Stossel's Attacks On Public Education Feature Misleading, Out-Of-Context Claims


During a Fox News appearance promoting an episode of his Fox Business show, John Stossel used misleading and out-of-context statistics to tout charter schools as a preferable alternative to traditional public schools.

Stossel Claims Increased Education Spending Over Four Decades Has Had No Positive Effect

Stossel: "In 1970 They Spent $50,000 On K-12 Education ... Now It's Triple That. But Test Scores ... Totally Flat." From Fox News' Your World:

NEIL CAVUTO (host): That's a preview of what is to come on Stossel tomorrow night on FBN. And John hopes one Joe Biden is watching. Why? What was the vice president saying on this?

STOSSEL: He went to Pennsylvania to say if you just pass this jobs bill, we'll hire 300,000 new teachers and that will be wonderful for the kids. But if you look at the data, they have spent so much more -- this graphic shows it well. In 1970, they spent $50,000 on K-12 education, adjusted for inflation; now it's triple that. But test scores, the lines on the bottom, totally flat. [Fox News, Your World, 10/19/11]

Fact: Educational Expenditures in 1970 Were $40.6 Billion and $602 Billion In 2010. In the 1969-70 school year, public elementary and secondary schools had expenditures of $40.683 billion ($245.3 billion adjusted for inflation); for the 2009-10 school year, that number was estimated to be $602 billion. [National Center for Education Statistics, accessed 10/25/11]

Fact: Percentage Of Education Spending On Regular Education Has Dropped Significantly. A 2010 Economic Policy Institute report on nine school districts typical of school districts nationwide found that the amount of per-pupil spending going towards regular education was 55 percent in 2005, compared with 79.6 percent in 1967, while the share going to "special education" increased from 3.7 percent in 1967 to 21 percent in 2005:

education spending

[Where Has the Money Been Going?, Economic Policy Institute, accessed 10/25/11]

Fact: Share Of Education Funding For Teacher Compensation Remained Flat Between 1967 and 1991. The 2010 Economic Policy Institute report on education funding also found that in both 1967 and 2005, about three-quarters of regular education funds were spent on teachers' compensation. [Where Has the Money Been Going?, Economic Policy Institute, accessed 10/25/11]

A Survey Of "Strong Studies" Found That Funding Has "Substantial Effects" On Student Performance. According to a study completed by Bruce J. Biddle and David C. Berliner for Policy Perspectives, a number of "strong studies," or studies conducted according to accepted methodology, found that per-student funding impacts student performance:

Collectively, these studies have employed various techniques designed to rule out alternative hypotheses, and all of these studies have concluded that funding has substantial effects. We see no reason to challenge this conclusion. ["What Research Says About Unequal Funding for Schools in America," Policy Perspectives, accessed 10/25/11]

Judging School Funding By A Dollar Amount Is Inadequate To Address Its Effectiveness. From the same study:

Another claim sometimes made by critics of public schools is that aggregate funding for schools has increased sharply in recent years, but this increase has not generated achievement gains.


[R]ecent legislative mandates and court decisions have created a host of new responsibilities for our schools designed to meet the needs of disadvantaged students -- those with physical and mental handicaps, those from impoverished homes, those representing racial and ethnic minorities, those from immigrant families who do not speak English at home, those who are unruly and unmotivated, and the like -- mandates that have often been underfunded but, taken together, have raised costs for public schools significantly. As a result, Miles and Rothstein found, about one-third of net new dollars during this period went to support special-education students; 8 percent went to dropout prevention programs, alternative instruction, and counseling aimed at keeping youths in school; another 8 percent went to expand school-lunch programs; another 28 percent went to fund increased salaries for a teacher population whose average age was increasing; and so forth. In contrast, during these years very few additional dollars were provided for needs associated with basic instruction. ["What Research Says About Unequal Funding for Schools in America," Policy Perspectives, accessed 10/25/11]

Stossel Ignored Lowered Student-Teacher Ratios In Claiming That Employment In Education Has Grown Faster Than Enrollment

Stossel: "They Have Doubled Employment, While Enrollment's Only Gone Up About 10 Percent." From Fox News' Your World:

STOSSEL: And Biden's talking about hiring more people, if we can see the next slide. It shows how --

CAVUTO: And that's not making a difference?

STOSSEL: They have doubled employment while enrollment's only gone up about 10 percent. And --

CAVUTO: So for all the Department of Education, for all the push for more teachers, better pay for teachers, what have we yielded?

STOSSEL: Nothing. We've spent three times as much money, the test scores are flat. But the cool thing is that now the blob, the union monopoly is being broken open. It's not all union. The government monopoly and there are these experiments, like the clip showed, where kids are excited to learn because schools are trying new things, and they have to try new things because they have to please the parents to stay in business, and that's what makes everything better. [Fox News, Your World, 10/19/11]

Fact: Enrollment In Public Schools Was 45,894,000 In 1970 And 49,386,000 In 2010. Enrollment in public schools has increased by an estimated 3,492,000, or 7.6 percent, since 1970. [National Center for Education Statistics, accessed 10/25/11; 2010 number is projected]

Fact: There Were 2,059,000 Public School Teachers In 1970 And 3,174,000 In 2010. The number of public school teachers has increased by an estimated 1,115,000, or 54 percent, since 1970. [National Center for Education Statistics, accessed 10/25/11; 2010 number is projected]

Fact: Student-Teacher Ratio Has Decreased Since 1970. The student-teacher ratio in public schools was 22.3 in 1970 and 15.6 in 2010. [National Center for Education Statistics, accessed 10/25/11; 2010 number is projected]

Stossel Touted Charter Schools As A Preferable Alternative -- But Public School Students Outperform Charter School Students In Math And Reading

Stossel: "No Improvement Except In These Places Where They're Trying New Things." From Fox News' Your World:

STOSSEL: And people think we undervalue education, but we spend almost three hundred thou per classroom now. Think about that. Think what you could do. You could hire four great teachers -- three. Two hundred fifty thou per classroom, and no improvement except in these places where they're trying new things. [Fox News, Your World, 10/19/11]

Fact: Fourth- And Eighth-Grade Math And Reading Scores Of Public Non-Charter Students Are Higher Than Those Of Public Charter Students. From average scale scores compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics:

2009 public school national average scale scores



Mathematics, grade 4



Reading, grade 8



Mathematics, grade 8



Reading, grade 8



[National Center for Education Statistics, accessed 10/25/11; screenshots of data here]

Posted In
Fox News Channel, Fox Business
John Stossel
Your World w/ Neil Cavuto, Stossel
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