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John Stossel
John Stossel
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Exciting Schools


School spending has doubled over the past 30 years. Yet what do we get? More buildings and more assistant principals — but student learning? No improvement. If you graph the numbers, the spending line slopes steeply, while the lines for reading, math and science scores are as flat as a dead man's EKG.

Why no improvement? Because K-12 education is a government monopoly, and monopolies don't improve.

And yet I'm happy to announce some good news: Cool things are starting to happen in classrooms.

I was surprised to meet kids who said they like school. What? I found school boring. How can it be that these fourth-graders tell me that they look forward to going to school and that math is "rockin' awesome"?

Those kids attend one of those new charter schools. Charters let them escape the bureaucracy of regular schools, including, often, teachers union rules. These schools compete for kids because parents can always choose another school. That makes them better.

Not every charter school is good, but the beauty of competition is that bad ones go out of business, while good ones expand. Then good schools teach more kids. Choice and competition produce quality. Anyone surprised?

Government schools rarely improve because no matter how bad they are, they still have captive customers.

The Harlem charter schools admit kids that bureaucrats label "at risk of failure." But these kids learn. And they do it at lower cost.

I visited another charter chain, American Indian Public Charter Schools in Oakland, Calif., that gets similar top results, also at lower cost.

"Kids in American Indian Public Charter Schools score so far above the average for the state for public school children that there isn't even a word for it," says Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom.

Those schools use methods different from the charters in Harlem. For example, they pay some kids to tutor other kids.

Both charters do something that regular public schools rarely do: fire teachers. One charter principal calls it "freeing up a person's future."

You cannot maintain quality unless you can fire people, said Deborah Kenny, founder of Harlem Village Academies.

While bad teachers might get fired, good teachers are given freedom.

"They can choose their textbooks, teaching methods — as long as they, every quarter and every year, make sure that the students are learning what they need to learn," Kenny said.

In Harlem, 43 percent of eighth-graders pass state math tests. In Kenny's schools, 100 percent pass. So if charters work, why aren't there more of them? Because teachers unions hate them. The president of the Newark Teachers Union, Joseph Del Grosso, doesn't want charters in what he calls "his schools."

"Over my dead body, they're going to come there," he told me.

Because of that attitude, people who try to start charter schools often find that bureaucrats make it hard. But in one city, most kids now attend charters. How did that happen?

It happened because when Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, it also destroyed the school system. Some school reformers thought that might be a blessing.

"It was probably one of the worst school districts in the country," said Paul Pastorek, former Louisiana state superintendent of education. The state faced a choice: Rebuild the old system or build something new. It built something new. Opening charters became easy. Today, most kids in New Orleans attend charter schools, and test scores are better.

Ben Marcovitz started a charter school called Sci Academy.

"We have complete control over the quality of our instruction."

At first, only a third of his students were proficient on state tests. Now, Sci Academy's test results are among the best in the city.

Competition drives schools to try different things in order to succeed. It's similar to what happens with consumer goods — computers, refrigerators, cars — that get better every year.

If charter schools do this well, imagine what a really free and competitive system — one without compulsory tax financing and bureaucratic chartering procedures — could do.

Our kids deserve a free market in education.

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




10 Comments | Post Comment
Ummm, the foreigners we let in on education Visas - kick our BUTTS in learning!
Cut the Bureaucracy? Dissolve the Teachers' Union? Hell Yes!

