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Latest scores debunk revanchist education myth

When you use this fact to dismantle a common argument made by defenders of Soviet-style education, kindly do so.

Apologists for school systems that resist reform, kowtow to unions and other special interests that owe more fealty to adults than children, and who blame everything but themselves for failing schools, often try to defend their failure by arguing they can’t do better because of the kind of bulk product – children – they have to work with. Frequently, the excuse takes two forms: minority children (read: black or Hispanic but not Asian) are more difficult to educate well because of the cultural environments their community historically has faced or even continues to deal with today, and/or poverty creates difficult learning conditions.

Worse, the two things interact and only dramatic solutions involving much greater spending on education and wealth redistribution outside of education policy can solve for that, it is asserted. Thus, poor performance largely is out of the hands of school districts and therefore exempts present systemic practices and policy from blame.

But how does that explain some information gleaned from Louisiana’s latest batch of district accountability results? Leading the way, for the 14th straight year – every year tracked – is the Zachary Community School System. The system for the municipality of around 14,000 has one school for each couple of grade levels until reaching its sole high school – and has a majority black student enrollment.

True, but it doesn’t have a lot in the way of poverty. Estimates in 2017 figured only 6.8 percent of households in poverty, while the city sported a median household income of nearly $80,000 annually. Contrast this with nearby Baton Rouge, with an income about $23,000 lower and rate over 10 percent higher, where the parish school district ended up in the bottom fifth.

Then what about St. Bernard Parish schools? Its rate is right about at Baton Rouge’s and its income a couple of thousands of dollars lower. Yet it performs in the top 20 of districts, almost 40 places higher than EBRPSS.

In fact, St. Bernard performs even better than it did right before the hurricane disasters of 2005, which wiped out its school infrastructure. It has gone up an equivalent of a rating level and several places among other districts. In that way, it mirrors Orleans, which carried essentially a failing grade back then and ranked second-worst, but now outperforms EBR.

Orleans also saw major challenges after the storms, which resulted in a complete overhaul of how the district operated, including jettisoning district-wide collective bargaining. As for hidebound EBR, its performance has slipped relative to its peers.

While certainly socioeconomic factors play into education, these qualitative data affirm that the differing cultural values assigned to education across the SES spectrum don’t nearly determine outcomes to the degree the educational revanchists claim. Policies aimed at empowering students and their families, not bureaucrats and unions, can make a significant difference in educational achievement.

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