Bill Murchison

 Our inability to reward or discipline the public schools in accordance with their achievements, or lack of same, helps explain the schools' general mediocrity. We seem sometimes to suppose that the whole purpose of public education is providing jobs and perquisites to the teachers' unions and the education bureaucracy, when what you want is a school system that polishes young minds to as high a gloss as possible. No one pretends that Texas public schools are achieving this admirable goal. Not when, say, more than half of Hispanic students and 46 percent of black students never reach the 12th grade.

 How do we get where we need to be? Possibly by following the advice of a Hoover Institution task force that studied Texas public education, concluding, "The key to improving performance in Texas schools is a system that rewards schools, teachers and principals who reward student achievement." In other words, you base pay raises and other financial rewards on success. Imagine that!

 The task force promotes choice and deregulation in high degree: the expedients least loved by the rigid and lazy. For instance, why not let state vouchers follow -- yes, even to private schools! -- a student who has opted out of failing public schools? Whose success should have priority here -- the kid's or his old school's?

 Furthermore, the task force argues for wider resort to state-chartered schools that enjoy flexibility in teaching methods. Try 'em out; see what the marketplace says.

 Anyway, what an opportunity their Supreme Court has handed Texans -- the chance to show what the marketplace can do, educationally speaking. I wouldn't bet on that particular nettle's being grasped in Austin with full force and enthusiasm, given the power of the teacher unions and the public education lobby. Nor would I bet against the power of freedom to erode negativism and irrationality: even the negativism and irrationality of those hired, supposedly, to unmask, to undo, to drive away those dark forces.

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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