As you probably know by now, our new President is set to propose a new education package that would give parents vouchers if the local public school was failing.
Vouchers advocates routinely use the competition metaphor: if the public school isn’t doing such a great job, won’t competition give parents (and their kids) a better choice, and meanwhile force the public school to improve?
That seems like a reasonable idea to me, on the surface. Competition is a good thing; it makes all of us in competitive situations do better. In a considerable number of situations, its absence galls me - from commercial radio, to the airline business as it will be a year from now if the Bush administration allows the mergers that are currently proposed. I’m all for competition.
But competition must be fair in order to work, and nobody’s really focused on the different constraints that public and private schools are operating under.
Must take all students, regardless of ability (including ‘special needs’ students)
Can’t impose enrollment restrictions
Can expel students due to conduct only with great difficulty
Are usually required to have cafeterias and athletic facilities
Can (and usually do) impose admissions standards
Can limit the size of their student body
Can expel students fairly easily
Aren’t required to have costly facilities
I’m sure there are other differential standards distinguishing the two, but that’ll certainly do, for starters.
The debate questions I have in mind are: to what extent should private schools be required to operate under the same constraints as public schools, in order to receive voucher money? If they’re allowed to compete, yet retain different standards, will there be any problems in the way it plays out, or will this turn out to be an improvement for our most disadvantaged students - the one Dubya wants to reach out to? Or will many students be left even further behind?
I’m quite definitely in favor of requiring private schools to compete on the same level with public schools, if they want to receive voucher money.
My suspicion is that if private schools are allowed to compete without changing their standards, this will be a ‘cream-skimming’ situation: it’ll work out well for a handful of the smartest students in poor schools, those who are willing to conduct themselves to private-school norms, and work sufficiently hard to keep up. (Let’s call them the ‘raptured’ students. ;)) But those who aren’t smart or disciplined enough, have behavior problems or handicaps that interfere with their learning, will be ‘left behind’ in a public school system that has less money than it did.
For structural reasons, I don’t think there will be a sudden expansion of private school resources - under any vouchers plan - to accomodate large numbers or public school children. Instead, a few will be saved, and most will be left worse off than before. But if private schools are required to compete with public schools on an even basis, then IMO, almost no private schools will agree to be recipients of vouchers, and so the whole idea of vouchers will have been exposed as a monumental bluff.
That’s my opinion; the floor is open for yours!