Wanted: Education policy entrepreneur with common sense
In my last post, I complained about the propensity of those in power to screw things up when it comes to public education. Daniel Simms responded by saying this:
Dennis, this is what politicians do these days. That should be obvious. In defending public schools, even though I know you don't mean to, you are just giving aid and comfort to politicians, in their quest to increase their power and prestige over the rest of us.
I must admit that listening to what politicians say and seeing what legislators do about public education is discouraging. But it doesn't have to be this way. I have to believe that it's possible for democratic governments to make common sense decisions to improve public education.
The model that gives me hope is the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Economists told us that our tax code was ridiculous because it was so filled with loopholes, but political experts thought it would be impossible to change that. Every loophole had some interest group that supported it, and public opinion polls said that even middle class people would rather keep their loopholes than have income tax rates lowered. But lo and behold, what happened? Congress passed and President Reagan signed a common sense bill that lowered tax rates and got rid of most loopholes. It would be nice if that were the end of the story, but let's face it--it isn't. Tax policy since 1986 has consisted of the same crap as before, so once again we have a huge number of loopholes in the tax code. Nevertheless, what happened in 1986 shows that it is possible for common sense to triumph even when it seems politically impossible.
Two people were key in getting the 1986 tax law passed--Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and Senator Bill Bradley, a Democrat. What we need in education is a policy entrepreneur--someone who can stir up an apathetic public or an apathetic legislature by bringing attention to the stupidity that is going on to the point where something is actually done about it. Ideally, it would be someone in public office, but it doesn't have to be. Ralph Nader (not that I'm a fan of his) did serve as a successful policy entrepreneur for auto safety back in the 1970s.
Anybody who has read my blog a few times knows my position on this, but I'll state it again: teachers need to be given the power to remove disruptive and apathetic kids from their classrooms. One problem in finding someone to carry on this battle is that, despite what they say, the public really doesn't care that much about education, and I'm afraid that might be impossible for anyone to change. Education just doesn't have the sex appeal that some other issues do. Another problem is that neither political party is good for education. The Democrats are perfectly happy to throw money our way, but they have no common sense on the issue. The Democrats tend to be bleeding hearts who see kids who are destroying education for others as victims. Conservatives might hate public education, but the court decisions and policies that have damaged pubic education the most over the last forty years have come from liberals. George Bush isn't the first guy who wanted to leave no child behind. Republicans, on the other hand, say they are all for individual responsibility, so they would seem to have possibilities. The problem with them is that they hate the teachers' unions so badly that the only solutions they want to talk about are "choice" and merit pay.
There are people out there who want to improve education, like Bill Gates and some other rich guys, but they're all barking up the wrong trees. They also want to screw around with merit pay, and choice, and charter schools and things like that. They just don't understand that the biggest problem that we have in public education is that there are too many kids who want to wreck education for everyone else, and there's not much that teachers can do about them.
What we need is someone who is in politics, in the media, or in the entertainment world, who has some common sense, who believes in individual responsibility, and who wants to improve public education rather than destroy it. The one person I can think of who comes closest to meeting the criteria is Bill Cosby. Anyone have any other ideas???