Talking Points: Save Our Schools

School's out for the summer, but summer school is in and millions of American kids are going because they flunked. That's the subject of this evening's Talking Points memo.

Led by Senator Edward Kennedy, the Senate blocked the voucher part of the proposed education bill. Vouchers would have given poor families across the country some federal money to pay private school tuition if they wanted to take their kids out of a failing public school. President Bush's proposal would have given failing public schools three years to improve before the vouchers would kick in, but no way said 58 senators.

Now is that fair to poor Americans? Most of the Kennedy children attended private schools. Chelsea Clinton went to private school and so did the Gore children. But some family struggling in South Central L.A. or San Antonio or the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston is not allowed that same option.

There's something inherently wrong with that. It is flat-out unfair for poor American families to have to send their kids to a bad school. The Senate could have righted that wrong. They chose not to do it.

Many senators believe the public school system can be saved from within. I don't believe that. Because so many American families are messed up these days, millions of children are coming to school with no academic frame of reference at all.

They're often undisciplined, unmotivated, and lack even the basic social skills. This makes it incredibly hard for teachers to control their classes, much less teach lessons.

Unless the local school boards begin to wise up and provide special classes for troubled children and kids with learning disabilities, the academic chaos will continue, and all the kids will suffer. Each public school must have a strict code of behavior from kindergarten on. All students should wear school uniforms, for example. This is less expensive than dressing in civilian clothes and, right off the bat, imposes an appearance of discipline.

This self-esteem business must be de-emphasized. Public schools are not encounter groups. Teachers are not psychologists. The kids must behave, and they must perform academically or get moved out of the mainstream.

What we have now is a massive breakdown in educational standards. Every study says the same thing. American children respond to the shoddy discipline and low standards their schools allow. That is why private schools perform so much better. Their standards of behavior are much higher.

It is true that private schools can dismiss poor students and that public schools cannot. Therefore, federal education dollars must be funneled into special help programs for troubled kids. That's all we can do. You can't save everyone.

But it is insane to allow troubled children to infect kids who want to learn. Teachers can only do so much. Putting up with out-of-control kids saps their energy and breaks their spirit. Like our criminal justice system, our public schools need a complete overhaul. So drop Senator Kennedy a line and let him know it.

And that's a memo.

Most Ridiculous Item of the Day:

As you may know, I think our criminal justice system is in big trouble. And each day proves my case.

In Battle Creek, Michigan, a double murder trial erupted into chaos when people in the gallery began brawling. I mean, this is in a murder trial here. Apparently these Jerry Springer candidates are for or against two men who are on trial for killing two other men in a drug deal gone bad.

Now, if these courtroom clowns feared the system, do you think they would be doing this? The answer is no. The incident was ridiculous. The justice system needs to be fixed. These people are totally out of control.

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