Public Schools and Bad Apples.

Walter Williams has written a good article detailing the pathetic state of public education in poor black ghettos. Everybody knows how bad the state of education is in these places. Nobody willingly sends their kids to schools in the ghetto if they have a choice. With the ever-present cops and metal detectors, public schools in the ghetto now resemble something more like juvenile detention centers.

But it is taboo to discuss this publicly, unless it is to say “they should get more money.” If you call for more money to be shoveled into the furnaces of inner-city schools, you are a given a free pass to acknowledge how bad they are. But if you say something honest, like “The students don’t want to be here, the teachers don’t want to be here, and the police don’t want to be here. This school is clearly failing at its mission, and should close”, people will react violently.

The problem that the Public Education establishment is desperate to hide is this: more money has never directly correlated to better results. I have discussed this before. Money can’t buy happiness, and neither can it buy genuine scholarship. The public school system is more expensive than ever, and most people would agree that inner-city schools in the ghettos are worse than ever. The constant refrains of “we need more money” have been heard loud and clear, and consistently obeyed; but it has never produced a commensurate increase in genuine education taking place at inner-city schools.

As Williams explains:

Many see smaller class sizes and more money as part of the general solution to our nation’s educational problems. It turns out that since 1955 the average number of students per teacher has fallen from 27 to 16. During the same period real per-pupil expenditures have increased more than fourfold. Today, expenditures per pupil in the United States exceed those of nearly every other country in the world. The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, ranks 15-year-old student academic performance in 34 OECD countries. In 2012, the U.S. students performed below average in mathematics and ranked 27th. In reading, U.S. students ranked 17th; and in science, they ranked 20th. Such a performance gap suggests that smaller class sizes and bigger budgets, in and of themselves, are not a cure to our nation’s educational malaise, particularly that of black students.

Walter Williams says that this is a problem the US government cannot solve. I agree with him. It is a problem that politics and policy cannot solve. The root of the issue is the utter breakdown of family structure and civil society in the ghettos. Something like 80% of all kids born in the ghetto are raised without fathers. The impact of this has been obvious on ghetto society. No amount of welfare money, public housing, or government spending will ever change that, but they will encourage and sustain the problem. It is a problem that requires a spiritual and ethical revival to reverse.

Education has not turned anything around in the ghetto. In fact, it is the ghetto that has turned around education in a bad way. There has never been a public school in a ghetto that permanently turned things around. Not that I’m aware of, anyway. Some have had brief successes thanks to the efforts of exceptional teachers with a passion for excellence. The best example of this was Garfield High School in Los Angeles, as depicted in the HBO docudrama film Stand and Deliver. Jaime Escalante, a math teacher and Bolivian immigrant, took one of the poorest-performing schools in the nation and made it into one of the top schools for Advanced Placement graduates within the span of a few years. He was a true superstar. But he was eventually forced out by the educational bureaucracy, which resented his successes in the face of their own failures. They made life unbearable for him. He quit, and the school sucks again. Regression to the Mean knows no bounds. But at least the local educational bureaucrats are back in a comfortable status quo; students be damned.


There is no government solution to the problem of societal breakdown and fatherlessness. Insofar as these problems drag down inner-city public schools, the government is powerless to do much of anything that will have meaningful impact. However, there is an important step that could be taken to improve student life at inner-city schools:

What the education establishment can do is to prevent youngsters who are alien and hostile to the educational process from making education impossible for those who are equipped to learn. That is accomplished by removing students who pose disciplinary problems, but the Barack Obama administration is even restricting a school’s power to do that. You might ask, “Williams, what are we going to do with those expelled students?” I do not know, but I do know one thing: Black people cannot afford to allow them to sabotage the education chances of everyone else.

Walter Williams is saying this: Boot the bad apples. For the sake of the other students, the best thing that the educational bureaucracy can do is introduce expedient avenues for getting rid of the perennial troublemakers. Good students will shut up and listen. But bad students will not. Bad students will generally find ways to disrupt everyone else, either because they want attention, or are envious of the good students, or simply just like causing trouble. The bad apples drag the good apples down with them. This is what happens on a monstrous scale in the ghetto.

