Education in the United States continues to lag behind that of other nations. "When you go to China or India," Spellings said, "they don't sit around arguing about class size. They're starving to death and are motivated for education. We take all the advantages we have for granted." And while America focuses too much on nonacademic subjects - sex education, driver's education and the environment - and not enough on what employers are looking for, some other nations are graduating young people with real knowledge and skills of the kind we once produced.
A serious school choice program, not more money to subsidize underachievement, is one answer to poor performance. Competition improves everyone's product and service. It's working in those states and localities that have managed to nominally free themselves from the teachers' unions, which seek to maintain the education monopoly for political influence. Paying bonuses to the best teachers is another good idea. According to Spellings, her department has provided $100 million through 16 grants for that purpose. If corporations can pay their CEOs huge bonuses for failure, why shouldn't teachers be paid bonuses for achieving and surpassing education goals?
There is another point no one in government will address. It is that not all children are equally intelligent. Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute raised this controversial issue recently in a series of articles he wrote for The Wall Street Journal, in which he noted that half of all children have below average intelligence and that "even the best schools under the best conditions cannot repeal the limits on achievement set by limits on intelligence."
Politically, that argument has no traction and so we are left with renewing "No Child Left Behind," monitoring progress and paying bonuses to the best teachers. Now if we can just get real school choice added to the mix, maybe even some of the less intelligent won't be left behind and we will see even greater progress with the rest. With what we are spending on education, the adults deserve a better product and the kids are entitled to a better education, which is their best chance at a good life.
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