Monday, January 5, 2009

Vouchers for K-12 and College? A few Good Arguments Against

In “Private schools not inherently better,” by Maureen Downey in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a few important issues are brought forward that haven’t been mentioned often enough the voucher debate:

My husband went to an elementary school that boasted a full orchestra for third-graders. He had kilns in art class, boa constrictors in science and trampolines in PE.

My school was a little different. The nearest we came to making music was ringing the bell at recess, and unless you counted doodling on our desks, we never had art class. Our most elaborate pieces of gym equipment were a jump rope and a basketball.

So which one of us went to a private school, and which attended a public school? Yup, he went to the swank public school with a swimming pool and a strings program; I went to the no-frills, no-chorus, no-band Catholic school … Many people aren’t looking for a way to escape their local schools. Conversely, many private schools are shoestring operations. Neither their facilities nor their course selections can match those of well-funded public schools, a fact that voucher advocates just can’t accept. They believe —- and they believe everyone else believes —- that private schools are superior and offer more qualified teachers, more art and music, more everything.

The most tenacious of … myths is that private schools attract and keep the very best teachers. In reality, teachers flee small private schools —- those with fewer than 300 students —- in numbers greater than even urban public schools experience. More than 80 percent of private schools are small … small private schools are controlled, cohesive universes that are less tolerant of a rebellious spirit or a dissident view. A larger public school, he says, may be more forgiving and more flexible.

According to Richard Ingersoll, a leading researcher on teacher turnover, “For teachers who disagree with school policies, large public schools may be more likely to provide options, other than either conformity to existing policies or exit from the job.”

…parents don’t see any value to vouchers and regard them as a threat to their schools. Without that middle-class support, vouchers will fail here as they have in every other state where they’ve been put to a vote.

Too Many Opting for College? What?

Diane Ravitch’s commentary at, “Claiborne Pell's Legacy,” expands on the idea of vouchers, but argues that taxpayer money should go to the schools instead of qualifited students. This supports the latest conservative argument, no ones buying the old ones, that too many students are deciding to go to college. That’s right, too many young adults want to further their education, believing the conventional wisdom of that they can make more money throughout their adult life if they learn more. Crazy kids. Notice how Ravitch subtly slips in this insane argument:

1972, Former Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island left quite a legacy when he died on Jan. 1 at the age of 90. A six-term Democratic senator from Rhode Island, he was responsible for creating a federal program of scholarships for low- and middle-income students in 1972, now known as Pell Grants in his honor.

….when the Higher Education Act was being reauthorized, the organizations representing colleges and universities sought additional federal support for their institutions. Their champion in Congress was Representative Edith Green of Oregon, a feisty Democrat. Pell, however, opposed Green, insisting that aid should go to students, not to institutions. Something of a backlash has developed in opposition to the pressure to send ever-increasing numbers of young people to college. Recently Charles Murray has argued that too many high school graduates are pushed to go to college, as has the anonymous Professor X in The Atlantic Monthly, who wrote about the woeful lack of preparation of many of his students, who know little, have read little, and cannot write a coherent sentence.

Would colleges and universities have maintained academic standards if the federal money had flowed to them, instead of to their students? Was higher education cheapened by turning it into a marketplace in which institutions compete to attract students and the dollars they bring with them? We will never know.

We wouldn’t want the colleges competing for the best students in the country would we? Colleges would be less accessable than many are today.

This, by the way, is the very reason why vouchers wouldn’t work for K—12. A public education is open to everyone, not just the best students. While colleges can be selective, our public schools must try to help everyone.

The other difference rarely mentioned by voucher advocates is that attending college is voluntary. Private K-12 schools have a guaranteed stream of taxpayer money once they fill their classrooms. Accountability will be manufactured by special interest testing organizations, and the results will be well advertised to unsuspecting neighborhood parents.

Hey voucher advocates, don’t act like that couldn’t happen.

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