Thursday, April 06, 2006

It's the Teachers, Stupid

David Wessel has a column in the WSJ.com today [$] about a plan the Democrats have come up with on education. Seems they finally realize they are getting marginalized. An excerpt:

George "No Child Left Behind" Bush outmaneuvered Democrats on the education issue in his first term, pushing through a plan that, albeit controversial, gave him bragging rights on a key economic issue: improving public schools.

Now a band of Democratic-leaning thinkers wants to reclaim the issue. Their proposal, unveiled yesterday, is simple: Get rid of bad teachers and reward good ones.

Simple, in this case, is significant on two counts. First, the proposal publicly confronts teachers' unions, an influential Democratic Party constituency, with the fact that bad teachers are part of the problem.

And, second, the proposal is the first from a well-funded new venture, organized by former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and other like-minded wealthy folks, to bridge the gap between academics with sound, practical ideas to peddle and politicians (mainly Democrats, but moderate Republicans welcomed) desperately seeking same.

The politics here are clear. As Mr. Gordon outlined in the New Republic last June, Democrats were early advocates of making schools more accountable. But their antipathy toward Mr. Bush has blinded them to the parts of the No Child Left Behind law that have merit and left them arguing that all that matters is pumping more money into public schools.

"While Democrats reinforced the old idea that they just want to spend, Bush appealed to a public that wants both accountability and funding," Mr. Gordon wrote. "It's stunning to see Democrats lose their edge on education. ... On education, Democrats don't need to explain why the U.S. needs vigorous government."

These proposals won't change the world. But they would make it better. And they could change what's become a sterile debate over how best to remedy one of America's biggest weaknesses: its public schools. That alone would be a good thing

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