Racial preferences help offset the inequities in K-12 education that teachers unions have created.
by Allysia Finley, The Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2022
You almost have to admire the chutzpah of the teachers unions. Even as they fight to keep poor minority kids trapped in failing public schools, they plead that racial preferences in college admissions are necessary to compensate for these students’ inferior K-12 education. High-achieving Asian-American and white students must be discriminated against to make up for the educational “privileges” that unions deny minorities.
That’s the argument advanced by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers in their friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Harvard and the University of North Carolina in cases the Supreme Court will hear on Monday concerning the legality of racial preferences. “Our schools, from K-12 to higher education, still struggle to provide equitable opportunities for students of color,” the NEA laments.
No argument there—but whose fault is that? Perhaps the gravest injustice of our time is the imprisonment of minority kids in substandard public schools. Students’ dismal scores on the Nation’s Report Card last week provided another reminder.
In Illinois 36% of white eighth-graders were rated proficient or better in math, which isn’t anything to brag about. But figures were only 14% for Hispanics and 8% for blacks. Similar or even wider gaps were found in other cities and states. In Los Angeles, 62% of whites scored proficient or higher in fourth-grade reading, compared with only 18% of blacks and 16% of Hispanics.
Unions blame these disparities on racism. “Racial minorities are disadvantaged in the United States—not only by the persistence of de facto segregation in schools—but by overt racial violence and coordinated efforts to stifle recognition of the nation’s shameful history of racial oppression,” says the NEA in its brief, citing state laws that limit the instruction of critical race theory and the “1619 Project.”
According to the leftist narrative, white parents enroll their kids in private schools—or move to the suburbs—because they don’t want to live near or send their kids to school with blacks and Hispanics. This is confused. Middle-class parents aren’t trying to escape minorities; they’re trying to escape awful public schools.
Most poorer parents also probably don’t want to send their kids to low-performing neighborhood public schools. But many don’t have a choice. Unions have relentlessly fought vouchers, charter schools and other school-choice programs that would expand educational options and thus threaten their monopoly.
As for why urban public schools are so awful, unions again blame racism and say they don’t get as much funding as wealthier schools. But states typically equalize per pupil funding across school districts, and many give more money to poorer ones. The District of Columbia spends $7,000 more per pupil than nearby Loudoun County, Va.
The real culprits are union collective-bargaining agreements and state laws that put teachers unions’ interests ahead of students’. Unions are strongest in big cities and blue states, where they have an unholy alliance with Democratic politicians. They’re able to write rules to protect bad teachers from being removed and good ones from being rewarded. They don’t believe in meritocracy for students or teachers.
Schools typically grant tenure to teachers after two or three years, which makes it virtually impossible to fire bad or lazy ones. Less than 1 in 50,000 California teachers are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or poor performance. A teacher normally would have to commit an egregious crime such as molesting a student to get fired—and even then, teachers’ contractual job protections and the school’s administrative process make dismissal difficult.
Former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy testified in a lawsuit last decade challenging these job protections that it took as long as 10 years and $250,000 to $450,000 to fire an ineffective teacher. School districts usually don’t want to bother, so they rotate poor performers around low-income schools where parents are less likely to complain. Administrators call this the “dance of the lemons.”
Union contracts and state laws also typically require budgetary layoffs to be based on seniority. Less experienced teachers are more likely to be assigned to schools in lower-income neighborhoods since they have more open positions owing to higher staff attrition, but then they are also most likely to get laid off. The result is that lower-income schools are filled with less experienced teachers.
At the same time, administrators at more affluent schools are more likely to fill open positions with higher-quality teachers. Yet lower-income schools can’t recruit higher-performing teachers by offering them higher pay since labor contracts base salaries on years of experience. Teachers unions have devised an education system that ensures poor minority kids don’t succeed.
It thus requires enormous gall for AFT boss Randi Weingarten to lecture the court that “ensuring equal access to educational opportunities is a compelling state interest” and “society benefits when educational opportunities are widely accessible.” Why does she fight so hard to keep minority kids down?
Teachers unions back racial preferences in college admissions to offset the inequities in K-12 education they have created and ease the political pressure for reform. It’s an outrage in which Harvard and other colleges are complicit.