Platform platitudes

The education plank of the Democratic Party’s platform is heavy on platitudes and spending, writes Chester Finn in National Review.

Insofar as one can detect policy impulses in the fog, however, many of them resemble what Republicans also say. Think of them as standard education pabulum: attention to “fundamental skills” and “fundamental values,” “a great teacher in every classroom,” closing learning gaps, higher graduation rates, citizenship education, parent partnerships, school choice (confined, for Democrats, to charter and magnet schools), making college affordable, etc.

Kerry has watered down his proposal to tie teacher pay to performance and to fire bad teachers. Now only new teachers would be held accountable, and nothing much would change for underperforming teachers.

“We must raise pay for teachers, especially in the schools and subjects where great teachers are in the shortest supply…. At the same time, we must create rigorous new incentives and tests for new teachers…. And teachers deserve due process protection from arbitrary dismissal, but we must have fast, fair procedures for improving or removing teachers who do not perform on the job.”

The Gore-Lieberman platform in 2000 was much gutsier, Finn writes.

. . . “every teacher should pass a rigorous test to get [into the classroom]…. Every failing school in America should be turned around — or shut down and reopened under new public leadership…. [N]o high school student graduates unless they have mastered the basics of reading and math…. Parents across the nation ought to be able to choose the best public school for their children… “

In 2004, the debate will be about how much to spend, not how to spend it, Finn predicts.

About Joanne


  1. Spending more money paying teachers more isn’t a panacea. Reforming the system that trains teachers, and also reforming the system that hires, pays, retains, and “administrates” — for lack of a better term — teachers.

    I have a friend who was a teacher for three years. She got her BA in French, then an MA in Liberal Arts and a teaching certificate. But when she decided to become a teacher, getting that teaching certificate — even though she was already a substitute at a high school — was the hardest thing she had to do.

    I have the same friend who, as a teacher, was able to afford a down payment and payments on her house. Unfortunately, that same friend was a victim of the retention and accreditation process. Her certificate supposedly expired, and even though the administrators at her school said it wouldn’t be a problem (that was at the end of the school year), her accreditation was evidently rescinded during the summer, and now she isn’t a teacher anymore. Not officially, anyway.

    And my mother, an elementary-school science teacher, was crapped on by her former principal for three years, probably because the principal knew she was a better teacher than the principal could ever be. My mom is a great science teacher — teaching a “special” is even harder, because she has to know every student, not just the ones in her class. But until her former principal was replaced, she was stuck in the one class with all the behavior problems. Oh, sure the administration says they only put one or two behavior problems in each class, but that’s often a flat-out lie.

    More money will not solve any of these problems, except in the way that everyone making less than $50,000 a year needs a bigger paycheck. We need to either raze the entire education system and start over from scratch, or admit that public education is nothing more than a bone to be fought over by politicians.

    I know which one I’m picking.

  2. Richard Brandshaft says:

    1) The National Review disapproves of the Democrat’s platform. I’m shocked, just shocked. When a magazine as objective and non-political as the National Review starts disapproving, you know the Democrats are doing something really bad.

    2) J,
    You give examples of individuals the system rolled over. Who has the better record for defending individual rights in these situations: conservatives or non-conservatives? (The answer is reversed for big time white collar thieves, but that isn’t what you were talking about.)

  3. “the debate will be about how much to spend, not how to spend it”

    Does this analogy work? The city water system can’t deliver enough water to all its customers because of the leaks in the supply system. The right answer would be to fix the leaks, the easy answer would be to increase the water pressure at the head-end.

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    A hydraulic analogy and a good one. Where is the Mad Scientist with his [her] kudus?

  5. Fixing the leaks requires extra money. If you’re going to fix them well, you don’t just plug the hole, you fix the system.


  1. The Infrastructure is the Problem

    As you probably know, the state of government-sponsored educational infrastructure in this country is one of my pet peeves. I was reading on Joanne Jacobs’s website about how spending more money seems to always be the answer of the politicians……