John Stossel documentary on public school costs and performance

I found this documentary on the Prof Blog.

I recommend that you watch Clip 4, then Clip 5, then Clip 6.

Part 1:

Guest Ben Chavis: (who runs a charter school)

  • Ben explains how bad schools teach self esteem and victimology
  • Ben explains how good schools teach knowledge
  • Ben took the worst school in Oakland and made it the best
  • Ben talks about the importance of firing bad teachers
  • Ben talks about the importance of discipline
  • Ben explains how students that miss school have to come on Saturday
  • Ben explains how his school gets the least of money
  • Ben explains how class sizes and teach certifications don’t matter
  • Ben says that public schools don’t need more money to perform

Guest Andrew Coulson: (Cato Institute)

  • public schools spend 4 times more per pupil (K through 12) than in 1974
  • but the reading success rate has stayed the same

Part 2:

Guest Ron Packard: (K12 online school)

  • using a public school curriculum delivered online
  • 70,000 students are learning online at their own pace
  • they have more poorer students and yet score higher than average
  • flexible schedules allows more time for sports and activities
  • the unions attacked the online schools even though they are better
  • the politicians listen to the unions and limited the number of students

Part 3:

Guest Janine Turner: (Founder of “Constituting America”)

  • children need to learn about the founding documents of the USA
  • children need to understand what America unique
  • children need to understand the notion of limited government
  • the founding documents are basic to understanding everything else

Guest Colin Hanna: (Founder of “Let Freedom Ring”)

  • the Constution is very important for people to read out loud
  • it’s also good to read it with others

Part 4: (A debate! Between Michelle Rhee and some lazy union thug!)

Guest Michelle Rhee: (Superintendent of Washington, D.C. schools)

  • public school tenure means having a job life regardless of performance
  • you can judge how teachers are performing look at test score improvement
  • you can’t look at teacher performance reviews they are always good
  • you have to look at the test score improvement year over year
  • it is almost impossible to get a teacher fired even if they are awful
  • Rhee fired lots of administrative people and costs went down
  • scores went up, and now DC is no longer the worst school system
  • more money doesn’t make students learn better
  • DC used to spend the MOST money, and had the WORST performance
  • the key to improvement is holding people accountable to perform

Guest Noah Gotbaum: (NYC Local School Board President/son of a union boss)

  • teachers aren’t to blame! most of them are excellent!
  • firing bad teachers is a bad idea! that won’t solve anything!
  • the DC schools haven’t improved! test scores don’t measure improvement!
  • we need more money! money will solve everything! it’s for the children!
  • you’re scaring the poor teachers when you talk about firing them!
  • Michelle Rhee is evil! Evil! She’s a witch! Burn her! Burn her!
  • those gains in test scores are not real! You can’t measure results!
  • test scores going up doesn’t mean that the students are doing better
  • the causes are more complicated and systemic but give us more money!

(I snarkified everything the union guy said – he didn’t really say that stuff like that)

Part 5: (Q&A)

  • Question for Noah: How much money is enough?Noah: well, other schools spend lots of money!
  • Question for Ben: Where does more money go?Ben: its impossible to tell how much is spent on administration vs teachers
  • Question for Noah: What about a voucher system?Noah: no! don’t let parents choose! that would deprive bad teachers of lifetime jobs!Noah: vouchers aren’t enough to cover a private school education!

    Ben: top private schools cost 10,000 a year less than half of NYC public schools

  • Question for Andrew: Is there any legislation to provide vouchers?Andrew: yes there is legislation to create voucher projects
  • Question for Ben: Are you cherry-picking the best students?Ben: every kid who applies is accepted there is no cherry pickingBen: we have more poor students than the average school

(I snarkified everything the union guy said – he didn’t really say that stuff like that)

Part 6:

John Stossel:

  • Americans spend way way more than other countries and we score much lower
  • teacher unions are still complaining for more money
  • teachers average 50,000 in salary a year for 9 months of work
  • teachers make way more than chemists, computer programmers and nurses
  • and school administrators waste tons of money on school
  • we spend four times as much per pupil since 1974
  • the real problem is lack of competition
  • the public school system is a government monopoly
  • monopolies are bad for consumers: less competition = high cost and low value
  • monopolies create worthless junk that no one wants
  • competition makes service/product providers accountable

Awesome! Down with government monopolies! The segment on online schools gives me hope – maybe there is a way to turn the young people away from secularism (= moral relativism) and socialism. This is another sign that there may be a way to turn this thing around if we can just get the government out of the education business and let parents choose schools that produce marketable skills. How did we ever let these union thugs produce worst test scores that poor countries with a billion times more money spent? Is this the United States of America? These unions are UNAMERICAN. They should be outlawed. First the public sector unions, then any private sector union that influences politics.

