Thomas Sowell

Here and there isolated individuals within the Democratic Party have apparently let concern for the future of the next generation of blacks cause them to back off from their opposition to vouchers. The mayor of Washington, D.C., is one of these. So is Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.

One of the tragedies of the public schools is that they have become so enmeshed in bureaucratic rules and constrained by court decisions that they can do little to prevent a handful of classroom clowns and hoodlums from making it virtually impossible to educate other students in many ghetto schools.

Nor can public schools get rid of even a grossly incompetent teacher without administrative and legal processes that can drag on forever and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Public schools are also trapped in rigid hiring rules that keep out highly qualified people who have not suffered through enough mind-numbing education courses to be called "certified."

Private schools, and to some extent charter schools, escape these rigidities. Teachers' unions and others in the education establishment say that it is "unfair" that public schools have to compete with other institutions that do not have these and other bureaucratic and legal handicaps.

Fairness applies to people. Institutions are just means to an end -- serving people. If other institutions can get the job done better, then that is the way to go. Maybe vouchers and charter schools can give teachers' unions incentives to try to free the public schools from their handicaps, instead of trying to impose the same handicaps on other schools, in the name of "fairness."

The greatest unfairness today is denying a decent education to poor children, for whom that is often their only way out of poverty.


Thomas Sowell

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

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