Whatever happened to education reform? A decade ago, liberals and conservatives alike threatened to upend our failing public school system, so clearly a determining factor in the racial and income inequality that alarms today’s progressives. Now, it is a forbidden topic.

Here’s what happened: Democrats, led by President Obama, caved to the teachers unions. In 2010 Obama, who had earlier hired Arne Duncan to shake up our nation’s schools, was told by the powerful teachers unions to scuttle his reform agenda, or lose their support for his reelection.

Obama backed off. Democrats moved on, and our black and brown children continue to be left behind. For shame.


I was reminded of this apostasy the other night at a debate sponsored by Intelligence Squared. In a Manhattan hall full of anti-Trump liberals, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and I argued that Republicans should re-nominate Donald Trump in 2020 while former senator Jeff Flake and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens took the other side.

We talked policies: lower taxes, de-regulation, support for Israel, rising wages, increased workforce participation and so on. Mostly, we argued that with 92 percent of Trump voters in his corner, the president was the most likely – indeed the only – candidate who could turn out Republican voters and win in 2020.

Flake and Stephens argued personality. In that room of New York elites, distaste for Trump’s coarseness and impulsiveness topped outcomes that have benefitted the country, and the Never-Trumpers won in a landslide.

That was predictable, but one moment surprised me. In my final statement, I said that after the Billy Bush tape emerged, friends asked how I could possibly still support President Trump. I said my answer was simple: he supported school choice and Hillary Clinton did not.

The debate audience erupted in laughter.

Really? People think that school choice is less important than Trump’s locker room boasting about manhandling women? I should have noted that having spent over two decades around trading floors on Wall Street, I did not view Trump’s language, as vulgar as it was, especially ground-breaking. I’ve heard worse.

But, I was startled by the reaction; clearly education reform no longer resonates. The well-heeled elites whose children attend private schools, who decry the higher taxes of New York while voting for the Democrats who bring them in, who despise Trump for trying to stem the flood of people streaming illegally across our borders but pretend to care about low-income Americans whose wages are driven down by that flood – those people used to care that our minority children were not given the education they need to lift themselves up. Apparently, not anymore.

In Baltimore, one survey showed that in 13 mostly black high schools, not one kid was proficient in math. How can the country accept this? How can liberals ignore this obvious source of income inequality? Where is the outrage?

Ray Dalio’s recent piece on the shortcomings of capitalism reinforced how wrong that audience was, and how shocking that such a vital but broken building block of this country is totally ignored today. Dalio, the billionaire founder of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, believes in capitalism and has clearly benefited from it. But, like many others, he laments a decline in social mobility in our country, and the stark gap between rich and poor.

To reform our economic system, Dalio argues, we must start with our children, and especially with education. He writes, “Though there are bright spots in the American education system such as our few great universities, the U.S. population as a whole scores very poorly relative to the rest of the developed world in standardized tests for a given education level.” He notes that standard global PISA assessments put the U.S. in the bottom 15th percentile of the developed world which, as he says, “stands in the way of many people having adequate living standards and of US competitiveness.”

He shows that high-poverty schools have 25 percent worse outcomes than low-poverty schools, and notes: “These poor educational results lead to a high percentage of students being inadequately prepared for work and having emotional problems that become manifest in damaging behaviors.” For instance: Connecticut kids who drop out of high school are five times more likely to end up in jail.

The data is obvious, and parents get it. In New York City, 79,600 families applied for spots in the city’s charter schools. Unhappily, there were only 26,900 available, so tens of thousands were left behind. Half the kids in New York’s charter schools live in Harlem; those mostly black parents know the public schools will not provide the education their kids need to lift themselves up and secure their future.

Liberals pay lip service to making our public schools better. Their solution is more money, which pleases the unions and attracts their millions in donations and formidable on-the-ground campaigning. Kamala Harris, backed by the California teachers unions throughout her career, has proposed $315 million for increased teacher pay. But the U.S. already spends 30 percent more per pupil than the average OECD country; money is not the problem.

The problem is that our teachers unions oppose any and all accountability, such as merit-based performance pay and ending automatic tenure. Instead, they insist the nation dumb down our expectations and standards. Black and Hispanic kids not graduating? Make it easier. Those children not getting into New York’s best schools? Weaken the entrance requirements.

In Baltimore, one survey showed that in 13 mostly black high schools, not one kid was proficient in math.


How can the country accept this? How can liberals ignore this obvious source of income inequality? Where is the outrage?

Democrat politicians depend on the formidable power and purse of the teachers unions to get them elected. The rest of the country looks the other way.

And, astonishingly, laughs when someone suggests this is a burning issue. Shame on them.