Is America’s Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?

Season 5, Episode 16

On this week’s episode of Freakonomics Radio: a look at the supply side of the education equation — the teachers — as well the demand side, the students. 

Teacher quality has a huge impact. So how can we best identify, educate, and reward the good ones? And what can be done to take failing students and put them on a track to graduation?

How to Fix a Broken High Schooler, in Four Easy Steps: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our previous episode -- "Is America's Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?" -- looked at the role of teacher skill in the education equation. But the education equation isn't so simple -- there are a lot of inputs, a lot of variables, a lot of question marks. Our conclusion: sure, it would be great to have a brilliant teacher in every classroom -- but that still doesn't guarantee that every student will be well-educated. Students have to want it; families have to want it. What is a teacher and a school system supposed to do if a lot of its students just don't really care about school?

That brings us to this week's episode, "How to Fix a Broken High Schooler, in Four Easy Steps." (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

It's about a program called Pathways to Education, which came out of a community health center in Regent Park,  a housing project in Toronto. You'll hear from Carolyn Acker, who used to run the center:

Why Do People Keep Having Children? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

What are the factors that make a given person more or less likely to have children? How important are income, education, and optimism about the future? Is it true that "development is the best contraceptive," as demographers like to say? And is the global population really going to double by the next century? (Probably not -- in fact, one U.N. estimate finds that the population in 2100 could be lower than today.)

These are some of the questions we ask in this week’s episode, “Why Do People Keep Having Children?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Is Learning a Foreign Language Really Worth It?” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) We produced the episode in response to a question from a listener named Doug Ahmann, who wrote in to say:   

I'm very curious how it came to be that teaching students a foreign language has reached the status it has in the U.S. … My oldest daughter is a college freshman, and not only have I paid for her to study Spanish for the last four or more years -- they even do it in grade school now! -- but her college is requiring her to study EVEN MORE! 

What on earth is going on? How did it ever get this far?

In a day and age where schools at every level are complaining about limited resources, why on earth do we continue to force these kids to study a foreign language that few will ever use, and virtually all do not retain?

Or to put it in economics terms, where is the ROI? 

Great question, Doug! We do our best to provide some answers.

Are We Ready to Legalize Drugs? And Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Are We Ready to Legalize Drugs? And Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) Once again, Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt take questions from you, our readers and listeners. 

In this installment, Joseph Fogan wants to know about the hidden costs of the war on drugs. The latest Gallup poll shows that 58 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization (compared to just 12 percent in 1969). Are we really ready to legalize drugs in more than just a few states? And if the answer is yes, what will police do all day?

Freakonomics Goes to College

Season 3, Episode 4

Is a college diploma really worth the paper it’s printed on? In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, host Stephen Dubner breaks down the costs and benefits of going to college, especially during an economy that’s leaving a lot of people un- and underemployed. The data say that college graduates make a lot more money in the long run and enjoy a host of other benefits as well.  But does that justify the time and money? We’ll hear from economists David Card, Betsey Stevenson, and Justin Wolfers, as well as former Bush adviser Karl Rove, who made it to the White House without a college degree. Amherst College president Biddy Martin describes what an education provides beyond facts and figures, while Steve Levitt wonders if the students he teaches at the University of Chicago are actually learning anything.  Finally, a former FBI agent tells us about the very robust market for fake diplomas.

Freakonomics Goes to College, Part 2: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Freakonomics Goes to College, Part 2.”

Part 1 explored the value of a college degree and the market for fake diplomas. This episode looks at tuition costs and also tries to figure out exactly how the college experience makes people so much better off.

You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.

While there are a lot of different voices in this episode, including current and recent college grads, the episode is also a bit heavy on economists (d'oh!), including:

New Freakonomics Podcast: Does College Still Matter? And Other FREAK-y Questions Answered

Our latest podcast is another attempt (here's the first) to answer some of the questions you've asked us on the blog.

Smarter Kids at 10 Bucks a Pop

Our latest episode of Freakonomics Radio is about education reform -- sort of. Most ed reform addresses the supply side of the equation. That is, what should teachers and schools be doing differently? But this story is about the demand side, the students themselves. What if there were a cheap, quick, and simple way to lift some students' grades?

The Joel Klein Exit Interview

The new episode of our Freakonomics Radio podcast (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed or listen live via the link in box at right) also introduces a new format: the exit interview. This week's guest: outgoing New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. (If you have suggestions for future exit interview subjects, be they well-known or simply interesting, please let us know in the comments below.)