Saturday, January 28, 2006


This post was originally intended to be a comment on the thread below. But because I'm critiquing this John Stossel piece, it necessarily became ridiculously long. And unless you have 40 minutes to kill in the worst way, I don't recommend watching the segment.

What's wrong with Stupid in America: How We Cheat Our Kids:

1) John Stossel did it.

2) The students were goofing off because finals were over.

3) The teacher being overriden is clearly lecturing only because the cameras were watching, which is why no one's paying attention.

4) The scene is heavily edited.

5) The Belgian-American comparison only shows how little our government values education, whereas the segment clearly wants to blame the teachers.

6) The clip actually uses hyperbolic scenes from "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and Jay Leno to make its points, when both are comic pieces.

7) Why ask the students what they need, except to make them look dumber? Ask the question of someone whose responsibility it is to make school better.

8) The studies focus exclusively on public schools, when it should have taken into account the failures of private schools as well.

9) It claims that, since one school's extravagance failed to produce higher test scores, that all public schools deserve to languish in poverty.

10) Jay Greene, the expert interviewed for the funding segment, works for the right-wing Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and is a regular contributor to the National Review. None of this is mentioned in the report.

11) The school that supposedly saves money relies on the students to do constant janitorial duties and other duties that could possibly constitute illegal child labor.

12) That same school benefits from low teacher-student ratios and increased principal involvement. What a revelation.

13) That principal bribes students for perfect attendance. Stossel paints this as a good thing.

14) The "independent" schools are seen as being better than public schools. Of course they appear that way; like private schools, they can choose their students and have smaller class sizes. You can't blame public schools for that.

15) One public-school student, an 18-year-old reading at a fourth-grade level, is profiled. Surely every student at his school is not such an extreme case.

16) Sylvan helped the illiterate student faster than the public-school group that had tried to help him. Stossel says it was only because Sylvan was private, ignoring any other mitigating factors.

17) Stossel credits vouchers as the reason schools are better in Belgium, whereas his sources' quotes, edited as they are, seem to suggest that many other factors are at play.

18) He also contradicts himself by saying schools in Belgium thrive because vouchers cause more variety in schools, whereas he decries similar facilities in America as being frivolous.

19) "Here in Belgium, [good schools] are all over the place" would seem to undermine the argument that vouchers are helping much there. Vouchers supposedly help students in bad schools go to good ones.

20) Stossel interviews Kevin Chavous of the Center for Education Reform. Unmentioned in the interview is that Chavous is a pro-voucher activist and that the CER is also a conservative, pro-voucher organization.

21) The interviews with the Belgian children suggest that they have been given very leading questions about a loose concept of "choice": "Is it bad that American students don't have as many choices?" "Wow, they don't? Yeah!"

22) Indeed, the Belgian kids seemed to have been whipped into a frenzy, in the spirit of the title, "Stupid in America." "Beat that, Americans!" Great dialogue.

23) Stossel's one-channel TV/public school analogy is so flawed that I won't even get into it.

24) The voucher issue is painted as an equalizing issue, when in reality it only increases the division between rich and poor schools.

25) Stossel's outrage at people having to go to schools in their own area, when many of the same people who support vouchers support "neighborhood schools" (a code word for segregation).

26) Almost all of Stossel's voucher segment focuses on a single district in South Carolina, a bottom-ranking state, as representative of the entire country.

27) In South Carolina, Stossel relies too much on parental allegations, while quoting kids whose own words are rarely heard on camera.

28) Stossel actually equates public schools to government repression in the Soviet Union!

29) Nowhere in the segment does anyone speak more than one sentence at a time, suggesting that some quotes might have been taken out of context.

30) Stossel repeatedly suggests that schools will not improve until they can be marketed like cell phones, sampling 1980s footage of Moscow and an SNL sketch (?!!) to prove it.

31) He suggests that an open educational marketplace would lead to specialized schools such as "Longer-hour schools, sports schools and virtual online schools." And these are good ideas?

32) Stossel derisively lumps teachers with politicians and unions when they don't agree with his ideas.

