Do Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Al Gore really give a damn about children, minorities and the poor? That's their main claim on voters' allegiance, but is it really who they are? In a previous column, I pointed out that Clinton -- who proclaims the interests of children to be the priority of her political career -- launched her Senate campaign in New York by announcing her support for the Northeast Interstate Dairy Compact. This legislation, sponsored by the milk cartel, would artificially raise the price of milk up to 43 cents a gallon. Besides dairy farmers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the constituencies who would be most hurt by this legislation are poor children.
A recent column by Dick Morris in the New York Post reveals the callous cynicism with which Clinton has approached the lives and well-being of children throughout her political career. In Arkansas, Clinton was the head of Gov. Bill Clinton's education-reform effort. The Arkansas schools were a mess, registering at the bottom of the nation's educational ladder. Since Arkansas is one of the poorest states in the union, a failing school system meant that its disadvantaged children would be denied the only opportunity they would probably ever get to lift themselves out of poverty and into a decent life.
Poor teaching has an obvious relation to poor student performance (though teachers' unions would prefer everyone forget that). A Tennessee study has shown that the quality of a teacher can affect students' performances by as much as 50 percent, regardless of income, ethnicity or class size (within normal parameters). Hillary Clinton's team developed a program to test the basic knowledge and skills of all Arkansas teachers. (Having something to teach would seem to be a reasonable job description for this profession.) Clinton's reform was even moderate. Those teachers who failed the statewide test would be given two years to make up their deficiencies and then would be given the test again. If, after two years of effort, they still could not demonstrate basic skills, they would be discharged.
Clinton's education-reform plan received widespread support from parents around the state. But the plan was also fiercely opposed by the teachers unions -- the core of the Democratic political base. Union members picketed her public appearances and the organizations themselves withdrew their political support from Gov. Clinton. How did the Clintons respond?
By screwing the children.
When the test results were tabulated, a large percentage of the teachers had failed. This was obviously a crucial reason why Arkansas children had been performing so poorly. (Their teachers didn't know what they were talking about.) But this grim reality was not uppermost on Hillary Clinton's mind. What she and her husband were concerned about was politics, including damage control.
So they called in Morris. They told him that they were worried that if they failed that many teachers the political reaction from the unions would be too great. On the other hand, since they hadn't released the test scores, there was still time to rig the results.
"What percentage should we fail?" Gov. Clinton asked Morris.
"What percent actually flunked the test?" Morris replied. "It was a disaster," Gov. Clinton said. "It was way too high. If I enforced the passing grade, I'd have to flunk a third or a half of them. I can't do that. We'd particularly have to fire a high percentage of minority teachers."
The solution? Morris was told to poll Arkansas voters and find out what percentage of the teachers they expected to fail the test. As Gov. Clinton had said to Morris, "I can decide what score is passing and what is failing." Morris' polling revealed that Arkansas voters expected 10 percent of the teachers to fail, rather than the 30-50 percent who actually failed. But when the Clinton administration released the "results" of the tests to the public, it reported that only 10 percent had failed. In the end, only a handful of Arkansas' incompetent teachers lost their jobs.
This decision -- to screw the children rather than buck the teachers' unions -- is one that Democrats like Hillary Clinton make every day in America, as they have done for the past 50 years. Since most of the failing schools in America are in urban areas controlled by Democrats, poor and minority children are the principal victims of these decisions.
On Jan. 20, for example, the Los Angeles Times ran an astounding story as the lead article on its front page. The article reported that the Los Angeles Unified School District had decided to drastically scale back a plan to end "social promotion" in the public schools. "Social promotion" is a term for the policy of promoting students who failed to learn anything in the previous year. It's the way an appalling number of American youth -- particularly immigrant and minority youth -- graduate high school although they are functionally illiterate.
George W. Bush has made his educational record in Texas, where he ended social promotion, a prominent feature of his presidential run. Perhaps inspired by this, the Los Angeles Unified School District had decided to end the policy as well. What changed its mind was a feasibility study that showed that if the policy were implemented it would have to hold back 350,000 children, or half of all the students in Los Angeles public schools. The vast majority of those affected are poor, Hispanic and black.
Think of the atrocity that is being committed here. First, the "educators" are not educating these children, whose only hope to get into the economy is to learn something in school. Instead, they are failing. That in itself ought to be a crime. But then the same educators have decided to deceive the kids by passing them on to the next grade. That is diabolical. We're not going to teach you, but we're going to lie to you and tell you that we have. You're not going to find out that you've learned nothing until you graduate and go into the job market as a functional illiterate, when it's too late. We're going to screw you good. And then we're going to run as the "education party"!
It gets worse. This week the Los Angeles Unified School District proposed a very modest clause in its contract negotiations with the teachers union that would provide a bonus to individual teachers who raised student test scores. The union went ballistic. The president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles denounced the clause as an "attack on teachers" and threatened a strike. In the same negotiations, the teachers union is demanding a 21 percent pay raise for all its teachers -- competent and incompetent alike. In other words, three months after the school district revealed that 350,000 students are learning absolutely nothing in its schools, the teachers want a 21 percent pay hike as a reward for their failure.
Enter Gore, the official candidate of the teachers unions, the "education candidate." Gore wants to spend $115 billion on teacher-union acceptable plans for "education reform." He wants to spend $25 billion on school buildings and $50 billion on preschools and the rest on more teachers to reduce classroom size. But what use are school buildings if the schools don't teach and the children aren't learning? Head Start is the most highly touted preschool program. Yet every study shows that Head Start improves student performance only in the first couple of years and then all the gains evaporate.
In California, where it has been a major program for years, reduction of class size has not resulted in significant test-score improvement either. Instead it has led to teacher shortages and the lowering of standards for teacher recruitment -- the heart of the problem. Gore's education reform is just the same old Democratic cynicism magnified by federal billions: Do what looks good or what feels good even though you know it won't work. Pretend you're the education party; screw the children.
Oh yes, and be sure to send your own kids, like Chelsea and Al Gore Jr. to fancy private schools that you can afford.
Here's an alternative that has a chance to work and that will therefore be hotly opposed by the teachers unions and by Democrats like Clinton and Gore. Let's have a $150 billion "Marshall Plan" for poor children in failed government schools. There are 12 million of these poor children in schools across the United States. These are the "Title I" children who qualify for free school lunches. These are the children who are not being taught by the public schools. Give them full-tuition scholarships now so their parents can find them schools -- private, parochial, corporate -- that will teach them. Give them exactly the same tuition that their public schools now get. Give them the scholarships for three years with the understanding that if their test scores improve they will qualify for three more. Give the schools three years to raise their students' average scores in order to qualify for the scholarship grants.
This plan will not take money out of the existing public schools. But it will reduce their class sizes. It will not give their teachers an incentive to teach, but the competition of a new school system might provide public educators (and perhaps even the socialists in the teachers unions) with the push they need to connect teachers' performances to their rewards.
The most important gain of all however, will be the rescue of millions of poor and minority children from the inevitability of blighted lives, and will give them instead a shot at the American dream.