The Plan, Day Three: Abolish the Department of Education

This is a rush transcript from "Glenn Beck," April 14, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GLENN BECK, HOST: All right, today, we've decided we're going to get rid of the Department of Education.

I don't know why this is such a ridiculous idea. It's only been really in existence since 1979. We'll tell you a little of the history of it coming up in a few minutes. It would save us $100 billion.

Take a look at this graph: 81 percent — 81 percent — of the department's spending goes back to the states. So, let me just get this right, only the federal government would do this: I take my local money and send it to Washington and then they send it back.

That doesn't make sense to me.

Here to tell us how we can do this and what some of our alternatives are is the director of the tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, we have Chris Edwards, and, of course, he's the author of "Downsizing for the Federal Government."

And Stephen Dubner, author of "SuperFreakonomics."

OK, Chris, let me start with you. This is such a sacred cow, and yet it's a relatively new department.

CHRIS EDWARDS, TAX POLICY STUDIES, CATO INSTITUTE: That's right. Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education in 1979 under pressure from the National Education Association, and other teachers' unions. Reagan came into office in 1980 promising to abolish it. He called it Jimmy Carter's little boondoggle. Unfortunately, he was not able to abolish it.

BECK: How did it gain so much power in just that short period of time?

EDWARDS: Well, the funding started in 1965 when it was part of another department. And all — the states unionized their workforces in the 1960. So, the teachers unions got a lot of power starting in the 1960s.

It's a crazy system. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars on K-12 education now, the federal taxpayers have, over 40 years. And the test scores, as you showed, have been absolutely flat for 40 years. So, obviously, you know, all this money is not helping.

BECK: How can you — how can you cut this? And, for instance, if we cut the Department of Education, how about poor states? What happens to poor states?

EDWARDS: Well, oddly, the main reason for creating all this federal education money originally was a program called Title 1. The money is supposed to go to poor — the poor states and districts.

But I live in the highest income county in the country, Fairfax County in Virginia, the school I send my kids to in Fairfax County gets this Title 1 money for disadvantaged kids.

So, the money that is supposed to go to the poor districts now actually spread all over the country to the richest counties just because that's how Congress works, every member of Congress wants to get a share.

BECK: I have to tell you, I think we're so screwed up — and, Stephen, maybe you can address this a little bit. I think we're so screwed up, we built these palaces. They're educational palaces. I mean, if you go to any nice town and the nicest buildings will be the schools. That's not necessary.

I mean, I got a good education. I went to a private school. You know, my dad worked at a bakery. We had to work it — you know, work it off to go to the school. We used — we never wasted, had to use both sides of the paper. I remember when I went to, I think, I think it was ninth grade, and it was the first time I had ever been in a public school. It was like — it was Vegas!

STEPHEN DUBNER, AUTHOR, "SUPERFREAKONOMICS": You grew up in a nice zip code then. Where I was, it was OK. Where I am now, New York City, public schools are certainly not palaces.

Here's what I would say. I'm going to leave the question whether to give rid of the Department of Ed to people with bigger sledgehammers than me. That's — that starts to become a political issue and what I do is, hopefully, kind of the opposite of politics.

What I do know, however, is the idea of having the federal government setting a lot of education policies way down the line seems to not be a good idea. As you've been talking about here — when we look at test scores, when we look at ROI, if you want to think like a business person, look at ROI, and we see we're spending more and more money and we're getting less and less output.

Now, I think here's the thing: If you ask a lot of educators, a lot of the honest educators, what matters most in a school — OK, you got classroom size, dollars per student. What matter most? They all say — all the ones I've talked to and who do research, say one thing: teachers' skill. All that really matters, the teachers' skill.

BECK: But you know what? We're going to a break here, so let me go to a break, because that's where I want — they have rubber rooms in New York.

This is insanity when you look at what these things are doing. That's the problem. Good teachers can't teach. And we've — you worked for The New York Times?

DUBNER: I did.

BECK: You did. Why did you leave?

