Clinton right about education

President Clinton in his State of the Union address (1) told the American people that "Americans must reward their best teachers and remove those who do not measure up; parents must be able to choose the right public school for their children to foster competition and innovation; parents and teachers are to create 3,000 charter schools in three years so that parents will have even more school choice; no child is to be promoted in the public school system until they are ready."

He said schools must initiate character education, promote order and discipline, use school uniforms, impose curfews, enforce truancy laws, and remove disruptive students from the classroom. He is right on the money.

We need innovations like this. Rewarding and recognizing the best teachers and removing the few who are incompetent is one of the most important steps we could take -- far more important than reducing class size, for example.

The class-size-versus-teacher-quality issue was recently studied by the British Office for Standards of Education. They can do this better than we can because they have instituted new standardized national student testing and teacher rating systems. (2) They concluded that, other than for kindergarten and "special needs" students, "there is no clear link between the size of a class and the quality of teaching and learning within it." They also concluded that "teacher methods and classroom organization have a greater impact on learning than the size of the class."

These are important conclusions. That the quality of the "operators" of an enterprise must profoundly impact the quality of its products should be unarguable. But teachers' unions consistently lobby for smaller class sizes even though there is not a shred of evidence to support the supposed benefits. The only advantage would appear to be that smaller class size leads to more teacher union members and dues.

Union leaders will also certainly oppose removing "those who do not measure up." They are not ready to lose 5-10% of their dues-paying members without a fight.

Hawaii's share of the 3,000 charter schools that President Clinton promises in three years would be thirteen. Who believes that in three years Hawaii will have thirteen real charter schools with teachers who want out of collective bargaining and with parents and teachers having total control of the schools' operations? To ask the question is to answer it.

The teachers' union is one of our largest public worker unions and they are not going to tolerate it. It is the union leaders who are at fault, not their members. If the leaders did what a majority of their teacher members wanted, the unions would be lobbying for these reforms.

For example, to gain some perspective on what is happening elsewhere it is instructive to read the recent education manifesto of the strongly pro-union British Labour Party which recognizes the critical need for reforming education. (3)

It calls for streamlining the procedures to replace underperforming school principals, for teachers to be "rigorously appraised," and for speeding up the current nine-month process for removing poor teachers.

The British education system, like ours, took a nose-dive in the 1960's and 70's; they are currently striving to return to the kind of student performance they used to enjoy.

Now there's an idea!

Cliff Slater, a local businessman, represents the Reason Foundation in Hawaii. A footnoted version is at

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(1) The President's State of the Union address is available at:

(2) "OFSTED finds no clear link between class size and lesson quality." Office for Standards in Education. PN 35/95. 10 November 1995. For this and other OFSTED reports visit their website at

(3) "Excellence for Everyone." British Parliamentary Labour Party. For this and other Labour party education reports visit