John Stossel talks (again) about Education – Reform and Bureaucracy

5 Oct

Meet a teacher’s union rep, a principal (administrator), a superintendent (administrator), and an online school administrator and they’ll tell you everything that they are doing right for schools.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Testing our way to the top.

Pay close attention and you will see that they ALL believe that the only way to gauge success is through standardized test score results. Sure, standardized tests are one way to analyze achievement and measure success. But is it the only way? Tests are easy to administer. They are cheap (compared to one on one analysis of each individual student). And they can be measured and graphed and compared. But is passing a test success? Is squeezing every child into one narrow desired outcome practical, successful, or desirable?

How do you define success?

So, is educational success passing grades, good test scores?  What about higher rates of college enrollment? I’m not so sure. These numbers can also be misleading. Maybe employment rates? Hmmn… Maybe it should be average salaries? Well, that doesn’t explain everything either. There are a lot of perfectly content people living on modest salaries as well as a corresponding group of extremely wealthy people living in misery.

Let me tell a short personal story. My brother graduated 3rd in our class (he was 1st, but he began to methodically lower his grade our senior year when he discovered that 1st and 2nd ranks would have to give a speech at graduation. The valedictorian and salutatorian where thrilled that they finally “beat” him.) So, what did these good grades get him? Well, he scored top scores on the ACT, got into a major league university, and had a nervous breakdown. Now he’s working at Burger King, living with our parents, and on psych meds for depression and schizophrenia. Sounds like a success story? But he did so well in school.

The first step to revolutionizing education is to clearly define success.

Apparently, focusing on test scores is not working.  We are still stuck with the same system. This is a bit of a quandary. If we can’t all agree on what is meant by success, how can we improve education? When running a race, there is obviously a winner and a loser. Somebody crosses the finish line first. But this assumes that the 2nd place runner didn’t gain anything by racing. And it also assumes that everybody is running the same race and has the same goals.

Is it wise to try to guarantee results?

In an earlier post I talked about equality of opportunity versus equality of results. In something as beautifully fluctuating as life, we can’t guarantee the outcome of education. There are too many variables, too many individual choices. All we can do is provide resources, learn to accept the consequences of our choices, and be ready to adapt and learn throughout our lives.

In a previous Stossel episode comparing libertarians to conservatives, John Stossel quotes Milton Friedman,

“As has often been acknowledged by conservative writers, one of the fundamental traits of the conservative attitude is a fear of change, a timid distrust of the new as such, while the [libertarian*] position is based on courage and confidence, on a preparedness to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead.”

He seems to have forgotten the libertarian view of life when talking about educational reform. We cannot guarantee success through standardized education. But we CAN be ready for change in our life and create success wherever our choices lead us.


*Friedman uses the term liberal, meaning the European usage of liberal which is the American usage of libertarian. It can become confusing with the American established definition of liberal being so different from the European, that I just went ahead and edited that single word.

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