President Clinton made some good points about America's public schools last week in Chicago. He opposed "social promotion" that passes children no matter how bad their grades. While he said he cares about a child's self-esteem, he added, "There is nothing more damaging to self-esteem than wanting a job and not being able to get one."
In his proposals to improve public schools, however, the president, as usual, prescribed a significant federal role, including the establishment of "voluntary" national education standards. The Department of Education was directed to produce within 90 days new guidelines on effective strategies for fixing low-performing schools and to advise states and cities how to tap into federal resources for aid.
The president's chief domestic adviser, Bruce Reed, says: "These are not federal regulations. These are suggested reforms." Sure. Name one area where the federal government visits and eventually does not take up permanent residence.
The education problems in America are not caused by insufficient resources but from a lack of choice. Virtually every other monopoly has been broken up in favor of competition except public education. Politicians and the education lobby contend that more money is the answer, especially in poor areas. But a 12-year, $100-million effort to improve 21 mostly poor and black schools in Prince Georges County, Maryland, failed to lift the combined academic standing from well below the county's average.
The Washington Post analyzed the school's deplorable test scores even as the state and county consider whether to spend an additional $500 million as part of a plan to end court-ordered busing. A similar plan to improve mostly black schools in Austin, Texas, also failed to produce hoped-for results. Louis Malfaro, a teacher at an Austin elementary school, said, "To think you can take a whole bunch of kids that are likely to be low performers, put them in a school together and throw a little bit of money at them and they will be better is ridiculous."
Liberals are always saying that "the rich" have an unfair advantage, and that's why they need to pay ever-higher taxes. Here's a case where the poor have an unfair disadvantage and the same people who claim to speak for the poor seem not to care that their children are locked in a doomed education system.
School choice and education savings accounts are the answer. Parents, not government, should be empowered to determine what is best for their children's intellectual and moral development.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey believes "school choice is going to shake the current political order at its very foundation as the parents of children trapped in failing, frightening schools demand something better. [Republicans] are on the side of the American people while the president and most members of his party are on the wrong side."
Competition improved the U.S. Postal Service. Competition improved the U.S. auto industry. Competition will improve education and public schools, which will be forced to do better or close. Either way, the children win, and it is the children, not the politicians, whose interests must be first. Say, wasn't that Bill Clinton's slogan during the 1992 campaign, "putting people first"?
Why is it that the National Education Association is pro-choice on abortion but anti-choice on where those children fortunate enough to have been born should go to school? Who should be primarily responsible for child development, the state or the parents? And whose values should be endowed in our children, the state's or the parents'?
© 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate