- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

Whenever D.C. lawmakers talk of instituting this or that program to help the have-nots, it is essentially an admission that they have failed to meet one of their principal responsibilities, which is to have a well-functioning public-school system.

The social pathologies that haunt the city all start with a school system that is found to be derelict in its duties year after year. Oh, there is always plenty of get-tough talk. There is always another vow to reform what is broken. And there is always another new face promising to lead the system out of its eternal dysfunction. But in the end, incompetence trumps good ideas.

The system’s self-preservation mechanism is aided and abetted by an explosion of out-of-wedlock births the past generation. Somewhere along the way, America’s intellectuals and loony-left element decided that women raising children on their own was not such a bad thing. In fact, maybe it was a good thing, men being almost unnecessary and certainly barbaric, as Sally Field would attest.

Men have gladly gone along with the new social order, eschewing their parental role while moving on to other feminine charms. Too many women are no longer the civilizing force of men. The result has not been pretty, with a woman sometimes being the single parent of three children with three different fathers.

This is what is being dumped on the city’s public-school system today — children coming from less-than-favorable circumstances. They are short on money, short on material goods and short on male role models, unless you are inclined to count the neighborhood drug peddler.

The public-school system cannot change the influences of the street. It cannot serve as a surrogate parent. It cannot be with the child in the evening hours to check on the progress of his homework assignments.

But the public-school system at least can meet the basic requirements of its mission. Money is not the problem. The city’s per-pupil expenditure is the third-highest in the nation. Good intentions are not the issue. Everyone agrees that the system is unacceptable, deplorable. The problem with the system is that it is invested in the status quo.

The public-school system wants to be worthy, but it does not have the coldness of heart to do what is necessary. It does not have the heart to close neighborhood elementary schools with tiny enrollments. It does not have the heart to fire indifferent teachers.

And even when the system sees an opportunity to combine two elementary schools with small enrollments into one, the neighborhood that is slated to lose its school goes into activist mode to keep it open.

As far as the system purging itself of the unmotivated in its employ, that is just not nice. Even incompetent employees have an inalienable right to a paycheck. It is written in the Constitution, as you know.

And so, every few years, the public-school system goes through the tedium of rearranging its deck, only to discover that its fourth-graders scored the lowest in the nation in reading and math, as the 2007 Nation’s Report revealed this week.

You wonder how these fourth-graders will be faring in 10 to 12 years. You wonder how many will be wards of the state or on the dole. You wonder how many will be the single parents of three children by three different men.

It is not the job of the public-school system to save these children. But it is the job of the system to give them a chance.

However it goes down for the victims of the city’s public-school system, there will be lawmakers in the future ready to implement another program to address the problems. The lawmakers cannot get it right with their youngest and most vulnerable residents. But you are supposed to trust they can get it right after the youngest and most vulnerable grow up to become a bane on society.

It makes perfect sense.

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