Bill Murchison

The story goes that James A. Garfield defined the ideal college education as Mark Hopkins (a Garfield mentor at Williams College) on one end of a log and a student on the other end. I like to muse on this piece of splendid wisdom whenever -- now for instance -- moans and complaints rise from an education establishment -- the one in Texas, for instance -- that somehow never has enough money.

 The Texas Supreme Court having just mandated an overhaul of the state's school finance system without simultaneously mandating a spending increase, the moans will rise fortissimo.

 Well, you know what? Tough. Particular schools might need special grants. As for the Texas system as a whole, we would do well to appropriate, instead of more cash, the justices' insight -- "[M]ore money does not guarantee better schools or more educated students."

 It sure doesn't -- in Texas or anywhere else, because if it did, the huge infusions of cash our public schools have enjoyed for the past four decades would have produced the best schools in the world. Instead, American public schools -- with honorable exceptions -- produce a deteriorating product: in turn, the product of a deteriorated cultural commitment to rigorous standards of study and performance.

 The Supreme Court invites the Texas Legislature, as it seeks next year to remodel the school finance system, to consideration of significant reforms. We can start by seeing whether Mark Hopkins' log can be found lying anywhere about; then we can take on a public school establishment described by the justices as "firmly entrenched and powerfully resistant to meaningful change."

 That is to say, before the Legislature proceeds to beef up the public school establishment, it should consider the fruits of competition.

 That would liven up the debate for sure. If there's anything the public school establishment hates, it's the idea of competition. Never mind that competition is the force that perennially drives the American economy. We really wouldn't want to see a tax-supported and government-regulated automobile industry. We'd prefer, I think, an industrial environment in which performance is rewarded and non-performance punished.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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