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Jewish World Review May 4, 2000 / 29 Nissan, 5760

George Will

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A Lesson Plan for Gore -- IF AL GORE keeps talking incessantly about education, someday he may slip and say something interesting. But he avoided that pitfall--anything novel would offend his leash-holders, the teachers' unions--in his Dallas speech last Friday, unless you find interesting this unintended lesson, drawn from his speech, about how schools are failing to teach future speechwriters how to write:

"Today, I am proposing a new national commitment to bring revolutionary improvements to our schools--built on three basic principles. First, I am proposing a major national investment to bring revolutionary improvements to our schools. Second, I am proposing a national revolution in . . ."

By November the salient issue may be not education but: Can Americans bear a president who talks to them as though they are dim fourth-graders? Whoever writes Gore's stuff knows his style, the bludgeoning repetition of cant, as in his almost comic incantations about Republicans' "risky tax schemes." In Dallas, Gore used "revolution," "revolutionary" or "revolutionize" eight times and "invest" (a weasel word to avoid "spending") or some permutation of it 14 times. And--it is as reflexive as a sneeze--he used "tax scheme" three times, "risky tax cut" once and threw in another "scheme," referring to vouchers, for good measure.

Gore's grating style in Dallas suited his banal substance, which was Lyndon Johnson redux. The crux of Gore's plan is more spending of the kinds that are pleasing to teachers' unions. Such as: "My education plan invests in smaller schools and smaller classes--because we know that is one of the most effective ways to improve student performance."

Actually, we know no such thing. Pupil-teacher ratios have been shrinking for a century. In 1955 pupil-teacher ratios in public elementary and secondary schools were 30.2-to-one and 20.9-to-one respectively. In 1998 they were 18.9-to-one and 14.7-to-one. We now know it is possible to have, simultaneously, declining pupil-teacher ratios and declining scores on tests measuring schools' cognitive results. If making classes smaller is such an effective route to educational improvement, why, after 45 years of declining pupil-teacher ratios, are schools so unsatisfactory they need to be "revolutionized" by Gore's "investments"?

Gore's Dallas speech proves the need for remedial classes not only in prose composition but in elementary arithmetic, too. He says that George W. Bush's "tax scheme, if enacted, would guarantee big cuts in spending for public schools." Well.

Bush's proposed tax cut over 10 years would involve just 5 percent of projected federal revenues. And federal money amounts to just 7 percent of all spending on public elementary and secondary education. Tonight's homework assignment, boys and girls, is to calculate how trimming 5 percent of federal revenues could necessitate "big cuts" in education, 93 percent of which is paid for with nonfederal funds.

Gore's vow that every new teacher hired under his program would be "fully qualified" probably is an encoded promise that all new teachers would be herded through the often petty, irrelevant and ideologically poisoning education schools that issue credentials to teachers. Education schools feed their graduates into, and feed off, the teachers' unions. Those unions sometimes push for state legislation that keeps the education schools in business by requiring teachers to pass through them.

"There are," says Gore, "too many school districts in America where less than half the students graduate, and where those who do graduate aren't ready for college or good jobs." Washington has lots of public schools that fit that description, which is why none of Gore's children attended one.

Most failing schools serve (if that is the word) poor and minority children, whose parents increasingly favor meaningful school choice programs--programs that give parents resources to choose between public and private schools, thereby making the public school system compete. Gore is vehemently opposed to that. The "dramatic expansion of public school choice" he promises would enable students to choose only among public schools, thereby keeping students from low-income families confined to the public education plantation.

What would be "revolutionary" would be a Gore education proposal that seriously offended the teachers' unions. But he is utterly orthodox in his belief that public schools are splendid--and desperately in need of revolutionizing investments.

"Fundamental decisions about education have to be made at the local level," said Gore at the beginning of last week's litany of proposals for using federal money, and the threat of withdrawing it, to turn the federal government into the nation's school board. To the classes Gore needs in remedial composition and arithmetic, add one on elementary logic.

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04/06/00: A must-read horror book
04/03/00: 'Improving' the Bill of Rights
03/30/00: Sleaze, The Sequel
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03/23/00: Death and the Liveliest Writing
03/20/00: Powell is Dubyah's best bet
03/16/00: Free to Be Politically Intense
03/13/00: Runnin', Gunnin' and Gambling
03/09/00: And Now Back to Republican Business
03/06/00: As the Clock Runs Out on Bradley
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02/28/00: . . . The Right Response
02/24/00: Federal Swelling
02/22/00: Greenspan Tweaks
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02/10/00: The Disciplining of Austria
02/07/00: Free to Speak, Free to Give
02/02/00: Conservatives in a Changing Market
01/31/00: America's true unity day
01/27/00: For the Voter Who Can't Be Bothered
01/25/00: The FBI and the golden age of child pornography
01/20/00: Scruples and Science
01/18/00: Bradley: Better for What Ails Us
01/13/00: O'Brian Rules the Waves
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01/06/00: In Cactus Jack's Footsteps
01/03/00: The long year
12/31/99: A Stark Perspective On a Radical Century
12/20/99: Soldiers' Snapshots of the Hell They Created
12/16/99: Star-Crossed Banner
12/13/99: Hubert Humphrey Wannabe
12/09/99: Stupidity in Seattle
12/06/99: Bradley's most important vote
12/03/99: Boys will be boys --- or you can always drug 'em
12/01/99: Confidence in the Gore Camp
11/29/99: Busing's End
11/22/99: When We Enjoyed Politics
11/18/99: Ever the Global Gloomster
11/15/99: The Politics of Sanctimony
11/10/99: Risks of Restraining
11/08/99: Willie Brown Besieged
11/04/99: One-House Town
11/01/99: Crack and Cant
10/28/99: Tax Break for the Yachting Class
10/25/99: Ready for The Big Leagues?
10/21/99: Where honor and responsibility still exist
10/18/99: Is Free Speech Only for the Media?
10/14/99: A Beguiling Amateur
10/11/99: Money in Politics: Where's the Problem?
10/08/99: Soft Thinking On Soft Money

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