More John Stossel stuff

6 thoughts on “John Stossel documentary on public school costs and performance”

  1. Great videos. I agree with just about everything Stossel said except this:

    “teachers average 50,000 in salary a year for 9 months of work”

    Clearly, Stossel has never been a teacher and I can guarantee that everyone who says something similar to that has never been a teacher. It’s not 9 months of work (well, maybe if you’re tenured and you’re protected by union thugs). But real teachers spend the summer planning, reading, preparing, and attending workshops to get better. During the school year, good teachers spend their nights and weekends grading and planning and writing new tests and quizzes. In addition, teachers essentially have to deal with all of the social and academic problems of their students because 99.99% of parents either don’t care or don’t want to care. They just want you to fix it for them so they don’t have to be actual parents.

    If a teacher isn’t doing those things, then I’ll agree that he/she doesn’t deserve the 50000 salary. But if a teacher is doing the above things, he/she deserves a much higher salary.


  2. Tom:

    I’m going to disagree with you. I attended public school. My wife was a real teacher in public schools. I was a public school administrator. My best adult friends were all teachers and principals…so I know at least a little about the subject.

    While real teachers may spend their summers preparing for the fall, the rest of the working world doesn’t usually get summers off. They have to fit their continuing education into their regular January through December schedule.

    While real teachers may spend nights and weekends grading papers and reviewing curriculum, the rest of the working world often works 10 or 11 hours per day as well, but doesn’t do any of it at home while watching Dancing with the Stars.

    A lot of teachers don’t get the credit they deserve, and a lot of teachers should be looking for other jobs. The good ones do more than expected, just like the ‘good ones’ in every other line of work. The truth of the matter is that most teachers DO have more time off than ‘regular folks’.

    Here in the Denver area, we have a lot of year-round schools. If being a good teacher required having all of that time off for continuing education, curriculum prep, and mental health, then we wouldn’t find quality teachers in a year-round system…but we do.

    Stossel is right, as he usually is. =)


  3. Tony,

    How much do you think teachers should make? A couple of follow up questions would be: Do you think you’d be able to find quality teachers at that salary? Would you be able to find male teachers at that salary? Just wondering what your solution would be.

    If being a good teacher required having all of that time off…then we wouldn’t find quality teachers in a year-round system…but we do.

    But in a year-round system, teacher’s teach for 9 weeks and then typically have 3 weeks off and make on average more than $50,000 in Denver. How exactly is that different?


  4. Thanks for asking, Tom.

    1. I’ve said for years that I could fix any local education program by doing three things: doing away with tenure, instituting merit pay, and doubling every teacher’s salary. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the idea is in there. Tenure makes it harder to remove teachers who’ve stopped giving their best. Higher salaries attract more applicants, giving you a better pool of candidates. Merit pay holds every teacher accountable to DO a good job…if they don’t, there are plenty of people waiting to fill the position when they’re fired.

    As pretty much every study shows, it’s not the amount of money that we spend that makes schools exceptional…it’s the leadership. We could spend a LOT more on salaries and still save money.

    In a recent online conversation, I also said that I’d do away with every single national education department and program. Local money goes to local schools, and that’s who should administrate the whole thing. Passing the money through Washington simply assures that there will be less of it to go around.

    2. My point about time off was a response to your claim that summer is when “real teachers” spend their time off working. I read that to say that you think they “need” that time off to get those things done. Year-round teachers still get those things done, but in smaller chunks. Other “real” workers get the same kinds of things done on evenings and weekends. All I was trying to say is that nobody “needs” three months to do it.

    I love teachers, by the way…so my thoughts aren’t criticism. They’re reality, based on my experience with a half-dozen school districts in several states. =)


    1. Tony, I like your suggestions for improving the education system.

      As to the time off when it’s school vac, the teachers I know DO prepare for the school term in that period. And they also need the time badly in order to reconnect with their families who see very little of them in the term time. The teachers I know work late into the night and most of the weekend marking essays, setting papers, and preparing lessons. They are also expected to coach sport after school and on Saturdays. This is at least how it works in SA. No person should be expected to work the sorts of hours that most teachers in decent schools work without the vacs to compensate. If they don’t have that they burn out and their relationships with their families suffer. I don’t get vacs like teachers get, but my day in day out work hours aren’t anything like they have to deal with. I don’t feel one bit of envy.

      I’m speaking as someone who has teachers in her immediate family.


    2. Tony,

      Good thoughts. Thanks.

      I agree that teachers could get their work done without the 3 month break. My point was that salaries essentially would have to be decent enough to attract good teachers and keep them there. If schools offered a $30,000 salary cap, you certainly wouldn’t have too many people in that profession. So, $50,000 is needed. That’s why I think Stossel’s snark on teacher salaries is wrong.

      Anyways, love the rest of your thoughts. Couldn’t really disagree with any of them.


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