Columnist Kristof Gets Off a Good One: Democrats vs. Quality Education

Liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof takes on the teachers' unions, whose resistance to reform has resulted in "generations of disadvantaged children" being "cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools."

Ann Coulter has said that liberal Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is good for one column a year. "Democrats and Schools," Thursday's attack on one of the Democratic Party's firmest and most intractable allies, teachers' unions,might just qualify.

Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers' unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.

President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change that - and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace administration reforms that teachers' unions are already sniping at.It's difficult to improve failing schools when you can't create alternatives such as charter schools and can't remove inept or abusive teachers.

In New York City, for example, unions ordinarily prevent teachers from being dismissed for incompetence - so the schools must pay failed teachers their full salaries to sit year after year doing nothing in centers called "rubber rooms."

A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards. The teacher claimed that she was being punished for union activity, but an independent observer approved by the union confirmed the allegations and declared the teacher incompetent. The school system's lawyer put it best: "These children were abused in stealth."

Kristof followed up with other horror stories and refused to take the liberal route of blaming lack of government spending for all education shortfalls:

Research has underscored that what matters most in education - more than class size or spending or anything - is access to good teachers. A study found that if black students had four straight years of teachers from the top 25 percent of most effective teachers, the black-white testing gap would vanish in four years.