Busing opposition is not racist

School busing is in the news as a result of the first presidential debate (“There’s a Reason We Don’t Say ‘Integration’ Anymore” The New York Times, Jul. 9). Once again those who criticize busing are depicted as racists.  I don’t agree.

In the late 1970s, the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I taught for my entire 28-year career, began forced busing after court attempts to block it failed.  Although most parents were not fans of the policy, they were willing to give it a chance in the interest of fairness.  But it soon became evident that students who were bused in brought with them huge deficits in academic achievement and socialization.

Teachers were forced to jettison lesson plans that had worked so well in the past to design new ones to meet the needs and interests of bused-in students.  Parents complained that the quality of instruction suffered to the point that their children were bored to tears.  As a result, they began to pull their children out and enroll them in private or religious schools.

At no time did I see evidence that their decision was racially motivated.  They just were concerned that their children were being shortchanged.  I don’t blame them.  How many parents are willing to sacrifice their children’s education on the altar of ideology?  Recognizing the strength of the opposition, the Legislature in 1979 placed on the ballot Proposition 1, which effectively ended forced busing.

The district subsequently stepped up its efforts to promote its magnet schools.  It instituted a program known as Permits With Transportation.  The program has had notable academic success, although it has not achieved its goal of complete integration.  I still think magnet programs deserve far greater emphasis as a reasonable compromise.

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No discipline, no learning

There are many reasons why schools are persistently failing, but when students find out there are no consequences for their behavior, teachers cannot possibly teach their subject matter (“An Education Horror Show,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 8).  The latest example is Providence, where only 5 percent of eight-graders on average scored proficient in math between the 2015 and 2017 school years.  That compares with 21.3 percent in Newark, where students have similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

In fact, the longer that students remain in Providence schools, the lower their performance drops, according to a 93-page report by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy.  Why that is so will be the source of heated debates in the months ahead.  But I submit that the lack of discipline is the No. 1 factor.  Students in Providence schools terrorize teachers in ways that are shocking.  For example, one teacher was choked by a student in front of the entire class and yet that student was not expelled.

I attribute the situation to the student-rights revolution of the 1960s that effectively undermined the concept of in loco parentis.  When I started teaching in 1964, teachers were authority figures.  Students who misbehaved were subject to suspensions and expulsion, depending on the severity of their behavior.  But once the U.S. Supreme Court held in Goss v. Lopez in 1975 that students had the right to due process, the authority of teachers was severely crippled.  It was further weakened in 1976 when the high court decided in Wood v. Strickland that if teachers knowingly violated students’ due-process rights, they could be held personally liable for financial damages.

I’m not saying that factors outside of school have not contributed to the present situation.  But without order, teachers cannot possibly teach their subject matter.  I see little hope for things changing in this regard because reformers persist in blaming racism for the failure of students to learn.

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Racism is not the cause of failing schools

The cause of unequal outcomes in public schools has been the subject of a litany of studies over the decades, the most famous being the Coleman Report that was published in 1966.  Despite its finding that the quality of schools has little influence on the difference in average achievement between black and white students, some educators maintain that the root of the problem is “inherent bias” in the school system (“Carranza has no plan at all for making the city’s schools do better,” the New York Post, Jul. 6).

I don’t buy that claim.  I submit that the family backgrounds of black and white students are the reason.  Students whose parents are deeply involved in their education continue to post impressive results, regardless of their race.  Attributing differences in outcomes to racial prejudice merely deflects attention away from the hard work that needs to be done to improve education quality.

New York City, home of the nation’s largest school system, is a case in point. Instead of identifying strategies that can improve education for all students, Chancellor Richard Carranza chooses instead to cite racial bias on the part of teachers.  As evidence, he likes to point out the higher suspension rate for black and Hispanic students over white and Asian students.  But white students are suspended at a higher rate than Asian students.  Does that mean teachers are prejudiced against white students?

In the final analysis, factors outside of school play a far greater role in understanding different outcomes than Carranza and his ilk will ever admit.

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Charter schools’ built-in advantage

It’s always heartening to read that some charter schools manage to post remarkable results with disadvantaged students that traditional public schools have failed (“Entire Bronx Success Academy class aces statewide math exam,” New York Post, Jul. 2).  I have reference now to Success Academy Bronx 2 in the New York City system, where 99 percent of eighth-graders passed the New York State Algebra I Regents exam.

What makes the achievement so remarkable is that 90 percent of them qualify for a free lunch.  If poverty were indeed the cause of failing schools, then how to explain why the school was able to post such impressive results?  Part of the credit, of course, goes to their teachers.  But I submit that the No. 1 factor is that the students who were in the school are there because their parents are involved enough in their education to have applied for admission in the first place.

Compare that with the situation at traditional public schools.  All students who show up at the front door must by law be admitted, regardless of their ability or motivation.  All it takes is one miscreant to disrupt the learning of other students.  In other words, students have the right to be enrolled but not the responsibility to learn.  Teachers cannot perform miracles, no matter how competent they are in their subject.

If traditional public schools were permitted to operate like charter schools, there would be virtually no difference in outcomes.  Too bad they can’t.

