- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

Two recently released studies had some sobering news for everyone — not just for the black community — because what happens there has tremendous implications for the rest of society.

First, an Urban Institute study found the national graduation rate is 68 percent. But blacks, Hispanics and American Indians are graduating at a rate of only 51 percent. Then a study was released by the nonprofit Community Service Society showing that in New York City last year, nearly half of working-age black men were unemployed.

This news should have a bracing effect, because the studies point up a major, underlying problem in America. While the NAACP and other civil rights organizations have invested tremendous effort in opposing affirmative action and school vouchers, they have not provided solutions for the real problem: Minority children are not prepared to compete in higher education. The civil rights groups want to lower the bar rather than work on the root causes of the problem.

Some will say the Urban Institute study shows racism is the cause of poor education. But why are children failing in schools run by their own people?

Some people also will say more money is needed for public education and that inner-city schools with black or Hispanic populations do not receive enough funding. But D.C. public schools rank at the top in the nation in per pupil expenditures, but have almost the worst outcomes in literacy, graduation rates and other measures of the educational system.

Black culture has been polluted by the race grievance industry, which works to exempt young people from personal responsibility. It tells them they are victims and not responsible for their problems and therefore need not work at education.

Parents in the black community cannot be exempted from responsibility. In Montgomery County, Md., where my children went to school, we often would see only one or two black parents at school functions or meetings with teachers. But if the kids were failing, parents would turn out in masses to protest at school board meetings. Some of us are better at protesting than participating.

Another factor is the structural disincentive against good education. There seem to be few if any incentives for being a successful teacher or administrator, and few if any penalties for failure in public education. Jaime Escalante, whose classroom success was lionized in the film “Stand and Deliver,” demonstrated low-income children in dysfunctional communities could excel. But no one studied and copied the model.

There should be 300 Jaime Escalante classes or 300 schools that use the same principles employed by Marva Collins, whose teaching results in Chicago became the basis for a CBS movie.

Another serious problem is violence in our public schools, which makes nearly impossible for young people to learn. The National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise has mounted a unique project in Dallas, Texas, where former gang members whose lives have been transformed take part in a program to stop violence in several of Dallas’ troubled violent schools.

The former gang members serve as hall monitors and mentors, and they resolve conflicts and counsel young people not to make destructive mistakes in their lives.

At Madison High School in Dallas, attendance rose 93 percent as a result of this Violence-Free Zone program. In three years, test scores improved nearly 20 percent. Reading improved more than 13 percent. Mathematics test scores went up 23 percent. And violent incidents per year declined 20 percent.

It is time for the black community to call a moratorium on talking about what white folks did or did not do for us. Instead of focusing on external factors, we need an internal agenda. That agenda must include better education, better preparation and instilling personal responsibility. That is the only way the dismal statistics can be changed.


Mr. Woodson is president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

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