On John Stossel’s “Are American Kids Stupid?”

January 17, 2006

In a special report, John Stossel points out the disparities between American students’ scores and those of foreign students, stating that the difference lies in the fundamental structure of public education in the countries in question. Stossel basically says that in this country, where public schools are a government monopoly, and officials are bound by union rules, the lack of competition and excessive bureaucracy don’t reward achievement, and cannot punish incompetence, and this leads to the poor state of public schools. I saw him on The Colbert Report promoting the book, and that’s essentially what he said.

Now, John Stossel is libertarian, so he’s naturally opposed to government-run schools, believing them to be inherently less efficient than a private equivalent. He’s entitled to this opinion, and he may indeed be right (more like ‘far to the right’! zing!). I am certainly willing to examine the strengths of encouraging competition. My complaint is that this seems somewhat fallacious in making the correlation/causation jump a little too easily. The specific cases that were mentioned were certainly appalling, but they may not be a direct cause of the poor test scores.

TV “journalism” will probably always make emotional appeals and display logical gaps, but in a way, this is still a step in the right direction. We should be asking ourselves if a radical restructuring of this country’s education system is the right thing to do. This is at the core of improving public education in this country; things like private school vouchers are simply a band-aid at best. I really hope the media and the general public starts to take more of an interest in economic affairs besides knee-jerk responses and talking points about a strong/weak dollar, outsourcing, and so forth.