The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Politicians are the same all over: they promise to build a bridge even where there is no river....  ...Nikita Khrushchev, (1960).
Commentary of the Day - Feb. 14, 2000: The Silly Season - Politicians on Education:
Now that there has been a shakeout among the presidential candidates from both major parties and the Perotistas are in their usual state of disarray, it probably is time to comment on the education platforms of the surviving candidates.  It seems these days that every candidate for public office wants to be known as the "education president", "education governor", "education mayor", "education dog catcher" - what have you.  The IP thinks it all started with California's own "Sneaky Pete" Wilson, who ran as the "education governor" here in the Golden State.  As the IP has been fond of saying...we elected Wilson governor (twice), and we got an education.  Pete spent more time building state prisons than he did repairing the damage that Proposition 13 did to the public schools in the state.  But that might be expected given the level of contributions he received from the prison guards union.  Just as an aside, California prison guards with high school diplomas earn more than most public school teachers with college degrees.

In any case the IP will do his best during the 2000 campaign to keep you up to date on the education platforms of the major candidates.  On the Democratic side that includes Bill Bradley and Al Gore, on the Republican side that would be George W. Bush (or as Molly Ivens calls him "Shrub") and John McCain.  We probably won't waste much space on "Pitchfork" Pat Buchanan, since his chances seem too slim to matter.

Democratic presidential candidates always promise more money for education, but seldom deliver.  The reason for this of course is that the federal government actually contributes very little to public K-12 education, something of the order of 7% of the money spent on K-12 education comes from the feds.  So we will focus on some of the less well publicized aspects of the candidates' platforms.  Not surprisingly, Al Gore wants to connect every school to the Internet.... Hey, Al invented the Internet didn't he, so it's natural that he would want every school to be connected.  What is surprising for a Dem is that Gore wants to give incompetent teachers the boot.  He proposes testing teachers, and removing the ones who fail - tenure notwithstanding.  Another surprise on the Gore front is that he is against social promotion.  Not the usual stuff that we hear from Dems who usually receive large contributions from the teachers unions.

Bill Bradley's education platform follows more traditional Democratic lines - 400,000 more students in Head Start, 60,000 new teachers, etc.  But, he does want to send urban students to "boarding school communities" in an attempt to "instill values" in students.  This sounds a bit like reeducation camps, but maybe that would help.

Republican candidates typically walk a tightrope on education.  They want to sound good while not doing anything that might smack of federal control.  That means that like Bush the elder they talk a lot about education but don't really do much.  Nevertheless, some of what they say is interesting.  For example George W. Bush (Shrub) has said that evolution and creationism are both valid theories, so local school boards should decide which to use.  That's really interesting....  The IP does wonder how two opposing theories can both be valid.  Perhaps it depends on what's in the water or whatever else that your local school board happens to drink.  Most surprisingly, Bush does not favor "English only" programs.  Instead,  he's pushing "English plus Spanish".  The IP is not sure how well an "English plus Spanish" program will go over in Minnesota, but maybe an English plus Swedish program would work there.  Bush also wants to help failing students to pass without using social promotion.

John McCain wants to teach virtues in every school.  Bill Bennett will never be without a job in a McCain administration!  He also thinks that good teachers should earn more than bad lawyers.  That's an interesting concept....since a very bad lawyer might earn almost nothing.  Perhaps he means that a good teacher should earn next to nothing (most already do).  He also wants to help unqualified teachers find other lines of work.  We do have to wonder what other lines of work he has in mind.

Most likely we will find the candidates coming out with more gems on education as the silly season progresses, and the IP will be here to comment!  So far there seems to be some agreement among the candidates on their opposition to social promotion.  That's a really safe position to take since the feds have no control whatever over promotion policies, and everyone is against social promotion except for the parents of the little beggars who are flunking.

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