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Rock the School House

September 28, 2010

Jonah Goldberg is hitting the nail on its head on the issue of the US education system:

Amidst all of this talk about education this week, there’s an omission that drives me crazy. Yes, yes, the horrid state of American education is an American problem, and to that extent we’re all to blame in some abstract sort of way. But is there another major area of American public policy that is more screwed up and more completely the fault of one ideological side? Which party do the teachers’ unions support overwhelmingly? What is the ideological outlook of the bureaucrats at the Department of Education? Which party claims it “cares” more about education and demagogues any attempt by the other party to reform it? Who has controlled the large inner city school systems for generations? What is the ideological orientation of the ed school racket? Whose preferred teaching methods have been funded and whose have been ridiculed?

You know the answer to all of these questions. And yet to listen to the debate this week, you would think this is all a bipartisan problem because Republicans share the blame for refusing to fund schools enough.

There are two problems with this canard. 1) Bush and the GOP congress massively increased education spending and 2) the problems with our education system have almost nothing to do with how much money we spend.

We’re constantly told about all of  these countries allegedly beating us in the classroom. Does anyone really think they’re doing better than us because they spend more? Really?

In the last few presidential elections I’ve heard more from Democrats — by far — complaining about leaky school roofs, cracking paint, and the need for more computers in the classroom than I’ve heard about the fact it’s easier to find and train a brontosaurus than it is to fire a horrible teacher. Do we really think China and India are spending 20-30K per pupil on their new crop of math whizzes?

In 2008-2009, the  District of Columbia spent $1.3 billion dollars on 45,858 students. That is slightly less than the entire GDP of Belize. In 2007, 8 percent of DC eighth graders were able to do math at the eighth grade level. Clearly what’s needed is more money!

Read the rest here.

Obama wanted to make education a huge topic for his term, but somehow didn’t manage to really draw interest. The French Cowboy didn’t focus on this theme either as there surely is a lot other stuff to be concerned about. But Goldberg is absolutely right that the facts surrounding the education issue speak clearly against the liberals’ approach of feeding the complacent teachers’ unions with ever more money as they fail to deliver on what you’d consider the most basic things like, you know, teach kids how to read and write. In that sense, conservatives should very happily accept Obama’s invitation to shine a spotlight on the need for educational reform.

New Jersey Governor Christie’s fight against the teachers’ union caught some national attention mostly because of his unusually blunt style. But this attention was mostly confined to conservatives who loved to finally see a Republican stand his ground against the unions, and scared liberals complaining about an effective Christie’s lack of timidity. It didn’t reach the broader public.

In DC, former Mayor Fenty has backed the real reforms by Michelle Rhee, the DC Chancellor of Public Schools, but has now been defeated in his reelection bid. The American Federation of Teachers has poured tons of money and effort into the election campaign to accomplish this. They wanted Fenty out because he and Rhee were not afraid to shut down failing schools, fire bad teachers, and introduce a merit-pay system for teachers. Funnily enough though, when liberals spit out terms like “special interest” and “lobbyists” they never seem to mean the teachers’ unions.

There’s hope that the need for reform in the education system will get more attention thanks not to Obama’s off-and-on attempts to make it so, but to a spate of documentaries critical of the teachers’ unions reign of public schools that have recently been released. I find it highly likely that nobody’s much interested when Obama speaks of education reform because he doesn’t offer real solutions, ie take on the unions, but instead waffles about throwing more money at the problem and insulating classrooms.

Republicans should take up this issue and suggest genuine reform of the public school system. Democrats beholden to the teachers’ unions will then be the “Party of No” — the Party of No that will no longer be in charge of Congress.

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