"Are kids in the United States being cheated out of a quality education? American high school students fizzle in international comparisons, placing well behind countries, even poorer countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and South Korea. American kids do pretty well when they enter public school, but as time goes on, the worse they do. Why? School officials complain that they need more money, but as John Stossel reports, most of the countries that outperform us spend less per student than we do. There are many factors that contribute to failure in school, but according to some, foremost is the government's monopoly over the school system, which means that most parents don't get to choose where to send their children. In other countries, choice fosters competition, and competition improves performance. Stossel questions government officials, union leaders, parents and students. He also examines how the educational system can be improved upon and reports on innovative programs across the country. "Stupid In America: How We Are Cheating Our Kids" with John Stossel airs on FRIDAY, JANUARY 13 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
So are American students stupid? "No, we're not stupid...but we just, we could do better," says one high school student. Another tells Stossel, "I think it has to be something with the school, 'cause I don't think we're stupider..."
Stossel questions how much success there can be under a government monopoly school system. Kevin Chavous, Former D.C. City Councilman and Education Reformer, tells Stossel the schools will never improve unless there is competition, "[with] all the well intended designs and programs du jours, unless there is some competition infused in the equation...., then...they know they have a captive monopoly that they can continue to dominate."
School officials complain they need more money, but do they really? American schools spend about $10,000 per student, totaling $250,000 plus for a class of 25. Where does that money go? Stossel asks South Carolina school official Dolores Wright, "How much money would be right?" Wright answers, "...Oooh. Millions. And it would really make it right...The more, the better."
Some say another stumbling block is that the public school system is a union dominated monopoly. In Stossel's hometown of New York City, a teacher who sent sexual e-mails to his 16 year old student was not fired because the union's rigid contract makes it very hard to fire any teacher, even dangerous ones. Only after six years of expensive litigation were they finally able to fire him. Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City's schools, tells Stossel, "I mean we've had sex cases. Acknowledged sex cases... you can't fire him." The teachers union has so many protections written into the contract to make sure principals don't fire unfairly, or play favorites, that principals rarely even try to jump through all these hoops to try to fire a bad teacher.
Stossel shows how well students do in Belgium's free school choice system -- because the money is attached to the student, the principal has to please the parents. And that makes a world of difference. ABC News gave part of an international test to students in Belgium and students in New Jersey. The Belgian students did much better than the New Jersey students.
Stossel offers that American kids deserve the benefits of competition too, to give them access to schools that are as good as the other products and services we have in life. Yet the system does not allow parents and kids a choice - in most states children can only attend the public school for which they are zoned. Kids of the privileged can escape the bad school because they can afford to move to good school zones, or attend private schools. Stossel visits South Carolina, whose Governor wanted to change that but got voted down by other politicians and public educators."