- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

They were presented with a straightforward question. "Do you have enough freedom and autonomy to remove ineffective teachers from the classrooms?" asked the Public Agenda survey. Of the 853 public school superintendents who participated in the survey, only 28 percent said they "have enough" autonomy to get rid of bad teachers, and of the 909 principals, 32 percent agreed. In fact, the autonomy to fire and reward teachers is what school administrators said they need most. Who would argue with that except the unions?

Indeed, this is interesting information as congressional conferees debate President Bush's education initiative a funding and legislative package rooted in four principles, including increased accountability and increased flexibility. The unions certainly don't want you, your congressmen, or your locally elected school officials to know that nine in 10 superintendents and principals said that removing bad tenured and non-tenured teachers would improve schools. "The teacher union's support of ineffective or low-performing teachers makes real progress in any [school] district a challenge," commented one superintendent. "Effective teachers need not fear tenure or termination."

Interesting, too, were the gripes when the issue turned to funding. Asked what they considered the "most pressing" issue facing their school districts, 66 percent of superintendents and 53 percent of teachers said insufficient funding but not for the reasons you might think. "The major issue to me is the amount of 'stuff' not directly related to educating students which is being dumped on the schools with no additional funding," one principal said. "We are expected to do a better job teaching students with less time, more pressure and the expectation that we [should] deal with numerous societal problems."

Still, there is another drain on educational funding that lawmakers and special-interest groups (including unions) refuse to own up to: disproportionate spending on special education. According to the survey, 45 percent of superintendents and 32 percent of principals said that "too often, administrators are obligated to spend a disproportional amount of money and other resources on special education issues."

Indeed, America's educators did not say that to sound like some collective chorus singing "Hard Hearted Hanna." As one of their aforementioned concerns pointed out, the sinister underpinnings are "the amount of 'stuff' unrelated to the classroom." The Democratic Party has turned legitimate concerns over discrimination against people with disabilities into the basis for a favored voting bloc.

While the timing of Public Agenda's survey is perfect, it should not be construed as an arbitrary wish list for superintendents and principals. It must be taken for what it is an indictment against the status quo and an honest guidepost for reshaping education policy.

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