REVIEWSrnLow-End Educationrnby James HillrnThe Teacher Unions: How the NEArnand AFT Sabotage Refonn and HoldrnStudents, Parents, Teachers, and TaxpayersrnHostage to Bureaucracyrnby Myron LiebermanrnNew York: The Free Press;rnm pp., $25.00rnNot too far from my house inrnPhoenix, Arizona, stands a Christianrnschool that may just say everythingrnabout the educational reform debate inrnthis country—and why it is so often impossiblernto make any sense of it, in particular.rnOne assumes that what thisrnschool has to offer is back-to-basics education,rnsuperior teachers, a library ofrngood books, and computer labs hookedrnup to the Internet: all things a parentrnwould demand before shelling out tuitionrnfor a private education. In fact, thernschool’s main appeal seems to be its easyrnaccess for sport utility vehicles, especiallyrnthe mega-sized Suburbans and Expeditionsrnso favored by the nouveaux richesrnthese days.rnMeanwhile, in the far reaches of thernsuburbs where retirement communitiesrnoffer security and companionship forrn”only” $90,000 and up, the anciennesrnriches complain of having to pay taxes tornsupport a nearby, largely minority schoolrndistrict that must go back to the votersrntime and again to raise money to buildrnmore schools and modernize existingrnclassrooms. In the past, the seniors’ tacticrnhas been to turn out in large enoughrnnumbers to vote down every attempt atrnfunding those bonds. Now they wish tornsecede from the district and be done withrnthe hassle so as not to interrupt theirrnrounds of golf, while the state legislaturerncontinues to debate how it will bring thernpublic schools into compliance with arnstate Supreme Court order mandatingrnan “equalization” of capital funding—arnnearly impossible chore if local controlrnof school districts is to be maintained.rnThese senior citizens differ in one criticalrnway from the Expedition drivers unloadingrntheir children at the Christianrnacademy. The yuppies have made therndecision to go private from concerns forrnstatus, their children’s educational opportunities,rnand their safety; perhapsrneven for religious reasons. Yet they arerncontent to continue funding the publicrnschools through their taxes. Many ofrnthem might even be among the sizablerncrowd who tell pollsters that yes, indeed,rnthe public schools should be equallyrnfunded. One never knows, after all: thernlaw practice could collapse some day,rnand Junior might have to be educatedrnamong the great unwashed.rnThe problem, of course, is thatrn”equal” funding too often implies a uniformrnmediocrity that destroys the choicernparents have always had when it comesrnto public education: namely, of movingrnto a richer, safer school district in order tornescape court-ordered busing, over-centralization,rnthe disintegration of olderrndistricts caused by falling property valuesrnand the loss of highly taxed industries,rndeclining test scores produced by an influxrnof immigrant children, militantrnteachers, and so forth. No wonder,rntherefore, that religious academies arernbeginning to sprout in the “burbs.” Unlikernthe old folks in their golden ghettos,rnparents who have moved into suburbanrndistricts only to find the schools there unsatisfactoryrncannot so easily launch a secessionistrncampaign; instead, they lookrnfor a safe haven. Perhaps, if the childrenrncan get better instruction and theirrnchances for acceptance at a better-thanaveragerncollege are improved, the investmentrnwill be worth it even if the cost is anrnarm and a leg (not to mention thernmandator)’ Suburban). Yet this entirelyrnfree-market approach to education reformrndoes little actually to reform education;rnindeed, it may be impeding it byrngradually removing more and more ofrnthe general public from the necessaryrnbusiness of running the public schools.rnNot that the public majority was everrninvolved in the first place, having longrnsince been shunted aside from its communityrnresponsibilities. Federal judgesrnhave been running some districts forrndecades now. Political correctness, notrncommunity influence, all too often determinesrneverything from setting the curriculumrnto choosing textbooks to maintainingrnextracurricular activities. In thernpredominantiy minority Oakland, California,rnschool district, black English, orrnEbonics, was pushed through briefly asrnan accepted language for instruction beforernthe board retreated amid a nationwidernoutcry.rnHow public education reached thisrnmiserable condition is a question rarelyrnraised and almost never answered, althoughrnwe have been dancing around itrnfor years now. The usual response hasrnbeen to advocate simple cure-alls thatrnbring us to a brief, feel-good consensus:rnspend more money in order to raisernteachers’ salaries, reduce class size, taprnthe federal tieasury to fund before-schoolrn(and now after-school) programs. Yetrnclasses are still considered too large byrnthe President of the United States,rnamong other people. Schools continuernto cut back their curricula, most notablyrnin music and other fine arts. Decades ofrnpreschool instruction have producedrnmillions of children who cannot read atrnthe third-grade level when in the thirdrngrade, or in high school. Most assuredly,rnthough, teacher incomes have increased,rnlargely by reason of inflation and thernunionization of the teaching profession.rnTeachers, of course, are grossly underpaid.rnCompared to auto repair, computerrnprogramming, or street-corner drugrndealing, teaching is a low-end occupation.rnAnd teachers enter into their professionrnknowing full well that it likelyrnwill always be a low-end occupation, nornmatter how much they groan about beingrnunder-paid and under-appreciated.rnTeachers who are more willing to marketrnthemselves according to the laws ofrnsupply and demand—by moving, say, torna state where the pay ranges are considerablyrnhigher —can be rewarded morernhandsomely. But that still leaves Mississippirnand other low-pay states with teachingrnjobs to fill, and applicants lining uprnto fill them. So there is something to thernargument that teachers aren’t compelledrnto choose their miserable lot, and if suchrnpeople choose to take a vow of poverty inrnthe interests of the commonweal, thenrnthey will obtain their reward in the hereafter.rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn