The Immigrant Song
Conservatives can start singing it to the entire country again.


Lee Habeeb

Let’s tell a whole lot of stories, too, because we have stories to tell, stories that will stir the conscience of the nation.

Let’s start with a story from the Los Angeles Times in 2010. Reporters there acquired data that the L.A. Unified School District had been assembling for years for internal purposes. The Times reporters focused on one school, Broadous Elementary School, located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley, and did some number-crunching of their own. Many of the families in that area are Latino, and the majority of the parents never graduate from high school, let alone college.

The reporters learned that the quality of teachers affects educational outcomes, and that it isn’t hard to measure and predict those outcomes — unless you don’t want to. The data for Broadous showed that effective teachers powered student achievement in less than twelve months. “There is a substantial gap at year’s end between students whose teachers ranked in the top 10 percent in effectiveness and the bottom 10 percent,” the Times reported. The paper then went from the statistical macro to the human micro, introducing its readers to two teachers, right down the hall from each other, who teach the same subject to children from the same neighborhood.

One was Miguel Aguilar, a 33-year-old who had grown up in the area. He knew these kids because he was once one of them. When the reporters visited his class, Room 26, they saw engaged students sitting attentively, absorbed in their work. Aguilar refused to indulge in the bigotry of low expectations. He doled out praise sparingly and expected results from his kids. And results he got. Aguilar’s students started the year in the 34th percentile in math compared with all other fifth-graders in the district. They finished in the 61st percentile. That was typical of the gains he routinely turned out, making him one of the most effective teachers in the school.

We then met Joe Smith in Room 25. Under Smith’s instruction, students lost an average of 14 percentage points in math during a school year, relative to their peers, which made Smith the least effective of the school’s teachers. The reporters confronted Smith, something no supervisor in the school district had done. He was surprised. “Obviously, I need to look at what I’m doing and take some steps to make sure something changes,” he told the Times.

“Changes”? How about this change: Shape up, or you’re fired?

Where is the fairness to teachers in paying those two the same salary? And where is the fairness to the children? And in what other line of work in America do we pay people just for showing up and for seniority — with no performance benchmarks? What was the response of union bosses to the exposé? Did they promise to drive out poor teachers like Smith and reward good ones like Aguilar? Heck, no! The leader of the 40,000-strong union called for a boycott of the Los Angeles Times.

Middle- and upper-middle-class parents have options when their kids are trapped in dysfunctional classes. They can get tutors, buy online products, or — if things are dire — send their kids to a private school or move to a neighborhood where the public schools work. Working-poor and poor parents don’t have such options. Getting stuck in a bad class or a bad school is a catastrophe for a child. A year is lost, then another, and soon the student and the parents give up hope.

The GOP should fight for these kids, fight to give them more choices and more opportunity to escape those dysfunctional classrooms and schools — and even neighborhoods.

That’s what a GOP opportunity society could stand for.

The GOP should also talk about family and fatherhood. The out-of-wedlock birth rate is approaching 40 percent in America, which is a crisis that makes the fiscal cliff look like child’s play. And it is women and children who suffer most from this man-made masculinity crisis. Rudy Giuliani and other GOP leaders led the charge to reduce crime and turn around cities at a time when most policymakers seemed fresh out of good ideas. The GOP today can seize the moment and follow their example to tackle the seemingly intractable problem of absent fathers.

The formula for success in America, the way to get to the middle class, has always been the same: Start with a good education, work full time, and get married before having babies. Let’s make sure every child knows that this is the roadmap to upward mobility. Let’s also promote tough penalties for men who don’t pay child support, set stiff sentences for domestic violence, and bring back the idea of embarrassing men who don’t honor their commitments.