Sowell asks a key question about education’s purpose

Thomas Sowell devotes his latest column to a question that ought to have an obvious answer: Are schools places to provide jobs for teachers or education for students?

We pay a lot of lip service to educational excellence. But too many institutions and individuals that have produced good educational results for minority students have not only failed to get support, but have even been undermined.

A recent example on the west coast is a charter school operation in Oakland called the American Indian Model Schools. The high school part of this operation has been ranked among the best high schools in the nation. Its students’ test scores rank first in its district and fourth in the state of California.

But the California State Board of Education announced plans to shut down this charter school — immediately. Its students would have had to attend inferior public schools this September, except that a challenge in court stopped this sudden shutdown.

Why such a hurry to take drastic action? Because of a claim of financial improprieties against the charter schools’ founder and former head, Ben Chavis. …

… If it seems strange that there would be a vendetta against an educator who has defied the education establishment and thereby improved the education of minority students, the fact is that Ben Chavis is only the latest in a long line of educators who have done just that — and aroused animosity, and even vindictiveness, as a result.

Washington’s former public school head, Michelle Rhee, raised test scores in that city’s school system and was demonized by the education establishment and politicians. She has left.

Years ago, high school math teacher Jaime Escalante, whose success in teaching Mexican American students was celebrated in the movie “Stand and Deliver,” was eventually hounded out of Garfield High School in Los Angeles. Yet, while he was there, about one-fourth of all Mexican American students — in the entire country — who passed Advanced Placement Calculus came from that one school.

Marva Collins, who established a very successful private school for black children in Chicago, doing so on a shoestring, was likewise the target of hostility when she was a dedicated teacher in the public schools.

Other examples could be cited of educators who produced outstanding results for minority students — in New York, Houston and other places — and faced the wrath of the education establishment, which sees schools as places to provide jobs for teachers, rather than education for students, and which will not tolerate challenges to its politically correct dogmas.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...