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The Worm In The Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education, Peter Brimelow, 2003, 296 pgs., $24.95

In The Worm in the Apple, CBS Marketwatch columnist Peter Brimelow steps into the "What's Wrong with American Education" fray and points his finger at a big target: the teacher unions.

The book details Brimelow's investigation of the connection between American education's downward spiral and the unionization of teachers. He focuses especially on the NEA, which currently boasts a membership of about three million.

"For 30 years, taxpayers have met union demands for increased spending, smaller class sizes, and across the board pay raises - measures the Teachers Trust assured us would remedy public education," Brimelow writes. "But the results by every measure are stagnant or worse - and the costs are vastly higher."

American education standards and performance have lagged behind other industrialized nations and some Third World countries for years, even as exorbitant amounts of money have been poured into the system promising improvement. Is it a coincidence, Brimelow asks, that these problems came about at the very same time the teacher unions were created?

In Chapter One, the author describes the NEA's annual "Representative Assembly" and includes a few of its resolutions. He attended the convention in California in 1999, and recalls that NEA delegates were "extraordinarily fat." "Not all of them of course," he quickly clarifies, "but as you stand looking out across the cavernous Orange County Convention Center," at what the NEA boasts "is the largest democratic deliberative body in the world - you can't avoid the curious feeling that you've stumbled into a sort of indoor rally for human hot-air balloons." Brimelow's point here is to poke fun at the NEA's perpetual pretention of perfection.

Worm in the Apple does much more than offer commentary, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise. Brimelow provides actual solutions to the education crisis based on a free market system and economic sense.

According to Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman, "Peter Brimelow demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the teacher unions, through their control of the government education monopoly, are the major source of the gross deficiencies in our government school system."

(Visit www.harpercollins.com.)

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