The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

August 5, 2013

Marta Mossburg, columnist: Time to sue for school choice

— States long ago disowned eugenics. Some have made formal apologies. North Carolina last week became the first state to announce it will compensate victims. It set aside $10 million to pay those who are still alive from a group of about 7,600 people sterilized for being deemed mentally or socially unfit from 1929 to 1974. Nationally, about 60,000 people were sterilized from 1907 to the 1970s, many in mental facilities and correctional institutions.

That such a brutal practice continued for so long and in so many states is shocking. Thankfully, that is over, barring a recent report that tubal ligations were performed on dozens of inmates without proper consent in California.

But every state in the nation continues to practice via its public school establishment mental sterilizations that should be just as shocking as once commonly accepted eugenics and are primarily aimed at poor, minority children.

As Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) asked Tuesday at a forum on school choice in Washington, “We got rid of the draft, but why do we still have pupil assignments?”

Those pupil assignments often mean those with the least ability to attend a good school are forced into ones where they can’t learn by design and emerge four years later without basic reading, writing and math skills and the character necessary to find and keep a job and contribute to society.

The schools where these children are assigned are the ones where disruptive and violent students are not kicked out, where dropping out is the norm, where students are promoted to the next grade regardless of ability and where those who want to learn are socially marginalized.

They are the schools like the one that Rachel Jeantel attended. She is the witness in the Trayvon Martin trial who said she cannot read cursive. Increasingly, she is not an anomaly, but the new normal. Watch “Waiting for Superman,” the 2010 documentary that asks the question of how U.S. taxpayers could spend so much for so little, to learn more about how the public school establishment is permanently rigged against students by the teachers unions and their abettors in public office.

Here is some more information: The U.S. ranks 17th in the world for its educational performance despite spending an average of about $11,000 per pupil. Top-ranked Finland spends $1,000 less per student. Japan and South Korea, both ranked higher than the U.S., spend significantly less per child. In the nation’s capital, the school system spends almost $19,000 per child and has a 55 percent graduation rate. Not that graduation rates matter when those who reach that threshold can’t read or write. On top of that, the remediation rate for colleges has been skyrocketing in the past decade and tops 50 percent at many two- and four-year institutions, meaning students in those classes must take out loans to pay to learn material that should have been covered in high school.

The good news is that there is a way out of the intellectual trough: School choice. And Washington is one of the leading examples of how it works. The District has a thriving public charter school community whose schools can’t accept a fraction of the number of children who would like to attend. Student performance at those schools keeps rising and is well above the average for math and reading at traditional public schools in the District. And poor students who received an Opportunity Scholarship to attend the school of their choice had a 97 percent graduation rate for the 2012-2013 school year. Over 91 percent of scholarship students who graduated are going on to a two- or four-year college.

Those kinds of results change lives and will also, eventually, change the culture to one that values student performance over the system.

I recommend class action lawsuits against the public school establishment to hasten school choice knowing there is not enough money in the world to compensate generations of students for diminishing their lives along with our communities and economy. But unless the U.S. wants to become an educational Detroit, it’s worth trying.

Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about Maryland, where she lives. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.

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