Forget politics for a moment.
The most alarming headline on any topic appeared on the Daily Caller website recently and it read: “Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams: Public school system a bigger threat to blacks than the Klan.”
Williams, a professor of economics, was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s radio show recently and interviewed Sowell, also a professor of economics, about education in America.
That’s when Williams said: “If I were the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and I wanted to sabotage any opportunity for black academic excellence, I could not think of a better means for doing so than the public education establishment in most of our cities.”
Sowell agree: “Absolutely. We've reached a point where the Klan can't do much to stop us (African Americans) but our " ‘friends’ can do a lot to stop us.” An apparent reference to teachers’ unions and their liberals who oppose school reforms.
Sowell and Williams are right. And in the last month the crisis in public education for poor and minority children has become even more desperate.
Since February of this year the Department of Education began granting waivers to states from the NCLB requirements in exchange for promises from the states to improve student evaluation and preparation.
As of this week more than half of all states have obtained waivers with 26 states holding NCLB waivers from the Department of Education. Other waiver applications are still pending for10 states and the District of Columbia.
Now that more than half of the states in the union are exempt from the law, there will be even less pressure for Congress to reauthorize and enact much needed reforms to NCLB before the end of the year.
The Obama administration is trying a different approach. Under their “Race to the Top” plan they offer incentives – money -- for better performance by schools. But that program is limited to a few states. NCLB was nationwide.
Because of these waivers, there will be less accountability nationally for the teachers, administrators and educational bureaucrats who are failing to educate our kids – despite having had ten years to get their act together.
The collapse of the public education system has had dire consequences for children of all races. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam, a political scientist, recently told the Aspen Ideas Festival that young, working class Americans are right to be “cynical and even paranoid for virtually all our major social institutions have failed them – family, friends, church, school and community.”
Those failures, including single mothers, family breakdown, and bad schools – are most pronounced in minority communities.
Fewer than half of the nation’s black and Hispanic students graduate --on time -- from high school compared to thirty percent of high school students across all races drop out and never graduate.
In the New York City public school system -- which has one of the nation’s most powerful teachers’ unions -- only 60 percent of black students and 59 percent of Hispanic students graduated from high school on time last year.
What kind of message are we sending to our children when there are no consequences for failure and no rewards for success in our education system?
Where are the waivers for poor black children from a future of poverty, government dependency and crime because the public education system failed them?
It was over a decade ago when President George W. Bush spoke about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for minority students. One of his signature accomplishments was passing the “No Child Left Behind Act.”
Under that law, for the first time, federal education funding became tied to student performance. They idea was to improve education through teacher and school accountability. The goal of NCLB was to require that all American students were proficient in math and reading standardized test scores by 2014.
I have long argued that the mainstream media has a liberal bias when it comes to selecting who will “speak” for the African American community on social and political issues.
Whenever a major metropolitan newspaper or broadcast network wants to know what black people are thinking, they invariably turn to the usual liberal supporters of the teachers’ unions, most notably the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
How different our discourse and our politics would be if they gave as much weight to brilliant black conservatives like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former transportation Secretary William Coleman and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? Or Tom Sowell and Walter Williams?
Instead, these accomplished men and women are dismissed as racial tokens and inauthentic “Uncle Toms.”
As Professor Sowell said “Wherever blacks or anybody else wants to go in life, they can only get to there from where they are…so (speaking) the truth is absolutely the key to any hope of advancement.”
The big truth is that education will not improve unless and until people of good will speak out. They need to speak out more loudly, in greater numbers and without concern for the names they will be called or political retribution from the unions.
By using their platform on Rush Limbaugh radio show to speak out Sowell and Williams put themselves in the front ranks of this generation’s most important civil rights issue: education reform.
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.