Exciting things are happening in education suddenly. In some places, charter schools bucked the unions, and got results. Inner-city kids do well on benchmark tests. They are excited to learn! When I told fourth graders that school is boring, they yelled, "No, it's not!" Says one boy: "Reading is rockin' awesome!"
I report on the innovations at the Success Charter Network and Harlem Village Academy in New York, and at the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, California. "Let's destroy the system... create a system that serves kids," says charter school director Deborah Kenny. Hurricane Katrina made that experiment possible by destroying much of New Orleans. Now most of New Orleans students attend charters, and they're learning more.
Aside from such bright spots, most of education in America is still a mess. The cost has skyrocketed, but performance is flat.
Why? One big reason is that the government monopoly - the "BLOB"- makes it nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. Former Washington DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee talks about her attempt to change that, including firing her own daughters' principal, and the backlash that led to her losing her job.
I confront union leaders, like DC union boss Nathan Saunders, who opposes judging teachers by student test results. "I know my kids are learning when I look in their eyes," says Saunders. New Jersey union leader Joseph Del Grosso opposes charter schools: "Over my dead body, they're gonna come here."
When Saunders and Del Grosso were kids, they attended private schools, but now they oppose vouchers. This is a common phenomenon amongst members of the BLOB: choice for ME, but not for THEE.
Virtual education innovator Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, is on the right track. He's a great teacher who now reaches millions of kids via the internet. Some fifth graders who watch his videos do high school level math. Before radio and TV, every big town had a best teacher and a best singer. Mass media changed that, so now Lady Gaga sings to the whole world. But education has stayed local and stagnant -- until now, when the web allows the world's best teachers to reach into every classroom.
Why don't we have more innovation? Why don't we have a vibrant market in education? Are we still Stupid in America?