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Education: Too Important for a Government Monopoly


The government-school establishment has said the same thing for decades: Education is too important to leave to the competitive market. If we really want to help our kids, we must focus more resources on the government schools.

But despite this mantra, the focus is on something other than the kids. When The Washington Post asked George Parker, head of the Washington, D.C., teachers union, about the voucher program there, he said: "Parents are voting with their feet. ... As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we'll have teachers to represent."

How revealing is that?

Since 1980, government spending on education, adjusted for inflation, has nearly doubled. But test scores have been flat for decades.

Today we spend a stunning $11,000 a year per student — more than $200,000 per classroom. It's not working. So when will we permit competition and choice, which works great with everything else? I'll explore those questions on my Fox Business program tomorrow night at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern time (and again Friday at 10 p.m.).

The people who test students internationally told us that two factors predict a country's educational success: Do the schools have the autonomy to experiment, and do parents have a choice?

Parents care about their kids and want them to learn and succeed — even poor parents. Thousands line up hoping to get their kids into one of the few hundred lottery-assigned slots at Harlem Success Academy, a highly ranked charter school in New York City. Kids and parents cry when they lose.

Yet the establishment is against choice. The union demonstrated outside Harlem Success the first day of school. And President Obama killed Washington, D.C.'s voucher program.

This is typical of elitists, who believe that parents, especially poor ones, can't make good choices about their kids' education.

Is that so? Ask James Tooley about that ( Tooley is a professor of education policy who spends most of every year in some of the poorest parts of Africa, India and China. For 10 years, he's studied how poor kids do in "free" government schools and — hold on — private schools.

That's right. In the worst slums, private for-profit schools educate kids better than the government's schools do.

Tooley finds as many as six private schools in small villages. "The majority of (poor) schoolchildren are in private school, and these schools outperform government schools at a fraction of the teacher cost," he says.

Why do parents with meager resources pass up "free" government schools and sacrifice to send their children to private schools? Because, as one parent told the BBC, the private owner will do something that's virtually impossible in America's government schools: replace teachers who do not teach.

As in America, the elitist establishment in those countries scoffs at the private schools and the parents who choose them. A woman who runs government schools in Nigeria calls such parents "ignoramuses."

But that can't be true. Tooley tested kids in both kinds of schools, and the private-school students score better.

To give the establishment its best shot, consider Head Start, which politicians view as sacred. The $166 billion program is 45 years old, so it's had time to prove itself. But guess what: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently found no difference in first-grade test results between kids who went through Head Start and similar kids who didn't ( President Obama has repeatedly promised to "eliminate programs that don't work," but he wants to give Head Start a billion more dollars. The White House wouldn't explain this contradiction to me.

Andrew Coulson, head of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Reform, said, "If Head Start (worked), we would expect now, after 45 years of this program, for graduation rates to have gone up; we would expect the gap between the kids of high school dropouts and the kids of college graduates to have shrunk; we would expect students to be learning more. None of that is true."

Choice works, and government monopolies don't. How much more evidence do we need?

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at <a href="" <>></a>. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




6 Comments | Post Comment
How encouraging to hear good sense in the media. Fascinating to see hard data that supports what every parent knows. Government schools are the machine of mediocrity. Money will not fix them. We need School Choice and a free market approach to education. Read Tooley's book, "The Beautiful Tree", it will blow you away. Thanks John and thanks Dr. Tooley for giving us some ammunition to move up and beyond Government schools.
Comment: #1
Posted by: EBurkeDisciple
Fri Aug 13, 2010 8:53 AM
I am a former teacher. I belonged to a union because of the insurance that they offered. I am tired of hearing theat school's are mainly failing because of the teachers. A parent has to send you a child who wants to learn. Government schools are loaded with children who come from dysfunctional families. They are exposed to some of societies worst problems. Thre isn't enough time in a day for a teacher to fill all the shoes he/she has to wear.
Before you condem most of us, walk in our shoes for a few days. I don't expect teachers to get more money.
I want to see them get real help. For instance, we want more counselors, child psychologists, and discipline in the schools. Take out those children who have serious problems and put them in a different learning environment.
One or two children can disrupt a whole classroom. You are going to get good scores from
schools who have students with responsible and caring parents. They can be poor or rich. Quit condeming and help. God was taken out and discipline went with him. Look at the data and see when the schools started failing.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Lily Mia
Sat Jan 1, 2011 10:13 PM
It has nothing to do with Teachers Unions (though I believe they hinder those with solutions). It's about what we as parents want for our children. Your right Lily, most problems start at home. But this is not a question on who's to blame. It's a question of what works and what doesn't. And it's clear that our current system has failed. We need a new way, and the only option that I can see is getting the Government out of Education and letting the people decide.

