Free Minds & Free Markets

Stossel: Saving Kids From Government Schools

Success Academy's Eva Moskowitz has demonstrated that more choice in education yields incredible outcomes.

It's school choice week!

What's that? It's a week about giving parents and kids a choice of schools, so they aren't stuck in failing, government-run schools.

John Stossel says amazing things happen at some of these alternatives. He visited one school where the kids like learning. Reading is "rockin' awesome," one kid tells John.

That school was created by Eva Moskowitz. Her "Success Academy" now runs 46 charter schools that teach more than 15,000 students. As a charter, she has more freedom to innovate.

Her school gets amazing results: 95% of kids pass the state math test, and 84% pass English. At all NYC government schools only 38% and 41% pass.

Despite her success with kids, she receives nasty criticism. New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio shouts "it's time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place!"

Critics say that she only takes the best kids. But that's false. The kids are selected by a random lottery.

Critics say she pushes difficult kids out of her school to increase her results. That's also false; her schools have a lower drop-out rate than public schools.

Stossel gives Success Academy, and school choice, an A!

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.

Reason is a proud media partner of National School Choice Week, an annual event promoting the ability of parents and students to have greater options in K-12 education. Go here to get more information about events and data about how increasing school choice--charters, vouchers, educational savings accounts, and more--is one of the best ways to improve education for all Americans. For a constantly updated list of stories on education, go to Reason's archive page on National School Choice Week.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Leader Desslok||


  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Isn't the goal to save government from kids' schools?

  • Rhywun||

    Saving Kids From Government Schools

    It makes a good slogan but charters ARE government schools. The reason for their success has more to do with loosening the grip of the corrupt teachers unions. That is where the energy ought to be focused for faster results.

  • ||

    The kids are selected by a random lottery.

    That's what a random group of lottery winners looks like in New York?

  • Ham_Bone||

    No. They look like a different group also selected through a random lottery, specifically students applying for acceptance in a charter school.

  • Lester224||

    It sounds really evil if you call them "government schools". However, public schools are locally controlled. There's no big federal organization (the dept of ed is really pretty powerless) forcing localities to limit charter schools. In my town there was a vote to increase the number of charter schools and it was resoundingly defeated. That's because the parents in the town liked the public schools, didn't want their funding diluted, and campaigned successfully against the non-local initiative to increase the number of charter schools. If the parents didn't like the public schools the charter school initiative would have won.

    The biggest issue is getting better schools period, in poor communities where parents don't care enough to drive changes and teachers don't want to work. Charter schools in these places don't do much better statistically unless they can refuse to admit any of the disabled kids or behavioral problems, which are then dumped on the public schools.

  • ||

    Charter schools in these places don't do much better statistically unless they can refuse to admit any of the disabled kids or behavioral problems, which are then dumped on the public schools.

    Which is funny because some might call handicapping high-achievers by forcing them to associate with problem children and the disabled while, at the same time, forcing problem children and the disabled to compete with high-achievers really evil directly rather than using the 'government schools' euphemism.

    There are certainly good public schools out there. High-achievers can self-select geographically. Even there the choices can, do, and should exist.

  • p3orion||

    "...the parents in the town liked the public schools, didn't want their funding diluted..."

    That's always the public school lobby's argument: "This will mean less funding for public schools!" And it's true, of course, but ignores the fact that funding is tied to the number of students enrolled, which means the only way they lose funding is if a cost (ie, the student) is also removed from their balance sheet. Unless they are willing to admit that they are receiving MORE money per student than is needed, the effect on a public school of having a student and his associated government funding transferred to a charter should be revenue neutral at worst.

  • IceTrey||

    So how do you get better schools if the parents and teachers teacher don't care?

  • CE||

    The parents care when they pay. The teachers care when their job is on the line.

  • Lester224||

    Or you can pay higher salaries and get better teachers along with letting the principal fire for cause (which is a union problem).

  • Ham_Bone||

    Or you can base each individuals teacher's pay on their ability to teach.

