Category: Educational Choice

Children in a summer program in the Atlanta Public School System.

Jonathan Kozol misses the point again in his op-ed in today’s New York Times. Last month’s Supreme Court decision is not a dismantling of Brown vs. Board of Education but a continuation of it. It continues in the spirit of Martin Luther King that children will not be educated according to race.

One wonders if Kozol, and others, actually like racial minorities. What’s so wrong with predominantly minority schools that represent the real demographics of the neighborhood the school is actually located? Predominantly black and Latino schools are not the problem. Poor performing schools are, regardless of the racial make-up. This is the point that Kozol misses entirely.

Kozol says nothing about ways to improve failing schools. His well-intentioned concerned is only located in getting a small group of minorities away from other minorities. This is not what Brown vs. Board of Education corrected. Brown vs. the Board of Education prohibited districts from using race to prevent children from attending schools in their own district. Remember, Linda Brown was denied admittance to a school in her district because of race.

Kozol is correct that educational choice provisions should be enhanced to give parents more freedom to make decisions about where their kids go to school. Parents should be free to remove their kids from failing schools if they choose. However, we have a duty, as a nation, to do more than shift people away from bad schools but to improve low-performing schools so that parents do not have to make geographic decisions that introduce additional stress into already overburdened lives.

Sadly Kozol remarks, “In the inner-city schools I visit, minority children typically represent 95 percent to 99 percent of class enrollment.” Kozol sees all minority schools as a problem that needs to be solved by getting minority kids in the same building as white kids. What’s so special about white kids that minorities will suffer unless they are in the same building them? Kozol actually intimates an unbelievably weak correlation that minority kids at white, suburban schools perform better.

Mr. Kozol should visit the dozens of predominantly minority private and parochial schools to be introduced to a law of education: students perform well in challenging and affirming academic environments with involved parents regardless of race.

Kozol has confused race and class. Public schools in America are separated by class not by race. The black and Latino middle-class (and up) put their kids in good schools because they live in school districts with quality public education or pay for private education. As long as our neighborhoods are segregated by class (which may appear racial) we will have education disparities between school districts. Government cannot force mixed classes to share the same neighborhoods.

Common sense thinking about our public schools should focus on two areas: (1) improving the education culture at low-performing schools which includes teachers, administrators, parents, and students; and (2) giving parents greater and greater control over their education choices for their children.

I wrote about this nearly five years ago here. I write this as a former high school teacher and administrator.

From Luther’s exposition of the fourth commandment in his Treatise on Good Works (1520), alluding to King Manasseh’s actions in II Kings 21:

What else is it but to sacrifice one’s own child to an idol and burn it when parents train their children more in the love of the world than in the love of God, and let their children go their own way and get burned up in worldly pleasure, love, enjoyment, lust, goods, and honor, but let God’s love and honor and the love of eternal blessings be extinguished in them? (LW 44:83)

In the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Supreme Court today struck down a move to use race to determine which students attend certain schools and which one who will not. Students will not be assigned to schools according to the color of their skin. We are finally approaching King’s dream. Hopefully, this will end the tremendously failed race-based busing programs nationwide. The 5-4 ruling rejected racial decorating programs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington.

CNN reports:

The court struck down public school choice plans in Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky, concluding they relied on an unconstitutional use of racial criteria, in a sharply worded pair of cases reflecting the deep legal and social divide over the issue of race and education. . .

Louisville-area schools endured decades of federal court oversight after schools there were slow to integrate. When that oversight ended in the late 1990s, county officials sought to maintain integration, requiring that most public schools have at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent African-American enrollment. The idea was to reflect the whole of Jefferson County, which is 60 percent white and 38 percent black. Officials say their plan reflects not only the need for diversity but also the desire of parents for greater school choice.

A white parent, Crystal Meredith, sued, saying her child was twice denied the school nearest their home and had to endure a three-hour bus ride to a facility that was not their top choice. Many African-American parents raised similar concerns. . .

White parents have been suing nationwide because the racial decorating prevents white kids from going to schools in their own neighborhoods. This is a great example of elites using government to produce social results that were doomed to fail from the start because they failed to respect freedom and dignity.

Today’s ruling is good news for several reasons (see below):
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Speaking of Christian education, here are some relevant thoughts plucked out of Richard Baxter’s most excellent treatise, How to Do Good to Many (London, 1682):

A general observation about the importance of knowledge:

Goodness will never be enjoyed or practised without knowledge. Ignorance is darkness, the State of his Kingdom, who is the Prince of darkness, who by the works of darkness leadeth the blind World to utter darkness: God is the Father of Lights, and giveth wisdom to them that ask and seek it: He sent his Son to be the Light of the World: His Word and Ministers are subordinate Light: His servants are all the Children of Light: Ignorance is virutally Errour, and errour the cause of sin and misery. And men are not born wise, but must be made wise by skilful diligent teaching: Parents should begin it: Ministers should second them: But alas! how many Millions are neglected by both? And how many neglect themselves when Ministers have done their best? Ignorance and errour are the common Road to wickedness, misery and hell.