We don't want to blame the poor or even hurt them. But the truth is if you raise your child to not care about an education, don't expect them to get one. The state can't fix this problem, and perhaps no one can. But it is clear that the current status-quo is not working either.

Benjamin Mitchell
Comment: #3
Posted by: Benjamin Mitchell
Wed Jan 5, 2011 1:41 PM
Re: Lily Mia
Lily - That was very well put. As a parent, I agree. As a future teacher, I hope to see more reason take over. I don't think it will ever change in the public system. Too big, too corrupt, with too many cooks in the kitchen. Charter is the best answer I've heard and you would end up at one of those charter schools where you were allowed to teach. I hope I will end up there too.
Comment: #4
Posted by: BBMat
Thu Feb 24, 2011 1:30 PM
As a parent, educator and student, one of the most important factors that should remain at the forefront, is the right of each parent to elect that which is best for his or her child's education regardless of geographical location. Unfortunately the governmental teachers unions in the United States tend to favor economic output rather than educational output. Further restricted by government intereference regarding simple disciplinary actions, allowing teachers to gain control of their classrooms and teach children rather than teach to a test.
Humans are unique, each and everyone and not every human will or can have the same learning capacity or output. Children must gain a majority of knowledge basics prior to age five, wehre often these derive from pre-school, parental involvement and private sector sources. Children must be taught rules, respect and order prior to entering into a pubilc or private setting for continued education and educators must be allowed to set classroom rules that imitate those of parental guidance. While all will not be the same, most will follow the old fashion Golden Rule theory, allowing children to grow while demonstrating evolved social skills and reacting to peers in an ordierly manner without fear, not unlike students in public schools in the US today.
As a parent I have three children ages 33,35,and 39 all college graduates, parents and self-sustaining succesful adults who continue to practice earlychildhood values and training reflecting respect of others as with self. Understanting it is thier soul right to excerise their religion and teach their children without government interference.
In conclusion the U.S. like many other countries place money matters before social justice and human life. There are an estimated 333 million people in the United States derived form multi-cultured origins, thus setting the stage for a Calico pattern that must have reasonable order among its members. The principal being that too many rules will create a failing setting for the game. Sound rules of order, alinged with Constitutional law will limit confusion and provide for greater semblance and unity of its constiuents. Thus all being said, assembling three primary rules of order and delegating authority will always remain at the forfront as such first and foremost (1) Parent second as a contract agreement with Teacher and third to comply with laws that affect every citizen not just those in education and should elimiate union activity in education all the way around.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Cynthia Jones
Mon Oct 3, 2011 7:03 AM
There is no monopoly in education as you assert. But that is not really my issue with your post here, or your story which I saw on Fox. Your report made NO effort whatsoever to take a look at any other perspectives on the issues in play. You, and those like you who tout charter schools and for-profit corporate take-overs of public education dollars purposely neglect to examine the other side of the coin.
For example, what realistic options will be there for the rural school districts that face under-performing public schools at nearly the same level as urban schools. You also neglect the fact that many of these schools under-perform in comparison to their public school counterparts. A case-in-point is the Imagine Schools performance in Missouri. They have tests scores lower than EVERY school district in the state! They are receiving millions in public school dollars. In many states, private schools receiving public school dollars are not held to the same accountability standards as their public school counter-parts.
Finally, despite your one-sided view, teachers' unions are not generally after simply protecting all teachers. Policies like tenure were put in place for a reason. In your report, you glorified those schools where teachers were often fired after one day and who stated they were constantly concerned they would be fired. On the face, this might seem desirable. However, tenure protects teachers speaking "truth to power." For example, what if a teacher observed one of the administrators using a racial slur or using school funds wrongly. What likelihood would there be that he or she would speak out? Tenure may need some reform, but not elimination.
A reasoned conversation needs to be had on these matters. Your voice is not that reasoned approach we need, and that is too bad because your perspective could be valuable.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Paul
Sun Oct 30, 2011 6:27 PM
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