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.