In Tennessee, like a lot of other states in the country, K-12 vouchers are back on the table. Vouchers are the one area in education where Republicans and Democrats differ. Although there are some Dems out there who probably embrace vouchers too. They certainly never see a charter school they don’t like. Click HERE to see what’s happening in Tennessee.
There has been plenty written about how vouchers have failed to improve achievement and waste tax dollars. Diane Ravitch has written a lot about vouchers. Here she says why they failed in Milwaukee and here is why they failed in Cleveland.
However, it was in Reign of Error where I first learned of the report by Gus Garcia-Roberts in the Miami New Times who wrote about the awful circumstances surrounding vouchers to crummy schools given in Florida for the McKay Scholarship Program for students with special needs. If you are a voucher supporter and read this report, I don’t know how you will ever support vouchers again. Garcia-Roberts won an award for his reporting. Certainly, things go wrong in public schools too, but they are more in the public eye and the problems can be fixed.
I first heard about the idea of vouchers as a teacher during the Reagan administration, and the idea of school choice came from economist Milton Friedman, father of school privatization. But school vouchers weren’t always popular with the American people. Many people were happy with their public schools.
But now, if you are a parent, and your child’s public school has become a shell due to the lack of funding for a balanced curriculum, the overemphasis on high-stakes testing, the lack of services for special education, and the total focus on Common Core math and English/language arts, then you might be tempted to crave a voucher. Wouldn’t it be nice to send a child someplace, anyplace, you think might be better.But don’t be duped. Many private, charter and parochial schools are not accredited, and students who attend these schools could come up short.
A book getting a lot of attention lately, is called The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools by Christopher A. Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski. We need to quit assuming private schools are better than public schools.
Vouchers are part of a larger plan to privatize public schools. Years ago, reformers cleverly figured out that many Americans didn’t like vouchers, so they changed the message and began advertising giving vouchers to a few poor kids, claiming those students are not getting a good education. Not only does this damn public schools, but it makes it look like they, the reformers, are compassionate people.
So vouchers are now sold to Americans with the altruistic notion that they will help a few children step up to a better life at a private or parochial school, but it doesn’t always go down like that.
For example, the Memphis Daily recently did an interesting report about the county commission there debating vouchers. Commissioner Heidi Shafer used the usual hackneyed argument for vouchers. She said that parents of children should have an “escape hatch” for children “trapped” in those schools in the lower 5 percent (referring to test scores).
First, no matter what you do to public schools, and how they improve or stay stuck in a rut, there will always be a lower 5 percent, so that is deceptive.
And how do you choose the children who get the vouchers? Will Miss Heidi pick the winners herself, or will there be a lottery like they do for charter schools? It’s a terrible idea to say a couple of kids get a fighting chance in life if the dice fall the right way. It really is reminiscent of the Hunger Games.
Another misconception, and I am sorry to pick on Com. Shafer, but she illustrated this issue when she said in reference to vouchers, “Competition makes everybody perform better. I think it does create a real hardship for the schools. But they are going to have to learn to compete the way the rest of us do.”
This raises some interesting questions.
Currently, private or parochial schools do not have to compete with public schools in the least! They are not made to take the insidious high-stakes standardized tests foisted on public schools. We don’t hold these schools accountable or know what they do behind closed doors. Parents of the children going there might know but not the general public.
Along with that, if vouchers become a reality, will private and parochial school students have to take high-stakes standardized tests too? Will they have to demonstrate student growth every year? Will the private schools fire their teachers when they don’t improve using Value Added Measurement and hire Teach for America?
I have heard of private and parochial school owners who actually do not want vouchers for that reason. If private schools must follow the rules and be set up like public schools with mandates from the state, they could cease to be private schools.
The other concern with the “vouchers are for poor children” idea is that once voucher bills are approved, politicians will start spreading the vouchers to children who aren’t so poor. Before you know it, everyone will get a voucher. Public schools will go POOF and cease to exist.
Wealthy people will still have more money than the middle class and poor children, so their schools will still have resources, and the middle and lower class schools will be schools that lack what they’re already missing now as public schools, and then some.
This point is actually illustrated in the same Memphis Daily article by TN Gov. Haslam himself. The article says, Haslam has insisted the vouchers have family income guidelines that would limit it, at least in the beginning, to students from the poorest families in the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools in terms of student achievement.
Here are two examples where this is already occurring. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker wants to lift the cap on vouchers, even though the evidence clearly shows they don’t work in that state. In North Carolina, citizens are fighting against vouchers.
The other issue with vouchers has to do with how well the student who gets the voucher does in school and what will happen if they don’t keep their grades up or have learning problems. Public schools always work with students. They cannot send them on their way when they don’t show improvement, although, unfortunately, public school teachers now get fired in that scenario.
Vouchers are also used to send students to a variety of religious schools. Here is a website that covers vouchers well if Separation of Church and State issues concern you.
Last, parents who are voucher enthusiasts see vouchers as their fair share for their child. The trouble with that notion is that public schools are not for our own children per se. They are for America’s children.
If we give out vouchers to parents, then we should give voucher money to people who no longer have children in school, or especially to those who never ever even had children. Why should they have to pay for other people’s kids? Let them have some money to go on a nice vacation.
The point of public schools is that everyone has a vested interest in all children. I know some might not like that idea. Who wants to hand over tax dollars to that annoying teenager down the street who revs their car real loud or plays their rap music after midnight? His parents should be responsible.
But, with public schools, everyone is collectively a part of that little stinker’s education. And you never know…that annoying teen might be the kid who grabs a scholarship, goes to college, and eventually develops a cure for the cancer that threatens your life in the future. You just never know!
For me, vouchers fail for all the above reasons, but mostly because they separate and divide us as a nation. Public schools bring young people together from all backgrounds so they learn tolerance and understanding and have a chance to learn to like one another when they are adults. Public schools should bring us together.
Leaders often talk about their desire for a better world, for the next generation, and nowhere is that more important than caring for all children and their schooling.
Instead of vouchers, wouldn’t it be nice if we all invested in real public schools for all children? It is nice to see a community go to sports events, attend school plays and cheer on its students. If only we cared that much for all America’s kids.
With vouchers, in the end, poor children and the middle class won’t be able to attend the most prestigious private schools. All they will be left with are lousy schools. I can think of nothing more boring, and sadly, more destructive to America.
Ravitch, Diane. Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), 211-212.