Accountable teachers?

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Interesting column today on Page 2 of the Wall Street Journal from the often interesting David Wessel: "It's the Teachers, Stupid" (subscription required). It starts off sounding as if Democrats are finally interested in having kids actually learn something:

"Now a band of Democratic-leaning thinkers wants to reclaim the issue. Their proposal, unveiled yesterday, is simple: Get rid of bad teachers and reward good ones."

We go on to learn that

"the proposal is the first from a well-funded new venture, organized by former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and other like-minded wealthy folks, to bridge the gap between academics with sound, practical ideas to peddle and politicians (mainly Democrats, but moderate Republicans welcomed) desperately seeking same."

Here is the heart of it:

"The teacher proposal rests on several arguments: that the current practice of demanding certification based on teacher-training courses has outlived its usefulness, that routinely granting teachers lifetime tenure after two or three years is stupid, and that student test scores and other systemic ways to evaluate teachers are now good enough to act on."

Well, duh. Rubin and his friends, who would obviously never allow their own kids to attend schools run by teacher union members, have discovered—after all these years of their party's basking in teacher union dollar and teacher union member-run political activists' activities—that maybe ordinary and poor kids stuck in the schools run by these people are not being so well served.

Brilliant insight.

Reality meets Democrats who have been happy for years to have the teacher unions funnel money into the Democratic Party, while they protect bad teachers from any accountability and allow the public schools to continue to disserve the kids of poor parents. It's been a nice system for them. The public funnels money to the public schools, which funnel it to teacher union members, who funnel it to the Democratic Party—everybody does just wonderfully from it, except the kids. Tough for them. But that's the sacrifice they make for contributing to progressive public policy.

But I guess I should give Rubin and his friends more credit. And Roy Romer, too, the former governor of Colorado, who in that post, like so many Democrats (and Republicans), was happy to get credit as a great friend of education for pumping more money into teacher union members and teacher unions. Romer in his older years has taken on the great burden of becoming superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and has given signs of wanting to do things for the kids—rather than just for the teacher union members who helped him get elected in Colorado. Good for him. Here is Wessel on his discovery:

"The new wrinkle in this plan is to push school districts to raise the bar to tenure so that fewer teachers get what usually amounts to a lifetime-employment guarantee. 'The system is so cumbersome when it comes to getting out the teacher who is marginal,' complains Roy Romer, the former Colorado governor who is now superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, where, he says, the district is warehousing some teachers for as long as three years while they pursue appeals."

I'm happy to see Democrats like Rubin and Romer genuinely concerned about the outputs of public school systems, rather than just the inputs of money to teacher union members and teacher unions and the Democratic Party. I take as genuine their asserted concern about the kids that the public school systems are purported to serve. I note that liberal Democrats in Congress like Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. George Miller provided real leadership in passing the No Child Left Behind Act (yes, I hate this kind of title, but that's the world we live in) in 2001, which aimed to provide more accountability in education, building on the programs that many governors—most of them Republicans (like George W. Bush in Texas) but many of them Democrats (like Jim Hunt in North Carolina)—developed in their states in the 1990s.

But I still think it's a nauseating spectacle to see liberals preen themselves on how much they care about poor children and their education when they have over the years allowed themselves to be total whores for the teacher unions whose goals are to increase the gush of public money to their members (which through dues becomes a gush of money to the Democratic Party) and to reduce down to zero the accountability of their members for the work they have done. If Rubin and Romer, and Kennedy and Miller, are doing better now—good for them. But it might be nice if they would admit that for years they have misdirected large flows of public money to no good public good and for the benefit of their own political side and—far more important—have directed those flows of money in a way that has hurt kids who start off life with no advantages in order to benefit their own political money machines.