It's the teachers, stupid

Published February 17, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

everybody from Newt Gingrich to Bill Clinton agrees that the crisis in
our schools demands national action. Many proposals -- raised standards, smaller
classrooms -- are already part of a bipartisan agenda. But no one
seems to have the political spine to name the parties responsible for this
crisis. As a result, none of these solutions will work.

Let's stop beating around the bush: The source of our national educational
crisis is a massive failure of teachers to teach.
Any educational reform program that does not include reductions in pay or wholesale firings for our failing teachers and school administrators -- as well as raises and bonuses for those who succeed -- will not work.

This is the simple (and unmentionable) fact: We produce functional
illiterates and student dropouts because we employ large numbers of functional
illiterates and irresponsible bureaucrats in our schools -- adults who have no
business overseeing our children's education.

first step in understanding the public education mess is to realize that IT'S NOT ABOUT MONEY.
Teachers -- despite the widespread myth -- are overpaid and underworked. Innumerable studies show that
parochial schools produce better test scores with half or
sometimes even as little as a third of public-school budgets. California, to pick a bellwether state, spends more than twice
as much money (inflation adjusted) per student now than it did 30 years ago,
but its educational performance has plummeted from near the top of the nation to
the bottom half of the school systems in the same time frame. Only 18 percent of
California's fourth-graders are able to read proficiently based on the
National Assessment of Education Progress reading test.

Here's what the public doesn't know, thanks to millions of dollars in
misleading advertising campaigns conducted by the National Education
Association: As a result of the contracts negotiated by their unions, teachers are
not required to be at their job more than six hours and 20 minutes a day. When you
add to that the fact that teachers only work nine months out of the year, and
then calculate teachers' pay on the basis of the eight-hour-day and
11-and-a-half-month year that the rest of us work, the pay for a seventh-grade
science teacher in New York City is between $60 and $70 an hour. That amounts to an annual salary of well over

And that's only the beginning of the problem.
Unlike the rest of us, teachers are tenured after two years and thus have
lifetime job security, are guaranteed raises and are not accountable for their
performance (or lack of it). As far as the union-dominated public school system
is concerned, there are no bad teachers.

Our school systems are mini-versions of the
socialist states that collapsed from the sheer weight of their economic
backwardness in 1989 and 1990. Why do we think the same crackpot Marxist
economics can work to educate our children? If teachers are not expected to
work hard, if their incentives do not reward them for educating our children
and punish them for failing at their jobs, how can we expect anything better
than the mess we have?

No reform will work unless our leaders directly challenge the educational power structure. The teachers
union is the primary special interest preventing constructive change in
the system. It is a government union, active in providing the campaign funds and
candidates for the very school boards that employ its members. (That's how
teachers got that six-hour, 20-minute work day.) All government unions are a
walking conflict of interest and should be outlawed in a democracy.

Is Clinton serious about educational reform? Will he bite the hand that fed him? Don't hold your breath.

By David Horowitz

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

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