DUBNER: Partly because I didn't want a union job.

BECK: Why?

DUBNER: Why? Because there's the deadwood problem. The people who do a lot of work are competing with people who don't do a lot of work but who are paid the same or more.

BECK: That makes everybody mediocre. You got these teachers who really care. There are great teachers out there, but they can't get past the deadwood that is there.

Do you know — my daughter, I think, in fourth grade, she was taught never buy anything from Japan, because, you know, the Japanese are our enemies. What are you talking about? She was so old and had tenure, you couldn't fire her. She was still living in World War II stuff.

Back in just a second.


BECK: Hello, America.

1979 was the year when Congress passed and President Carter signed into law the Department of Education. 1979 this guy did it. That's when a separate executive department was set up. Before that, it was just in the Department of Interior and it was small. Then it began to be represented in the Cabinet.

Since then, our education system — has it gotten better or worse? Is there any reason to believe maybe we're wasting a lot of money?

Let me show you something here in New York. We found something called "rubber rooms." These are rooms where teachers go, and they don't teach. But they do get paid. There are now 675 teachers in eight rubber rooms set up through New York City alone.

Last year, the city paid its rubber room teachers $40 million in salary — $40 million. They do nothing. They sit there and make money. Watch:


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What the rubber room is, it's like a jail for teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there's an allegation made against anybody before they even find out the facts that they send you -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To what is literally a holding facility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charges have not been substantiated but we're here in this purgatory of exiled educators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Months, sometimes years later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But there's no work. There are no duties. You just have to be there to get your full pay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And there are some people who say, "Oh, you are so lucky, you know, Mrs. Tazo(ph). You are sitting and doing nothing and you're getting your salary." Don't fool yourself. There isn't one person in that room that thinks they're lucky.


BECK: Good, then quit. Then quit. Have some self-respect and go get a job where you are working. These people sit there and continue to do nothing. They collect their checks.

Here are two examples of rubber room occupants who are just tortured people. First one, Alan Rosenfeld — there he is. He is in Queens. He doesn't teach since he was accused of making lewd comments to students.

Since 2001, he has been pulling his teaching salary of $100,049. And then, he also sits there in the rubber room and oversees his $7.8 million real estate portfolio and law practice.

Have some self-respect, man.

Now, we also have Francisco Olivares — this guy. He is a Math teacher, but he is not teaching Math. After allegedly — allegedly — impregnating and marrying a 16-year-old student. I don't know how you allegedly marry a student, but he did.

He also allegedly sexually molested two — not one — two 12-year-old pupils a decade later. I feel bad for him, sitting in the rubber room, collecting $94,145 a year doing nothing.

In some places, you'd be in jail for allegedly impregnating a 16-year-old girl and/or marrying her and then the sexual molestation thing. But not in New York — no, no.

For his efforts, he is bringing in over $94,000 a year. The Department of Education, mind you, blames the teachers union for the problem. The teachers union blames the Department of Education. I say we eliminate both of them. Problem fixed.

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, and Stephen Dubner author of "Freakonomics."

OK. Where am I wrong?

EDWARDS: Well, the solution here is to abolish monopoly unions or collective bargaining in the public sector. That sounds radical for New York. But New York, New Jersey and California have very high unionization in the public sector. Three-quarters of the states have collective bargaining.

But a quarter of the states — 12 states — have no collective bargaining in the public sector. So states like Virginia, where I live, there are no teachers unions. North Carolina, no teachers unions. They can join voluntary associations and that's fine, but no unions.

BECK: It seems to me that we had pretty good — pretty good record of schools, not everywhere. I mean, there are places where you have to make sure that, you know, we're taking care of students.

But it seems like we were doing pretty good with the Greatest Generation. Then, in the 1960s, what changed?

DUBNER: Well, one thing that changed is the feminist revolution. Women, you know — it used to be 55 percent of all female graduates in this country became school teachers. The best and brightest women became school teachers. It was one of the only professions that were open to them.

