An ABC “20/20” report by John Stossel scheduled this Friday claims American high schoolers are being cheated out of a quality education by a union-dominated government bureaucracy that performs behind other countries that spend less per student than the United States.
That is sure to please supporters of a Southern Baptist Convention resolution this summer calling on parents and churches to investigate whether their community’s school district promotes homosexuality, and if so to remove their children from public schools.
Bruce Shortt, a Southern Baptist leader in a movement critical of public education, said in an e-mail to supporters that he spent some time last spring and early summer talking to Stossel’s producer about possible interviewees and research comparing academic performance of American students to other developed countries.
While advance reports about the segment imply it doesn’t mention the growing “exodus” movement urging parents to abandon public schools and either home-school their children or enroll them in private Christian schools, Shortt predicted the program will infuriate teacher unions, who reportedly receive much blame in the report for the state of America’s education system.
American students fizzle in international comparisons, placing 18th in reading, 22nd in science and 28th in math, according to a press release for “Stupid In America: How We Are Cheating Our Kids,” which airs on Friday, Jan. 13.
While there are many factors that contribute to failure in school, the program focuses on the U.S. government’s “monopoly” over the school system, meaning that most parents don’t get to choose where to send their children. That is in contrast to other countries that allow parental choice, which Stossel posits fosters competition and thereby improves performance.
Shortt termed the report a “major development” for organizations “that have been working on breaking up the government school monopoly.”
Shortt is Texas representative for Exodus Mandate–a movement begun in 1997 by South Carolina Bible teacher E. Ray Moore. Exodus Mandate supports private home schooling and a mass departure from what Moore, a retired Army Reserve chaplain, derisively calls “Pharaoh’s” schools.
Moore’s organization was behind a resolution passed last year by the nation’s second-largest denomination behind Roman Catholics, the Southern Baptist Convention, urging parents and churches to diligently investigate whether their local school districts promote homosexuality by sponsoring gay student clubs or using diversity or anti-bullying programs that send children the message it is OK to be gay.
One SBC leader, Southern Seminary President Al Mohler, wrote just prior to last year’s annual meeting that it is time for responsible Christians to begin to develop an “exit strategy” from public schools. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries have also endorsed the Exodus movement.
According to the conservative Web site NewsMax.com, Stossel questions in Friday’s broadcast how much success there can be under a school system that is a government monopoly.
Another stumbling block, Stossel says, is rigid union contracts that make it hard to fire bad or even dangerous teachers.
Stossel highlights how well students do in Belgium’s free school-choice system, where the money is attached to the student and the principal has to please the parents. ABC News gave part of an international test to students in Belgium and students in New Jersey. The Belgian students did much better.
Stossel says American kids also deserve the benefits of competition, yet 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.
It isn’t the first time Stossel or “20/20” have criticized public education. In 1999 he reported a story portraying teachers as poorly educated and incompetent, comparing public schools with higher-achieving private Catholic schools.
Bob Chase, NEA president at the time, disputed that report, which used jargon like “government schools” and a “monopoly,” calling it “unfair and false.”
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said he hopes the new “20/20” report “will offer a fair report that contributes to the betterment of public schools, not a program that degrades school teachers and demonizes public education.”
“If Stossel advances the anti-public-education agenda,” Parham said, “he will do a disservice to a system that must meet the needs of all our children, regardless of creed, race and class.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.