Stossel on Education

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

John Stossel relays some interesting facts and makes some good observations on how government monopolies hinder education. Although he does not consider the question of public education from the perspective of individual rights or consider deeply how central planning ruins education, Stossel's look at the results of state-run education is quite thought-provoking.

[Education professor James] Tooley 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 [sic] 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. [links dropped]
Stossel then goes on to show this very folly exhibited on a colossal scale by Barack Obama:
The $166 billion [Head Start] 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. [link dropped]
Stossel doesn't say so, but look at how effectively state control of education can eliminate parental decisions from aiding them in their quest to educate their own children! Obama's already taking some of their money away from them at the outset (making it harder for them to send their children to good schools), and he has proven time and time again that he's not open to suggestions. A school administrator with such an attitude would be fired or run his business into the ground in a free market, limiting the number of minds he could cripple.

While my parents weren't exactly poor, I do know that their decision to send us to private schools was a hardship for them, and it's something I am grateful for to this day. Thanks for being "ignoramuses," Mom and Dad!

-- CAV


: Corrected Professor James Tooley's name.


Mike N said...

Great post Gus. More evidence confirming what many of us know. We need toget the word out that private schools are not children's enemies and that profit is not a demon but a savior.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Mike.

And yes, I agree that putting our message out in a positive form is vital.

Steve D said...

An interesting post Gus. My son goes to a private Montessori school. It’s expensive and while I can’t say we actually suffer any hardship because of it, it is by far our largest single expense. We could afford a much larger house if we didn’t have that expense. Of course this school has far better standards and is more expensive than most other private schools as well.

In my opinion a good education is worth a lot more than a big house. I remember a lot of the students when I was in University who would bitterly complain about paying back a small student loan but think nothing of taking out huge mortgages as soon as they got a job. Their priorities were a bit mixed up.

A technical note: the correct term for this type of school is independent not private. They do not restrict enrolment and they are open to the entire public They do not like the term private which implies they are open only to a specific segment of society. I think this may be a case where the government schools have co-opted the word public when in fact they are actually government public schools as opposed to independent public schools.

Although technically a corporation they are considered charities for tax purposes. My donation is always tax deductible (too bad the tuition isn’t).

Gus Van Horn said...


"A technical note: the correct term for this type of school is independent not private."

In my case, my primary and secondary education was in Catholic schools, which meant that the usual term I heard was, "parochial." In my case, I am more familiar with the need to distinguish between religious schools (not all of which offer good education) and private -- er public -- er independent schools. Not advocating religious education, I thus ended avoiding the term parochial.

The distinction you being up is a good one to bear in mind: Some of the private schools in my neck of the woods existed basically for the sake of excluding black students. That was certainly not the case with the schools I attended.

That said, to the degree that I heard the term "independent" used to describe schools as I grew up, even that term struck me as ambiguous. Either I had a mistaken impression or some of these racially exclusive schools had adopted the term in order to -- erm -- whitewash themselves. (I just checked and found that one such school today describes itself in this fashion, although it does now admit some minority students. Email me if you'd like the URL.)


Mike said...

Look, hillbillies want to be called "sons of the soil," but it ain't gonna happen. They are called "private" schools, not "independent" schools, and that isn't going to change any time soon. Especially given the existing nomenclature for "public sector" and "private sector." The racial overtone of the word, to the degree that it even exists anymore, is something that they'll just have to deal with.

If it's any consolation, the same problem is happening on the other side of the coin. My wife works for the state board of charter schools. Whenever someone asks about the difference between charter and "public" schools, she corrects them: charter schools ARE public schools, and what they mean is the difference between charter and "district" schools. But she's fighting against an incoming tide. Nobody is going to make that distinction. People will continue to simply call things by the most obvious moniker. She even continues to try to correct me, and I blow it off. The popular definition of "public school" is simply too well-established; I am not going to start calling them "district schools."

My girls stay at a montessori daycare. It's so damned expensive it's on the verge of breaking us, but they're showing signs of giftedness (as both their parents were) and we're reluctant to let their nascent intelligence wither from lack of stimulation. When the time comes, we'll look at charter and private schools and make a decision based on what's available.

Gus Van Horn said...

Mike, I have to agree that it probably is an uphill battle to get people to start calling them "independent" schools.

Steve D said...

It is possible that the terminology has changed over time or that it differs in different places. I know my son’s school is part of an association of independent Montessori schools.

In Canada there are three major types of schools called separate (Roman Catholic), public (government) and private (not financed by the government) but they are all ‘public’ in the sense that they are open to everyone.

I am not sure about the racial issue since I grew up in Canada but I guess what you are saying is that at one time racially restricted schools were called independent? If that’s the case then changing the nomenclature might be difficult. Still I wonder why schools which are anything but racist would be so happy to use that term.

I guess the bigger point is that the term private is not really a good one. We would never go out to a private restaurant, get our hair cut by a private barber or buy private groceries, right? When governments make laws restricting say smoking in restaurant’s their justification is that these places are public. It seems to me that they pick the term which will most support their policies and they are allowed to get away with it.

“They are called "private" schools, not "independent" schools, and that isn't going to change any time soon.”

On the other hand, we have mixed economy not capitalism “, and that isn't going to change any time soon.” but we are still trying to change it, right?

Proper use of language is part of the battle we are fighting, Mike. Not the entire battle, I agree, but important none the less. In a philosophical battle if your opponents control the terminology, well that’s a bit like your enemy having the high ground in a military confrontation. I do realize that even on the language front there are probably more important issues than this but I point them out when I see them.

Gus Van Horn said...

"On the other hand, we have mixed economy not capitalism “, and that isn't going to change any time soon.” but we are still trying to change it, right?"

Also, nice counterexample with the restaurants.

That said, I now recall one of my own: In Texas, many public school districts style themselves (I don't know why, off hand) "independent" school districts, as in Houston ISD (read: "Houston Independent School District"). And, yes, this is on top of the fact that in some parts of the South, there may be confusion about the implications of the term "independent school."

I suspect that at this stage of the game, being clear that one favors getting the government out of education will require that one carefully adopt terminology appropriate with consideration of what one's audience may be used to. But then, Ayn Rand did the same thing by using the redundancy, "laissez-faire capitalism."

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write: "That said, I now recall one of my own: In Texas, many public school districts style themselves (I don't know why, off hand) "independent" school districts, as in Houston ISD (read: "Houston Independent School District")."

That means the school districts are independent of state or local control--they're separate government entities in some sense, including eminent domain and taxation.

Gus Van Horn said...

Ah! Thank you for that clarification.