George Will

     Buffett also advised him to ask himself this: If you had a silver bullet, what competitor would you shoot, and why? Byrne says he would shoot the National Education Association -- the largest teachers union. Byrne is pugnacious -- after graduating from Dartmouth, studying moral philosophy at Cambridge and earning a Stanford Ph.D., he tried a boxing career -- and relishes the prospect of the 65 percent requirement pitting teachers against other union members who are in the education bureaucracy. ``Educrats,'' he says, ``have become what city hall was 50 or 60 years ago'' -- dens of patronage and corruption.

     The 65 Percent Solution solves the misallocation of resources, but there is scant evidence that increasing financial inputs will, by itself, increase a school's cognitive outputs. Or that a small reduction in class sizes accomplishes much. Or that adding thousands of new teachers would do as much good as firing thousands of tenured incompetents. However, firing a bad teacher is, according to a California official, less a choice than a career -- figure two years of struggle and $200,000 in legal costs. That is why in a recent five-year period only 62 of California's 220,000 tenured teachers were dismissed.

     Much of the reallocated money under the 65 percent requirement would go for better pay for teachers, which is wiser than just adding more teachers. Chester Finn, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, notes that, while the number of pupils grew 50 percent in the last half-century, the number of teachers grew almost 300 percent. That pleased dues-collecting teachers unions and tuition-charging education schools. But if the number of teachers had grown apace with enrollments and school budgets had risen as they have, teachers' salaries today would average nearly $100,000 instead of less than half that.

     America, says Finn, has invested in more rather than better teachers -- at a time when career opportunities were expanding for the able women who once were the backbone of public education. The fact that teachers' salaries have just kept pace with inflation, in spite of enormous expansions of school budgets, explains why too often teachers are drawn ``from the lower ranks of our lesser universities.''

     Arizona's House speaker and Senate president have endorsed the 65 percent requirement, which should encounter scant opposition here or in the other 49 states to which Byrne's organization, First Class Education, is coming. 


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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