In episode one, The Price of Excellence, Coulson explores the educational establishment, its history and the politics that sometimes impede the growth of good schools, effective teachers, as well as the involvement of entrepreneur educators.
He begins his journey in a one-room 19th century schoolhouse in Easton, Maryland. During the industrial revolution in the 19th century, inventions like New England’s automated textile mills give rise to innovations that are quickly replicated, but not so in the education field, notes Coulson.
Horace Mann (1796-1859), the lawyer and legislator who became America’s first head of a state board of education recognized this lack as a significant problem in education. As Mann put it, “…if any improvement in principles or modes of teaching is discovered in one school, instead of being published to the world, it dies with the discoverer… Now if a manufacturer discovers a new mode of applying steam power, the information flies over the country at once, the old machinery is discarded, the new is substituted.”
Through Mann’s efforts to put education into the hands of state-appointed experts and state-trained teachers, universal public education was born.
From New England, Coulson travels to East Los Angeles, CA, to tell the story of Jamie Escalante, a math teacher at Garfield High, and the educational excellence he created in the classroom, a story which would became the subject of the Hollywood film Stand and Deliver.
Episode one concludes in Seoul, South Korea, where students eagerly enroll in afterschool tutoring programs called “Hagwons,” and we meet teachers who are considered rock stars in education, one professor disclosing his annual salary is more than a million dollars.