Free to Choose by Milton Friedman: Episode “What is wrong with our schools?” (Part 3 of transcript and video)

Free to Choose by Milton Friedman: Episode “What is wrong with our schools?” (Part 3 of transcript and video)

Here is the video clip and transcript of the film series FREE TO CHOOSE episode “What is wrong with our schools?” Part 3 of 6.

Volume 6 – What’s Wrong with our Schools
If it doesn’t, they can simply pick up and go elsewhere. For the students, they want to get their money’s worth. They are customers, and like every customer everywhere, they want to get full value for the money they are paying. And so much of the success here comes from the fact that students understand precisely the cost involved and they are determined to get their money’s worth.
Regina Barreca, Student:. . .they send you sheets saying how much everything costs all the time, so that you know exactly, you can break it down per lecture. And when you see each lectures costing $35, and you think of the other things you could be doing with the $35, you’re making very sure you’re going to that lecture.
Friedman: Many of the buildings and facilities at Dartmouth have been donated by private individuals and foundations. Like other private universities, Dartmouth has combined the selling of monuments with the provision of education and the one activity reinforces the other.
The students, in effect, earn part of their keep by helping to solicit alumni for contributions, knowing full well that they will be solicited in their turn. It is another way in which the real value of education is brought home. This may not be the usual idea of an economic market, but it is nonetheless a marketplace where buyers can choose and sellers must compete for customers.
What happens when the educational market is distorted? Look at state colleges and universities. Their fees are generally very low, paying for only a small part of the cost of schooling. They attract serious students just as interested in their education as the students at Dartmouth or other private schools, but they also attract a great many others. Students who come because fees are low, residential housing is good, food is good, and above all there are lots of their peers, it’s a pleasant interlude for them.
The University of California at Los Angeles __ for those students who are here as a pleasant interlude, going to class is a price they pay to be here, not the product they are buying. Darrell Dearmone,
Lecturer: We frequently wind up with people who cannot compete favorably with even the average person here. There is a magnet here for everything. We have the best weather practically speaking, in the country. Hollywood is here, Beverly Hills is here, the social scene, the television industry in this country is centered here.
Friedman: The justification for using tax money to support institutions like this is supposed to be so that every youngster, regardless of the income or wealth of his parents, can go to college. A few youngsters from poor families are here, but not very many. Most of these students are from middle and upper-income families, yet everybody, whatever his income, pays taxes to help support these institutions. That is a disgraceful situation. It is hardly what public education was all about. These students are being subsidized by people who will never go to college. That means that on the average people who will end up with higher income are being subsidized by people who will end up with lower income. And in addition, the quality of undergraduate education is poor. Undergraduate teaching is not what UCLA is famous for. Besides from its athletic team, UCLA’s reputation is for graduate work and research.
Faculty members have every incentive to do research, that’s the way to advance in their profession. They have much less to gain by good teaching.
Only about half of those who enroll in UCLA complete the undergraduate course. Compare that with the 95% at Dartmouth who finish the work for their degrees. What a waste of student time and what a waste of taxpayers’ money.
What should we do about this disgraceful situation? We must not deny any young man or woman whose desires formal education. Everyone who has the capacity and the desire to have a higher education should be able to do so, provided they are willing to undertake the obligation to pay the cost of their schooling either currently or in later years out of the higher income that their education will make possible. We now have a governmental program of loans which is supposedly directed to this objective but it’s a loan program in name only. The interest rate charged is well below the market rate. Many of these loans are never paid back. We must have a system under which those who are not able or do not go to college are not forced to pay for those who do.
As we have seen the market works in education. When people pay for what they get, they value what they get. The market works in higher education. It can also work at the level of primary and secondary education. Until we change the way we run our public schools, far too many children will end up without being able to read, write, or do arithmetic. That is not what any of us wants.
The system is not working and it is not working because it lacks a vital ingredient. The experts mean well, but a centralized system cannot possibly have that degree of personal concern for each individual child that we have as parents. The centralization produces deadening uniformity, it destroys the experimentation that is the fundamental source of progress. What we need to do is to enable parents, by vouchers or other means, to have more say about the school which their child goes to, a public school or a private school, whichever meets the need of the child best. That will inevitably give them also more say about what their children are taught, and how they are taught. Market competition is the surest way to improve the quality and promote innovation in education as in every other field.
Participants: Robert McKenzie, Moderator; Milton Friedman; Albert Shanker, President, American Federation of Teachers; Professor John Coons, Initiative for Family Choice in Education, California; Thomas A. Shannon, Executive Director, National School Boards Association; Gregory Anrig, Commissioner of Dept. of Education in Commonwealth of Massachusetts
McKENZIE: The distinguished guests tonight are all intimately concerned with the world of education; so lets find out how they react to Friedman’s analysis.
SHANKER: I think it’s very foolish to throw out something that you’ve got and that has some shortcomings, but is very, very good in order to try out someone’s pet ideas.
McKENZIE: Well, before we ask Milton to reply to that, lets get other views on the same quotation, “Market competition is the surest way to improve the quality and promote innovation in education.” John Coons.
COONS: Well, of course, there’s enormous evidence that that is exactly right and we see it in the case in California that I observe every day of low income children whose families are making great sacrifices to go to schools that operate at a third of the cost of public education and are turning out kids who are performing and are learning and achieving at very high levels. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to suggest that unlimited competition is the answer to every problem. And, indeed, the whole definition of competition is very ambiguous. It seems to me that if one is truly interested in liberty, which I think is the ultimate value that Milton Friedman talks about, one has to be very careful how he structures the kinds of subsidies…
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