Money Ain’t Everything

George Bush has underfunded his own No Child Left Behind Act by tens of billions of dollars and offered massive tax cuts to millionaires instead. Few Americans share those warped priorities. And yet in polling at the end of the 2004 election, Bush actually edged John Kerry on the education issue. Why is that?

This new article [reg. req’d] in the New Republic tries to answer that question. My argument is that Democrats have backtracked from their commitment to reforming our education system–not just to offer more money, but to ask more from bureaucracies, schools, and teachers. That’s bad politics, because most voters strongly believe in accountability. And it’s also bad policy, because high standards–and yes, even No Child Left Behind–are good for our schools, and especially for poor and minority children.

So this article lays out an agenda for Democrats to retake the initiative on education. First, instead of trashing No Child Left Behind, Democrats should commit to making it work–not by watering down high standards, as many have proposed, but by implementing high standards at the national level, through national standards and testing. And second, Democrats should seek to strengthen the quality of teaching–the single most important element of good schools–by paying teachers better for performing better, by paying them better for teaching in troubled schools, and by reforming tenure laws that protect those who just aren’t doing their jobs. Some of this stuff isn’t popular, but it’s still important. If Democrats take steps like these, they can do right by children and do right by their own ideals.

That’s the short version. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, and I’d love to talk about some of these ideas.

— Robert Gordon