Andrew Coulson, 1967-2016

Andrew Coulson, senior fellow in Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, passed away on February 7 at the age of 48.

He had been fighting brain cancer for more than a year. His wife Kay Krewson was at his side throughout the entire challenging journey. Andrew never gave up, and he retained his good humor, his wit, his commitment to his work, and his determination to do things his way right up until the end, as friends could see in his emails and his Facebook posts.

Andrew joined Cato 10 years ago as director of the Center for Educational Freedom, after becoming well known to educational freedom advocates for his 1999 book Market Education: The Unknown History. He turned the directorship over to Neal McCluskey last year so he could concentrate on his magnum opus, his multipart documentary series tentatively titled School, Inc. Andrew wasn’t just the author of that series, he was the producer, director, writer, on-camera narrator, and travel arranger. He had just about finished the series before his health got the better of him. The bittersweet news is that Bob Chitester and Free to Choose Media have taken over the final stages of the project, and we expect it to be on public television this fall-an accomplishment that many of us never really believed could happen, though Andrew always did.

People in the education world have had high praise for Coulson’s work. Milton Friedman wrote of Market Education, “In this unusually well written and thoroughly researched book, Andrew J. Coulson ranges from ancient Greece and Rome to modern America and Japan to document his conclusion that parental choice in a private educational market is a far more effective system for educating children than government-run schools. Encyclopedic in its coverage of the arguments for and against alternative modes of organizing schooling, readers will find this excellent book instructive whether they agree or disagree with his conclusion.” The book also drew praise from scholars at Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford, and from columnist William Raspberry of the Washington Post.

Upon his passing, Lisa Snell, director of education policy at the Reason Foundation, wrote, “Market Education: The Unknown History is the book I tell everyone interested in education to start with.” Adam Schaeffer, who worked with Coulson at Cato after being persuaded by his arguments, wrote at Cato’s blog, “There is no one else beside Andrew Coulson that you must read to discover what reforms we need in education and why they will work. That is not hyperbole.

There are many very sharp people who have contributed important thoughts on education reform, but you will get everything essential that you need from reading through Andrew’s collective works.” Schaeffer’s blog post included a bibliography of Coulson’s most important writings. Coulson’s long advocacy for education tax credits can be seen not just in those writings, but in ACSTO v. Winn, a 2011 case in which the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s K-12 scholarship tax credit program and for which Coulson worked closely on Cato’s amicus brief.

Andrew Coulson grew up in Canada and got a degree in mathematics and computer science from McGill University, after which he became a software engineer at Microsoft. As we said in announcing his joining Cato as director of the Center for Educational Freedom, “while Bill Gates quit school to form Microsoft, Andrew Coulson quit Microsoft to reform schools.” Through his books and studies and his documentary series, Andrew’s significant contributions to that goal will continue for a long time.