When other professions came open to them — they could go into law and medicine — that's wonderful for society, wonderful for those women, certainly. The best and brightest were no longer all becoming teachers. And so the overall teacher talent level fell.

The other thing is, if you went to sleep 200 years ago and woke up today one of the few places you would recognize is a teaching classroom in the United States: One teacher, 30 kids in a box.

And that is what we need to look at. We need to look at the job that teachers are meant to do and how it needs to change.

BECK: How do you mean? What needs to change?

DUBNER: Well, you could argue a lot of things need to change. There's a program in New York City right now. So same school system that brings you the rubber rooms, New York City, public school system — where I live, in New York City — also brings a pilot program called the School of One, which I think we'll be hearing a lot more about in future. It's a very small pilot program right now.

What it does is it takes all the students in a classroom and instead of having one teacher up there individually trying to teach 30 kids
— now, kids learn differently at different paces in different ways.

What this does is it uses technology to figure out what each kid is learning every day. They take a test at the end of every day. It goes in the computer. There is an algorithm that essentially determines a playlist for each kid.

Instead of the iPod playlist, you have a workstation playlist. Every kid is being taught every day in a variety of modalities — meaning, sometimes it's a teacher with a large group. Sometimes, it's a small group of kids. Sometimes it's one kid with the computer.

We're in the 21st Century. We're surrounded by wonderful technology. And it's time that teaching and the art of teaching and the science of teaching are kind of brought up to that.

We really need to rethink who that person is in the classroom.

BECK: You know, you say this and it gives me great hope that we could do things. But then you see what Barack Obama did on like his first week in office, in Washington, D.C., — are you familiar with this, Chris?

EDWARDS: He abolished or is phasing out vouchers which worked very successfully in the District of Columbia.

BECK: In the worst parts of town.


BECK: It was shoot-out village.


BECK: It was a favor, again, to the unions.

DUBNER: Vouchers in a lot of ways are wonderful, in a lot of situations and a lot of ways with schools in particular.

What people in education are worried about is the people who use vouchers will skim the cream from the better school, from the worst schools to make the worst schools even worse. That's an issue with it.

BECK: Back in just a second.


BECK: Back now with Chris Edwards from Cato and Stephen Dubner from "Freakonomics."

We're talking about cutting the Department of Education and having that discussion. I mean, I personally think we are in — do you think we're in real trouble economically?

DUBNER: Economically, yes. The short answer yes. The long answer is a long answer. But yes.

BECK: Yes, I mean —

DUBNER: Debt-wise — I mean, we talked about this.

BECK: Debt-wise, it's crazy.

DUBNER: You cannot be.

BECK: Yes.

DUBNER: And the people who say they're not concerned, they're concerned, too. But I think there is a certain benefit to not yelling, you know, "deficit" in a crowded theater to some degree.



BECK: You just have more police for the people in Washington that somehow or another they'll get out of the way.

DUBNER: I just think we have bigger fire extinguishers there.

BECK: And the capitalist system was dying on the vine. Chris, you also believe that there is problems in the —

EDWARDS: There are giant problems and we need radical solutions.

BECK: Radical solutions. This one is not — would you both agree that this is not a radical solution?

DUBNER: Getting rid of the Department of Ed?

BECK: Yes. It would be perceived as one.

DUBNER: Radical for Arne Duncan who runs it.

BECK: Right.

DUBNER: No, I mean, I think what Chris has to say about it is really eye-opening.


DUBNER: What services they perform, which are not —

EDWARDS: Ronald Reagan wanted to abolish the Department of Education. But somehow, today, when you talk about that, it's seen as radical. And yet, Canada, an advanced, highly high-income country has never had federal department or ministry of education.

They get higher test scores in international comparisons than we do here in the states. They've got more school choice, more vouchers, more charters schools, more innovation. They do not have any federal department of education.

How is that possible? Because decentralized, innovative, local school boards do better than a federal department.

