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Jewish World Review Oct. 13, 2000 / 14 Tishrei, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Teachers' union lies

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- MANY PEOPLE hear only one side of the story of our public schools, because only the teachers' unions have both the incentives and the millions of dollars required to produce sustained advertising campaigns about education. These campaigns intensify during an election year, so you can expect to hear more slick propaganda than usual from the unions this year.

These unions have fought bitterly against the testing of teachers or students to assess how the public schools are doing. The reason is simple: Such tests have repeatedly revealed the gross ignorance and incompetence of many teachers and the resulting failure of American students to come up to the standards in other countries, including some Third World countries.

However, now that tests have been mandated by law in many states and are strongly supported by public opinion, the teachers' unions have come up with a new spin. They claim that they have no objections to testing students, but just want to have "standards" worked out first. What are these mysterious "standards" that have yet to be developed? People have been testing math and English for centuries.

What the teachers' unions really want is to be able to put all sorts of non-academic mush into the tests, so as to reduce the failure rate and evade the need to teach academic skills.

Instead, they want to be able to continue using the students as guinea pigs for social engineering fads and using classrooms as indoctrination centers for political correctness.

A recent statistic in Time magazine showed that American students spend about as many hours in school annually as students in England, France and Germany. But the number of hours that American students spend on serious subjects like history, science and math is only about half what the students in these other countries spend on these kinds of subjects.

Is it any wonder that our students have consistently been outperformed on international tests, not only by students in these three countries, but even by students from poor countries like Slovenia and Thailand? When teachers' union ads come on the TV screen, with some saccharine-sweet spokesperson emoting about how much they are "concerned" about children and about education, ask yourself: Where were all these concerned people when our schools were being systematically dumbed down over the past generation?

With American parents and voters increasingly concerned about the actual outcomes of the kind of education provided in our public schools, the education establishment in general and the teachers' unions in particular have responded verbally, rather than by teaching the basics. If the public is concerned about outcomes, then the education establishment's answer is to create the phrase "outcomes-based education" -- with the outcomes being defined in mushy, non-academic terms.

You want accountability? Then they will use the word "accountability" over and over again -- all the while continuing to keep the schools and the teachers immune from any adverse consequences for failure. Indeed, every failure is used as a reason why more money is needed. The teachers' unions -- and the politicians beholden to them for campaign contributions and votes, like Al Gore -- call this "investing" in the education of our young people. It makes a blank check for failure sound noble.

The supreme chutzpah of the teachers' unions is their claim that voucher schools are not "accountable" because there are no education establishment bureaucrats micro-managing them or snarling them in red tape. Is your local grocery store unaccountable because there are no bureaucrats telling them how much detergent to sell or what kinds of cheese to stock? On the contrary, it is accountable to you, because you will take your business elsewhere if they don't do their job right. That is precisely the kind of accountability that voucher schools have -- and that public schools do not have.

Another scare tactic of the teachers' unions is to claim that vouchers will require more money, draining money not only from the public schools but also from police and fire departments. In reality, vouchers never pay as much as the public schools spend per pupil. When students leave the public schools, the total costs of education go down, not up. But lies are the norm in propaganda.

Unfortunately, years of dumbed-down education may have left many people without the intellectual equipment to see through the self-serving propaganda of the teachers' unions.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, A Personal Odyssey.

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