In his speech Wednesday morning at the NAACP convention in Houston, Mitt Romney threw a spotlight on the rampant educational inequality facing the nation’s black schoolchildren. The presumptive Republican nominee for president noted:
If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, black families could send their sons and daughters to public schools that truly offer the hope of a better life. Instead, for generations, the African-American community has been waiting and waiting for that promise to be kept. Today, black children are 17 percent of students nationwide — but they are 42 percent of the students in our worst-performing schools.
Our society sends them into mediocre schools and expects them to perform with excellence, and that is not fair.
The achievement gap between white and minority students is likewise appalling, with only 17 percent of fourth-grade black students proficient in reading compared to 44 percent of white students.
Despite the persistence of poor results, most liberals continue to fight policies, such as school choice, that would open wide the doors of educational opportunity.
Case in point: the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. DCOSP provides scholarships to low-income students in Washington, D.C. so that they may attend private schools instead of failing public schools. Rigorous evaluations have validated the program’s success: Over 90 percent of DCOSP students graduate high school, compared to 70 percent of their peers from similar backgrounds who remain in D.C. public schools
Yet President Obama has attempted to eliminate the program at every turn. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus likewise actively oppose it. Despite the high demand from D.C. families — and most of the scholarship recipients are black – these policymakers stand in the way of poor kids succeeding in better schools of their parents’ choice.
We see similar patterns of opposition in other states, as liberals fight to block school-choice programs. Fortunately, many states have been able to move past the opposition from well-connected government teachers’ unions. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican who spearheaded education reform in his state earlier this year, put it plainly:
Every child deserves an equal opportunity in education. . . . The current system is unacceptable and unfair. Parents and kids should not be trapped in a failing school because of their zip code, income, gender, or color. Every child has a right to an excellent education. That’s the promise of America.
Liberals’ efforts to improve education stand on the same tired policies that Washington has attempted for years: more programs, more government spending, more centralization. Decade after decade, these attempts have failed.
And so, Romney told the NAACP conferees:
When it comes to education reform, candidates cannot have it both ways — talking up education reform, while indulging the same groups that are blocking reform. You can be the voice of disadvantaged public-school students, or you can be the protector of special interests like the teachers’ unions, but you can’t be both.
Now, Americans in greater numbers are turning to parental choice in education as a better alternative. Educational opportunity is gaining support step by step, as more states enact programs.
But as Romney said in Houston, America won’t fully realize the goal until every family — regardless of racial or economic background — has the freedom to choose the school that best meets their child’s needs.
— Rachel Sheffield, a research associate in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, is co-author of the paper “Understanding Poverty in the United States.”