Anything that makes the National Education Association angry can’t be all bad. George Will had a Sunday column on a plan that not only riles the NEA but has the potential to improve education:

“Patrick Byrne, a 42-year-old bear of a man who bristles with ideas that have made him rich and restless, has an idea that can provide a new desktop computer for every student in America without costing taxpayers a new nickel. Or it could provide 300,000 new $40,000-a-year teachers without any increase in taxes. His idea — call it The 65 Percent Solution — is politically delicious because it unites parents, taxpayers and teachers while, he hopes, sowing dissension in the ranks of the teachers unions, which he considers the principal institutional impediment to improving primary and secondary education.

“The idea, which will face its first referendum in Arizona, is to require that 65 percent of every school district’s education operational budget be spent on classroom instruction. On, that is, teachers and pupils, not bureaucracy.”

Most school districts spend 61.5 percent this way already. But if all did, that would mean $13 billion more would go to classrooms. Will realizes that the change in how money is allocated alone wouldn’t reform the educational system.

Almost as central as hiring and paying good teachers is firing bad ones, and the National Education Association has made that almost impossible. ‘[F]iring a bad teacher is, according to a California official, less a choice than a career — figure two years of struggle and $200,000 in legal costs. That is why in a recent five-year period only 62 of California’s 220,000 tenured teachers were dismissed.”

Even if states adopted the 65 Percent Solution, it wouldn’t be enough. To make real progress, thousands of bad teachers have to go. Don’t count on the NEA letting this happen. Patrick Byrne has seen the enemy:

“[Financier Warren] Buffett also advised Byrne ask himself this: If you had a silver bullet, what competitor would you shoot, and why? Byrne says he would shoot the National Education Association — the largest teachers union. Byrne is pugnacious — after graduating from Dartmouth, studying moral philosophy at Cambridge and earning a Stanford Ph.D., he tried a boxing career — and relishes the prospect of the 65 percent requirement pitting teachers against other union members who are in the education bureaucracy. ’Educrats,’ he says, ’have become what city hall was 50 or 60 years ago’ — dens of patronage and corruption.”