HUGE EDUCATION UPDATE! 9/1/00!!
The Lesson is in the Language
Funny thing about the politics of the Clinton Era: On the surface, everything sounds good, and everyone sounds the same on so many things. Call it Clinton's First Rule of Moderation (ie, pretend to be a liberal or a conservative then shoot to the middle after the you've solidified a base around you and gotten yourself elected), but whatever the reason or its historical origins, it's a compelling phenomena. On the surface, it seems to be popping up again this election year, as on many issues, Al Gore and George W. Bush sound strikingly similaron the surface.
For the purpose of this article, lets take a look at an issue that should really be on all our minds right now: Education.
Both major party candidates talk about raising standards and holding teachers accountable, both talk about annual report cards from schools and requiring teachers to be qualified and both generally agree that being able to read is good and that we're tired of getting the tar kicked out of us in math and science every year. In short, both want to improve education, and even if they didn't, they'd say they did anyway because they pretty much have to in order to get elected. So on the surface weve got two politicos huffing and puffing the same kinds of words and images in an effort to catch our vote, neither of them sounding much different than the other. Whether it be through federal impositions or through success generated by the specter of greater parental choice and freedom, both men want the same thing and are working toward improving in some sense the quality of American schools and education. But wait...look more closely. While both candidates speak about similar issues and want similar results from America's schools, I still feel it a stretch to claim that both men have the same or even similar long-term goals for education or for the nation itself. At the core of each plan are marked differences that say much about the underlying philosophies of each candidate and their respective party. There is a difference, a real difference, and it's a difference that will determine the political climate of our nation for years to come. The difference, I found, is simply in the ways each candidate wants to take us to their version of the promised land. That might not be earth-shattering, but in the era of sound bites and image-as-issues, the fact that both men are saying some very different things beneath the surface is this year's dirty little election secret.
At the heart of the Bush plan is a system of national funding and accountability coupled with local control for schools and districts
all that sort of reserved powers and states' rights nonsense from that politics class someone made you take. Bush wants to not only set standards for schools, but also to empower states and districts with the freedom they need (and on paper already have) to meet those standards in ways that can be more effectively and honestly monitored at the local level. He even wants to extend this risky freedom scheme to parents, giving "low-income parents of students stuck in persistently failing schools the option of transferring to another public school, or using their share of federal funding to pay for another option of their choice (tutoring, charter school, etc.) (Bushs Education Plan, georgewbush.com") So far, Gore, perhaps courting his old friend the teachers' union, has made no similar promise, but has graciously offered some big government solutions. More on that later.
Despite what the misleading smear ads from the other side might claim, George W. Bush is a reformer with a record he can be proud of, as reproduced on his website:
"Results of Governor Bushs Education Reforms:
Greatest Progress in the Nation: Texas is one of two states that has made the greatest recent progress in education, according to the Congressionally-mandated National Education Goals Panel.
Minority Students Rank Highest in Math: African-American 4th graders in Texas ranked 1st in the nation in math. Since 1992, African-American 4th graders in Texas have made the greatest gains in math, and Hispanic 4th graders have made the second greatest gains.
Students Score First and Second in Writing: African-American and Hispanic eighth-graders in Texas ranked 1st and 2nd in the nation in writing. Texas eighth-graders as a whole ranked 4th in the nation.
Students Improve Every Year on State Skills Test: Under Governor Bush, the number of students passing all parts of the state skills test (TAAS) has increased by 51 percent. The number of both minority students and economically disadvantaged students passing all parts of the TAAS increased by 89 percent.
First in Teacher Quality: Texas ranked first in the nation in teacher quality, according to an independent evaluation by the Fordham Foundation."
While we can be impressed with the gains he's made in Texas, it's only right and fair of us to ask what he can do for the nation as a whole. What Governor Bush brings to the table besides proven results is a policy consistent with our identity as Americans, a people blessed with much and of whom much is rightly expected, in a nation founded on the belief that freedom is the most basic and important virtue of a truly great society. In this sense freedom is not just an ideal we oppose to the power of foreign despots, but one we must also consciously guard at home. It's the right of parents to determine for their own children which school district and which curriculum serves them best while at the same time holding all schools to national standards of achievement. It's the chance that some schools and some teachers might have to do some serious work to remain viable in an education market that will suddenly reflect the freedom of our other markets, arenas where competition has always improved the overall product and the threat that a discerning parent might want something better for their child then what the bounds of geography and one of Washington's most powerful lobbies dictate they must silently abide by.
Al Gore talks about establishing a "Revolution in Education," but one look at his plan reveals a dedication to the status quo. He talks about raising standards and holding teachers accountable, but the avenues through which he wants to do so reflect his life as a Washington insider more than they affirm his claims as an honest reformer. The following is an excerpt from Gores education plan:
"We should treat teachers like the professionals they are. My plan will hold teachers to high professional standards - requiring rigorous testing for all new teachers, a qualified teacher in every classroom, periodic peer reviews of licensed teachers and faster, fair ways to identify, improve and, where necessary, remove failing teachers."
