Clearly gunning for a Pulitzer Prize, which apparently it thinks is a great honor, the Tampa Bay Times has discovered the obvious fact that students in government schools aren't learning.
It wrote an “investigative” piece about the plight of five schools in St. Petersburg where students are falling behind.
It blames what it calls segregation and, of course, poverty.
The Times dubbed the bad schools “failure factories.” They may have lifted the catchy term from a piece written seven years ago by AEI.
Even though not an expert on education policy in the Tampa Bay area, I sense that there are a couple of weaknesses in this journalistic masterpiece.
For one, the problem didn't start when the local School Board began to rely more on neighborhood schools. Rather than busing students – mostly black students – all over town on the faulty premise that black students can't learn unless they are seated next to white kids, the district began sending kids to the schools nearest their homes.
I’m told by people who know that Pinellas schools already were performing poorly for black students while integrated. The test data show black students in Pinellas were behind black students in other districts and falling further behind.
Where were the champions of the poor all those years?
Furthermore, around the same time it went to neighborhood schools, the district refused to adequately expand its most popular school choice options, such as high-performing fundamental schools, even though demand was high. It also continued to be particularly hostile to charter schools and tax credit scholarships.
Laughably, the Times describes the situation thus: “This is what happens when School Board members and district administrators do not recognize that too many black families are not happy in these schools but feel trapped in them and fear for the safety of their children.”
I have written columns advocating school choice to help students “trapped” in poor schools and liberals have howled about the use of the term. I've also highlighted the discipline problems. The standard answer from apologists is that we should “fix” the government schools instead of freeing the children trapped in them.
Florida leads in school choice with several varieties, including tax credit scholarships. These programs help kids trapped in failing schools. But the Times never has advocated greater use of them.
Instead – get this – it endorsed for re-election the same School Board members it is now excoriating!
Of one, it said, “her enthusiasm and determination to provide all Pinellas students with a quality education remain strong.”
Nor does it ever criticize the powerful teacher unions, which always resist efforts to reassign the best teachers to poor schools.
The liberal remedy never varies. Throw more money at the failing schools – despite the lack of any evidence that it brings about better outcomes.
Why not give struggling students from poor families “who are not happy” the same choice that happy Times editors and other more affluent parents have?
Maybe the real failure factories in Florida are its newsrooms.
Lloyd Brown was in the newspaper business nearly 50 years, beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. After retirement he served as policy analyst for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.