  • Trainer||

    Public school teachers earn plenty- they make more than their private school counterparts- and often have perks that other people working in the public sector don't. We only think they don't because that's what the union has been telling us all these years.

  • Flinch||

    Local school boards do not necessarily mean local control. One such case study was the 'consent decree' that Baton Rouge suffered under for 4 decades. The school board could hold as many meetings as they pleased and get any amount of agreements they could muster but then... off to court [hat in hand to say 'mother may I'] where a federal judge was administering a bussing program alongside of a permanent employment racket for himself and a few select lawyers. The US attorney and the school district forged agreement after agreement, only for the judge to bring in an outside party to nix the whole thing. He wasn't accepting amicus briefs like courts usually do from third parties, but... the NAACP was gifted voting rights, which they always gave a thumbs down to until they got what they really wanted out of the hostage situation: a black mayor for the city. Sick, sad, racist, and... a total joke when it came time for applying community values - all anybody ever wanted at the onset was decent textbooks and facilities. Kids spent 3 hours a day being bussed in many cases - those costs could have bought the books.

  • Davulek||

    One my kid's elementary school principals said that he had as much decision making power as the Queen of England here in Michigan. He said the mandates of the state and Feds basically made all the decisions. He had to "rent" his own cafeteria kitchen from the Dept of Agriculture if he needed it because he took school lunch money.

    Add too this the fact that there is an unholy alliance between many BOE's, unions, administrations, and employees, that the taxpayers never had a chance. Most BOE members are former or current school district employees or have one in the family.

    The stupid voters let it happen though.

  • Holmes IV||

    Came from MI public schools. Mom was a teacher and on the school board. And we were a TOP 10 school nationwide.

    Can confirm, "local control" in MI gov schools is a joke at best.

  • DesigNate||

    " which are then dumped on the public schools."

    That they were already going to be forced to go to anyways?

    Seriously, that's your fucking argument against charters being able to refuse admission?

  • Kevin47||

    If everyone fails equally, then it's fair, and fair is the best thing you can be!

  • Lester224||

    It's an argument for why public schools don't "score" as high as, say, magnet schools or private schools or charter schools that are allowed to pick their own students, that's all.

  • gormadoc||

    I know for a fact that school districts in my state have certain requirements placed on them by the state board. Many schools in less-populated or isolated areas have difficulties meeting these requirements, often because of funding. Computer and science labs are very expensive. Paying for these as if they, by their very nature, grant good education means that they can't pay for what they do need.

    Even if your local government is good, and many aren't, your state government can still fuck it up.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I wouldn't call the school district of any major city "locally controlled". I do think that their size is a big part of the problem (for many other public services as well). They really don't have much more accountability to parents than the feds do.

  • Kevin47||

    "However, public schools are locally controlled."

    Local government is government.

    "That's because the parents in the town liked the public schools, didn't want their funding diluted, and campaigned successfully against the non-local initiative to increase the number of charter schools."

    Yeah, I'm sure it was all parents terrified another choice in schools might open up, with no input from the teachers union, which in no way influences government. I find your narrative entirely plausible.

    "If the parents didn't like the public schools the charter school initiative would have won."

    What about the parents who do not, in fact, like the public schools? If 40% of parents are unhappy, that is a terrible result for public schools, but also not enough to win at the polls.

    "Charter schools in these places don't do much better statistically unless they can refuse to admit any of the disabled kids or behavioral problems, which are then dumped on the public schools."

    My guess is the (certainly not union funded) parents groups battered voters with this talking point, which the data belie.

  • widget||

    If you want a successful school you should draft the smartest kids.

    So I'm coaching a little league baseball this spring and we have spring tryouts. I am drafting the best baseball players I can find. The other coached are competing with me do the same.

    What is the point of Stossel's post? Someone gets stuck with the rest. Getting stuck with the rest is an important consideration. I don't much like teacher's unions but give them a break on this. What are we gonna do? We'll fast track every kid with a talent into some charter school and leave the rest to daycare?

  • IceTrey||

    Did you miss the part about the lottery?

