Documentary: Better to Run Education Like a Business?

Published September 22, 2017

“Why doesn’t education use innovation to grow like a successful business?” the documentary’s website asks. “‘School Inc.—A Personal Journey with Andrew Coulson’ follows the late Andrew Coulson, series creator/writer/host and senior fellow of education policy at Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, as he sets out on a worldwide personal quest for an answer to this question. Throughout the three-part, three-hour series, Coulson examines the role of innovation, the universal search for educational excellence and—for better or worse—the application of the profit motive.”

Coulson chronicles the history of the education establishment from 19th century New England and the ideas of Horace Mann which led to the birth of universal public education, to Los Angeles, California, where Coulson tells the story of Jaime Escalante, a high school teacher who attained remarkable student achievement in his inner-city classroom and inspired the 1988 Hollywood film Stand and Deliver.

Coulson takes School Inc. viewers across the globe to South Korea, where some teachers and tutors make millions of dollars; to Chile, where the wine industry helped spur the country’s successful school system; and back to the United States, where Coulson compares U.S. charter schools in California, Massachusetts, and Texas.

In India, London, and Sweden, “the resistance to education as a business has lessened,” states. Coulson’s exploration takes him to taxpayer-funded private schools in Sweden, very inexpensive private schools in India, and to England, where the Industrial Revolution and its spirit of entrepreneurship began.

“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 in School Inc. “And what if we made sure that everyone had access to that wide-open marketplace? Would we then see excellence scale up in education?”

School Inc. first aired on PBS in April and is now available for free viewing on

Teresa Mull ([email protected]) is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.