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Whitewashing history shortchanges students

The decision by the San Francisco Unified School District’s board of education to spend at least $600,000 to destroy a mural painted during the Great Depression by Victor Arnautoff, an avowed Communist, points up the hypocrisy surrounding the teaching of American history (“San Francisco Spends $600,000 to Erase History,” The New York Times, Jun. 30).  Because the mural did not depict the nation’s past in the politically correct way, the board wanted to protect students.

But in doing so, the board deprives students of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills.  What students are getting is intellectual pap that makes a mockery of what a real historical education is about.  They certainly are not getting the truth from textbooks because textbooks are the product of committees composed of people with their own agendas.

Private schools have far more freedom to teach.  I’m not saying what they teach is any less tendentious.  But at least it is not subject to the same number of conflicting interests as public schools. Let young people learn the truth about our past.

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Free college is a terrible idea

Politicians are obsessed with making college free for all students (“Does Free College Work? Kalamazoo Offers Some Answers,” The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 29).  I understand the intent behind the movement, but in reality it is going to backfire.

The hard truth is that not everyone is college material.  It takes a certain IQ to handle college-level work, or at least what used to be college-level work.  Yes, grit can make a difference in overcoming intellectual deficits, but it is not enough.  Moreover, so many young people have no idea about what is involved in earning a four-year degree.  In high school they were passed from grade to grade without much effort on their part.  They think that college will be like high school in that respect.

I do not understand why we persist in the myth that a bleak future awaits those without a college degree.  What about learning a trade by attending a community college and doing an apprenticeship?  What’s wrong with enrolling in a vocational program?  Historians are going to look back at this era and wonder why we deluded ourselves.

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Teacher turnover rate wrecks continuity

It’s not surprising that 41 percent of teachers in the New York City system, the largest in the nation, quit the classroom during the first five years on the job (“City teachers fleeing New York at an alarming rate: report,” The New York Post, Jun. 25).  I say that because new teachers are totally unprepared for the realities of what they face on a daily basis.

Licensing places far too little emphasis on the challenges that new teachers deal with.  They’re given no mentors and are expected to sink or swim.  It’s a prescription for disaster.  Turnover is predictably higher in schools with large numbers of students from low-income families who bring huge deficits to the classroom.  Before teachers can begin to teach subject matter, they must perform triage.  Eventually, this wears them out and they quit.

Residency program during the year that college graduates are working on their license can help prepare them.  They’re akin to apprenticeships, where students combine classroom instruction and hands-on experience.  There will always be some turnover, but the appalling rate reported makes changes mandatory.

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How to increase diversity in elite high schools

Elite high schools have been lambasted for their lack of racial diversity. Yet there is hope.  The Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City has managed to achieve that goal while at the same time posting a 99 percent graduation rate (“ ‘Fame’ High School Principal Leaving Post After Student Protests,” The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 25).

Admission to LaGuardia is based solely on an audition, as viewers of the movie “Fame” will recall.  Applicants perform before a panel of judges.  There is no standardized written test.  For decades that policy has worked extraordinarily well.  But when the principal attempted to place greater emphasis on academics rather than on arts, she was forced to leave.

Academics are important, but LaGuardia correctly recognizes that they do not constitute the sum and substance of a student’s potential for a successful future.  The performing arts by their very nature cannot be measured by any standardized test.  That’s why auditions are used in casting for various roles.  It’s not perfect, but then again what way is?  LaGuardia deserves high praise for what it has accomplished.  It’s too bad other specialized high schools don’t follow in its footsteps.

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Uneven discipline rates warrant closer look

In the New York City school system, the nation’s largest, blacks and Hispanic students are disciplined at a higher rate than white and Asians (“Students of Color are More Likely to Be Arrested in School. That May Change.” The New York Times, Jun. 20). Based on this data alone, critics charge that racism is the reason.

But if that is indeed so, then why does the disparity persist in schools with minority principals and teachers?  Why in the world would they be prejudiced against their own kind?  I submit that a more likely explanation for the uneven rate is that the behavior of the students warrants it.

In December 2018, a federal commission on school safety agreed when it repudiated disparate-impact analysis.  In other words, just because a facially neutral policy results in different disciplinary outcomes does not mean prejudice is the reason.

During the 28 years I taught in the same high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, teachers walked on eggs when it came to disciplining black and Hispanic students. If anything, there was reverse racism.  In light of the legal ramifications, I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing exists.

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Teacher satisfaction needs clarification

Teachers in this country are satisfied with their jobs, according to the Teaching and Learning International Survey (“Teachers Around the World Say They’re Satisfied With Their Jobs,” Education Week, Jun. 19).  The only exception pertains to salaries that they say are too low.

Yet I say there is more to the issue.  I don’t believe the high teacher turnover can be attributed solely to salaries.  Teachers are faced with unprecedented demands that slowly undermine their morale.  Pressure to boost standardized test scores, meet the needs of multicultural students and practice triage for impoverished students eventually cause them to quit.

If teaching were such a plum, then why don’t the best and the brightest college graduates make the classroom a lifetime career?  Long summer vacations, guaranteed pensions and generous health benefits are not enough.

The latest evidence supporting this view is a study of teachers in the New York City system, the largest in the nation.  An appalling 41 percent quit the classroom in the first five years.  Something else besides salaries is going on because teachers in New York City are well paid and their pensions are totally free of state taxes.

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