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Jewish World Review July 19, 2000 /16 Tamuz, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Teachers' union gall

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- AMERICAN STUDENTS usually score at or near the bottom in international tests. But their teachers are world class when it comes to gall. Math teachers in Massachusetts, for example, are not only refusing to take math tests, their unions have filed lawsuits charging that it is unfair, illegal and discriminatory to make them take such tests.

"Teachers' energies can be much better spent developing lesson plans and learning new teaching skills than taking tests to see if they know their algebra and geometry," according to the director of a teachers' union organization called -- ironically -- Center for Educational Quality. In other words, we know our algebra and geometry so well that we don't want anybody testing us to find out.

What makes this huffy response especially ironic is that over half the applicants for teaching jobs in Massachusetts a couple of years ago failed a very simple test. Here is a chance for Massachusetts eduators to vindicate themselves and prove their critics wrong. Yet somehow they are passing up this golden opportunity.

The rest of us have to stand the test of performance, but we are supposed to take teachers' word for it that they know their math -- even when their students get wiped out in math in international tests. So few American students are well prepared in math that an absolute majority of the Ph.D.'s in math awarded by American universities go to foreigners.

Massachusetts teachers have no monopoly on chutzpah. The National Education Association -- the biggest teachers' union in the country -- is urging that an extra year be added to high school for those students who fail to meet the standards for graduation. In other words, when educators fail to educate for 12 years, the 13th year will be the charm. Every failure of our public schools is transformed politically into a reason to reward teachers and their unions by creating more jobs. Mandatory summer school, smaller classes and now a 13th year of public school are to fatten the pocketbooks of teachers and unions alike -- all in the name of improving education.

It is neither new nor surprising that unions like make-work or featherbedding for their members. What is painful is seeing how many gullible people buy these self-serving schemes.

Decades of research have shown that more money does not produce better education. Spending on education was going up by leaps and bounds, beginning in the 1960s -- which is precisely when students' test scores began falling -- every single year into the early 1980s. Although spending per pupil has continued to rise, the test scores have never gotten back to where they were more than 30 years ago.

This is only one of many ways in which it has been shown repeatedly that more money does not get the job done in education. It is very common for states at or near the top in spending per pupil to be below the national average in test results -- and for states below average in spending to be at or near the top in test results.

Yet throwing more money at the public schools is how politicians try to show their "commitment" to improving the schools by "investing in our young people." Al Gore is playing this theme for all it is worth -- and it is worth millions of dollars in campaign contributions from teachers' unions.

Now the new panacea is more time in school. This might make some sense if so much school time was not already being wasted on brainwashing the children with political correctness or creating all sorts of fun "projects" and "activities" -- and of course holding teachers' meetings many times during the school year, with the students being sent home early or not required to attend at all on the days when their teachers pow wow.

At the heart of all these problems is the low intellectual caliber of most of the people who go into teaching in the public schools. Test scores have shown this repeatedly for decades -- which is why teachers' unions fight fiercely against testing.

Nor is it just tests that teachers don't like. They don't want their pay or promotions to depend on any kind of assessment of their performance in the classroom. And they are against having to compete with charter schools or voucher schools.

They want things just the way they are now, with automatic pay increases for taking soft courses in education, iron-clad tenure and lots of time to spend on whatever fads and fancies they like.


JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.

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