Today’s Acton Commentary:

Teachers Unions and Civil Rights Groups Block School Choice for Black Students

Teachers unions, like the National Education Association (NEA), and many civil-rights organizations inadvertently sabotage the potential of black males by perpetuating failed educational visions. Black males will never achieve academic success until black parents are financially empowered to opt out of failed public school systems.

The American public education system is failing many groups, but none more miserably than black males. The numbers are shocking. The Schott Foundation recently reported that only 47 percent of black males graduate from high school on time, compared to 78 percent of white male students. This revelation is beyond disturbing because it exposes the fact that many public schools serve as major catalysts for the desolation of unemployment and incarceration that lies in many black boys’ future.

In many places the disparity between whites and blacks is nearly unbelievable. In Nebraska, for example, the white/black graduation gap is 83 percent compared with 40 percent and in New York 68 percent compared with 25 percent. The way urban city school districts fail black males is more disconcerting considering that black professionals are in charge. Urban districts are among the worst at graduating black males: Atlanta, 34 percent; Baltimore, 35 percent; Philadelphia, 28 percent; New York, 28 percent; Detroit, 27 percent; and St. Louis, 38 percent.

There are surely many reasons for such failure, and family breakdown must rank high among them. Schools may be powerless to transform black family life, but they should not be left off the hook for turning in a dismal performance. In a recent interview, Dr. Steve Perry, principal and founder of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., repeatedly places the blame for the black achievement gap at the feet of the partnerships between the teachers unions and the NAACP, “a civil-rights relic.” The places where black students excel, says Perry, are those where students have access to choice. Sadly the NAACP and the NEA have long undermined the push for low-income black parents to exercise freedom to choose the best schools as a national norm.

For example, even with mounting evidence demonstrating that single-sex education for blacks males from low-income households represents one of the best opportunities for graduation, the NEA petitioned the Department of Education in 2004 to prevent single-sex options from becoming nationally normative, balking because “the creation of an artificial single-sex environment [will] ill prepare students for life in the real world.” What? The Eagle Academy for Young Men, a charter school in the Bronx comprised of primarily black and Latino students, the first all-male public school in New York City in 30 years, boasts a high school graduation rate of 82 percent. This summer, Chicago’s Urban Prep Charter Academy, with a 100 percent graduation rate, graduated a class of 107 black male students all of whom are attending college in the fall.

The NEA exists, it seems, only to overfund failed systems and the non-performance-based salaries of adults at the expense of black students. Nothing prepares black males for life in the real world like graduating from high school and attending college, yet the NEA consistently lobbies against parent choices that lead to black male success.

Civil-rights groups including the NAACP, the National Urban League, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, recently released a joint statement objecting to the Obama administration’s education reform proposal, which includes the closing schools of failing schools, increasing use of charter schools, and other commonsensical moves toward choice and accountability in education. These groups reject Obama’s so-called “extensive reliance on charter schools,” expressing dismay about “the overrepresentation of charter schools in low-income and predominantly minority communities.”

Even though there is overwhelming evidence supporting the success of charter schools for children from low-income households, the civil-rights groups resist the opportunity for parents to exercise freedom to choose those schools. Perry highlights the cost of such blindness, observing “that our nation’s urban public schools have prepared more children for poverty, the penitentiary, and premature pregnancy than they did for college.”

Even though charter schools, vouchers, and tax-credit programs reflect some progress, black parents need brand new and creative options that empower parents with absolute freedom to choose the best schools. In addition to school closings and faith-based options, “mass firings” like the ones in Washington, D.C., “home schools,” and other bold and innovative measures, are all important components of rescuing black males from the betrayal of teachers unions and civil-rights groups that refuse to acknowledge the dignity of low-income parents by blunting their right to choose what is best for their children. As long as teachers unions have influence in the black community and in institutions pledged to black empowerment, and black parents are not financially empowered to opt out of failing public schools, black males are doomed.

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Dr. Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology at The King’s College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute, is the author of Liberating Black Theology. Buy the book in the Acton Book Shoppe.