Education done the “right” way

BY KATIE BIBER

When I hear liberals talk about how more money will solve our nation’s educational woes, I wish I could invite them back to my hometown. In the middle of what most of them would deem flyover county, the Kansas City, Missouri, schools stand as a testament to the failed educational policies of the Left. With their Olympic-sized pools, historically accurate Greek stages and rows of shiny computers, a few years ago the schools of Kansas City would have caused any liberal to pinch himself. After all, they’d been built upon the holy premise that money is the answer to any problem.

During the 1980s, the state of Missouri struggled to improve education quality in Kansas City and more fully integrate the schools there. The state spent lavishly on the program, allowing schools to concentrate on narrow disciplines and building glowing facilities to attract suburban students. The district swam in cash. As it turns out, however, its two-decade, $2 billion shopping spree did little to provide quality education to Kansas City youngsters. To the contrary. In 2000, the state board of education yanked the district’s accreditation, citing dismal achievement, bad test scores and low graduation rates. The district failed miserably at all 11 performance requirements and has yet to regain its accreditation.

But if only conservatives would loosen the purse strings a bit more, protest liberals on these editorial pages and across the country. Heartless conservatives want to drain funding from America’s schools and ensure that only pampered private school offspring get the tools they need to succeed.

This is pure nonsense, and intellectual laziness to boot. No conservative likes to see a school struggling with substandard books and underpaid teachers. There is no cadre of Republican activists looking to slash the budgets of public schools until classrooms are forced to rely on private charity. Conservatives believe that every at-risk child in America deserves a quality education. Liberals know this. Instead of admitting it, they seek to obscure the debate and avoid discussing their party’s toxic topics — educational standards and school choice.

We owe it to our kids that the teachers they rely upon are actually trained and competent in their fields of instruction. That means tougher rules for getting certified and regular checkups to make sure teachers continue to offer students the very best. High expectations should extend to students, too. Teachers and principals must be allowed to maintain reasonable order and discipline in their classrooms without fearing publicity-seeking plaintiffs will haul them to court. Kids cannot learn in classrooms where persistent troublemakers take up most of a teacher’s time.

One of the best ways to make sure high educational standards are met is to give parents the right to observe such standards for themselves and place their children in schools that best meet the mark. Poor families should not be trapped at whatever failing or violent school luck assigns to them. It’s not surprising that teachers’ unions — and by extension, Democrats — are opposed to school choice, despite the fact that poor families and Americans in general love it. Teachers don’t want to fear a mass exodus when their schools don’t meet the mark. But this isn’t about what is best or most comfortable for teachers. It is about providing a solid education to every child in America, whether the daughter of a poor family in Boston or the son of a Harvard professor.

The liberals protest again: We’ve got to support our public schools, not turn our backs on them! Nonsense again. School choice does not turn our backs on public schools. It simply forces us to remember that we are not in the business of protecting schools as administrative establishments. We are in the business of protecting kids. School choice offers an escape hatch for children trapped in failing classrooms. Liberals instead propose we leave them there to act as guinea pigs in a very expensive experiment.

So please, let’s end the talk that conservatives don’t care about education, or that conservatives want dry up public school funding, or that conservatives aren’t concerned about kids. We have some serious problems on our hands, and it’s time to talk about real, practical solutions.

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