13 October 2007

Democratic Politicians and Black Children

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 7, 2007

America’s two foremost race-hustlers have in effect labeled Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) an Uncle Tom. Reverend Al Sharpton, in a thinly veiled reference, said of Obama “just because you’re our color doesn’t make you our kind.” Reverend Jesse Jackson said of Obama that he was "acting like he's white.” Now it’s hard to know what the hustlers mean, but their comments inadvertently point out an ugly truth which is that when it comes to education, the Democratic Party sells out blacks. Despite this fact, blacks continue to vote in droves for Democratic candidates. This is a case study in self-destruction.

While there are many talented black students, as a group they do poorly. A standard measure of academic performance is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which was created by Congress in 1969 in order to assess how well American students perform in the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. Performance is grouped under four categories: below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced. “Basic” means that the students lack “[even] partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work” at their grade level. “Proficient” means that students display “solid academic performance” and demonstrate “competency over challenging subject matter.”

In No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning (2003), Manhattan Institute member Abigail Thernstrom and her husband Stephan, a Harvard professor, point out that NAEP assessment of black performance (1998-2001) is alarming. Except for reading and writing, more than half of black students were below basic on every category: math, science, U.S. history, civics, and geography. This includes a painfully bad level of performance in math and science. Almost 70% are below basic in math and almost 80% in science. Even reading and writing are disappointing with more than a third below basic. On the high end of achievement, the results are also abysmal. Less than 5% of black students are proficient or advanced in math, science, and geography, and only slightly more than 5% are in history. White and Asian performance is not great, but nothing like this complete meltdown.

The race differences are stark. Using 1998-2001 NAEP data, the Thernstroms point out that the average black high school graduate performs a little worse than white eighth-graders in reading and U.S. history and a lot worse in math and geography. In those topics, they know no more than whites in the seventh grade. As a side note, Asian performance is roughly the same as whites.

When it comes to graduation rates, the pattern repeats itself. In a 2002 study, Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute argues that the 1998 national high-school graduation rate for white students was 78% and for black students was 56%. The numbers are controversial. The Economic Policy Institute reports that 74% of blacks get a regular diploma (for example, not a GED). However, even if the latter number is true, this is nothing to write home about.

These test results matter. The Thernstroms point out that in the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 eighth-graders an identical number of whites and blacks have gone on to some form of college (76.5%) and yet there was a significant difference in graduation rates. Roughly, 36% of whites and 16% of blacks end up with a four-year degree. In college, the poor level of public education wrecks havoc on what courses these students take. At the California State University system, which is designed for students who were in the top third of the state’s high school classes, more than 50% of black students had to take a remedial course in English and more than 78% had to do so in math.

The test results are also likely reflected in income. Whites at every level of education make more money on graduation and this is likely due to differences in ability rather than discrimination. This can be seen in that two researchers, George Farkas and Keven Vicknair, report that when incomes were adjusted for test scores in reading and mathematics, blacks earn more.

These K-12 differences might explain why at Fredonia State the black-white difference in graduation rates and grade-point average is significant. The yearly average of the six-year graduation rate from 1994-2000 is 38% for blacks and 61% for whites. There also was a significant difference in grade-point average. As of February 2006, the average undergraduate GPA for blacks at Fredonia was 2.3 (C-) and for white students 2.9 (C+).

The differences cannot be accounted for by the usual liberal bogeymen. The spending difference between those districts with more minority students and those without is small ($286 in 1989-1990 when adjustments were made for price-levels and students with special needs). Nor can they be accounted for by differences in class size or self-esteem. There is some debate as to whether having a same-race teacher affects performance, but even if there is such an effect it’s probably swamped by the fact that on average, black teachers have worse academic skills than do whites.

The Thernstroms argue that cultural effects and teacher quality make a significant difference. That there are strong cultural effects can be seen in that roughly two-thirds of the black-white performance gap remains even after researchers control for poverty, parental education, and urban residence. There seem to be cultural differences in factors such as low birth-weight, single-parent households, birth to a young mother, and differences in parenting practices (intellectual stimulation and emotional support). Teacher quality also has an effect. A number of studies on the other hand have found that teachers who attended more selective or prestigious colleges improve the scores of their students. The Thernstroms claim that a famous federal study (the 1966 Coleman report) and subsequent studies indicate that teachers with the strongest academic skills are better.

This is different from how teacher quality is ordinarily rewarded, which is on the basis of experience and having a graduate degree. In a 1990-1996 NAEP study, experience beyond the first two years and degrees beyond a bachelor’s showed no effect on teaching effectiveness. This is also interesting given that individuals and schools spend nearly $2 billion a year on master’s degrees in education.

The teachers’ unions own Democratic candidates. For example, a large percentage of Democratic delegates come from the teachers’ unions (for example, 11% in 1996) and the latter lavishes money on the party. The unions oppose reforms that will likely increase student performance, especially among black students. In particular, they can be counted on to oppose market-based competition such as vouchers, merit-based hiring and pay, standardized testing that spotlights problems, and a district’s ability to fire poor teachers. Not only do the Democratic candidates fail to back these reforms, they also are largely silent on the destructive aspects of black culture. Given the unions’ political clout, we know why Democratic candidates chose entrenched and well-funded educators over black children. Why blacks reward this choice is harder to explain.


The Objectivist said...

Note that it is not clear that federal politicians should dictate educational policy in the states because of federalist concens. But the politicians in the major cities and states can and should act and a majority of them in some states (e.g., New York, Illinois, and California) are Democrats.

The Objectivist said...

Note that there is a lot of room for improvement in that some schools that choose their students by lottery have results that are much better than that of schools with similar students. The problem can't be solely passed off in terms of families, genetics, and certainly not things like resources.

The Bat Boy said...

Might there be other reasons for African-American voters to favor democratic candidates. You make it sound likely African-Americans just simply ignore the fact that Democrats are not acting in the best interests of African-American voters simply because they support teacher's unions.

(1) If Democrats support teacher's unions, then African-American's are better off not voting democrat.

Even if it's true that African-Americans are harmed by teacher's unions, It's not at all clear it's in the overall best interests of an African-American voter to not vote democrat.

The Constructivist said...

Yeah, like, what are the alternatives for black voters? Jackie Robinson tried to make the case that African Americans should be Rockefeller Republicans in his columns of the 1960s, but instead of heeding his advice the Party of Lincoln turned even further away from black interests in the ensuing decades. How influential are black Republicans within the Party? I'd like to see some engagement with the "lesser evil" or the "devil you know" argument....

Boom Boom said...

Thanks for the interesting column. It would have been better as two columns: one on the race issue, another on what affects teacher quality (graduate degree vs. good education). By the way, 2.3 is C+ not C-, and 2.9 is close to B, not C+.

The Objectivist said...

Dear C and Bat Boy:
I think you make a good point. But ask yourself the following question, what variably in terms of affecting the well-being of blacks is as influential as clearing up the rotten schools?

If black students performed like they do in excellent inner city schools (e.g., Kipp Academies, North Star School, and the Amistad Academy), discrimination would be a thing of the past. Why? Because it would simply be too expensive to cut out such a talented talent pool.

Also, the higher education would make black labor very valuable which would severely cut down on the attractiveness of crime. This would significantly reduce the armies of black men who are either incarcerated or under the control of the criminal justice system.

The attention to other issues is kind of like a woman facing a good chance of breast cancer picking out a doctor on the basis other than his ability to diagnose and treat such cancers.

The Objectivist said...

Dear Boom Boom:

You're absolutely right. My mistake and apologies.

Thanks for the correction.

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