No one would accuse Courtland Milloy of being a staunch supporter of school reform in the District of Columbia. After Michelle Rhee moved to eliminate underperforming teachers from the classroom, Milloy described the move as “Rhee’s way of showing students how to throw a teacher under the bus,” “how adults play Halloween tricks on kids,” and “dumb as chalk.” Later, he rhetorically asked “Can you raise an academic bar if you don’t have an ethical leg to stand on?”
Milloy was at it again this week in a column given the misleading headline “Despite Rhee’s missteps, her egalitarian vision inspires.” Instead of embracing Rhee’s efforts to tighten DC schools by eliminating under-utilized buildings and getting rid of under-performing teachers, Milloy suggested that the real problem is – wait for it – underfunding of DC’s schools. “Elitism [is] the most stubborn obstacle to school reform,” he wrote. “Not teachers’ unions, dysfunctional families, lazy students or black prejudice against a Korean American schools chancellor, but reluctance by the city’s haves to share classrooms with the have-nots.”
He bases his belief on a quote from billionaire Warren Buffet who once told Rhee that if “it would be easy to solve today’s problems in urban education. ‘Make private schools illegal,’ he said, ‘and assign every child to a public school by random lottery.’” Let’s leave aside the totalitarian impulse to remove options from people looking to find better ways to educate their kids. Buffet and Milloy have this idea that if we could only force families to send their kids to public schools, a spigot of money would open up because the elites finally realized the necessity for public schools. This is, in a word, asinine. It is class-baiting nonsense of the first order.
As a reminder: Washington’s public schools are among the best-funded in the entire country. As of 2008, D.C. was spending almost $25,000 a year per student, good for the third-highest rate in the country. What have we received for all that money? A local school system that will see only 9 percent of its students graduate from college within five years of graduating high school. A local school system that only sees two out of every five tenth graders score as proficient or advanced in math and reading tests. A local school system that is, in a word, broken.
But it’s all the fault of the elites, right? Those evil elites who send their kids to private schools, away from the deprivations of those well-funded public schools – they’re the ones to blame. It’s odd, though, that those very same elites would support things like the federal voucher program that helped poor families afford private schooling for their children – a voucher program that I can find no record of Milloy ever supporting.
If Milloy was really in favor of reforms that would help lift students out of poverty by providing them with a better education, he’d support efforts to get struggling teachers out of classrooms. Of course, this would hurt his standing with his pals at the Washington Teachers’ Union – and we wouldn’t want that, now, would we?