Michael Bakalis, author of The Archilles Heel, was featured at The Heartland Institute Author Series on Wednesday, June 26. The title of Bakalis’ book derives from Greek mythology as a metaphor for a fatal weakness as something having overall strength. According to Michael Bakalis, The Archilles Heel is “the seemingly inflexible academic achievement gap between white and black students in our nation’s educational system.”

In introducing Michael Bakalis, Joe Bast, CEO and President of The Heartland Institute, displayed a copy of “We Can Rescue Our Children: The Cure for Chicago’s Public School Crisis – with Lessons for the Rest of American”, published in 1988 by the URF Educational Foundation. The authors, Michael J. Bakalis, Joseph L. Bast, Herbert J. Walberg, and Steve Baer, were in agreement that the combination of parental choice and decentralization would produce systemic accountability while fostering both equity and excellence. Noted was that despite all the talk ensuing about the failing nature of the Chicago Pubic School System since the book was written 25 years ago, little change had taken place.

Now author of a new book, The Achilles Heel, Michael Bakalis — formerly Illinois State Superintendent of Education and Deputy Undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Education — has an extensive resume inclulding teaching experience at every educational level.  Shared by Joe Bast was how Bakalis has served on the faculties of Northern Illinois, Loyola (Chicago), and Northwestern University, which, in turn, elicited this response from Bakalis: “It sound like I couldn’t hold on to a job.”

Of additional interest is that Michael Bakalis is president and CEO of American Quality School, a not-for-profit educational management organization that operates charter schools at the elementary and high school level in primarily low-income, minority communities in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

At the onset of his remarks, Bakalis confessed to being a Democrat as he stood in front of mostly conservatives and Libertarians, but then quickly labeled himself as a Jeffersonian Democrat.  A bust of Jefferson graces Bakalis’ office.  Bakalis is likewise a devotee of Abraham Lincoln, believing that “the government should only do for people that which they can’t do for themselves.”

Bakalis admitted that race was a difficult subject to address, but that it was necessary to speak honestly about a situation that cannot be denied as set forth in his book: The differences between black-white academic achievement levels in education.

Bakalis told of spending much of his life trying to promote equal education for all, which is why he started American Quality Schools with locations in inter-city urban areas.  Regarding the black/white achievement gap, Bakalis considers the situation a social time bomb ready to explode.

The format of Chicago news programs was noted as a way to clarify Bakalis’ explosive time bomb statement.  Consider the format of news programs.  Every night they consist of three distinct parts: 1) murder, 2) weather, and 3) sports.  Bakalis tied the murder report as part and parcel of the existing educational gap between blacks and whites (Most of the murders happen to blacks in black neighborhoods.).


Test scores, a mixed review.

Test scores were discussed as a way to define the effectiveness of the of American education system.  International test scores indicate that American students in American schools don’t fare well against other nation in math and reading.  The story, however, is a different one if African American kids (and Hispanics) are taken out of the equation, then test scores improve greatly.  While other nations rate higher in educational testing results than this nation, American education is by no means a failure and is not doing badly at all, except for African American kids.

The question is asked over and over again:  “If immigrants could make it in the schools when they came to America, why can’t black people?”  After all, blacks were here for over 400 years.”  Not to be forgotten is that one half of the blacks have made it to the middle class.

As a historian by training (Bakalis received his Ph.D in American history from Northwestern University.)  Bakalis explored this topic and found that when the great influx of immigrants arrived in America between 1890 and 1920, they really didn’t do well in school.  The difference then and now is that drop outs could find jobs.  No one cared if an immigrant dropped out of school.  In truth, schools didn’t succeed for lots of children in ways that we would consider a success today.


What about money in closing the gap?

Since history deputes the notion that immigrants did well in the American school system, money was discussed as a possible reason for the black-white educational gap.  Often said, “If only more money were spent the educational gap would start to close.”  Would more money really provide a better education?  Would it decrease the black-white achievement gap?

At one time in the South money might have been an issue, where $50 might have been spent to educate a white child and only $1 per black.  But this is no longer true.  In the past 40 years spending has been equalized in all urban areas. Consider Washington, D.C.  It spends $16,000 per child, and it has a miserable education system.  Giving schools more money will not equalize the gap, as seen in Iowa, North Dakota an Minnesota. These states have some of the lowest expenditures per pupil, yet they have some of the highest student test scores.  The Chicago School System tried giving money to students based on high grades. It didn’t work.  Also to be considered, 80% of the school budget goes to paying personnel.

Since money doesn’t equal a better education, where do we go from here?


What about poverty as contributing to the gap in test scores?

