I ama registered Independent, 3) I am all for children having the best education but not by throwing money and not seeing any improvements at the least and worst seeing children's school learning go down. Until we can convince people that just taxing people more and giving money to the goveernment with no accountability, this country will continue to havve this prroblem.

  • PAthena

    I grew up in Washington, D.C. when it had racial segregation. I went to the public schools – John Quincy Adams, Powell Junior High, Central High School, and Roosevelt High School. I had an excellent education. Although the schools were racially segregated, the colored (official term) Schools were as good as the white ones; Dunbar High School was one of the best in the country.
    One problem with public education now is that the teachers are not very good. Those going particularly into elementary education are at the bottom 20-25% of their high school classes (I believe Dorothy Rabinowitz reported this some time ago). When I went to school, we had fine teachers – older women who had gone into teaching when it was one of the few professions open to women.

  • Frank Simpkins

    Lets get real before its too late..please read the new book"The Unfinished Business of the Civil Rights Movement:Failure of America's Public Schools to Properly Educate its African American Student Populations.."

  • lackawanda

    Wake up Black America, its later than you think!! Read the new book”The Unfinished Business of the C