The Power of Independent Thinking


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Center on Educational Excellence
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
—Thomas Jefferson

A good education unlocks doors to upward mobility, constructive engagement with the world, and a greater sense of contribution and well-being. It also cultivates the civic virtues necessary for the establishment and maintenance of free, prosperous, and thriving societies. For too many people, however, the key is out of reach.

  • In 2016, UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report estimated that 262 million children and youth are not in school, including 142 million between 15 and 17 years old. In the developing world, many regions also lack adequate supplies and trained teachers.  
  • In developed countries, many students are poorly served by schools, curricula, and teaching methods that fall short of preparing them for the challenges of a rapidly changing world. As Harvard-affiliated education researcher Tony Wagner once wrote, “Even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need.”

The Independent Institute’s Center on Educational Excellence (COEE) conducts research and develops policy solutions to remedy these and related problems, so that students from all walks of life have a better chance to become creative, independent, efficacious adults who can chart their own course for a life of achievement, fulfillment, and meaning. Its work therefore naturally dovetails with Independent’s larger mission of boldly advancing peaceful, prosperous, and free societies grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity.

Educational excellence is often undermined by public bureaucracies and hyperpartisanship. For this reason COEE’s publications and fellows put a strong emphasis on building a non-bureaucratic, non-politicized foundation for education reform. In particular, we seek to develop and communicate reforms that:

  • Improve outcomes for students from all backgrounds by offering access to a variety of affordable options for meeting diverse educational aims, including options found outside the public-school system;
  • Foster a thriving pool of teachers, institutions, and educational product developers that exemplify the spirit of service, innovation, inclusion, transparency, and accountability, and are unhindered by a stifling bureaucracy; and
  • Reinforce the foundations of equitable, prosperous societies, including self-reliance, independent thinking, civil society, free markets, and limited government.

To pursue these ends, the Center on Educational Excellence has published materials covering a variety of topics:

  • Successful school systems around the world;
  • Parental choice and teacher-owned schools;
  • The potential of Education Savings Accounts for improving K-12 outcomes;
  • The politicization of textbooks and curricula;
  • The unfulfilled promises of federal involvement in education;
  • Higher education’s triple crisis—high costs, falling quality, and diminishing payoff for students and society;
  • School accreditation: market regulation versus government regulation;
  • Campus safety, due process, and accountability;
  • Student loan debt, alternative funding, and Income-Share Agreements;
  • Free speech, ideological diversity, and the marketplace of ideas;
  • Educational theory and the philosophy of education; and
  • The role of education and government in a good society.

For the latest research reports, articles, op-eds, books, and videos from the Center on Educational Excellence, visit the Education section of our website.

We welcome your input and support. Send your suggestions here. To get more involved, contact our Development Team here.

  • Catalyst