In education, it’s family, not funding 

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Barack Obama nobly intoned, “In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.”

Not to be outdone in this “We Love Them Kiddies” melodrama, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said in the Republican response: “A child’s educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not her ZIP code.”

So both major parties are committed to even more federal meddling in the local matter of education. Taxpayers should be quaking in their boots.
 
Since 1965, when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act allowed the federal government to poke its nose into education, taxpayers have been hosed for billions of dollars that have gone to our public schools.

Have we gotten a bang for our buck? There were early indications that we most certainly weren’t, not that anybody in the federal government paid any attention.
 
In 1966, that same federal government published the Coleman Report, which surveyed 650,000 students and teachers in more than 3,000 schools. What were the conclusions?

According to the Web site www.encyclopedia.com, the Coleman Report “showed that variations in school quality [as indexed by the usual measures such as per pupil expenditure, size of school library and so on] showed little association with levels of educational attainment, when students of comparable social backgrounds were compared across schools. (Differences in students’ family backgrounds, by comparison, showed substantial association with achievement.)”

One short year after, Congress passed the ESEA, a report commissioned by the federal government concluding that funding mattered little and told Americans with common sense what they already knew when it came to a child’s education:
 
It’s the family, stupid.
 
We don’t need fancy government studies to tell us that.
 
About 11 years ago, my daughter, her husband and their three children moved back to the Baltimore area from Fulton County, Ga. While my daughter went through the red tape of getting my oldest grandson enrolled in school, she home-schooled him. When he eventually got in a public school, she found out that he actually knew more than his fellow students.
 
“But I’ll bet that didn’t really surprise you, did it?” I asked her.
 
What surprised a Prince George’s County mom who home-schools her child was a conversation she had with a student at Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School. The student not only had no idea what the Mason-Dixon Line was, but had never even heard of the Mason-Dixon Line.
 
Baltimore’s Douglass High School, despite receiving what must have been millions of federal taxpayer dollars since 1965, is no fount of learning.

O’Malley and Alonso know that. They also know this, as does every federal official, both elected and appointed: Douglass is a worse school now than it was in 1965, when the ESEA was passed.
 
Somewhere between 1965 and 2010, there must have been families who didn’t get the job done.
 
I talked to a wrestling coach at a Baltimore high school, one known for academic achievement. He had formerly coached wrestling at another Baltimore high school, one distinctly NOT known for academic achievement. The difference?
 
“When [one of] my wrestlers [at the school known for academic achievement] gets a grade below 80, his parents won’t hesitate to yank him off the team,” he told me. “They’ll tell him, ‘You’re done with wrestling until you pull your grades up.’” And what happened at the other school when the wrestler’s grades fell below 80?
 
“I never even heard from a parent,” the coach told me.
 
But he begged me not to use his name if I wrote a column, and thought it best that I not mention it at all. The reason? He’d probably be fired.
 
Mind you, he’s said nothing harmful to the school, the students or school administrators. He’d just uttered an uncomfortable truth: “It’s the family, stupid.”

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to Sudan.

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Gregory Kane

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Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is an award-winning journalist who lives in Baltimore.

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