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.