And I teach, so....
Comment: #1
Posted by: Mark Harrill
Fri Sep 23, 2011 5:53 PM
Charter schools are such a great idea. Every parent should have the choice to choose their child's school, and teacher. I can't wait for the day when you can walk into a school of your choice and choose the teacher who you think will best suit your child. It is time to take the old education system out back and put it out of it's misery!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Becky Lindenmayer
Fri Sep 23, 2011 5:57 PM
I am 66 years old and have seen a decline in education since I was in school. What children that work in retail today can count your change back to you the customer? So much is being scramed on a child at once that they do not receive the basics. With out a solid foundation a child's education will more than likely crumble. Lets walk the streets and have community meetings to get Charter schools in our cities. BULLYING IS A MAJOR PROBLEM IN OUR LOCAL SCHOOLS. Where in the World would anyone except a hired employee WHO can not be fired for not doing the job they're hired to do, ONLY IN AMERICA. American children are as important as any child in this World, so why would our law makers allow such a strangle holt be placed on our children, MONEY AND RE-ELECTION. What a selvish bunch of persons that occupy the White House, The Congress, and the Senate. I am ashamed of the persons we are electing and allowing to go to Washington, BUT THE WORSE SHAME IS WE DON'T HAVE SEANCE ENOUGH TO VOTE THOSE SELVISH PERSONS OUT OF WASHINGTON. I have a cavernous sinus hemangioma behind my left eye that spures off to the base of my brain, I know i have a misspelled word here and there but I am praying that after surgery I will not do so, and I wouldn't loose my balance, wouldn't have numbness in my face or double vision when I look to the left, other vision or hearing problems so you coo coo perfect persons switch places with me.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Varnice McClellan Parker
Sat Sep 24, 2011 1:36 PM
We resorted to private school after battling the one size fits all school system in NY suburbia. My son's grade had 6 classes, each identical in curriculum and student composition because anything else, I was told, would be labeling and make students ("in the lower classes) feel bad.
Students are not taught how to think but what to think. (a separate and frightening reality) Debating is a foreign concept. In the rare circumstances, when students do articulate and defend alternative points of view the the word debating is never used, I was told this is because debating implies conflict ; the term "Socratic discussions' is more appropriate.
Academic performance is only 1/3 of a students grade and all classes spend a good deal of time doing "group projects." ( which include a good deal of arts and crafts) Academic success is only one of the schools goals on par with.other goals goals such as engaging students, making sure they are happy, well rounded' and have friends. Electives from cooking, gardening to music and band use two periods a day. School assemblies, Trips and events (one of which was Al Gore's Inconvenient truth presented as truth) also take time once used to teach basic academic subjects. There are no textbooks. Standards and expectations are low and kids act accordingly. As a result, content of regents or county and statewide tests tend to be the curriculum.
The reason our schools fail and our kids are less and less able to compete against students from other countries is not esoteric. They don't spend enough hours learning basics. A typical Math class, for example, is a ten minute lecture followed by an exercise that students do in groups. Even of you disregard differences in how time is used n academic subjects, American public students do not spend much less time learning core academic subjects than many other countries, specifically, less that 1500 hours of core academic subjects a year, In comparison, Chinese students have over 3,000 hours of core academic subjects.
I am not saying that we should clone the Chinese education. We should take a critical look at what happens in our schools. their uniformity- one size fits all structure and philosophy, the lack of accountability, the number of arms of government and agencies and organizations that dictate standards for students, as well as teachers. and the purpose of our schools. Do we want socialization centers or education?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Janet
Mon Sep 26, 2011 10:34 AM
I homeschooled my two sons until they went to public high school. Each is now employed in the field of engineering. The first meeting I attended to learn about homeschooling allowed for parents' comments. One said, my child is ahead of everyone else and doesn't get challenged. Another one said, my child is slow and doesn't get help. A third, believe it or not, said, my child is average and all the teacher's time is taken up with the advanced ones and the slow ones!! What I have read in this article is very encouraging. Children are individuals! They have different learning styles, as well as strengths and weaknesses, as do all adults. Hooray for an opportunity to approach learning with zeal! Hooray for a way out of being told what to think about social issues!
Comment: #5
Posted by: Linda Sue
Fri Sep 30, 2011 7:20 AM
My education plan is as follows:
1. Create an amazing Virtual University of America
2. creative degree program and voucher program for public high schools
