Stossel: Government-Run Schools Crush Innovation

The public education system is failing our kids. Here's how to fix it.


America's public schools fail our kids, and bureaucrats suffocate even the best teachers.

The late Andrew Coulson, a leading advocate of free-market education and a former senior fellow at the Cato Institute, partnered with the Free to Choose Network to create the recent PBS film School, Inc., which examines the problems with America's government-run schools and how to fix them.

But School, Inc. is three hours! So John Stossel made a two-part short-attention-span version. Part one of our abbreviated treatment explores why government-run schools are incapable of innovating, and retells the story of superstar teacher Jamie Escalante (made famous by the 1988 film Stand and Deliver), who was forced out by jealous colleagues.

In part two, which will run tomorrow, Coulson travels the world in search of ideas to fix America's public schools.

Coulson passed away in 2016 following a 15-month battle with brain cancer. For more on his contribution to the field, read his classic 1999 book, Market Education: The Unknown History.

Produced by Maxim Lott. Edited by Joshua Swain.

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  1. Stossel is a chooch. Every one of his article has to show his smug mug and stupid face. He is the mental equivalent of a dried dog turd.

    Question: Who has the most punch-able face?

    a. Stossel
    b. Jay Cutler (NFL QB now with the Dolphins).
    c. That dude who does the Tirvago comercials

      1. Oh My! Did I hurt your little feelings?
        Did the big bad man say something you didn’t like?

        1. Your mom prefers to be donkey punched. Had to clarify.

          1. And you prefer 3rd grade retorts,

            1. Puleeze, that’s at least 5th grade, more than likely 7th grade.

        2. There’s a big bad man here? Where?

  2. Government-run schools crush innovation. Well, yes, mass production tends to do that. They want kids going in one end of the machine and a solid line of identical little tax-payers coming out the other. Workers on the assembly line have a specific set of rote tasks they perform with the goal of achieving uniformity in the product, “doing your own thing” on an assembly line is not just discouraged, it’ll get your ass fired for disrupting the smooth operation of the machine. And in a factory, units coming off the production line that aren’t identical to every other unit aren’t sold as artisanal hand-crafted one-of-a-kind little treasures, they’re stamped “Defective” and thrown in the scrap bin.

    1. “Conform or be cast out” I think is the phrase I’m looking for.

      1. Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth.

    2. But all schools tend towards this – hardly just government schools. You think religious or other private schools are looking for “non-conformists”? Give me a break! There are lots of reasons government should get out of schools but “conformity” isn’t one of them.

      1. I think the point is that we need to stop saying teachers need to get paid more. Good and great teachers should be paid more. Teachers should be able to excel and rise through the ranks based on their merit not on years of service.

        1. Sure. And schools need about 1/10 the number of “administrators” they have now. And pubsec unions need to be broken. Etc etc. These are the real damage that government is doing to schools.

        2. The challenge with this is the metrics you use to evaluate the teachers. That is very elusive.

          1. I disagree. If you want to learn to play guitar, you find a teacher who’s method, resume, attitude, price and style work for you. If you want to learn to play baseball, you find a coach and team using similar criteria.

            Then we get to learning math or reading and use a model that says you go to the building nearest your house and are assigned a teacher by lottery.

            1. One problem is, most students aren’t that interested in learning or working hard. They’d much rather be goofing off and scrolling through facebook than solving math problems or writing a letter in a foreign language. That’s a crucial difference between a typical student and somebody who wants to go learn to play guitar.

            2. That’s an oversimplification. It’s not that easy.

              If you are a math teacher and you have a pupil who is a great reader but poor in math, is that a poor reflection of the teacher? No. It’s the variability of students. So evaluating a teacher based on the grades a student receives incentives the teacher to skew grades. People will do whatever it take to get a decent performance review, and the manipulation of metrics is one of them. And in this one case, it can adversely affect the students.

              So it is a very complicated challenge to effectively evaluate teacher performance. Not impossible, but not simple.

      2. “Give me a break!”

        I see what you did there.

      3. “Give me a break!”

        I see what you did there.

      4. Yes, but what is going on is the increasing centralization to ONE power with the goal of establishing the same conformity FOR ALL. Big, big difference than having 50 different powers seeking conformity.

  3. This is something I have never even thought of before. It makes a ton of sense.

    If I become the best commercial real estate developer, then I’m going to make millions. If I become the best teacher, my pay rate is determined by some bureaucrat.

    1. Yes, but unless you molest a student, you’re pretty much employed for life with a sweet retirement package as a teacher. Blissful for the well-connected, shitty for the students.

  4. Once again we see Stossel going after the low hang fruit. Even those (especially those?) who survived public education would agree that the current system is antiquated. bloated and corrupt. Stossel dangles Libertarian red-meat . His followers lap it up and consider him a “Great Thinker”. In reality he is a showman just like Rush Limbaugh on the right and Al Sharpton on the left.

    1. We need a showman if we want to compete. We need more of them in fact. Or else we are just a “he-man, woman haters club” with a political discussion bend.

      1. ^This. You don’t open up people’s minds to libertarian principles by doing a deep dive into the subtleties of Austrian economics or hitting them on the head with a Bastiat book. You present topics they are familiar with in a manner that is common sense and approachable. Then when they are mesmerized by Stossel’s magnificent mustache, you whack them with the Bastiat.

        1. Wouldn’t whacking people, be it with Bastiat or J.K. Rowling, be a violation of the NAP?

          1. Whacking me with J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be.

            Well, other than the fact it would get her pagan uncleanliness on me. But I was gonna have to take a shower afterward anyway, so…

    2. Have you condemned a Nazi today? You really need to.

      1. Because => Not Continuously Condemning == Consciously Supporting Nazis And Their Goal of World Domination

  5. Isn’t a student’s home life situation – his/her parents (or parent substitutes) – the most important factor in student achievement?