BECK: So that is the thing. Even just intellectually —


BECK: To say — look, I'm not for big government. But one of the reasons why not is because I never see it work. It doesn't innovate. It never innovates.

DUBNER: I think it's not unfair to say that big institutions and unions, as we were talking about earlier, do not tend to innovate well. Sometimes they do, but they don't tend toward that. Where innovation usually happens is smaller.

In education, where we're seeing innovation now, there is a charter school outfit called KIPP — K-I-P-P — Knowledge Is Power Program. They're now national. It started with two Teach for America graduates who got sent to teach in Houston and they said, Holy cow! This is hard. Teaching is incredibly hard. And everything about the current system makes it harder. What if we start from scratch?

So I feel that the innovation we're going to see is in places like KIPP, is in things like School of One, where you've got people actually in the classroom and can try a lot of things.

I personally wouldn't abolish the Department of Ed just because I don't know what the heck it would mean. What I do think is good if you hand the power and the incentive to experiment down the line to the states and to the school districts where they actually can try to figure out what happened.

BECK: If you wanted to have an X Project — if you want to go take some of this budget and use it for an X Project as a prize, so let the states decide. They can pick. I mean, it's like Massachusetts. I don't care if they have health care in Massachusetts.


BECK: It's failing, so now we shouldn't do what they just did, but that's what we should be doing with education. Have an X Prize.


BECK: And be able to innovate our way and then let the states do it.

EDWARDS: Absolutely. One of the problems now is because the federal government spends all this money, all the focus on the lobby groups is on the spending and dollars. They lobby for more dollars, dollars, dollars.

It's all about spending. It's not about the innovation. It's not about new ideas and innovation. It's the teachers' lobbies. They want more money, more money. And that's all about money.

BECK: All right. And when we come back, I want to talk a little bit about higher education and colleges and what has just happened. We'll do that, coming up next.


BECK: More with Chris Edwards and Stephen Dubner and we're talking a little bit about education. I want to touch base here. We've only got about two minutes on higher education.

Nobody — nobody looks at the cost of colleges and noticed that it is — I believe it is double the increases of health care. If you chart the increases of health care and college education, it's double.

EDWARDS: That's right.

Both public and private colleges and universities have been cranking up their tuition now for two decades or so. And part of the reason is because of this massive increase in federal student aid — grants and loans — has poured so much money in the system. Harvard and all the other universities figure they can get away with hiking up their tuition.

So where does the money go? It doesn't help students. It helps the universities pay the professors more money for research and building new buildings and that sort of stuff.

BECK: How does this seem to work — the tenure works in colleges and tenure does not work for —

DUBNER: Who says tenure works in colleges? You mean, why they have it?


DUBNER: I could think up a lot of people who can tell you that the single best thing to be done in the university system is abolish tenure as well, not just, you know —


BECK: Tenure would be important to me if you're in science or you're in religion. Or —

DUBNER: Well, look, the original purpose that we all know — it's like
— it's to protect academic freedom. It sounds great. But the instances in which it actually performs that function are pretty rare these days.

BECK: Yes. I've seen — I mean, I've talked to — we just had college students here. And one college student told me that their professor said, I got tenure, and there ain't anything you can do about it. And it's the worst teacher they've ever had.

DUBNER: I would just say one thing to Chris. I think tuition inflation, which unbelievably high, is also really demand-driven.

We've had a generation or two of people now who thinks that everybody should go to college — everybody should go to college. And everybody should go to a four-year college.

And I think that's just not a smart way to think.

EDWARDS: You're right. I think there are probably too many kids in colleges and universities. Do you know what the graduation rate is for — after six years in the United States? It's only 60 percent. You know, so 40 percent of the kids go to college and never get a degree.


BECK: I'm torn because tomorrow I take on defense. It's the only department that is exempt from Obama's spending freeze. You are going to love me and hate me tomorrow. You don't want to miss it.

Now, let truth be your anvil and non-violence your hammer said Gandhi. Anything that doesn't stand the test when it's brought to the anvil of truth and hammered with non-violence, reject it.

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