Rep. Honda just doesn’t get the education issue

Rep. Mike Honda’s take on the documentary

Waiting for Superman

highlights for me one of the basic differences between Democrats
and Republicans.
By Scott Kirkland

Rep. Mike Honda’s take on the documentary “Waiting for Superman” highlights for me one of the basic differences between Democrats and Republicans. While “Waiting” struck a chord in each of us, I was surprised at how differently we saw the film’s message. Maybe I shouldn’t have been.

The reaction, published in the San Jose Mercury, of Mr. Honda, a 10-year incumbent and career government worker, was to spend even more money to “fix” the problem, while the success of the experiment in the movie had nothing to do with spending more. It had to do with accountability.

“Waiting for Superman” is an enlightening documentary that takes us through the guts of the American public education system and shines a glaring light on the causes of its decline, and on the primary barriers to its improvement. The personal stories of the individual families it follows are informative and touching. We witness what happens when passionate and motivated teachers place themselves in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods and are given free reign to change how education is conducted.

We are also introduced to the problems facing well-funded public schools in affluent suburban areas in the Bay Area. Unshackled from union contracts and poor budget management, the charter schools featured in the movie prove that students can succeed at much higher levels, regardless of how rich or poor they are, or what neighborhoods they are in, or what their budgets are. The formula for success, according to “Waiting,” is to build an educational environment that revolves around the children, not the demands of factions of adults, and to operate schools where great teachers are rewarded and poor teachers aren’t allowed to do more harm.

The message is this: if you apply accountability and standards – regardless of your budget – you close the achievement gap between rich and poor. The data backs this up. In his reaction to the film, incumbent Rep. Honda stated that the problem with education lies merely in how it is funded. Far from citing lack of funding as the biggest problem facing education, “Waiting for Superman” points the finger squarely at the teachers unions and the political system they have gamed to thwart real change. In the movie, the unions are specifically called out as a “menace and impediment to reform.”

Repeatedly throughout the film, when school reformers attempt to improve a failing system, the unions (and union-backed politicians) block their every effort. Yet oddly, in Mr. Honda’s review, he does not mention the teachers unions at all – except to say that they are supporting his plans to form yet another federally-funded commission.

He misses the point entirely. Mike Honda, a former educator, has been in Congress for a decade. He is clearly out of touch with the causes of the educational decline that he has presided over while in public office. Per-student spending has more than doubled since the 1970s (accounting for inflation), yet reading and math proficiency have stayed flat.

Throwing more and more money at the problem is not going to make it go away. Mr. Honda does not recognize this. Or perhaps he simply chooses not to notice because of the nearly $80,000 given to his Congressional campaigns by the teachers unions. And that’s the real message we’re left with at the end of the film: it’s not that we are waiting for Superman to help fix our schools. Normal people can do that – at the ballot box.

Scott Kirkland, father of two young children, is the Republican candidate for U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 15th District.

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