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Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 1998 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Ed-u-kai-tchun

AMONG THE MANY POLLS that come and go, none is more depressing than the one which shows that the public regards the Democrats as far and away better than the Republicans on education. It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

The biggest single obstacle to the improvement of American education is the National Education Association, by far the country's largest union. Many people have pointed out that the dumbed-down education in our public schools is a menace to our society. But the NEA party line is: "The Nation's students today are threatened only by the failure of policymakers to give education the money it deserves."

It would be hard for the NEA to tell a bigger lie if they tried. You would risk a hernia if you tried to carry all the studies which show that more money has virtually no effect on the quality of American education.

We spend twice as much money per pupil as countries whose students outscore ours on international tests. States that score at the top on national tests often have below average expenditures per pupil, and those at the bottom are often big spenders.

There is no question that the Democrats in general and Bill Clinton in particular line up solidly with the National Education Association and are willing to pour ever more billions of the taxpayers' dollars down the bottomless pit of our current failed public schools. If that is your definition of "caring" about "education" or about "the children," then you are welcome to it.

In reality, those who follow this line are selling your children down the river to the NEA, which sees schools as places where their union members have iron-clad tenure in jobs where pay has no relationship whatever to how well they perform those jobs. Of course, the NEA is happy to see 100,000 new jobs created for their members. What union wouldn't be?

Except for the lowest grades, there is no real evidence that reducing class sizes has any more effect on educational outcomes than throwing more money at the schools. Class sizes were being reduced all around the country and per pupil expenditures were going up by leaps and bounds for more than a decade, during which test scores were lower every year than they were the year before.

Why are the Democrats so loyal to the NEA? Because the NEA spends vast millions of dollars supporting the Democrats in both state and national election campaigns. One hand washes the other.

What the NEA most wants is to keep their monopoly on our children's schooling. That means no vouchers or other reforms that would allow parents to choose where their children go to school.

When Congress passed a bill this year providing money for 2,000 low-income children in Washington to receive vouchers to attend private schools, Bill Clinton vetoed it. That is how much he "cares" about "the children." He cares about the NEA and the millions of dollars in political campaign contributions they represent.

No children anywhere in America are in more desperate need of a decent education than those in the disastrous District of Columbia public schools. Not one dime that Congress appropriated for vouchers came out of the public school budget, despite the NEA party line that vouchers drain money from the public schools.

The real threat that vouchers represent to the NEA and its members is that low-income children who go into private schools and do better there will completely undermine all the excuses that blame everyone except the public schools themselves for the rotten education that these youngsters get today.

To hear the NEA tell it, educational failures are the fault of parents, television, "society." If that is so, then why does the NEA fight so desperately to prevent these excuses from being put to the test? After all, these will be the same children, with the same parents, the same television and the same "society" when they take their vouchers and go elsewhere.

The NEA is bitterly opposed to any such test because they know that they do not have the facts on their side. However, they do have the Democrats on their side.

And where are the Republicans when it comes to explaining all this to the public? They are where they are on so many other issues -- fumbling, tongue-tied and afraid that people will think they are meanies if they don't go along with the Democrats.

Like the cleaning women who don't do windows, I don't try to explain Republicans.

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3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
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3/6/98: Vindication
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2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.