    I don’t dispute that many public schools need improving – but in many of the worst schools, the kids are often coming from lousy homes, dangerous neighborhoods, and they have few positive role models. The children of poorly educated parents – parents that sadly too often don’t even understand the importance of a good education, seem to be at a disadvantage. The teachers and administrators can only do so much.

    1. Those are factors are undeniable, but only further the argument that higher teacher/education spending won’t improve the results. The talent pool would be improved by eliminating some of the requirements that are linked to the union labor regulations. Is a master’s in education really necessary to teach 8 year olds?

      1. A masters isn’t required, my sister has a masters, but she didn’t get the special teaching certification that is available for the low low price of $$$ and two years of your life at the politically connected certification center of your choice!

        Content mastery, or teaching ability are no longer the deciding factors when it comes to passing on knowledge, it is governmental permission, as always. I say no longer because my father is a nuclear certified machinist and used to be able to teach metal shop in school back in the 80’s, later they told him he would have to get a teaching certificate to continue.

        1. And this is where privatization could help a lot. Some schools would say “all of our teachers are state certified” while others may say “Our metal shop teacher is a Nuclear Frigging Machinist and our business teacher is a retired partner from a CPA firm with 30 years in the biz”. Let the market decide.

      2. I don’t think ANY college is really necessary to teach eight year olds.

    2. You aren’t wrong, but those same kids from those same troubled households you describe were successful under the teacher in the video. Those kids need a superstar teacher because mom and dad can’t or won’t help them succeed the way the parents in the nice part of town will. And the system will work to destroy those superstar teachers.

  6. my attention span is less than six minutes so i’ll just read the comments

  7. Not everything the government does in education is bad! I went to a public high school run by the government. My school has educated:

    * FOUR Nobel Laureates (three in hard sciences; one in economics)

    * AT LEAST ONE Fields Medalist (the equivalent of a Nobel, but for math–there is no Nobel in math)

    * AT LEAST TWO winners of the Wolf Prize, which often precedes winning a Nobel or Fields, it’s kind of the second-to-top prize in math or science

    * AT LEAST ONE winner of the National Medal of Science

    * THE MOST important and influential geneticist alive today

    * THE FIRST female theoretical physicist to win tenure at Harvard

    * NUMEROUS members of the US National Academy of Sciences

    * VERY MANY professors including at top universities

    * NUMEROUS successful and very-successful entrepreneurs and businessmen, including the founder of Home Depot, the owner of the NY Mets, and the President of DC Comics

    * NUMEROUS big-selling authors and journalists

    * SEVERAL very successful musicians

    * AT LEAST THREE celebrated actors/actresses whom you have CERTAINLY seen on TV

    And that’s only the top level.

    1. And your Zip code was…?

    2. And where is the comparison? Without a comparison you might as well be selling me on the virtues of kerosene lanterns and how they have helped countless scholars throughout history who relied on them.

      If you want to sell us on the merits of public school via individual success stories, you need to show what percentage of the population attend public schools, then show what percentage of Nobel Laureates came from public schools. You can do the same with Fields medalists, Wolf prizes, etc.

      That sounds like a lot of work… it is best to just cling to whatever idea we want to be true and use the extra time for posting more comments.

    3. Your experiences are not universal.

  8. Schools do fail children when they are underfunded, poorly staffed, lacking supplies and subject to community prejudices -i.e. teaching the controvery on intelligent design instead of natural selection. Public schools do just fine educating their students in rich neighborhoods. They maintain art and music programs, have guidance counsellors, good sports and apprenticeship programs and lots of parental involvement. These are usually supported by parenta’s .associations. Yet these schools are subject to the same restrictions, regulations and limitations imposed on the failing schools. The children in these schools usually come from homes that value education and instill that value in their children. The teachers and principals feel valued and supported and the demand for Charter or for profit schools is limited or non-existant with the exception of a few specialized schools. Taking money from public schools to pay for charter and for profit schools won’t change the situation; it will just speed the decline of public education. There is no quick fix for these problems but allowing the best students and most committed parents to opt out of the public system is not the answer. Public schools serve a necessary function. They must be improved with better funding rather than hurt with less.

    1. Schools fail children because there’s no consequences for dissatisfied parents and students. The administrators who run the school are primarily concerned with their own pay, and the powerful labor union that controls the teachers is primarily concerned with enhancing teacher benefits. The closest thing to consumer empowerment is school choice, which is why it’s always demonized by the public education syndicate.

    2. A: Wealthy people in the Soviet Union had nice schools too,

      B: Education is much more about parental involvement and environment than it is about schools at all, and those wealthy kids have those where poor kids usually have 1 parent at most,

      C: If having better students and more committed parents around helps “boost” poorer students and less committed parents, why exactly does that not work in reverse? If proximity matters, shouldn’t that also “drag down” the better students as much as it “pulls up” the poorer ones? Why do you assume that only goes one way?

      To say nothing of the fact that your assertion isn’t even necessarily true: the school voucher program in Alabama consistently attracted *lower*-performing students with parents desperately trying to get them a second chance.

  9. What is the difference between training and education? Training prepares you ‘against’ surprise, education prepares you ‘for’ surprise. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games.

    A good deal of what passes for education world wide is training. China’s student test scores for example. But where are the iconic Chinese automobiles, airliners, hell, vacuum cleaners?

    The most innovative time I can think of off the top of my head is the US between 1880 and 1920. Schools without air-conditioning or computers or the latest and greatest silver bullet as in self esteem training. As an aside, Dr. Langley was provided funds and government support to produce a heavier than air flying vehicle but he was beaten by a couple of bicycle mechanics.

    The question begged, is how do you train and educate, but especially educate.

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