33) Stossel clearly sees public schools as institutions to ignore and abandon, and expresses mock surprise when a public-school superintendent (and the SC state legislature) disagrees with him.

34) Stossel speaks the word "union" with extreme contempt, over a clip of a woman in African garb bellowing, "The teachers...united!"

35) He offers a union rally in New York City as proof that all teachers are as corrupt as mobsters, even while that (atypical) union gathering shows no signs of such.

36) He offers one extreme case of sexual offense as cause to break down tenure (and later admits that the process to fire the offender had long since been changed).

37) At the 31-minute point, the segment becomes drippingly anti-union and one-sided, failing to explain the regulations it decries, not citing a single one nor offering any reason why they might exist.

38) Several clips of picketing teachers and commercial clips from earlier are repeated, without a new point being made, except to continue the anti-teacher baiting.

39) Stossel actually accuses teachers of being lazy, based on the official hours they work. He also sneers at a 15-percent raise he blames (blames!) on the unions.

40) He selectively quotes teachers to make the point that tenure is the reason that students don't learn, and that only teachers who must fight to survive can make a difference.

41) Hallways full of black students generally punctuate statements about "poor" and "dangerous" schools.

42) Charter schools can choose students; that is why they do better. It isn't because the teachers are happier because they lack tenure, as Stossel suggests.

43) Should students really stay in school until 5 p.m.? And requiring the tenure-free teachers to be available at all hours by phone would seem to debunk Stossel's earlier accusation that teachers are lazy.

44) The lottery to get into the profiled charter school suggests the opposite of Stossel's point: ALL schools need to be improved, rather than concentrate all the good students into one place.

45) With just one minute left in the segment, Stossel mentions that vouchers have opponents. They are presented as fist-thumping, scraggly bearded protesters, and only one is given so much as a sentence, which is promptly dismissed and discarded.

46) At no time is this obvious editorial presented as such; indeed, it is presented as an investigative news piece, which is the saddest thing of all.

Stossel concludes his "report" by saying, "We hope it starts a debate." Count on it!


Cajun Tiger said...

While I disagree 100% on everything you said, I do have to give you credit for being thorough in your critique.

There is no way I can match that post point for point being I just don't have the time or the patience for it, so I'll pick out one and we can go from there.

#44: If the liberals in DC had their way even the kids who were lucky enough to be chosen in the lottery would still be in a failing school. And the DC charter school doesn't choose the students, so that negates your point #42 that the reason these schools do better is that they only pick the best students. It is a pure lottery, so they get all stripes get in and the waiting list is always way full.

Why should students and parents be forced to rely on a lottery to go to a school that is better than the regular public schools.

To me it would make sense to find out what exactly that school is doing and instead of trying to stop kids from going there, force the other schools to adopt the same policies. I guess that would make to much sense.

Flamingo Jones said...

It's hard for me to decide which part of that piece was most offensive.

I just can't believe how completely, shamelessly, one-sided this is, and it actually passes for real journalism. Or is it entertainment? Who can tell these days?

"Wow! Private Sylvan tutors were able to teach that kid to read right away! Public schools suck!" Well, no kidding. Working one on one with a kid, every resource and technology at their fingertips. No 26 other kids in the room demanding attention. No severe behavior problems. No MINOR behavior problems even! And they're effectively able to teach the kid. Surprise surprise.

Yes, it is proven that smaller teacher-student ratios work. Working at my After-School program, when I'm able to work 1:1 with my most-challenging student (academically and behaviorally) he too looks like a model student. And that's wonderful. Every student deserves to feel that kind of success.

Too bad the Republicans in power have seen to it that funding for that program (and no doubt many others like it across the country) will disappear after this year. But, as we discussed last night, that's an entirely different post.

Nick said...

Well, I never saw the piece that yall are debating over. However, my whole problem is that much of the "pro-choice" crowd doesn't even want to give parents a choice to send their kids to a better school. And again, the schools that end up having students leave in essence still doesn't lose funding. They will still receive their 8k/yr./child or whatever the current ratio is. You give the parents or parent a voucher that is good for the public school or any other school in that district, and that money is just sent to where the student goes.

