The Magazine


Mar 9, 1998, Vol. 3, No. 25 • By CHESTER E. FINN JR. and MICHAEL J. PETRILLI
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If there's money burning to be spent, Congress should give it to states to underwrite novel approaches to the training, pay, and licensing of teachers. Cajole the states to break the ed-school hammerlock, loosen the certification stranglehold, and blaze alternative paths into teaching so that well-educated liberal-arts graduates and experienced professionals can enter the classroom from many directions. States could also demand that every teacher -- veteran and novice alike -- master the subjects they are expected to teach -- and hold them accountable for pupil achievement by scrapping tenure and substituting multi-year contracts that reward results and penalize failure.

Such suggestions lack the instant appeal of Clinton's new pooch. Unlike class-size reduction, which has no known enemies, serious attention to quality means attacking the school establishment's strongest redoubts: the unions, teacher colleges, state regulatory apparatuses, and interlocking special-interest groups. It's much easier just to call for more adult bodies in the classroom (and confine all "quality control" provisions to newcomers.) Schools won't improve. Kids won't learn more. But the politicians will score points with the public -- and with the unions. We understand why Bill Clinton needs such points nowadays. But his proposal is really a dog of an idea. Congress should shop at a different pet store.

Chester E. Finn Jr. is John M. Olin fellow at the Hudson Institute and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Michael J. Petrilli is a researcher at the Hudson Institute and is certified in the state of Michigan to teach social studies.