This sounds like a noble goal, and I think we all agree that failing teachers should be fired, but it sounds as though Gore is talking about establishing more federal programs, more federal monitoring of each teacher, which even in itself sounds almost ok except for the implication that, in true liberal form, it will be Washington as opposed to local school district authorities that set the standards not just for student achievement as outlined by Bush, but also for teacher performance. Even when he does care to involve states in and local authorities in the process, its never by working with them, always by "requiring states" to do this and that, all under the auspices of a supposedly effective federal scheme. Under Gores plan, ineffective teachers can be removed by the distant Washington Albatross after a series of federal tests and reviews, but under Bush's plan, the people, not the powerful, will have the ultimate say. They will choose with their tax credit which school to send their children to, and leave the hiring and firing of local teachers to the proper channels: the school districts. Yes, teachers should be held accountable to the highest of standards, abut why should we think that a Gore Administration with more in common with the teachers' unions than with the parents of public school kids will really implement "faster, fair was to identify, improve and, when necessary, remove failing teachers"? In fact, that whole phrase should strike fear into the heart of every American, as it smacks of a sort of intellectual monopoly that will ubdoubltely be shared by the liberal elite and the teachers' unions that operate from Washington down. One must wonder in the first place what these "faster, fair ways" might entail, and that if any "fast" way of identifying anyone can honestly be called fair. It sounds like fertile grounds for the making of a teachers corps, of, for, and by intellectual liberals. It doesn't take too much imagination to consider the prospect of some teacher somewhere in Missouri falling out of favor by refusing to join the union or admitting she believes in school choice, then the "faster, fair ways of identifying a failing teacher" come sweeping in from Washington, ready to replace her with some drone pulling the administration line. Gore has already promised "I will finish the job of hiring 100,000 qualified teachers. And to help reduce class sizes in the early grades, my 21st Century Teacher Corps will recruit and train 75,000 new teachers a year (algore2000.com) My argument is not with the numbers but with the idea of Gore calling these teachers "his"..quite frankly the idea of a left-leaning GoreCorps of teachers positively frightens me, but I digress
Even if politics dont play a role in this whole process (which they will), it would take years to truly flag a failing teacher if the reviewers are at the same time concerned with something as quaint as fairness. What could be more fair, and fast, than giving parents more power in choosing what schools their children attend? Al Gore will tell you that the government (of course the ultimate broker of fairness, right?) can and will do a much better job of this for you, by virtue of it being run by him and filled with career beaurocrats who think just like him. Government can even tell you which school your children must attend, never mind those scheming brigands that would suggest that you as a parent might actually know better. Even more revolutionary, George Bush will let you decide for yourself, an idea that is becoming increasingly, and alarmingly, more whispered and rare in this, the paragon of the free democratic world. George Bush will use national standards to flag sub-par schools, but he wont assume the omnipotence required to promise the creation of a federal method of firing teachers faster and more fairly than the districts and communities where they actually live and work can. Instead he will give parents the right they deserve to flag teachers and schools for themselves before the big machines in DC ever could or rightly should, saving their children years of wasted potential or educational neglect.
The heart of this and all other important issues of this election is your own answer to this simple question: As Americans, do we want to live our common national life as a life of fear or as an affirmation of freedom? If you truly believe that most Americans cant achieve educational, economic, or professional success without the apparatus of big government rearing its head at every turn, then by all means, vote for Al Gore. If you believe that federal programs are the answer to everything, if you believe that a distant beaurocracy in Washington can set effective agendas for students of diverse backgrounds and far flung locales, that he and his agency can hold teachers and school districts more thoroughly accountable than parents armed with information and educational choice, then too, vote for Al Gore. But if you believe that at the heart of this election is a very serious difference between two visions of America, and the America you believe in is an America where our elected officials trust us enough to "let" us make some of the most important decisions of life for ourselves, a vote for Gore becomes less logical. If you believe that parents should have a greater say in where their children can go to school than some teachers' union with its own agenda (which unfortunately tends to be more about securing tenure than truly empowering our nation's youth), if you have the gall (and some of our left leaning friends would say "the ignorance") to believe that the America of the 21st Century can be both the most free and the most fair it has ever been, your choice is clear. If you resent the liberal ideal that big government should be a big brother watching over us "from cradle to grave," if you resent the message that progress of any kind is impossible apart from Government, then too your choice is clear. Your choice must be George W. Bush.
Governor Bushs education reform plan has 6 objectives: (from www.georgewbush.com)
1. Close the Achievement Gap between Disadvantaged Students and their Peers:
Empower low-income parents of students stuck in persistently failing schools with the option of transferring to another public school, or using their share of federal funding to pay for another option of their choice (tutoring, charter school, etc.).
Offer enhanced Pell grants (an additional $1,000) to low-income students who take rigorous math and science courses in high school.
Establish a $1 billion Math and Science Partnership fund for states, colleges and universities to strengthen K-12 math and science education.
Establish a $3 billion Education Technology Fund to ensure technology boosts achievement.
2. Strengthen Early Learning:
Establish the Reading First program by investing $5 billion over five years to ensure that every disadvantaged child can read by third grade.
Reform Head Start by making school readiness pre-reading and numeracy its top priority.
