Facebook Twitter



The April 29, 1996, edition of Newsweek magazine carried Howard Fineman's story, "Redrawing the Color Lines." It's mostly a piece about Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton's efforts to end court-ordered school busing in her city. Belton is not alone in her efforts. Officials in other cities with large black populations such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Prince George's County, Md., are also seeking an end to court-ordered busing.

The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision fostered the belief that the way to improve black education was through school integration. It was a racially insulting belief that had no basis in fact and has produced more than four decades of half-baked education ideas that have rendered academic excellence among black students virtually impossible.In the years following the Brown decision, there have been a few voices that protested the false assumption that black academic excellence could not be achieved unless black people captured white kids to sit beside their kids.

Among those voices is Thomas Sowell, Hoover Institution's senior fellow. In his study "Patterns of Black Excellence," published in Public Interest in 1976 and earlier published in his book "Myths and Tragedies of Black Education," Sowell examines the history of several black public schools before the birth of the idea that school integration was necessary for black academic excellence.

Four of the six high schools in Sowell's study produced a long list of breakthroughs: Thurgood Marshall, first black Supreme Court justice (Baltimore's Frederick Douglass school); Wilson Riles, first black state superintendent of schools (McDonough 35); Benjamin Davis, first black general (Dunbar); Charles Drew, discoverer of plasma (Dunbar); and Martin Luther King (Booker T. Washington).

The District of Columbia's Dunbar was the most illustrious of the black high schools. Between 1870 and 1955, most of its graduates went on to college - an achievement rare among white schools. Its students earned degrees at prestigious colleges like Harvard, Amherst, Williams and Wesleyan. As early as 1899, Dunbar scored higher in citywide tests than any of the white schools. Dunbar's student attendance was better and it had a lower rate of tardiness than the white public schools. Were Dunbar's students the children of elite black parents? No. Only 17 percent came from households where parents listed their occupation as white-collar and professional.

The success of these schools had nothing to do with what "experts" tell us is necessary for success. With more than 40 students per teacher, Dunbar had the highest student-to-teacher ratio in the city. The school was 40 years old before it had a lunchroom, which then was so small that many children had to eat out on the street. Blackboards had so many cracks that they resembled road maps, and it was 1950 before the school had a public-address system.

There is no question that at least islands of black academic success can be restored. But it's going to take a complete rejection of what today's educationists say is necessary for black academic excellence.