Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Other Black Lives That Matter

The victims of violent crime, rather than the perpetrators.

Five-year-old Eman Burgess — a cousin of Akira Wilson, an 18-year-old who was fatally shot in a hotel room — waits to release balloons to celebrate the life cut short on November 22 in Washington, DC. (Katherine Frey/WaPo via Getty Images)

In my web-reading this week, I stumbled across two statistics that made me sit up straight. The first came from a devastating story last September about my home city’s public schools. I had just watched a slick new video from DC Public Schools about their new “equity” push, which aims to go “beyond students’ academics” and “call out inequities.” The video is full of vague-sounding pabulum — they never define what they mean by “equity,” for example, apart from invoking Ibram X Kendi’s term “antiracism” — but the message is very clear: “equity” is now the central focus of the school district. And it’s a bright new day!

Now check out the data on how the DC Public School system is faring. A key metric is what they call “proficiency rates” — a test of whether the kids are passing the essentials of reading and math at every stage of their education. Overall, only 31 percent of DC students have proficiency in reading and just 19 percent have proficiency in math. Drill down further in the racial demographics and the picture is even worse: among African-American kids, the numbers are 20 percent and 9 percent, respectively. Among black boys, it’s 15 percent and 9 percent. Which means to say that DC Public Schools graduate kids who are overwhelmingly unable to do the most basic reading and math that any employer would need.

This is not a function of money. In the most recent federal analysis: DC spends far more per student — $30,000 a year — than any other state, double the amount in many states across the country.

Let’s put it this way: if this were a corporation, it would be in liquidation. If it were a house, it would be condemned. But since it’s a public school system, it can avoid this catastrophic failure by emphasizing “equity”!

Call this the woke dodge. As they fail to educate kids in the very basics, they brandish a shiny object over there — “Diversity! Equity! Inclusion! ” — to distract us. Or they claim that these scores are caused by “white supremacy” or “systemic racism.” Or they argue that now, they are educating “the whole child.” From the DCPS video: “The racial equity lens is a critical component of ‘whole child’ for us because being a ‘whole child’ means thinking about all of your identities, but certainly the racial identity is a gap in what we’re discussing as a country.” Anything but do the basic job of teaching math and reading as they are supposed to do.


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