A rather shocking statement made by Bakalis is that this nation has more children living in poverty than any other of the 26 most developed nations.  Michael Bakalis abhors the use of the word, underclass, often used to describe those living in poverty; nevertheless, 65% to 85% of children living in inner city, urban areas live in poverty.

But what about other people who came to America?  Southern European immigrants were not rich when they arrived. The Vietnamese were poor people when they came in 1976.  And consider Asian immigrants.  They have done pretty well.  This question was posed by Michael Bakalis:  “If poverty were eliminated would test scores go up?”  Not so!  There must be something else that affect test scores.


What about racism?

Racism has been with the black population for many decades and continues to this day.  But has the black race alone been subjected to racism.  At one time the Japanese were not allowed to own property.  There was even lynching among Chinese immigrants, and for a time they were not allowed to vote.  Even a white ethnic group didn’t escape prejudice.  As new kids on the block the Greeks, Italians, Poles, and Norwegians all experienced their share of prejudice, being perceived as different from those who had already established themselves in America.  So now we know that racism was not just experienced by blacks.  Racism was initially felt by many ethnic groups, but they were able to overcome.


What about family influence and social background?

Michael Bakalis cited former New York senator, Daniel Patrick Moneham, as being correct in what he predicted would happen and was criticized for saying over 50 years ago.  Moneham foretold the failing of the black family unit, warning that out-of-birth web locks would produce poverty.

Another person credited by Bakalis as influential in establishing the the importance of social networking was James Coleman, who wrote about the importance of social capital in a child’s ability to succeed.  For through social capital a network of relationships, reciprocity, trust, and social norms are developed and shared.

In the past children with social networking and norms of family behind them succeeded in school, as did southern European immigrant children.  This happened when financial means increased and when parents themselves realized their children must speak English and take on the norms and values of their new country.  In other words, it was important to endorse what it meant to be an American and to function as an American.


What about genetics?

Do some children just not have it?   Michael Bakalis believes that all children can learn.  Mostly blacks play football in the NBA.  In baseball Hispanics excel.  Many baseball players are recruited from countries with Hispanic populations.  Racism is not evident, because players are rewarded for talent and ability, not race.

Bakalis has not found one iota of evidence that blacks are dumber than other children.

Jews at one time were called retards, yet one-fourth of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish, while  composing just 2% of the population.  Genetics is therefore not the reason why blacks don’t succeed at a higher level in education. This argument is therefore dismissed.


Culture as the key reason?

Underclass communities have developed over generations in intercity, urban areas. This happens when successful blacks move out of their communities to a better neighborhood leaving behind a society that doesn’t have role models for children to emulate.  These communities are akin to isolated islands where education isn’t looked up to as something of value,

Michael Bakalis described a situation in a Chicago charter school under his American Quality School operation where children come wandering into class after the morning bell has rung.  In another situations a coat collected and given to a child to keep warm during a cold Chicago winter was no where to be seen the next day.  The coat had been sold by the child’s mother to buy drugs.


What must happen in black communities?

Kids must understand that education is important and that involves getting to school on time.

Dr. Bakalis admitted that culture was difficult to change.  He even admitted that he didn’t know the answer.  There is not one state in the U.S. where blacks out perform whites.  As in America, black children aren’t succeeding in countries worldwide.  Something must happen to change the situation.

1.  States need to change the way they train teachers.  A high percentage of teachers fail the basic test to teach writing, reading and mathematics.  Better people must be encouraged to go into teaching.

2.  Blacks must embrace entrepreneurship.  Where are the black bus boys, waiters, etc.  Most are Hispanic.  Other ethics groups have taken over the operation on gas stations, dry cleaning facilities, and restaurants.  Blacks must learn there is honor in work.

3. Blacks must follow the lessons that enabled immigrants of past generations to succeed:  Some economic stability is required.  Also necessary is that norms that lead to success are adopted in African American communities, instead of an adherence to activities rampant in black communities which can only lead to mayhem.

A controversial remark made by Bakalis was that the only way to get 25 to 40 year old men off the street and working who don’t have a high school eduction is through government programs.

Regarding “No Child Left Behind”, it was described as the worst federal program in American history.  It stipulated that by 2014 every child must succeed at the level considered appropriate by the standards set. The focus was on reading and math, with little time spent on history and literature, leaving students with little perception or knowledge about American history.

In conclusion, Dr. Bakalis referenced three things, that if practiced, would limit the chance of living a life of poverty to only 1%:

1.  Graduate from high school and don’t have a child before that time.

2.  Get married.

3.  Find a job.


Saturday, June 29, 2013 at 02:49 PM | Permalink