Thomas Sowell

THE compromise education bill just passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush provided some good political theater and even a little humor, with the president embracing Ted Kennedy. But what did it do for American education?

Not much. The new legislation spends more money, but our educational system already has the most expensive incompetence in the world. Our students are regularly outdone on international tests by students in countries that spend less than half of what we spend per pupil.

Yet this education bill may have been the best that President Bush could have gotten, given how evenly matched the opposing political forces are. But the net result is that our schools remain institutions whose over-riding purpose is providing iron-clad job security to members of the teachers' unions, regardless of how well or how badly they teach.

However, the president has established a principle on a small scale, which can expand later when the political climate permits. That principle is that all students must be tested every year, with consequences if substandard schools fail to improve. In the current bill, these consequences are too mild to make much difference, but the principle has been established.

Giving all children standardized tests and reporting the results to their parents is a fundamental break with the philosophy and practice of the educational establishment. Nor have the teachers' unions been slow to realize what a threat this can be to them in the long run. They have spent a lot of time and money denigrating standardized tests as distractions from "real" education.

But how real is an education that leaves American children consistently falling below international standards?

Most people have no idea what a closed circle of dogmas dominates American education, with facts unable to break through. To our "educators," the test of an idea or practice is not whether it produces results, but whether it fits the prevailing vision.

Educators gush about the latest theories of how to teach math but remain unconcerned when American students continue to finish near or at the bottom on international math tests. In short, theory has triumphed over facts in the education establishment.

When teachers receive awards for outstanding teaching, the basis for these awards is seldom that their students actually show more knowledge or understanding of the subjects taught. The usual basis is that the teacher being rewarded exemplified what teachers are supposed to do, according to the prevailing dogmas.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate