On the Op-Ed page of today’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen has a proposal for improving education in this country that should piss off a few people and, hopefully, get them thinking. He suggests increasing the incentives for people to go into teaching – and stay – by exempting teachers from paying income taxes. Cohen equates this kind of government subsidy to similar generous programs we already have in place for farmers, steel manufacturers and other industries.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for my big tax break to come rolling in, and Cohen doesn’t believe a program like this would by itself solve the problem of finding enough good teachers. However, the points he makes about our approach to the issue of school improvement are right on target.

No magic bullet exists for what ails our schools. The problem is complex, and it is further complicated by politics, ideology and in some cases the recalcitrance of teacher unions. Yet everything we know about education alerts us to the critical importance of good teachers and principals. Ask someone who turned his life around and he will often name a teacher.

But the point is for us – the Bush administration and the country as a whole – to put our money where our mouth is. If we care so much about education, if we truly believe that cliche – our children are the future – then let’s pay teachers what they are really worth, not what the vaunted market says. In fact, if there is anything to the market, then making teachers a bit richer ought to make them a bit better. It’s just a theory, but George Bush would understand.

Call it faith-based.