April 10, 2017 Print

Why doesn’t innovation happen in education, the way it does in other industries? The late Andrew Coulson spent the last several years of his life examining this question in his role as senior fellow of education policy at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. Today, Coulson’s discoveries and insights into the educational process have been developed into School Inc., a new documentary from the award-winning producers at Free To Choose Network. School Inc. is currently airing on public television stations throughout the United States.

“Isolated examples of success and innovation do occur in education, but seldom have such examples been expanded or scaled up to improve the educational systems that serve the masses — that improve the basic quality of life, that lift people out of poverty,” the School Inc. trailer explains.

“What if we allowed all education entrepreneurs to put their own money on the line in an effort to better serve us, gaining or losing just as entrepreneurs do in other fields,” Coulson asks. “And what if we made sure that everyone had access to that wide-open market place? Would we then see excellence scale-up in education?”

School Inc. includes three hour-long segments. “The Price of Excellence,” the first installment, “explores the educational establishment, its history and the politics that sometimes impede the growth of good schools, effective teachers, as well as the involvement of entrepreneur educators.” Coulson’s exploration ranges from a one-room school in 19th century Maryland to the renowned 1980s East Los Angeles calculus teacher Jaime Escalante to 21st century tutoring programs and highly paid educators in South Korea.

“Push or Pull,” the second installment, “investigates why excellent private schools in America such as Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield, MI, have not ‘scaled up’ to replicate their excellence on a larger scale, and ultimately, serve more students.” Coulson examines successful charter schools and the circumstances that have enabled them to succeed — or to be shut down through legislation called for by public schools that can’t compete.

“Forces and Choices,” the final installment, “examines the success of for-profit education traveling to private schools in Sweden, India, and London, where the resistance to education as a business has lessened.” Throughout the world, even people of few means are willing to pay for education when they can rely on its quality.

Andrew Coulson left behind a legacy of thoughtful analysis and a passion for allowing education to succeed for as many people as possible, and his work is celebrated further in a new book, Educational Freedom: Remembering Andrew Coulson; Debating His Ideas, released by the Cato Institute. In it, some of the field’s most respected academics and researchers explain Coulson’s valuable contributions to education policy reform.

“Education reformers talk a lot about the future of education but not enough about the past,” write Jay P. Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and EdChoice policy director Jason Bedrick in chapter 5 of Educational Freedom. “As we seek to improve or redesign the system we have, we would do well to study how and why we got here, and how education systems developed differently elsewhere. Historical analysis can provide a deeper understanding of what features of our education system are necessary or superfluous and give us a broader perspective as to the outcomes we should seek to evaluate. A better understanding of history would also instill a vital sense of humility about what reformers can accomplish, especially through the clumsy hand of the state. In Market Education and his subsequent work, Andrew Coulson contributed mightily toward developing that understanding. May his legacy inspire us to continue down the path he illuminated.”