  • Kevin47||

    "f you want a successful school you should draft the smartest kids."

    Via lottery, I guess.

    "What is the point of Stossel's post? "

    That school choice benefits students, improving their reading skills. Some school choice might have done you good.

    "I don't much like teacher unions"

    Why not?

    "but give them a break on this."

    Give them a break on their effort to thwart meaningful choice and trap students in education-free zones they created? No, I won't be doing that, especially at the behest of a troll who didn't even bother to read the article to which he is responding.

  • ||

    What are we gonna do? We'll fast track every kid with a talent into some charter school and leave the rest to daycare?

    I know! Fewer options. Then the kids on the fast track get slowed down and forced to compete with the kids who are effectively in daycare. If we pretend the differences don't exist, we don't have to solve the oh-so-difficult 'getting stuck with the rest' issue!

  • Leader Desslok||

    I think that is a large part of the debate about education in this country that is sorely missing, namely that fact that not all kids are equal and some are just smarter than others. But there are far to many "educators" in this country that are convinced that all kids can learn all you need to do is spend more money to teach more and all kids will be genius.

  • Davulek||

    "ll you need to do is spend more money to teach more "

    tried and failed.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    namely that fact that not all kids are equal and some are just smarter than others

    This same thing shows up when people talk about the glory of automation. Any worker that loses their job will just be trained to do something else, as if everyone is capable of learning everything. Well it just doesn't work that way.

    That's not to say that automation shouldn't be pursued, but you've got to be realistic about the outcome.

  • markm23||

    They're convinced of that until you complain about how few of the kids are learning. Then they point at the parents. They're probably right that a lack of support for learning at home makes kids close to unteachable - but there's a logical disconnect between that claim and their constant requests for more money so they can fail bigger.

  • Flinch||

    Let's jump to the next point: is it time for some anti-trust [or even a rico case or two] action against teachers unions? I can't imagine paying a mechanic with a 38% chance of fixing my car: that could be lawsuit material. I'd like to say not all teachers unions are bad, but... can't think of one I'd recommend at the moment. Their fatal flaw is this: they have NO theory of education - but they do have dues, pensions and cash to throw around come election time. If you are in a union and care about work product, begin by taking away the punchbowl: you are able to limit dues to strictly pension and collective bargaining courtesy of the Beck decision. One caveat, however: there was a loophole [it may still exist] that allowed unions wiggle room on accounting methods when contributions are under $300. That might mean you need to skip months in order to force accountability - sort out process first before hamstringing your local goons, as process stops for members not in "good standing". Anybody know what that amount is now [if it still exists], please add your comment.

  • gormadoc||

    I believe anti-trust laws do not encompass unions, as they are a part of employee collective action. RICO would not apply in the vast majority of teachers unions. Perhaps some of the bigger and more corrupt unions, like Chicago or NYC, but I still wouldn't expect them to fit with RICO.

  • Davulek||

    You need to go further up the food chain. It is the mandatory system of funding through property taxation that is the problem. It basically creates an education mafia.
    The real solution is to eliminate that model or switch to vouchers. The schools that can deliver survive and the rest die.

  • Trainer||

    If you are in a union and care about work product...

    You don't know the first thing about unions, do you?

  • some guy||

    To be honest I had a pretty good experience in public school, but that was probably because it was brand new and I lived in a relatively wealthy district.

  • Rhywun||

    I did too but it was because it was a magnet school with lots of corporate involvement in funding computer labs and such. The general schools in my city were terrible.

  • AlmightyJB||

    I think a lot of it has to do with the parents. I went to situ public schools but my mother was educated and read to me and helped me with my homework (she didn't do it for me). I remember in 4th grade having to help the teacher with the math book which she didn't understand.

  • AlmightyJB||

    A lot of kids in these larger city schools districts have parents who can't even read. Learning is not a priority in their families and their kids have never seen the inside of a library. Those teachers who are good spend 90% of their time dealing with the 2 or 3 students who are behavior problems.

  • AlmightyJB||

    The teachers can't discipline the children because the principles won't back them up and the parents might be waiting after school to beat them up.

