Teacher evaluations and Common Core implementation can wait. According to this valuable National Affairs compendium, our education system suffers from more basic ailments. In fact, all policies that have been pushed over the last few decades—from those that relate to the tax code to healthcare, social security to monetary policy—are unsustainable. In his introductory chapter, National Affairs editor Yuval Levin argues that, for decades, America has been slowly (and seemingly inevitably) marching toward becoming a “technocratic welfare state.” Yet, thanks to current social and financial circumstances, that social-democratic ideal is no longer viable. According to Levin, we have “perhaps a decade” to fix things before economic catastrophe strikes. Luckily, the nineteen luminaries who contributed to the volume provide an impressive if occasionally contradictory package of solutions to many of these problems, solutions that, properly implemented, would fundamentally overhaul the shape of American policy and save us from fiscal collapse and public dependence on the “welfare” state. While only two chapters (by Fordham’s Chester Finn and AEI’s Rick Hess) explicitly address schools, all approach systemic flaws with a refreshing aversion to bureaucracy that would serve our education system well. In particular, Josh Barro’s playbook for overhauling public-sector pensions—don’t just target new hires, ditch the defined-benefit model, and consider buying out existing benefits—represents an ambitious and transformative plan (one the education system would be wise to follow). The volume is unapologetically radical: Its recommended reforms are more fundamental than even the GOP is ready to embrace. But they might just be what is necessary to make America’s institutions, schools among them, more democratic, efficient, and effective.

SOURCE: Yuval Levin and Meghan Clyne, eds., A Time for Governing: Policy Solutions from the Pages of National Affairs (New York: Encounter Books, 2012).

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