Queen of Schools, Michelle Rhee

Infamous, former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee thinks school reform boils down to treating teachers like professionals, empowering parents and ensuring accountability for every dollar and every child. All three make good sense, particularly the first one. Of course unions don’t like this policy of rewarding good teachers and firing bad ones because unions protect tenure and teachers, not students.

The newly minted educational consultant writes she founded StudentsFirst to focus on these three areas and noted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed governors of Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico and Nevada have approached her about helping their school systems. “Mayors in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Newark want to push the envelope, too,” she said.

Well this all sounds just dandy! The problem with Ms. Rhee’s formula is for urban predominately black school districts on life support like Washington, DC you won’t make real progress unless you address the problem of the broken black family. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Asst. Secretary of Labor under President Johnson warned in his report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action “the family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown.” Moynihan attributed this to the alarming rise in blacks not marrying and having illegitimate children. In 1963, illegitimate birth rate among blacks was 23.6%. Decades later, the problem has gotten even worse, with 70% of black children being born out of wedlock.

Washington Post columnist Colbert King wrote pointedly in a January 8th story that “teen pregnancy in the District is helping to do us in.” What he left out of his piece was most of these children are black. In 2009, the DC Child and Family Services Agency reported that of the 3,841 abused, neglected or abandoned children I nearly 76% were born to teen parents or parents who had previous children as teens. Oh, yeah and don’t look for the fathers; they are missing in action, no where to be found.

King writes it is a one way ticker to poverty “that runs through the fabric of our schools, courts, social services and the entire community.” Do we really think that a husbandless mother of four children by three different fathers living off welfare is sending her kids to school ready to learn and more importantly making sure they do their homework? No, instead these children will likely end up doing poorly in school, disrupting class or eventually dropping out no matter how many great teachers they have.

No matter what incentives you put in place teachers cannot be expected to be parents in the classroom too and that is what Ms. Rhee’s three point plan dismisses. With more than 70% of black children, 50% of Hispanic children, and 30% white children born out of wedlock in this country (Princeton-Brookings 2010 Fall Policy Brief Strengthening Fragile Families), any education reform needs to address the breakdown of the family. “Negro children without fathers flounder—and fail,” added Moynihan.

Some solutions could include mandatory comprehensive sex education and abstinence programs, yes abstinence. It’s quite obvious we have a teen pregnancy problem in this country, particularly among blacks and frankly teens shouldn’t be having sex because statistics prove they are ill-equipped to be parents. It would also seem that part of Rhee’s empowering parents and families plan would include bringing local social services agencies into educational reform plans to develop a plan to teach teen mothers how to parent and stop having babies out of wedlock. Part of this would also compel states to move people off the welfare dole after the five-year federal limit.

Moynihan predicated the breakdown of the black family among poor blacks would doom generations of blacks to the cycle of poverty. “The steady expansion of this welfare program, as of public assistance programs in general, can be taken as a measure of the steady disintegration of the Negro family structure over the past generation in the United States.” More blacks were becoming dependent on the welfare system even as unemployment dropped in 1960, 1963 and 1964.

And today blacks are more dependent on welfare than ever. Colbert King references another article about longtime DC welfare recipients, noting “Two mothers have been receiving checks for seven years. The four unmarried mothers have 16 children among them. One mother has four children fathered by three men.”

The breakdown of the low income black family affects every aspect our community, particularly crime and education. School reform (along with broader social policies) should take a lesson from Moynihan who recommended the national objective be “to strengthen the Negro family so as to enable it to raise and support its members as do other families.”

Empowering parents, as Rhee wrote, is more than “giving poor families access to publicly funded scholarships to attend private schools,” or overcrowding high-quality schools with kids who aren’t being parented. Empowering parents must absolutely include programs which demand single mothers and the fathers of their children take responsibility for being parents.

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6 Responses to “Queen of Schools, Michelle Rhee”

  1. RENAE says:

    Yes, parents need to be held responsible for raising their children. We need to stop rewarding bad behavior . The free ride needs to stop. Everyone can make a mistake but there little welfare queens are making careers out of having babies for the tax payers to have to support. Just letting this go on and on and pretending like there is nothing we can do about it, is wrong. I had three of my own, and I never earned more than $16,000 per year and I managed to raise my children on that . They graduated at the top of their class. I was a single parent {widow} and I saw that they received the education they needed. Sure we bought our clothes at Goodwill, but we survived. Too many of those unwed mothers’ children are dressed in designer clothes. My tax dollars at work, and yet most of those kids barely get through school. The author is absolutely right. Parents need to take responsibility for their own children.

  2. How do the Republicans justify continues funding for these wars and at the exact same time chop the budget from the Department of Ed?

  3. I don’t think it’s naked political calculus that’s driving Obama. I made an argument yesterday that HCR, whatever form it evolves into, will be the flagship of Obama’s legacy. It directly addresses the largest unfulfilled portion of the progressive agenda as formulated a century ago. It also frames the debate about HC such that it can no longer be avoided by fallacies…the so called free market has produced health care that consumes an unsustainable 20% or more of GNP.

  4. Dean Oudker says:

    Obama’s capitulation on the tax cuts is a craven, inexcusable, pathetic act of political cowardice that legitimizes all the left-wing whining about him that generally has been, until this point, unmerited.

  5. sb101 says:

    In what fantasy world do you live — Demanding single mothers and fathers to be responsible for their children? God saw fit to allow anyone (be they responsible or not) to have children. What you propose is totally Utopian. How many married parents are responsible for their children. I believe we all know quite a few who aren’t (Columbine, Tucson, etc.). People tend to think that: if marriage exists; there are 2 parents in the household — than you have a basis for a “good family life.” Wrong! If you don’t start out with responsible people you may end up with anything, say murderers. Sorry, but I don’t believe you have the solution although I do believe you are doing the right thing by trying.

    And as to welfare. Most states have instituted new policies to stop generational welfare recipients. In many jurisdictions, after being in the system for 5 years, you lose financial assistance, which means you MUST find a job to help support you and your family. Of course, you may still receive medical care and food stamps — to stop these as well would, in my mind, be unconscionable. But does this lead to blacks being reliant on the state, I think not. There are so many other variables that I feel are much more important, you simply jumped on the bandwagon of those who pick these two issues (single parents and welfare) as causing so many of the problems black people face today — I don’t agree. Besides as always there are so many, many more whites on the welfare rolls (and always have been) than blacks — what does that tell you about whites?

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