  • Davulek||

    Teachers are literally now telling students to go the Kahn Academy for free online to learn math better than in the classroom.

  • TC1||


    Now how would you feel about a poorer district spending *more* taxpayer dollars to deliver an inferior education than you had? How would you feel if you paid property taxes and had kids in this district? Barring writing off your property taxes and sending your kids to private school (if you can afford it), how do you get them a decent education and recover some some of this money you've spent that should be getting your kids a world-class education?

    We have the answer answer, but of course the people benefiting from that completely out of whack per-pupil cost aren't going to like it.

  • CE||

    Ewww.... teaching kids for profit? Treating parents like customers, instead of citizens? Kids aren't mini-consumers, they are a precious national resource and must be educated according to the latest theories from government experts and inculcated with the appropriate civic values and sensitivities to other cultures, and shielded from corporate greed.

  • VinniUSMC||

    Yes, so let's continue to teach them at schools that completely fail to educate them. Great idea.

  • gormadoc||

    Your sarcasm meter is off.

  • Kevin47||

    There are a couple unironically stupid comments thus far, too be fair.

  • Lester224||

    There are scam schools that would somehow need to be weeded out. (Regulation?) Parent's, especially poor ones are somewhat limited to schools that are local to them so perfect choice is not possible.

  • gormadoc||

    Even with the random lottery, there is still a slight systematic bias towards good students. Enrollment in the lottery requires an application. Mere knowledge of the school and completion of the application points to involved parents. The children of involved parents do better in school, whether public or private. When you have a population with large numbers of un-involved parents and then (unintentionally) take the children of involved parents, you decrease the scores of outside populations (imperceptibly here) by taking higher scoring children. Montessori programs and other alternative education methods see the same effect.

    Don't take this as a condemnation of the school or charter schools in general, but the difference isn't only due to public vs. private. This school is a pretty damn good school but not every charter school will be, as long as government is still involved. We don't want to idolize schools that only appear better but really aren't.

  • gormadoc||

    Parents of children with special-needs (whether mental disability, physical disability or illness) also tend to stick with public schools, simply because the state pours way more money than it should into these kids. Talk to someone in your local government who has to approve such costs; they can be millions for a single child for one year. It's terrifying. They have robust systems of advanced daycare and pay large costs that the parents (or a private school) would normally have to pay. It's just easier for parents to do it this way. Charter schools don't have systems anywhere near as well-funded and can't accommodate every kind of student. However, such students aren't always counted in achievement statistics, depending on the district or state.

  • Davulek||

    Sometimes, they have to assign an assistant full time to those students.

  • gormadoc||

    One nearby school district in a neighboring town had a student who required special transportation, including for midday appointments. Their situation required two drivers ready for the entire school day and a special van. Even with the drivers working for free it cost millions. For one student. I was surprised the district had enough money.

  • Ride 'Em||

    Most school districts have magnet schools which skim the top students into special schools. So, apparently teacher unions are okay with that because they get credit for those schools. Which tends to verify that teacher unions don't care about students.

  • Eric||

    ^An overly simplistic assumption of your own logic.

  • Kevin47||

    ^Not a coherent sentence.

  • Davulek||

    "Even with the random lottery, there is still a slight systematic bias towards good students."

    So? Parents that care, Do make a difference. Their parents put them in that lottery. If everyone's parents did, maybe they would have more of those academies?

  • gormadoc||

    Did you read past the first sentence? I don't care if good students are excelling because of self-selection but it's short-sighted to ascribe their achievements to the school. These students are doing better mostly because they have better parents, not because of the school.

    That's okay with me but we can't expect good results from every charter school. Championing charter schools rather than full school choice is a good short term strategy but will hurt in the long run if we don't switch.

  • Eric||

    "So? Parents that care, Do make a difference. Their parents put them in that lottery. If everyone's parents did, maybe they would have more of those academies?"

