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Jewish World Review April 16, 1999 /27 Nissan 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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When success fails

(JWR) ---- (
NOTHING BRINGS FORTH more shrill cries for more federal money than proclamations of how terrible the schools are in the ghettos. And nothing brings more yawns than examples of ghetto schools that are doing fine academic work.

If so-called educators were as serious about educating minority youngsters as they are about getting federal money, we would see a stampede toward outstanding ghetto schools, to find out how they do it. There is no such stampede. There is not even a crowd gathering.

It is much the same story at the college level. No one cares that the most black students who go on to become doctors come from a small black institution named Xavier University in New Orleans. Although black colleges enrol only 25 percent of all black college students, their students receive 40 percent of all science and engineering degrees received by black students. Of the ten undergraduate institutions whose black students go on to receive the most Ph.D.s in science, six are black institutions.

This is far more remarkable today than it would have been during the Jim Crow era, when most black students went to black colleges. But today there are more blacks at Ohio State than at Xavier.

Ironically, a recent and much ballyhooed book by two retired Ivy League university presidents claims that racial preferences at elite institutions are the key to creating a black middle class. Yet here is non-elite and little-known Xavier of Louisiana sending more of its graduates on to receive science degrees than does Harvard or Princeton.

Nor is Xavier the only institution defying the conventional wisdom on minority education. So are those ghetto schools which succeed academically, despite sociologists and psychologists who assure us that they must fail because of poverty, broken homes, and the rest.

The magic political word is "investing" in education. But the painful fact is that decades of pouring massive amounts of federal money into our public schools have not only failed to improve the academic performances of the students, this flood of money was for years accompanied by declining SAT scores that we have never been able to get back to their 1963 level. Worse yet, all this money has spawned a whole generation of hustlers concocting "programs" that promise miracle cures for educational woes.

When those woes can be turned into hard cash from Uncle Sam, do not be surprised that failure attracts so much more attention than success. With failure, you have a case for getting more money for bilingual education, for black English, for "self-esteem," for "whole language," for "sexual awareness," for whatever.

In this context, ghetto schools that achieve academic success without all these programs are at best a distraction from the real goals of harvesting bountiful crops of federal largess. At worst, they undermine the whole shaky set of assumptions and theories that justify this outpouring of cash from Washington.

Ordinarily you might expect that shaky claims by people seeking money would be examined with some skepticism by those handing out the money. But the money involved here is not the money of those who are handing it out. It is the taxpayers' money.

What matters to those in Washington is not whether pouring more billions down a bottomless pit will improve education. What matters is that dispensing federal bounty will improve the political image of those doing it. It will also gain the formidable political and financial support of the big teachers union, the National Education Association.

Strings that come with federal money will enable Washington to control the local schools, maintaining those programs and practices that are in vogue inside the Beltway, whether or not such programs or practices work, and whether or not parents or others object.

Those who talk loudest about "investing" in education are also the ones most opposed to letting parents have choices as to where to send their children, through vouchers, tax credits or otherwise. The education establishment wants those children kept in the public schools for the same reason that cattle barons want their livestock kept in a corral. That's how they make their money.

Leave those corral doors open just a little and there could be a stampede out of there. That is why the teachers union and their political allies are bitterly opposed to even the most modest voucher experiment.


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03/22/99: Loving enemies
03/19/99: Naming names
03/15/99: Undermining the military
03/10/99: Joe DiMaggio -- icon of an era
03/02/99: Facts versus dogma on guns
03/01/99: Losing the cultural wars
02/22/99: "Saving" social security
02/18/99: Too many Ph.Ds?
02/8/99: A national disaster
02/8/99: Economic fallacies in the media: Part II
02/5/99: Why economists visit dentists so often
02/2/99: Warning: Good news
01/29/99: What is at stake?
01/26/99:Moral bankruptcy in the schools
01/22/99: Who is going to convict Santa Claus?
01/19/99: Seeing through the spin
01/13/99: A trial is a trial is a trial
01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
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10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1999, Creators Syndicate