- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

For eight long years, we heard Bill Clinton use overheated rhetoric about "the children." Nearly everything the man did centered on making things better for "our kids." The billions he allowed in his budget for public school education were supposed to help American school children learn better, strive higher and acquire academic skills that would assure their futures. Mr. Clinton was particularly interested in helping poor and minority kids. He talked and talked and talked about his concern for them. And now the report card is in and all the talking has stopped.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress organization, 60 percent of poor children who attended the fourth grade last year can barely read. They achieved a "below basic" score on standardized tests. For black fourth-graders, the results are even worse: 63 percent of them scored "below basic."
This news comes on the heels of a Department of Education audit that shows under President Clinton at least $450 million dollars in federal educational funding was either wasted or turned up missing. Mr. Clintons education secretary, former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley, has not explained how this could have happened. Indeed, when I called his office, his secretary told me he was driving back to Greenville and would be "unavailable" for the foreseeable future.
But current Education Secretary Roderick Paige is available and has been quoted as saying, "After spending $125 billion of Title I money over 25 years, we have virtually nothing to show for it."
Title I, by the way, is the federal educational funding program that lasers federal dollars to poor schools, primarily in the inner cities.
If you study recent history and do some basic analysis, none of this should come as any surprise. President Clinton was the governor of Arkansas for eight years, and that states educational standing rocketed from 49th to 49th, despite the fact that now-Sen. Hillary Clinton was overseeing the educational landscape. And South Carolina, under Gov. Riley, was just one notch up from Arkansas. Only Mississippi fared worse.
So it makes perfect sense that Bill Clinton would appoint Mr. Riley to run the Department of Education, since he did such a stellar job in South Carolina. I mean, he was better than Gov. Clinton, for crying out loud.
This whole thing makes me nauseous. We are an Oprah nation nowadays talk, talk, talk. Mr. Clinton talked a real good game, but he had no clue how to improve the public schools. So, like most other politicians, he threw huge amounts of taxpayer dollars at the problem, and still most poor kids cannot read. Disgraceful.
The real solution to public school education in America is something Mr. Clinton could never understand: discipline. Under no circumstances should any American student be promoted out of the second grade unable to read. If a kid cannot read by age 10, that kid is in desperate trouble. If a public school student is unable to master the ABCs, then the child should be kept back. If the kid still cant do it on the second go around, he must be put in special, intensive classes apart from the mainstream.
Now you would think the African-American community would be outraged that so many black kids are falling behind so quickly. You would think Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would be demanding an explanation from Bill Clinton and Richard Riley. But not a peep from two of the most loquacious men on the planet. No way they are going to criticize the nations first "black president."
Hey, reverends, you want to know what racism really is? Failing to demand those poor, black students be taught to read thats racism. These kids have no chance at all in life if the school system cannot teach them to recognize words on paper.
So where are the demonstrations against the inefficient and possibly corrupt Education Department under President Clinton? Where are the so-called leaders of the poor and disadvantaged on this issue?
The statistics on the reading skills are very easy to read. They are extremely troubling for all Americans who value fairness in our society. The hard truth is that the public school system in the United States is failing the children that need it the most.
And you can read that statement and weep.

Bill OReilly is a nationally syndicated columnist and is host of the Fox News show, "The OReilly Factor."


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