    You mean: Parents with the means to drive their kids across the district or city every day. Single moms working fixed schedules don't generally enjoy this kind of flexibility. Hell, two parent families rarely have this option when both parents must work. The option for most is to send their kids to the local public.

  • Kevin47||

    "You mean: Parents with the means to drive their kids across the district or city every day."

    Buses exist.

    "The option for most is to send their kids to the local public."

    And yet there is a need for a lottery.

  • Lester224||

    Some kids get up at 4-5am to get to a school of their parent's choice across town using public transportation. It's kind of hard on the kid.

  • Kevin47||

    I really don't buy this "we can't educate kids because parents don't care" argument.

    First of all, there are studies that adjust for precisely the factors you cite. There are even studies on the difference between students who get win and lose lotteries.

    Second, look at the test scores at your average suburban school, to say nothing of urban schools. Are half the parents in middle-income neighborhoods illiterate sloths?

    I don't think we get anywhere embracing the union talker that it's the fault of parents who produce kids who just can't be educated.

  • gormadoc||

    That's not the argument. I don't believe I ever claimed that kids can't be educated if their parents don't care, just that be kids whose parents do care will do better. These are the kids we sample for our numbers.

    It's important to know the limits of the statistics and how far we can get with them. Most charter schools do outperform public schools. The more normalized charter schools become, the more we'll have, and the more bad ones we'll have. Some will outperform only because if the self-selection factor.

    We don't want to kneejerk support individual schools. In the long run, we want to support a system of school choice rather than individual schools. If we get behind one bad school it becomes a lodestone.

  • Kevin47||

    The statistics can go a much further than you seem aware. Again, there are studies that adjust for these factors. If getting behind one bad school scuttles the project, we are doomed from the start.

  • Trainer||

    You will never have a system of school choice because in the end, the government runs the school and they keep a tight reign. They will allow choice from time to time but that choice will be severely limited to the model that they've created. If we had educational freedom, there would be many different systems of education- church, charity, private, home, community based etc. How can I be so sure? Because that's what we had before compulsory school laws when our literacy rate was higher than it is now.

  • ||

    A country that has figured out how to produce a gallon of milk for $3, a state of are Toyota Camry for mere $18k is unable to figure out how to delivery high quality education and dirt cheap prices ? Guv mint must be incharge.

  • Bill Goode||

    Note to John Stossel - Charter schools are still in the government bureaucracy, though they may a more desirable option within that bureaucracy.

    Charter schools still mandate the graduated K-12 system that doesn't work for anyone, not slow students who can't keep up, not average students who miss a critical point needed to understand what they will be learning the next year, and not the fast students who sit in boredom.

  • Ham_Bone||

    Charter school critics argue that charters amount to a privatization of public schools because they are run by organizations that don't answer to the public and in some states aren't subject to key rules that apply to government agencies, such as open meetings and public records laws.

  • Trainer||

  • Trainer||

    We need educational freedom not school choice. Chosen a prison for your children is still sending them to prison.

  • Priscilla King||

    We need school choice (not necessarily without some minimal standards, like annual tests/reviews) because, when all children in one neighborhood have to go to one school, that school can become abusive.

    I went to one school, for one year, where the facilities looked very nice and spanking wasn't allowed, and I was still dealing with memories of the emotional abuse in college.

    I went to another school, for several years, where verbal abuse was standard, teachers displayed their spanking paddles with pride, and one teacher (untreated diabetic, hopefully reported dead more than once before she died) escalated into grabbing kids by the hair...and because she had tenure, not only had students no recourse, but *she* didn't get badly needed help for years. In my home town baby boomers can be identified by our mutual memories of Old Miss Mean's math class.

    That's why the Virginia legal battle for school choice was led by parents of an otherwise very bright child who'd flunked Old Miss Mean's math class.

    Funnily enough, after the competing school opened--in a church basement, with "Christian School" as its name--kids reported much less abuse at the public school, even from Old Miss Mean. Also, a few kids who'd become problems at the public school were expelled, went to the Christian school, and actually settled down and learned something.

    The existence of alternatives just tends to reduce abuses of any existing system.


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online