OPINION | In Response to Ugly “Progressive” Hokum


It’s more than fair and accurate to say educators, politicians and others on the left have had much more to do in conceiving educational policy and running inner-city schools than have educators, politicians and others of the right over the last two generations and more.  And how have low-income and minority boys and girls fared over this lengthy and pivotal period?  The only fair and accurate answer is terribly.

With that as the quickest of backdrops, you may have read about how a “progressive” group at the University of Colorado called the National Education Policy Center recently bestowed one of its annual “Bunkum Awards” on Center of the American Experiment for what they describe as our “truly dreadful educational research.”  More specifically, NEPC didn’t like a brilliant 125-page paper by Senior Fellow Kathy Kersten, released by American Experiment in January 2012, titled Our Immense Achievement Gap: Embracing Proven Remedies While Avoiding a Race-Based Recipe for Disaster.  Foaming at the mouth, they announced Kathy’s study had won the “Scary Black Straw Man” award, with a publicist adding that American Experiment sounds like “they run Lester Maddox’s education department.” 

Joining us, by the way, in NEPC’s victory circle are the Friedman Center on Educational Choice, Public Agenda (founded by Daniel Yankelovich and Cyrus Vance), and the Brookings Institution.  Not bad company.

Beyond having the manners of a slug, NEPC appears to be the perfect champions of the very same “progressive” policies that Kathy, once again, has convincingly shown to be hurting boys and girls in need of greatest help.  All of which is to say, American Experiment takes great pride in having so offended such a group. 

We’re also pleased that all of this affords us another opportunity to promote and share Kathy’s detailed paper which, among other things, warns Minnesotans of what’s known in the trade as an “adequacy lawsuit”:  a legal strategy which, if it were to succeed in court, would wind up costing the State of Minnesota countless millions of dollars without – repeat,without – helping the very students whose name the lawsuit would have been brought in the first place.  To read Our Immense Achievement Gap (with its concise Executive Summary) link here.  To read what Kathy wrote last year when NCEP first criticized her paper, link here.  And to read portions of what Kathy more recently wrote to a Minnesota journalist when NCEP pulled its Lester Maddox stunt, read immediately below:

NEPC – an advocacy rather than academically legitimate organization if there ever was one – clearly doesn’t understand the law and what’s happening in the real world of adequacy lawsuits.  It’s “reviewers” say that my report is fundamentally flawed because it reaches apocalyptic conclusions based on an analysis of “voluntary” state education programs.

Really?  Ask the many state governments that have been the target of adequacy lawsuits – lawsuits being decidedly non-voluntary exercises – whether these suits have produced anything but large tax bills.  Advocates of such lawsuits can’t point to a single state where one has produced any material improvement in the academic performance of low-income and minority students.  (See pp. 92-93 of my “shoddy” report.)  Today in New Jersey, for example, low-income districts like Asbury Park and Camden spend up to $30,000 per child per year.  The New Jersey adequacy suit that compelled this astronomical spending prompted the largest sales and income tax hike in the state’s history.  Yet New Jersey’s black students still score essentially the same on the National Assessment of Academic Progress as they did 20 years ago.

In Colorado, home of the National Center for Educational Policy, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, in 2011, denounced the decidedly “non-voluntary” result of the Lobato vs. Colorado adequacy suit, and declared that the trial court’s ruling had the potential to bankrupt the state and to lead to huge cuts in Medicaid and higher education spending.  Or as Colorado’s Attorney General put it:

After years of court-ordered funding decisions and little, if any, discernible increase in student outcomes, it is not how much money is spent that matters but how the money is spent.  Indeed, this lawsuit is one in a long line of educational “adequacy” cases, and the result of this national experiment is tragic.  (See p. 88 of my report.)  

When it comes to soberly and effectively addressing immense achievement gaps in Minnesota and the nation, Kathy Kersten is one of a relatively few researchers and writers across the country who avoids the siren song of supposedly enlightened educational policies and instead looks hard at their miserable failures.  These are policies that undermine academic success, minority mobility, and the right of all families – especially the most disadvantaged families – to have real options in choosing where their children might do best in school.   Kathy has consistently been willing to say that the emperors of our education establishment have no clothes.

A final word:  Who the hell is NEPC to accuse anybody of racial obtuseness or anything of the sort?  Its most recent awards were announced by a University of Colorado at Boulder faculty member named Kevin Welner.  Professor Welner, it might be noted, wasn’t nearly as offended when one of his former colleagues, Ward Churchill, described many of the Americans killed on 9/11 as “little Eichmanns.”  As a former professor at U of C, Churchill was protected by academic freedom to say or write almost anything he liked.  But as fully documented, he wasn’t merely a foul mouth he was a full-fledged academic fraud.  Nevertheless he had a defender in Welner.

Welner, Churchill and their ilk like to throw around epithets comparing American victims of terrorism to Nazi war criminals and critics of the “progressive” educational status quo to last-gasp defenders of segregation.  But they have nothing of substance to say about the plight of poor and minority students in our schools today, because their “solutions” have been tried and have failed.  It is more than a stretch for people who would consign another generation of poor and minority children to failure in service of a failed ideology to call those who seek real solutions “racists.”  Yet, that is the point to which the NEPCs of this world have brought our political discourse.  Shame on them.