Tanya K. Metaksa is the former executive director of the National
Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action. She is the
author of "Safe, Not Sorry," a self-protection manual, published
in 1997. She has appeared on numerous talk and interview shows such
as "Crossfire," the "Today" show, "Nightline," "This Week with David
Brinkley" and the "McNeil-Lehrer Hour," among others. More ↓Less ↑
In most of the country Labor Day means the end of summer vacation and
a return to school for millions of children. As the students return to
the classroom, their teachers’ unions are working hard to elect Al Gore
to ensure that the Department of Education has unlimited federal dollars
to spend. It doesn’t matter that test scores are dropping and taxpayers
are getting less education for their hard earned money, teachers unions
keep promoting new education programs whose promises fizzle while
students learn less and less.
As parents hope for a miracle, the politicians keep promoting the
education issue. George W. Bush has been using that issue since he
began floating those presidential balloons way back in 1998. Under his
administration, in Texas standardized test scores among all children
have improved, but the biggest change has been among those who were on
the lowest educational rung. According to the National Education Goals
Panel, Texas led the nation in student improvement on test scores,
especially for African-American and Hispanic students.
Nevertheless the Clinton-Gore administration and the Gore campaign
have done everything they can to belittle the Texas experience. They
charge that Texas under George Bush is 50th in the nation in spending
for teacher’s salaries. I personally don’t know how that can be true
when the state of Hawaii, controlled by Democrats, will pay my daughter
with eight years teaching experience and a masters degree less in 2000
than she received when she was teaching in Texas with only 2 years of
experience in 1993 prior to George W. becoming governor. According to
the Texas Education Agency teachers’ salaries have increased 33 percent
under Governor Bush and when adjusted for cost of living and teacher
experience Texas ranks 9th in teacher salaries.
Although it is common knowledge that the Gore campaign, as are most
Democrats, is in the hip pocket of the National Education Association,
many don’t consider the NEA a labor union. One of its upper management
employees once told me, “We don’t care about curriculum; we care about
our members’ benefits.”
So despite all their high sounding verbiage about student success,
the bottom line for the NEA is teacher salaries, teacher tenure, and, of
course, money, money, money. Where does all that necessary money come
from? Where else but the taxpayers’ pocketbooks. Thus it was in the
NEA’s best interest to be a dominant player at the Democratic National
Convention. Government is the money fountain and the federal government
dispenses almost unlimited amounts with NEA conditions attached. The
average cost to educate one student has risen to almost $7,000 per year.
On the NEA website, it has a page devoted to “issues.” The page is
the blueprint for four more years of Democratic control of education
leading to yet another generation of poorly educated children in our
public schools. They support bilingual education, smaller class sizes,
and the prevention of drug and gun violence in schools. They oppose
charter schools, tuition vouchers, gun safety education in the schools,
and holding schools and teachers accountable for poor student
performance. Nowhere do they talk about teaching students about
reading, writing, and arithmetic.
At their national convention last July NEA members went even further
than the union leadership by rejecting a proposal to use job performance
evaluations in paying wage bonuses, saying it was unfair to teachers who
had to teach “poor students or students who don’t speak English well.”
The union has a long standing objection to the concept of merit pay, or
having salaries based on evaluations by administrators or based on
students’ test scores.
This blueprint at the national level is further exacerbated by the
efforts of state and local teacher organizations. According to the
Times The Philadelphia branch of the nation’s second largest teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers, will be going on strike Sept. 7, the first day of school in the city of brotherly love. “There’s no question in my mind and in the minds of every P.F.T. member I’ve talked to that they’re ready to go out on strike,” Mr. Kirsch, the President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said. The issues are “a pay scale based on performance rather than seniority and level of education, and giving principals more say in assigning teachers. Currently, vacancies are filled through seniority.”
In New York City there is a shortage of teachers in subjects like math, science and bilingual education, especially at the lower performing middle and high schools. According to the Tuesday’s
Times about 14 percent of the city’s 78,000 teachers lacked certification and most worked in those poorly performing schools. Since New York State has new requirements for uncertified teachers in public schools after 2003, you can bet the New York City school system will be looking for more money for teacher training.
From New York to Washington, D.C., parents of students in those poorly performing schools are voting with their feet. They are standing in line, and participating in lotteries to qualify for tuition vouchers. For the lucky children of those dedicated parents it appears that persistence pays off. A new two-year study of children who had received tuition vouchers and had transferred to private schools showed a significant increase in standardized test scores over those children that applied for tuition vouchers but did not the win the lottery drawing. The
Post reported, “The effect was particularly noticeable in the District. Students who switched to private schools with the help of privately financed vouchers of up to $1,700 moved 9 percentile points ahead of their public school counterparts.” Of course, the public school apologists are already hard at work questioning the study results and alleging that voucher money of $1,700 per pupil should be spent on public schools in general.
According to Vin Suprynowicz, columnist and assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in the state of Nevada the teachers’ union is actively looking for new sources of revenue and is collecting signatures to put a taxation measure on the ballot this fall. It seems that the teachers believe a new source of income is needed to increase the education budget — local taxation doesn’t produce enough. Since Nevada law bans a state income tax, the teachers’ referendum calls for a 4 percent tax on the net profits of business, with a $50,000 initial deduction to “protect” small business. However, their definition of “small business” stretches the credibility limits. It is defined as anyone who itemizes his or her deductions on their federal income tax form. Thus those that are willing to be entrepreneurs will be taxed: small investors, home owners, people who dabble in selling product on eBay, as well as the part time business owner.
The opening of school now gives the presidential candidates and the candidates for every possible office new photo opportunities visiting schools and talking with students. Unfortunately too many of them will promise the teachers’ unions more money thus giving students less education. Ever since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society we have been throwing trillions upon trillions of dollars at social needs, much of it at education. Yet it has been a big failure and our students are failing. According to commentator Thomas Sowell, “American students have never been able to score as high on tests as they did back in 1963.”
I came across an eighth-grade final exam from 1895 from Salina, Kan. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina and reprinted in the
Salina Journal. The five-hour exam for those 13-year-olds covered the subjects of grammar, arithmetic, U.S. history, orthography, and geography. If you, like me, are unfamiliar with orthography, it is known under its more common name spelling. Reading the questions asked those nineteenth century schoolchildren made it very clear — an eighth grade education in 1895 was worth far more than a college degree 105 years later and it was worth every penny.