City Journal Autumn 2014

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Marcus A. Winters
The Year of the Voucher « Back to Story

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Vouchers can indeed help some people in some situations, but as I discuss in more detail in the link below, it is misleading to assume that they can do much more than enable some ambitious low-income families to get out of bad school environments. Education is not a product that schools produce through curricula and teaching and sell to families. Instead, students collaborate in their own educations, based on the assets they bring with them from their homes and communities. I argue here that putting too much faith in any school reform program can be counterproductive:

http://cantheseboneslive.blogspot.com/2011/12/end-of-year-look-at-school-vouchers.html
States could also save money by providing vouchers for prison choice.

Why is it that so many Americans would rather contribute to exorbitant salaries of athletes and movie stars and CEOs, than contribute to decent wages for teachers?
I don't think there's all that much mystery about what made 2011 the "year of the voucher" - the 2010 midterm elections.

Supporters of the educational status quo, primarily Democrats, got knocked out of lots of state legislatures and one the issues to which the public education lobby's been most hardnosed in its opposition, vouchers, was suddenly an issue with a lot of new friends. Many of the states in which voucher referenda and voucher law had repeatedly gone down to defeat were suddenly voucher-friendly.

But the sudden success of vouchers should be seen for what it is which is the first robin of spring and a pretty strange robin to a lot of parents.

One of the problems voucher programs faced were the unfamiliarity of prospective voucher parents with the concept. I know that Florida's voucher program took a couple of years to achieve full utilization and the only factor that explains that slow uptake is parental unfamiliarity. Also, all the voucher programs are narrowly focused. Usually at poor kids or special needs kids, or both. The general school population? Sorry. Not yet.

The problem for vouchers is that, as a political solution, they're the subject of some suspicion by the schools that might accept vouchers. A political deal can be as easily undone as done and expanding school facilities based on the prospects for continuity of a law opposed by a powerful lobby is an action that private schools will undertake cautiously.

More politically palatable, and thus much more widespread, are charters and I believe charters will lead the way to undoing the current, and failed, public education model.

It's clear that the public education lobby sees charters as less of a threat then vouchers. Politics being what it is the calculation was clearly that charters were less of threat to the public education status quo then vouchers and have thus fared better in state legislatures. But the choice to stonewall on vouchers while grudgingly giving ground on charters wasn't a decision made willingly. The public education lobby saw vouchers as the greater threat with the explicit freedom of choice that comes with vouchers. Charters, being public schools and thus more vulnerable to extinguishment at some future date, were seen as less threatening and are now in forty-four states.

Opposing both vouchers and charters was rightly seen as likely to mark the public education lobby as inflexible and protective of the status quo and that wouldn't do so the decision to compromise on charters against the day when the public would lose interest in education.

The watershed result of the 2010 midterms isn't the expansion of some voucher programs and the enactment of others but the removal of the cap on charter schools in Michigan. That's the law that'll spell the death knell of the school district and lead to much more educational flexibility including vouchers. Once the number of charters becomes great enough to cause them to compete with each other many of the ills of public education will fall away.

School accountability won't be something that has to be forced on schools because a school that does well will have a competitive advantage over surrounding schools. Schools will be more careful in how they spend their money since money squandered on too-expensive, contentless text books is money that can't be spent on some other, more worthwhile facility. Similarly, funding to hire an assistant administrator is funding that can't go to more generous compensation for the teachers who help the school show up well in the educational rankings. Disruptive kids will get the boot since neither the school nor the parents of the kids whose education's they'll disrupt will want them in their school.

As it becomes more obvious that charters can do perfectly well, and at lower cost, what district schools quite often do execrably legislatures will start to prepare for the districts that collapse.

2011 may the year of the voucher but we've still got a couple of years before we come to the year education was unshackled.
I forgot to mention that we also recited the
Lord's Prayer.

Individuals of my generation are the product of public education and have done well in life. We went to school primarily to learn
and prepare ourselves to become productive
members of our society. The school day began with a reading from the Old Testament
and a flag salute; it set a positive tone for
the entire day. Teachers set the example for
all of us by their behavior and the way they dressed. This is what is missing today in far too many of our public schools today.

dressed