Create a federal virtual university of America on steroids. Modeled after Apple I-tunes, App companies will create amazing apps on anything you can think of and they will take their apps to the virtual university board and pitch their apps to the site. The best ones will be accepted on the site. Then anyone in the world will be able to go onto the virtual university website and in most cases for like the price of an I-tune download world class apps on any subject they desire. Think really amazing apps utilizing the best teachers, musicians, entertainers, graphics, that are fun and easy to learn, with budgets like popular video games.
The virtual university of America would revolutionize technical and job training. Even in today's poor economic environment there are huge numbers of jobs being advertised that are going unfilled because of a lack of skills. Most are simple things like not having a knowledge of basic computer skills and a knowledge of Microsoft Office. With the virtual university they would simply download a Microsoft Works App for say $1.29 and within a week have it mastered. An out of work office cleaner could then take a job as a data entree in a hospital and make twice as much as she did before she got laid off. A backyard mechanic that is laid off from a factory that closes may see an ad for a diesel mechanic but has no experience with semi's. He simply goes to the virtual university site downloads say a $59.99 app from Chilton. Cool aspect is that it is a virtual garage with a virtual mechanic that utilizes amazing 3d grapics of every moving part and sequence in fixing anything. He can pull up any make or model of semi, ask the virtual mechanic to fix any problem, and participate in an interactive way. Within a few days he quickly masters the trade.
Want to learn a foreign language go to the virtual university site and download world class app from the LDS Missionary Training Center or Rosetta Stone for price of an i-tune. Study material science with such amazing 3D graphics and course design that a sixth grader has the knowledge of a PHD in the subject. Want to fix your car and not spend money on a mechanic, download an app by Chilton that does the same thing as the above diesel app for any model or make of car. A mother wants her 4 yo to get a jumpstart on first grade goes into the virtual library and downloads the reading app "see spot run" with Snoop Dog. Desire to learn about ancient Egypt. explore ancient Egypt with a virtual Lara Croft set up as an interactive video game. Endless possibilities.
In addition a virtual library on steroids would be part of the University. Think of the possibilities there. Maybe partner with google to scan texts, and put the Library of Alexandria to shame. .
Part 2-transform public high schools
Create degree programs in each school such as science/technology, IT, Music, Art, vocation, liberal arts. Set up a voucher system where each program is allowed to use the money each year to hire a private educational company to implement their curriculum/software/support package and then they go out and hire teachers to teach the program. For example say the per capita voucher is $6000 per student and 200 students have chosen the science/technology program. So the parents and students have 1.2million to work with. They research the best educational companies and they decide on the new MIT startup. They then interview and hire teachers to teach the program. At the end of the year they review and decide if they want to keep MIT or choose a different company, and if there are any teachers that need to be replaced. Each degree program would do the same. The music program may decide to hire the MTV educational company and students excited about creating their own videos. The Arts department may hire Arts Institute of Pittsburgh. All kinds of educational companies will start springing up if this plan is widely adopted. This massive injection of freedom and creativity into public education would transform it to world class.
Comment: #6
Posted by: dmahuika
Mon Nov 7, 2011 8:50 AM
Here's to Bureaucrats!
There is a start-up charter school in north metro Atlanta that was just awarded the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award. We're very happy to have our children attend Fulton Science Academy (
The charter is up for renewal - but the Fulton County school system is leaning toward not renewing the charter as it was written and renewed once before. The school system wants to: renew for 3 years as opposed to previous 5 year renewals, take away the school's full flexibility - the blanket exemption from system rules, and alter the composition of the school's board.
Why? Possibly because the school board has just voted to become a charter system. But that definitely should not have any effect on Fulton Science Academy as a start-up charter school. The school is very nearly completely independent and has an outstanding record of accomplishment to back it up!
Otherwise? We have no idea. I do consider that a motive comes from the baser elements of human nature, but would rather not point fingers.
This is a really GREAT school and its existence is being threatened right after the administration traveled to Washington D.C. to be recognized.
Three cheers for the Bureaucrats!
Comment: #7
Posted by: tokane
Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:52 PM
I missed the link to the on-line classes you showed on your program regarding stupid education -
Comment: #8
Posted by: BILL HESSE
Mon Apr 2, 2012 1:34 PM
Re: BILL HESSE What is the link or website for the web math skills John referred to and interviewed on Sunday's show. I believe it was utube?
Comment: #9
Posted by: Linda Van Hoegarden
Tue May 8, 2012 3:52 PM
I also missed the link to the on-line classes you showed on your program regarding stupid education. Will you please tell me what the teacher's name was and where to find it? Thank you.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Linda Van Hoegarden
Tue May 8, 2012 3:54 PM
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