Undermining Academic Achievement in America

Written by Walter E. Williams

According to The Nation’s Report Card, only 37 percent of American 12th-graders were proficient in reading in 2015, and just 25 percent were proficient in math (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov). For black students, achievement levels were a disgrace.

Nationally, 17 percent of black students scored proficient in reading, and 7 percent scored proficient in math. In some cities, such as Detroit, black academic proficiency is worse; among eighth-graders, only 4 percent were proficient in math, and only 7 percent were proficient in reading.

The nation’s high-school graduation rate rose again in the 2014-15 school year, reaching a record high as more than 83 percent of students earned a diploma on time. Educators see this as some kind of achievement and congratulate themselves. The tragedy is that high-school graduation has little relevance to achievement.

In 2014-15, graduation rates at District of Columbia Public Schools, just as they did nationally, climbed to an all-time high. At H.D. Woodson High School, 76 percent of students graduated on time; however, just 1 percent met math standards on national standardized tests linked to the Common Core academic standards. Just 4 percent met the reading standards.

The low black academic achievement is not restricted to high-school graduates of D.C. schools. The average black high-school graduate has the academic achievement level of a white seventh- or eighth-grader. As such, it stands as unambiguous evidence that high schools confer diplomas attesting that students can read, write and compute at a 12th-grade level when in fact they cannot. That means they have received fraudulent high-school diplomas. There are many factors that affect education that educators cannot control. But they have total control over the issuance of a diploma.

Educators often complain that there’s not enough money. Census Bureau data show that as early as 2009-10, Washington, D.C., spent $29,409 per pupil (http://tinyurl.com/gp4ht8k). Starker proof that there’s little relationship between spending and academic proficiency is in the case of Detroit’s public schools. In 2009-10, the nation’s elementary and secondary public school systems spent an average of $10,615 per pupil. According to the Census Bureau, Detroit schools spent $12,801 per pupil. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy claims that Detroit actually spent $15,570 per pupil that year. There’s not much payoff for education dollars. The National Institute for Literacy found that 47 percent of the city’s adults are “functionally illiterate.” The Nation’s Report Card reports that Detroit students score the lowest among the nation’s big-city schools, and Washington is not far behind.

I’d ask U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer how it would be possible for Secretary of Education DeVos to make education any worse than it is for many Americans. I’d suggest to Rep. Richmond that if the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan were the secretary of education and wanted to sabotage black academic achievement, he couldn’t find a better method for doing so than keeping our public school system as it is. Many black politicians and educators would never have their own children attend the rotten, dangerous schools that are so much a part of our big cities. Many black parents, captured by these schools, would like to get their children out. But that’s not in the interest of the education establishment, which wants a monopoly on education. Black politicians and academics are the establishment’s facilitators. That explains their hostility to Betsy DeVos. She would like to give more parents a choice.


Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Read more at walterewilliams.com

Comments (1)

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    Jerry L Krause


    Hi Walter,

    John E. Roueche, University of Texas–Austin, was a staff development speaker at Hibbing Community College, Hibbing, MN in the mid-1970’s. (I do not remember the exact year). One of his messages was that his research showed that if college student could not read at a level within two grade levels of the college course, the student would fail in any college course requiring reading. So, he stressed the need for the college to test the students’ reading levels and not allow students to enroll in such courses which required reading before they had elevated their reading skills (in non-credit remedial reading courses) to the required level to have a chance of success. But the real startling statistic was that nearly 50% of the students entering Cal-Berkeley, with near 4 point averages from high school, had to take such remedial course because it had been found that students with such reading deficiencies could not pass Berkeley’s required English composition course.

    So it is hard to deny there was a lack of learning standards in elementary and secondary schools a long, long time ago and that it was not limited to intercity students or to black students.

    Today, it seems John E. Roueche is still fighting the battle: The AACC (American Association of Community College) John E. Roueche Future Leaders Institute, or Roueche-FLI, is an innovative leadership seminar designed for mid-level community college administrators who look to be leaders in their current positions or are ready to move into a higher level of leadership. The next AACC Roueche – FLI is scheduled to take place from June 25 – 28, 2017 in Washington, DC.

    Have a good day, Jerry

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