Regarding the contemporary situation in Britain:

I think we have Grammar Schools enough. It is not the knowledge of Tongues and Arts, and Curious Sciences which the common people want, but the right understanding of their Baptismal Covenant with God, and of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Decalogue and Church Communion. A poor honest man, or a good woman, will Teach Children thus much for a small stipend, better than they are taught it in most Grammar Schools; And I would none went to the Universities without the sound understanding of the Catechism: Yea, I would none came thence or into the pulpit without it.

How to further engage the education of children:

When you have got them to read, give them good books, especially Bibles, and good Catechisms, and small practical books which press the fundamentals on their Consciences: Such books are good Catechisms: Many learn the words of the Creed, Lords Prayer, Commandments and Catechism, by rote, and never understand them, when a lively book that awakeneth their Consciences, bringeth them to sensible consideration, and to a true understanding of the same things, which before they could repeat without sense or favour. It is the Catechistical truths which most of our English Sermons press. And the lively pressing them maketh them pierce deeper than a Catechism.

How to meet the financial obligations to educate the Christian youth:

If men that in life, or at death, give a stated revenue for good works, would settle the one half on a Catechizing English School, and the other half on some suitable good books, it may prove a very, great means of publick reformation. When a good book is in the House, if some despise it, others may read it, and when one Parish is provided, every years rent may extend the Charity to other Parishes, and it may spread over a whole Country in a little time. Most of the good that God hath done for me, the knowledge or Conscience hath been by sound and pious books.

My wife and I recently had occasion to discuss and decide how we would like our child to be cared for if we were both to pass away. Godly education was a top concern. Baxter often emphasizes the importance of determining how your inheritance should be spent. It’s true that the responsibility of stewardship is not dispensed with at your death. With that in mind, let’s conclude with this quote from Cyprian of Carthage on the responsibilities of parenting:

Neither should you think that he is father to your children who is both changeable and infirm, but you should obtain Him who is the eternal and unchanging Father of spiritual children. Assign to Him your wealth which you are saving up for your heirs. Let Him be the guardian for your children; let Him be their trustee; let Him be their protector, by His divine majesty, against all worldly injuries. The state neither takes away the property entrusted to God, nor does the exchequer intrude on it, nor does any forensic calumny overthrow it. That inheritance is placed in security which is kept under the guardianship of God. This is to provide for one’s dear pledges for the coming time; this is with paternal affection to take care for one’s future heirs, according to the faith of the Holy Scripture, which says: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed wanting bread. All the day long he is merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.” And again: “He who walketh without reproach in his integrity shall leave blessed children after him.” Therefore you are an unfair and traitorous father, unless you faithfully consult for your children, unless you look forward to preserve them in religion and true piety. You who are careful rather for their earthly than for their heavenly estate, rather to commend your children to the devil than to Christ, are sinning twice, and allowing a double and twofold crime, both in not providing for your children the aid of God their Father, and in teaching your children to love their property more than Christ.

Blog author: jarmstrong
Friday, April 20, 2007
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The feature film "Freedom Writers" appeared on DVD this week. It stars two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank as a very young Long Beach (CA) high school teacher assigned to a freshman English class made up of students all destined to fail. The kids are African-American, Asian and Latino inner-city kids raised on drive-by shootings in a hard-core death-based culture. The story is true and the film is genuinely beautiful.

Erin Gruwell, the teacher in the story, gave her students a voice of their own, a sense of place and a future. She empowered her kids by getting them to read, write and think. She accomplished this by getting them to read The Diary of Anne Frank and then by having them write their responses in a personal journal. The experience slowly transformed how these kids understood life and coped with their own past. Gruwell continually battled an uncaring school system that was set up to fail, like most school systems in the cities of America. She was hated by some of her peers for rocking their boats and she lost her husband’s support, and thus her marriage, in the process. (Sadly, her husband is the epitome of a self-centered male who wants his little wife to abide by his desires and then give up her own personal dreams. I know too many Christian males who think this is godly but I will save that sermon for another day!)

The kids learn to tell their own stories and through this they find real freedom. A group of "unteachable" teens discover the power of acceptance, tolerance and love. Their lives are changed and their dreams are recovered in the process. The cast is superb, the script compelling and the end is deeply moving. The movie is rated PG-13 for violence and language, as you would expect. I recommend "Freedom Writers" to teens and adults.  Christians have a lot to learn about getting involved in real culture change. Gruwell’s transforming work provides a powerful model that tells a very moving story quite well.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Check out the links from this piece by Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns, which make the case that “small-scale support for private slum schools—through scholarship programs, backing for school-voucher schemes, or subsidized microfinance—might do far more good than a big aid push directed at government-run education.”

