Thomas Sowell Explains Why “Black Education Matters”

There’s a lot of discussion these days about the “systemic” issues that leave the black community at a disadvantage.

They blame it all on policing, of course, as if it is somehow logical to blame the disproportionate rates of criminality within the black community on the officers who are enforcing the law—many of whom, of course, are black themselves.

It wasn’t too long ago that narratives of black progress were not condescendingly directed towards dismantling the police forces that are the only thing standing between minority, low-income neighborhoods and complete and utter anarchy, but in fact, towards equal access to education and opportunities.

The great economist and academic Thomas Sowell argues that it is not, in fact, systemic racism that is maligning low-income minority children, but “plain old selfishness on the part of traditional public school officials and teachers unions protecting their own vested interests.”

“Most Americans would probably be shocked and angry if they knew all the dirty tricks used to sabotage charter schools that are successfully educating” these children, he recently wrote.

“Most of us might see charter schools that succeed where traditional public schools have failed as welcome news, especially in minority communities where there is so much bad news.

“But, when there are a million public school students on waiting lists to get into charter schools nationwide, that amounts to many billions of dollars a year that traditional public schools would lose, if all those students could actually transfer. That would represent a lot of jobs lost in traditional public schools. It would also represent a lot of union dues lost, because most charter school teachers do not belong to a union. The success of many charter schools is definitely unwelcome news to both traditional public school officials and teachers unions,” he explains.

Charter schools present a unique opportunity for millions of children across the country, but traditional public school officials and the all-powerful teachers’ unions are doing everything they can to make sure that charter schools do not expand their capacity.

Sowell explains that many states have enacted laws that place arbitrary limits on how many charter schools will be allowed to operate. The quality of the education being provided by such institutions is irrelevant.

Such limits have nothing to do with providing the best schooling possible for the children of a given state but rather are put in place to protect the establishment school system.

What’s more, where charter schools could expand capacity by occupying otherwise unused school space, officials have prevented them from using even completely vacant school buildings through “various tricks.”

“Some of these buildings have been sold, with explicit provisos in the deeds that they cannot subsequently be used again as schools, but only for residential or other purposes,” Sowell explains.

In Milwaukee, officials even officially established that they were trying to keep unused school buildings out of the hands of school officials while in Detroit, a member of the local school board said bluntly that “there is no way we should be sustaining our competition.”

In Chicago, Washington, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and other localities buildings are demolished rather than being used by charter schools. Ironically Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and D.C. public schools are at the bottom and among the worst-performing K-12 public school systems in America in terms of reading, science and math scores and graduation rates according to the National Association of Education Progress known as the Nation’s Report Card. It’s also curious that these failing schools are among the top in per pupil spending.

These are just some of the tactics being used by the defenders of the traditional public school system to prevent the expansion of charter schools.

What’s truly tragic is that black voters are still favoring candidates who openly oppose charter schools, such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio or Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, both of whom have expressed their emphatic support for teachers unions.

“Teachers unions supply millions of votes and millions of dollars to politicians, mostly Democrats. They don’t do that automatically, but require politicians to do something in return,” Sowell explains.

“Unless black voters take the same attitude, their interests — and the future of their children — will be sacrificed for the political support of teachers unions,” he states.

While the 2020 election hangs in the balance as of this writing, it has been clear that the Republicans, who largely support charter schools and school choice, need to make sure to appeal more broadly to black voters on this issue in the future.

“Everything depends on how well Republicans inform black voters and how receptive those voters are to breaking their old voting habits,” Sowell concludes.

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