Whenever education is discussed, politicians inevitably promise to Spend More Money.

This promise just as inevitably is met with wild applause, despite this inconvenient truth:

The United States today spends more money on education per pupil ($11,000) than almost any other country, and yet it routinely finishes near the bottom of international math, science, and literacy surveys. On average, our fourth-graders do pretty well, but by the time those children get to eighth grade they begin to slide, and by twelfth grade they can no longer keep up with many of their peers in other countries.

This is from an excellent piece by Tim Pawlenty. Drawing on personal experience as governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty writes:

My state of Minnesota tells the story. We boast the nation’s highest ACT scores, and at least 70 percent of Minnesota kids graduate from high school. Sounds pretty good, right? But if you look deeper into the statistics, it turns out that fewer than half of Minnesota’s minority students graduate from high school. That pattern repeats itself across the nation.

And yet for decades, a cartel of teachers’ unions, bureaucrats, and politicians has stood in the way of innovation, reform, and results.

In Minnesota, we’ve made more progress than most. My administration created the nation’s first statewide performance-pay program, linking teacher compensation to classroom and student achievement rather than just seniority. We imposed rigorous math and science graduation standards. We established school report cards, so parents could follow the performance of their children’s schools.

We wanted to do so much more, and could have. But the teachers’ unions blocked us at every turn.

In an ideal world, education unions would work at trying to ensure good benefits for teachers, along with providing decent education for kids–especially those who don’t have the option of going to a private school. But it isn’t an ideal world, and the unions have become the main impediments to improving education.