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Caperton plan for education commendable but needs rethought

Former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton's heart certainly is in the right place. But trying to fix America's education system by asking the federal government to match what states pay teachers is like trying to put a bandage (a golden one, in this case) on a severed artery.

Let's start to consider all the problems:

n Schools are too large. A 1-1 teacher/pupil ratio would be perfect, a 10-1 ratio would be great and a 15-1 ratio reasonable. But unfortunately, the ratio is all too often at 20-1 or greater.

n Bad teachers make as much money, or more, as good ones. Incompetent teachers seldom are fired. If we pay teachers $50,000, $100,000 or even $1 million, that's no guarantee of positive results unless we hold them accountable.

n Teachers are only as good as their boards of education, principals and other administrators. Granted, these people aren't on the front lines of education. But if they make poor decisions, are incompetent or otherwise damage morale, they're setting the tone for problems throughout the school district. It isn't clear whether Caperton proposes paying these people twice their salaries, too. If he does, that makes an already astronomical cost skyrocket. But if he doesn't, think of the conflict, jealousy and chain-of-command issues when a $75,000-a-year administrator is left in charge of a slew of $100,000-a-year (or more) teachers.

n Perhaps the biggest flaw with Caperton's proposal is that it expects government to solve society's problems. The bottom line: It can't be stressed enough how important a role parents play in the education of their children. If parents read along with their kids each night, their kids probably will become good readers and grow up into adults who like to read. That's also often the case if parents challenge their kids with questions about math, science or history. Teachers certainly are a key part of the learning process. But they'll struggle to reach kids who come from homes where education is not a priority or, worse, is ridiculed or demeaned.

Many, many other issues need to be addressed, as well, not the least of which is coming up with a fair way to fund all schools.

Caperton acknowledges his proposal would probably take "something like a national sales tax of about 2 percent."

Paying a 2 percent national sales tax to double teacher pay is an incredibly high -- and unacceptable -- price for what appears only a part of the solution.

Still, we applaud Caperton heartily for his willingness to consider radical change. We need to fix our schools. Even if we don't think Caperton is right, he's at least trying to do something beyond the status quo. That's a lot more than can be said for some segments of academia, government and our society as a whole.

Matt Harvey

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