One recent bright spot in the realm of inner-city education is Charter Schooling. These are schools which are still public (tax-funded) and are required to follow federal standards, but with one key difference: you must apply for your child to attend, and your child can be booted at any time. This has made a world of difference. An astounding example of this has been Oakland Unity High School, an inner-city institution which is roughly 80% latino and 20% black. They have achieved marvelous results in a short period of time:

Our API (Academic Performance Index) has grown steadily since 2007, from 595 to 735 this past year. Nearly 90 percent of students regularly pass the CAHSEE (Mathematics) in sophomore year, with 70 percent of students scoring at or above the proficient level of 380.

By these traditional measures we are the highest performing four-year public high school in Oakland. Several other schools perform higher, but have the advantage of starting with students in middle school or even elementary school. Nearly 85 percent of our incoming freshmen attended Oakland public schools.

More than 90 percent of students go on to college: 70 percent to a four-year college and 90 percent will be the first in their families to attend college.

Charter schools can boot the lowest common denominator, which is key. If some young punk hates school and insists on making other students hate it too, then he can be expediently kicked out. This raises the lowest-common denominator and improves the educational environment for students willing to behave and learn.

It is amazing how effective such a simple policy change can be.

Unfortunately, charter schools tend to face severe resistance from everyone outside the charter school. This is because the charter schools soak up all the good students, while the bad apples congregate at the open-admission public schools. This makes life hell for the teachers there. Some say this is unfair.

I say, who cares? Is schooling about the students, or about the teachers? If charter schools are succeeding where open-admission schools have failed, this is a positive thing. At least SOMEONE is succeeding. In an environment of endemic failure like the ghetto, any form of consistent success needs to be nurtured and cultivated, not yanked down for the sake of institutional comfort.


White liberals prefer to ignore the ghettos. When they are forced to acknowledge the ghettos, they chalk up their problems to white racism and “the legacy of slavery”. None of this addresses the real problems, of course, which are piss-poor culture, fatherlessness, and perverse government incentives. That is because these problems cannot be solved by government solutions, other than to remove government welfare. But they will never do this. And admitting that there are societal problems which the government cannot solve is against the nature of liberalism, which views the State as the great god-on-earth and bringer of salvation. The State is, to borrow a term from ex-Communists, the God that Failed. American liberals cannot come to terms with this.

Meanwhile, most white conservatives are afraid to point these problems out. They fear the hysterical reactions of white liberals. So, they too shut up. Besides, what goes on in the ghetto usually does not affect them very much. Their attitude is similar to that of the white liberals: as long as ghetto crime stays in the ghetto, they don’t care that much. In this sense, you can think of the inner city ghettos as Indian reservations. They are their own little worlds.

Poor kids born into the ghetto have it rough. Many, first of all, are born without fathers, which has an impact that cannot be understated. Then they are raised in an environment where they are surrounded by a piss-poor culture of failure. Kids that begin to do well are hated and dragged down by the bad apples that envy their promise.

This is why it is so important for inner-city families who care for their children’s future to pull their kids out of the rotten inner-city schools and find an alternative. Charter Schools are one option; but they are currently too far and few in-between to make enough of a difference. Online schooling is fast becoming another option; the Khan Academy is an entirely online curriculum, and it currently services over 26 million students worldwide. It has the attention of the Gates Foundation, which has helped bankroll its expansion.

Remember the successful Oakland charter school I mentioned earlier? It uses the Khan Academy for instruction. And it has worked quite well.

Online schooling is still in its infancy and is not taken seriously on a large scale; but I think this is going to change. I think the best option for the lower-class families of the future will be online school, which will allow them to get instruction from top-tier educators at bargain-basement prices. Even more importantly, they will get this education without having to send their kids to school alongside delinquents who want to drag them down.


This is the most important thing: inner-city families need to not allow their good apples to go bad in the failing inner-city public schools.


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