'Stupid in America' -- Viewer Q&A

In his special report on public education, "Stupid in America," John Stossel speaks with author Jay Greene, author of "Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why It Isn't So."

In his book, Greene takes on the conventional wisdom that pouring more money into public schools leads to improved education. Citing national statistics on education expenditures, Greene argues that inadequate spending is not the problem behind poorly performing schools and students.

Below, Greene responds to questions from viewers who tuned in to Stossel's special report.

Larry McGlasson:

An often heard argument is that "charter" or private schools just take the best students, so that leaves public schools with the more difficult students -- behaviorally and academically. Is that an accurate argument? If not, what are the real facts?

Jay P. Greene:

The evidence suggests that academic achievement of students in public schools actually improves when those schools are faced with greater choice and competition from private or charter schools. Clive Belfield and Henry Levin at Columbia University's Teachers College conducted a systematic examination of the evidence and after reviewing more than 200 analyses they conclude that "a sizable majority of these studies report beneficial effects of competition across all outcomes, with many reporting statistically significant correlations. … The above evidence shows reasonably consistent evidence of a link between competition (choice) and education quality. Increased competition and higher educational quality are positively correlated." Rather than draining public schools of talent and resources, hindering their ability to improve, it appears that choice and competition improve the quality of public schools by providing them with stronger motivation to attend to the needs of their students in order to retain and attract those students and the revenues they generate.

Pat in Palm Harbor, Fla.:

So WHAT is the answer? What can we do? This is appalling!


Improving a large and complicated organization, like our school system, is never an easy or quick task. There is, however, strong evidence to suggest that we need to focus on providing schools with stronger incentives to use their resources effectively and improve the quality of education. In general, incentive-based reforms come in two types: choice and accountability. We can strengthen the incentive of schools and educators to offer a quality education by expanding choice and competition, which will pressure them to figure out ways to improve or risk losing students and the revenue they generate. We can also strengthen accountability systems to reward schools and educators for excellent work that improves the quality of education while sanctioning them for inferior work. We've just started pursuing these reform strategies seriously but can do much more along these lines.

Heather Lambert-Shemo in Lakewood, Ohio:

Why aren't parents being held accountable for their child's education? I'm appalled listening to this woman talk about how her 18-year-old son cannot read. I'm not a teacher, but I firmly believe that it is a parent's responsibility to ensure that his/her child is getting the most out of their education … and reinforcing all lessons at home.

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