The private or magnet school still doesn't get anymore money/child than before and the other public school doesn't get any less.

Again, some children may get stuck behind. But better only say...200 than 2000, which is what is currently happening in some inner city schools. And, reducing the number of students from 2000 to 200 in the rundown school might actually help the school board and pricipal run that school more efficiently and concentrate on the students more.

Flamingo Jones said...

We have school choice here. But that's not the same thing as school vouchers.

You can legally send your child to any district you want. And people take advantage. I don't have a problem with school choice in that respect.

Nick said...

Well Flamingo, I actually like that idea too. Why isn't that nation wide? Also, if a parent sends their child to a different school district, which district receives the money for that student?

Look, I like vouchers b/c it gives kids an opportunity to go to a better school. If yall aleady have that in your state, where kids can go to a school in any district they want, then that's better than the current popular system.

Only one problem, how does the bussing work? What about the parents that can't take their kids to a school in another district. Vouchers for a magnent school or private school in the same districts would make better schools more accessible. But look, if yall have the bussing problem taken care of to and already have an efficient system, then that could work.

Like I said, at least its better than the widespread system where if you reside in a crappy school districts & don't have much money, you're just shit out of luck.

Ian McGibboney said...

Cajun Tiger, I can imagine you do disagree with me 100 percent in terms of opinion. But are you saying also that you disagree with the facts? Several of my points are simple reiterations of things said in the report, and some agree with the obvious points Stossel makes (such as the advantage of smaller student/teacher ratios). Oh, and do you also disagree that the two interviewers I mentioned are who they are? I just want to make sure where you stand, so I know you aren't just another kneejerk reactionary who will automatically dismiss anything I ever say.

I am in favor of educational reform in the form of strengthening all public schools. If we do that, then there would be no need for shifting studnets in money into better schools, thus further agitating the problem.

Flamingo, how does school choice work in Wisconsin?

Nick, The main problem I have with vouchers is that they do nothing to address the failing schools. The idea is that, if faced with student flight, the schools will get their acts together, right? But do we deny cancer patients chemotherapy, so that they're motivated to beat the cancer on their own? No.

If 2,000 students are suffering, then we have to address how to help them as a whole, rather than rescue 200 of them and leave the other 1,800 to the indifferent hand of Adam W. Bush.

Nick said...

First of all, I think it's the other way around. Out of 2000 students, 1800 would benefit.

Your analogy with cancer patients does not hold because that is completely different. You don't deny the patients care, much like you are still are not denying funding to the students, regardless of where they attend school. Again, you still have yet to address this: The same amount of funding per student would still be the same for the schools they attend.

And to top it all off, if we're going to bring up chemo and cancer treatment, I think chemo is bullshit. That alone is a reason why many of our national politcians should be brought to jail. I know that we are on the brink of finding a cure for cancer. However, D.C. and the pharmicutical (sp?) industries are in bed with each other, regardless of the party in control.

Ian McGibboney said...

Nick, if a school's funding isn't working with 2,000 people, lowering student count to 1,800 is only going to give you a slightly smaller crappy school. How do the worst schools benefit from having their best students taken away? You must mean "help" in the GOP sense, as in, helping them by not helping them. Schools need a combination of better funding and more motivated students and teachers. You don't accomplish that by withdrawing what few assets those schools have.

Which is why my cancer analogy is correct: because you are wrong in saying the funding doesn't change. It may not change for the student, but it affects the school.

And though I agree that pharmaceutical companies' best interests aren't in curing diseases, that doesn't mean we shouldn't have the treatments that we do have. Some things I feel are too important to leave to the free market, medical and schooling being the main two. Playing profits with these institutions has caused incalculable harm.

Flamingo Jones said...