Combine that with the insights from this recent NBER paper, “The Effects of Education on Health,” which examines the “well known, large, and persistent association between education and health,” and you could reach the conclusion that private education in the developing world could do much to raise the level of global health.

Meanwhile, Oprah’s private school initiative in South Africa is under fire from some parents for being “too strict” (HT). This includes the imposition of a diet of “fruit, yoghurt and sandwiches.” It seems to me that if this diet were enforced in public schools in America it might do a great deal to increase health.

Reading, [w]riting, [a]rithmetic, and…religion? So says Cal Thomas in a post from the WaPo blog On Faith.

Writes Thomas, “Religion as a subject and the beliefs of individual religions absolutely should be taught in all schools and at all levels.”

I doubt, however, that Thomas would say that “one should not expect an individual faith to be singled out for special consideration or imposition” in the case of explicitly religious schools. He seems to have in mind the limitations inherent in the public school system.

Thus, he writes, “Neither should a specific prayer be promoted in public schools and universities, as has been advocated by some in the past.” That presumably includes a prayer of secularism.

But surely Cal Thomas realizes that a naked public square does implicitly promote the ‘faith’ of secularism. This confusion and difficulty associated with teaching religion in public schools is real. But all too often the source of the problem is attributed to religion rather than to secularist nature of the public schools itself.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, March 1, 2007
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In an essay for TCS Daily last week, Arnold Kling wrote, “With or without the words ‘under God,’ the Pledge of Allegiance feels to me like a prayer. It’s a fairly nice prayer, and I have no problem with having it taught in private schools. I have no problem praying for my country — such a prayer is included in the standard weekly service at my synagogue. But government institutions ought not to be telling people how to pray.”

The essay is well-worth reading. I especially like Kling’s description of a “Civil Societarian.” But I have another anecdotal piece of evidence to contribute to Kling’s conclusion.

It comes from the back page feature “Baby Bloopers” in the current issue of Parents magazine. Here’s the story “Lady Liberty” as told by Tracie Cirillo of Rochester, NY:

One afternoon my 4-year-old daughter, Maya, came home excited to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to me, since it’s played every morning over the public-address system at her school. When she got to the end of the pledge, she said, ‘With liberty and justice for all. Today’s lunch is quesadillas and fruit cup.’

The cynic might say that’s what you get when government teaches you how to pray.

U.S. high school students are taking harder classes, receiving better grades, and from every indication in recent data, leaning much less than their counterparts fifteen years ago. Go figure. All the talk about spending more money and about improving testing and teacher standards and the end result is that two decades of educational reform may not have improved things overall.

The U.S. Department of Education released two studies Thursday that raised very tough questions. David Driscoll, the commissioner of education for Massachusetts, notes, "I think we are sleeping through a crisis." He called these two new studies "stunning." Two means were used for this study: (1) A standardized 12th grade test, and (2) An analysis of the transcripts of 2005 high school graduates.

The fascinating thing is that students in 1990 had a GPA of 2.68 and in 2005 it rose to 2.98, and this included students taking more college preparatory courses than ever before. 12th grade reading scores have been dropping steadily since 1992. So, what are students learning in college prep classes? As for math fewer than 25% scored in the "proficient" range.

This study involved 900 U.S. schools, including 200 private schools! 26,000 transcripts were used. The chief of curriculum for Chicago high schools said, "We know the root to solving the problem is having more rigor in classes." But how? We already have teachers who fear their students, killings in our schools, and armed guards in most U.S. high schools. What next? The fact is few leaders, and especially politicians and educators, have real answers. The system is broken. Do parents and citizens have the will to fix it? I have my doubts. Such problems call for Christians to make a difference. Talk about a cultural opportunity, here is a huge one. But most of us have run away from public education, condemning it with John Dewey and  his ilk to the pit. Even if we do not want our children in the public system can we afford to form ghettos for Christians and ride this storm out to its long term conclusions?

The movie Amazing Grace came out this weekend. We desperately need a Wilberforce-like leader (or hundreds of lesser known but similarly courageous leaders) to begin to work for the real education of our children or our values will be entirely lost in a few more decades.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

Blog author: jballor
Monday, February 12, 2007
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Most of our talk at Acton about educational choice addresses K-12 programs, i.e., the public schools. There already exists a great deal of choice at the levels of higher ed, and so they are not of the most immediate concern.

But the issues I raised earlier this month about the integration of faith and learning are just as relevant in the realm of higher ed as they are in secondary education. Here’s what David Claerbaut, author of Faith and Learning on the Edge: A Bold New Look at Religion in Higher Education, has to say:

There is a distinctly Christian view of what life is all about, about the nature of humankind, about what our purposes ought to be, and about where we are headed eternally. To dance away from these distinctives is to marginalize faith as an element in the learning process.

Today’s Zondervan>To the Point features this quote as well as a link to this piece from Inside Higher Ed, “Spiritual Accountability.”