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Jewish World Review June 2, 2000 / 28 Iyar, 5760

Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter
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Consumer Reports

Adventures in government schools -- WHILE FLIPPING the radio dial trying to locate Dr. Laura recently, I happened to catch an advertisement paid for by the United Federation of Teachers. The commercial disparaged a Republican candidate -- George Bush or Rick Lazio, I believe -- for supporting "discredited merit pay schemes" for teachers.

I don't know, "merit pay" seems to work pretty well for bankers, businessmen, waitresses, caterers, salesmen, lawyers, tailors, actors, painters, radio personalities, comics, writers, doctors, computer technicians, publishers, developers, real estate speculators, the newspaper delivery boy, and everyone else I can think of who doesn't work for the government.

So it's probably not quite fair to characterize the notion that remuneration should bear some relation to output as "discredited." In fact, government is the only place in the history of the universe where the concept of pay-for-work remains a novel and jarring concept. From all-encompassing governments like the Soviet Union's to government schools, the capitalist mechanism of paying people for what they do has never really caught on.

Coincidentally, this past week I kept happening upon news stories on the peculiar goings-on at these government schools, where the teachers apparently believe capitalism is a "discredited scheme."

In one New Jersey school, a teacher was accused of allowing students in her sixth-grade class to take turns punching a student who hadn't done his homework. A teacher at a New York high school engaged in cybersex with a fictional 23-year old woman, who turned out to be three of his students planning to blackmail him with his e-mail responses. Perhaps attempting to impose a substitute for merit pay, two students in Windham, Conn., were suspended from school for attempting to poison their teacher by slipping a cleaner in her water bottle.

All these reports from the public schools in the New York environs were published in The New York Times this past week.

Also last week, a lawsuit was filed in Texas (and therefore was of no possible interest to readers of The New York Times) claiming that a public school had aggressively punished students for their religious beliefs (also of no possible interest to readers of the Times). The lawsuit contends that teachers threw two students' Bibles in the trash and ordered other students to remove book covers displaying the Ten Commandments.

And people wonder why there is a burgeoning movement toward home-schooling.

My favorite public school story concerned a "survey" distributed to sixth- and eighth-graders in New Milford, Conn., in order to -- as assistant superintendent Thomas Mulvihill put it -- "get information that will make New Milford a healthy place for our kids." Or as one of the parents later said, to "rape our kids' minds" and "ruin everything we did as parents at home."

The survey asked 11-year-old students such questions as whether they had ever freebased cocaine, engaged in group sex, performed oral sex, and whether they were bisexual or gay. (I'd just like to say, teachers who aren't sure if their 11-year-old students are freebasing cocaine and engaging in group sex are going to need more than a survey to get a feel for the student body.)

In case the students were unfamiliar with some of the sexual practices adults considered it likely for them to be engaging in, the survey was educational: "Have you ever had oral sex, either fellatio (mouth touching penis) or cunnilingus (mouth touching vagina)?"

The outcry from the parents was immediate and furious. Demonstrating her capacity to respond to incentives and disincentives, health teacher Agi Ward eventually conceded: "We would not give the same survey to sixth-graders and eighth-graders in the future."

That's the basic idea of how merit pay would work. But instead of cues like 54 outraged parents storming the school and demanding resignations, bad teachers could expect to see their salaries reduced. Teachers whose students could recount "Hamlet" competently would likely be remunerated more handsomely than teachers whose students could adequately describe fellatio.

It may seem unfair and humiliating to distinguish good teachers from bad, but bear in mind: That's how the world works (outside of government). It's unfair and humiliating that some writers' books sell more than other writers' books; it's unfair and humiliating that high-performing CEOs make more money than low-performing CEOs; it's unfair and humiliating that good waitresses earn bigger tips than bad waitresses.

The irony of the United Federation of Teachers' insane attack on merit pay as a "discredited scheme" is that teachers are constantly protesting that they are not treated like professionals. Meanwhile, their own unions are demanding that they be treated like unskilled laborers, as fungible as guards in a Soviet boot camp. I say, C'mon aboard -- you can navigate the rough-and-tumble world of merit pay just as well as the paperboy.

JWR contributor Ann Coulter is the author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton.


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