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Education at a Crossroads

February 6, 2017 at 6:42 am 11 Commentary

In just a matter of days — perhaps next Monday — a decision will be made in Washington affecting the futures of millions of children in low-income communities, and in the very troubled area of race relations in America.

An opportunity has arisen — belatedly — that may not come again in this generation. That is an opportunity to greatly expand the kinds of schools that have successfully educated, to a high level, inner-city youngsters whom the great bulk of public schools fail to educate to even minimally adequate levels.

What may seem on the surface to be merely a matter of whether the U.S. Senate confirms or rejects the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be head of the U.S. Department of Education involves far bigger stakes.

The teachers’ unions and the education establishment in general know how big those stakes are, and have mounted an all-out smear campaign to prevent her from being confirmed.

What makes Mrs. DeVos seem so threatening to the teachers’ unions and their political allies?

She has, for more than 20 years, been promoting programs, laws and policies that enable parents to choose which schools their children will attend — whether these are charter schools, voucher schools or parochial schools.

Some of these charter schools — especially those in the chain of the Success Academy schools and the chain of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools — operate in low-income, minority neighborhoods in the inner-cities, and turn out graduates who can match the educational performances of students in affluent suburbs. What is even more remarkable, these charter schools are often housed in the very same buildings, in the very same ghettoes, where students in the regular public schools fail to learn even the basics in English or math.

You and I may think this is great. But, to the teachers’ unions, such charter schools are a major threat to their members’ jobs — and ultimately to the unions’ power or existence.

If parents have a choice of where to send their children, many of those parents are not likely to send them to failing public schools, when there are alternative schools available that equip those youngsters with an education that can open the way to a far better future for them.

Already there are tens of thousands of children on waiting lists to get into charter schools, just in New York alone. Those waiting lists are a clear threat to teachers’ unions, whose leaders think schools exist to provide guaranteed jobs for their members.

Mrs. DeVos has shown for more than 20 years that she thinks schools exist to educate children. One of the biggest complaints about her is that, unlike Secretaries of Education before her, she does not come out of the government’s education establishment. Considering what a miserable job that establishment has done, especially in inner-city schools, her independence is a plus.

Teachers’ unions have fought for years to prevent charter schools from being created. Now that such schools have been created, and there are now huge waiting lists, the teachers’ unions have gotten politicians to put a numerical cap on the number of such schools, regardless of how large the waiting lists are.

Desperate attempts to smear Betsy DeVos, in order to prevent her from being confirmed as Secretary of Education, have not let the facts get in the way.

She is accused of “steering public dollars away from traditional public schools.” But nobody can steer anything anywhere, when it is individual parents who make the decisions as to where they want their children educated. The money follows the children.

Neither the money nor the children get steered by education bureaucrats, as happens with traditional public schools.

If charter schools educate one-third of the students in a district, and get one-third of the money, how does that reduce the amount of money per child in the public school? Actually, charter schools usually get less money per student, but produce better results.

American education is at a crossroads. If the teachers’ unions and their allies can defeat the nomination of Mrs. DeVos, and the Republicans substitute someone else more acceptable to the education establishment, a historic opportunity will be lost, and may never come again in this generation.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.


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Education at a Crossroads, 9.6 out of 10 based on 7 ratings

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  1. gentlemanjim February 6, 2017 at 7:45 am

    He is right on the money!

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    • ltuser
      ltuser February 6, 2017 at 4:10 pm

      IMO he has been right on the money 99% of the time…

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  2. nuts2you February 6, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Tom, I thought you retired. I am immensely pleased to see your column today. Thank you.

    I agree the mission of schools should be to educate children. I have no experience with the school of choice program to have an opinion based on my own observation. I can readily accept that the teachers’ union places teachers’ interests above the students’. I will listen to Ms. DeVos more closely with this in mind.

    It does appear that President Trump considers the qualifications and values of the people he appoints. This is a nice change.

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    • GOPUSA Staff
      GOPUSA Staff February 6, 2017 at 10:07 am

      Thomas Sowell did announce his retirement a few weeks ago. Apparently, he will no longer write weekly but will occasionally submit columns on topics of particular interest to him. GOPUSA will continue to publish any that we receive.

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    • peleus February 6, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      I for one enjoy any column you wish to write sir and this one be saying what the teachers union does not like and I have a tendency to agree with it then. The current system is not doing well at turning out the best and brightest and still cutting current teachers pay

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    • ltuser
      ltuser February 6, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      GOPUSA will continue to publish any that we receive.]

      And i am GLAD that you are continuing to do so!! And even gladder we are still hearing the thoughts of Dr Sowell.. One of the best and brightest minds the black community has…

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  3. SamAdamswasright February 6, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Will SOMEONE in Maine and Alaska please get permission to reprint this column in your papers and expose Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski for the NEA escorts they are?


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  4. oleteabag February 6, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    Dr. Sowell almost always IS right on the money. The unholy alliance of the teachers unions and the “educational establishment” is one of the BIG reasons Johnny can no longer read, and the schools are turning out MILLIONS of “graduates” who can’t read or write, but who are WELL indoctrinated in the latest leftist dogma!

    THIS needs to stop! Substituting liberal brainwashing for education is CHILD ABUSE of the most EGREGIOUS sort, because it is going to affect those children ALL THEIR LIVES!

    The ONLY way to break the stranglehold the ineffective public schools and their self-interested teachers’ unions have on how children are educated–or rather how they are NOT–is to get control of the MONEY–the BILLIONS of dollars taxpayers pony up for the education of their children! The public schools and union teachers LONG AGO stopped educating, and went into the business of protecting their OWN TURF, and THEY recognize that giving parents a way to PULL THEIR MONEY out of non-performing schools is a clear and present THREAT to the little empire they’ve built for themselves.

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    • ltuser
      ltuser February 7, 2017 at 12:30 am

      I wonder which is MORE to blame for our kids being graduated but knowing DIddly squat.. The liberals in charge of the DoE, or the spazzies in the unions??

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  5. shadyman February 6, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    Here in Las Vegas the union is so in charge of public education, that any topic or issue that goes before the State Government is weighed in on by the unions.
    The Clark County School District is one of the lowest performing in the country, yet it pays for full time union representatives. Charter schools are fought by the unions. ESA accounts are fought by the unions. It will never improve as long as unions are able to get their cronies elected to the school board.

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  6. RWSmith6 February 7, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Your problem with teachers’ unions is understandable, Dr. Sowell. They’re not the best of alternatives, bringing problems as they do in the process of eliminating grievances. A better way is to make unions unnecessary. Don’t like unions? To repeat, make them unnecessary.

    Unions came about because there were things wrong–inadequate benefits and compensation, bad work conditions, employees voiceless, even more. Organizers had a field day because employers weren’t doing their jobs in making employees feel wanted and needed.

    Narrow this to public education, look to the problems through the eyes of teachers, and outdo unions in solving the problems better than unions can or will.

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