3. Raise Standards through Local Control, Accountability and Choice:
Restore local control by combining more than 60 federal programs into five, flexible categories; have states establish accountability systems, testing every student in reading and math.
Establish a $500 million fund to reward states and schools that improve student performance: withdraw a portion of federal funding from states that permit performance to decline.
Increase funding for special education with the goal of meeting the federal obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
4. Give Parents More Options from Kindergarten to College:
Publish school-by-school report cards on the Internet to arm parents with information.
Double the number of charter schools through a Charter School Homestead Fund to provide $3 billion of loan guarantees for start-up and construction costs.
Expand Education Savings Accounts by increasing the annual contributions limit from $500 to $5,000, and allowing funds to be withdrawn tax free to pay for expenses from kindergarten through college.
5. Improve Teacher Quality and Increase Resources:
Combine new and existing funding into a $2.4 billion fund for states to train and recruit teachers and enact teacher accountability systems.
Expand loan forgiveness from $5,000 to $17,500 for math and science majors who commit to teach in high-need schools for five years.
Increase funding for the Troops-to-Teachers program to $30 million to recruit former military personnel to Americas classrooms; and establish a tax deduction for teachers to deduct up to $400 dollars in out-of-pocket classroom expenses.
6. Restore School Safety and Promote Character Development:
Require states to measure and improve school safety; provide students in persistently dangerous schools with a transfer to a safe school.
Establish Project Sentry to prosecute juveniles who carry or use guns and the adults who provide them.
Improve discipline by requiring schools to enact a zero-tolerance policy on classroom disruption; enact a Teacher Protection Act to shield teachers from meritless lawsuits.
Triple federal character education funding, and expand the role of faith-based and community organizations in after-school programs.
Senator Lieberman on Education
Religious Protection VS the free flow of condoms and contraceptives, straight from the voting record.
Joe Lieberman voted NO to cutting off federal funds to school districts that deny students their right to constitutionally protected voluntary prayer [against requiring schools to allow prayer]. (S.1513, 7/27/1994)
Sen. Lieberman voted IN FAVOR of distributing condoms, contraceptives or drugs financed by federal aid without parental consent. (S.1150, 2/8/1994) Source: Vote-smart.org Senate voting record Mar 2, 2000
Is anyone else disturbed that one of the Senate's most celebrated voices of integrity voted AGAINST taking action against schools that illegally infringe upon perhaps the most basic of American rights, the freedom of religion, but voted in favor of contraceptive distribution without parental consent? The difference between voluntary prayers and contraceptives? Contraceptives are welcome in our public schools by the supposed "voice of morality" on the Democratic ticket this fall. To think that Sen. Lieberman refused to hold schools where instances of intimidation and the outright trampling of students' religious righhts occur accountable is troubling enough, especially when considering the tremendous effect teachers and other authority figures can have in the lives of students. It would seem as though public schools are increasingly becoming the breeding grounds of left-leaning statism, as the message being sent from this particular vote comparison rings loud and clear: We, the government, shall decide what is good and bad intellectually as well as morally for you our subjects, er...ahhh...citizens. Serious religious sentiment is acceptable, unless of course it is of the "intrusive" evangelical kind. While in many of the schools this vote centered around, students, mere children, were illegally kept from offering voluntary prayers to their God, all across the nation condoms are not only allowed in schools, but passed out and paid for by the government. This kind of governmentally endorsed message is many times more intrusive than the quiet prayer or even the quiet reading of a Bible. The message of the liberal establishment is one sort of world view, even as Bible-based faiths are another world view. If the government, along with Sen. Lieberman, wish to create environments free from the intrusion of potentially dangerous world views into the fecund young minds of children, they might do well to hold their own theories about the acceptable use of government funds, or the message state-endorsed contraception sends, up to the same philosophic and legal light. The leftist message and most religious messages are worlds apart, no where more notably than the status each has in our public schools. One is pronounced boldly from Washington and forced upon our students as kind of subtle tyranny, while the other is made contraband by those same artful tyrants. Perhaps prayer is only acceptable when made to the most Supreme of all beings: the Government.
TEACHERS, TAKE NOTICE (something a little more practical)
While we note that Sen. Lieberman stands firmly entrenched with liberal stalwarts on the above matter, what about more practical concerns? When it comes to the notion of greater local autonomy for schools, Lieberman seems closer to the GOP side of the aisle than he does to the NEA and defenders of the most sacred of all liberal cows, the Department of Education:
"More funding & more local responsibility for public schools:
Lieberman [is proposing] the Public Education Reinvestment, Reinvention, and Responsibility Act, saying it represented a "3rd way" approach to education reform, offering a middle ground between the Democratic agenda of more spending and programs and the Republican agenda of more block grants and vouchers.
The proposal would dramatically downsize the number of federal education programs, provide public schools with much more funding and flexibility in how to spend those dollars, and hold educators accountable for producing results.
Overall it would increase federal investment in public education by $25 billion over the next five years, targeting most of those new dollars to the poorest school districts in the nation. Local educators would have the freedom to allocate this money to meet their specific needs. And in return, they would have the responsibility to meet specific performance standards, and suffer real consequences for failing to do so."