Here's the skinny on Wisconsin's Open Enrollment. Any Wisconsin student is able to attend the public school of their choice, regardless of what district they live in. I believe that most of the state money for that student goes to the school they physically attend, but there are also some funds that go to their home school district. As far as transportation goes, there transportation money available to low-income families who opt for open enrollment in a different district. It's a fairly decent compromise, I think. I don't have a problem with it.

I've always thought that PUBLIC magnate schools are a great step toward improving the educational system. However, I think that they should be located in the poorer areas of any city. Make a quality school that caters to very specific niches (performance arts, medical sciences, engineering, etc.) Make it really desirable. Then put it in the inner city. Give the suburban kids a reason to expand their horizons.

Ian McGibboney said...

We actually have something like that in Lafayette now, an arts-academy type school that was recently built in a depressed area and caters to all kinds of kids similar to my 1980s incarnation.

Most of the gifted schools in Lafayette are in poor areas as well, and those schools do really well for all students. On top of that, one of the poorest schools in the city recently got a brand-new campus, and I believe it has helped student and teacher morale. While I still think 90 percent of Lafayette's school system could stand some change (including an entirely new school board), I think it's heading in the right direction in terms of helping its worst schools.

Nick said...

In regards to Lafayette, it's pretty wierd. Louisiana is in the bottom 5 or 10 in the nation in educations. Yet, one of its biggest cities, Lafayette, doesn't have any bad schools. Lafayette High is an excellent public school in my opinion. Acadiana High, Northside, Comeaux are all good public schools. We really don't have any bad inner city schools, yet our state as a whole is crappy in education.

Flamingo Jones said...

This was a timely news story...The Milwaukee school district has had a voucher program for a while now...and this story is pretty representative of the reality of the program.

Nick said...

That situation has more to do with a corrupt school system than the voucher program. School systems are just like politics, and if it wasn't so corrupt, it's possible that we wouldn't even have to entertain a voucher debate because fat cat school board leaders and teacher union officials wouldn't be buying $10k leather chairs while the schools and its teachers to to crap.

Ian McGibboney said...

Well, Nick, if vouchers can't even handle Wisconsin-level corruption, what chance do they have in south Louisiana? Even the soap is dirty here.

Nick said...

Sure, we do have alot of corruption here. And which party has been running this state for decades now?

Also, the current system isn't working. Why not try one where the vouchers, and hopefully money, would be directly handed to the schools rather than go through a whole school system.

Ian McGibboney said...

Nick, Louisiana corruption dates back to at least a century. Calling Louisiana Democrats corrupt is missing the fact that, until the late 1960s, all LA politicans were Democrats, regardless of beliefs. And no one can claim that the GOP, which has governed virtually 50-50 with the Democrats since 1970, has done anything to ease the corruption. Instead, I would blame it on the good-ol-boy culture in general, and I don't expect that to change for any reason.

And I'm not clear on what you mean by handing vouchers directly to the schools; does that reflect a change in your position? Until this point, you (and John Stossel) have been saying the money should stay with the student.

Nick said...

Yes, the money stays with the student (or voucher, I actually wouldn't trust too many parents with free 5k or so of cash) until handed to the school. The school then presents the voucher to the government and the money is given to the school to be able to educate the child. What I'm mean by giving the money directly to the school is the act of bypassing a school board or district full of politicians.

Cajun Tiger said...


The 100% disagreement was meant to be with your solutions or ideas on how education should be run and not necessarily how you critiqued the show being I didn't have the time or patience to go down your list item by item.

I don't understand how, if the money follows the student, a school will suffer.

Schools receive money based on the amount of students attending with the idea being that is how much money it takes to educate that number of students in that district. They don't receive a blanket amount of money unattached from attendance at the school (at least that is how it works in most of the states that I know of).

If a district figures it takes $1000/student and a school has 100 students then it would receive $100,000. However if another school in the same district only has 50 students it would only get $50,000.

So, how would a school hurt if it lost students? It would still receive the same amount per student that it needs to operate according to that district.

The only ones that are hurt are the parents who send their kids to a private school or homeschool because not only do they have to pay the same amount of taxes to support the public school, but also the additional expenses of educating their children on top of that.