01 January 2008|
A Woman's Right to Choose (Her Child's School)
Five myths about school vouchers
Myth 1: "Voucher programs abandon public schools!"
Actually, they don't. They only give parents, who otherwise would have no choice in the school their child attends, the financial ability to choose the best school possible. This isn't always, as we all know, the local public school. Despite the bizarre desire of various interest groups to shackle parents to the public schools that they find inferior for the education of their children, vouchers offer parents an alternative to the saprogenic mediocrity the state offers them.
Any degree to which vouchers precipitate an exodus from public schools, and therefore a loss of public school funding, is the degree to which public schools are already failing children by the determination of a child's parents.
This is true accountability, in its purest form. The blame for any shift toward private schools should not be placed on the voucher programs, but on the public schools who are failing in the eyes of America's parents.
America's public schools, alas, are not doomed. Those of us with a background in observation have noticed that America's public universities compete openly and successfully with America's private universities. This is even while public universities offer extensive scholarship opportunities for all students, especially the poor and minorities.
If America's public schools were to simply reform, improve and successfully appeal to parents, they would have no reason to fear a woman's right to choose her child's school.
Myth 2: "Voucher programs violate the separation of church and state, because parents can use government money to send their children to religious schools."
Money for vouchers is allocated to the parent, not to a specific school, and the choice of school is the parent's, and not the government's. A voucher that a parent uses to attend a religious school is no more of a violation of the separation of church and state than is a tax rebate check that a taxpayer donates to her local church, or a missionary group driving on a public highway on the way to volunteer at a soup kitchen.
Myth 3: "Vouchers are bad because they will encourage discrimination"
Discrimination in education is the biggest determinant of quality, period. This point is so obvious it is difficult to expand on the point without sounding like I'm observing the existence of gravity.
Do Harvard and Yale have admissions standards that are more selective and discriminatory relative to lower-quality schools? (For those public school graduates who don't know, the answer is Yes.)
Improving quality begins by restricting entry to quality students, because advanced education requires a student body capable of absorbing it, and because students with similar needs are most effectively taught. This segregation is clearly beneficial, and will be assisted by those who will use vouchers to attend more selective schools. This benefit accrues to the private school students as well as their former public school classmates who now, conveniently, face a smaller student-to-teacher ratio.
The same standards of curricula and student achievement that apply to Yale do not apply to Podunk College. But the lesson of America's universities is that both Yale and Podunk College can flourish within the educational market, delivering appealing communitarian options for nearly every type of student. It is easy to predict that vouchers will have a similar effect, offering value to students of all talents, intellects and backgrounds.
Myth 4: "In practice, vouchers are too difficult to implement, and they haven't worked yet"
The implementation of public policy is always a delicate art, requiring the shrewd translation of theoretical objectives into quantifiable and concrete regulations. This is nothing new, and is hardly an argument against any policy, because every policy faces this reality.
But despite this, it is foolishly argued that vouchers are a bad idea because they will be difficult to implement, or have been poorly implemented. These arguments are an embarrassment to those who use them. Does the difficulty of determining who is "poor" negate the value of welfare? Does the difficulty of setting an absolute retirement age render Social Security a waste of time? Of course not. Can we all wake up and embrace the reality that all public policy is imperfect?
Myth 5: "The public opposes vouchers. That shows that they are a bad idea"
The popularity argument is the perennial crutch of those who have no substantive argument, and it is always worth little. Every kindergartner knows that the public is always hostile to comprehensive reform when it is first proposed, simply because most people don't like change. More than that, history has provided countless examples of public often opposing some very good ideas. (Desegregation comes to mind as one, universal suffrage another.)
But specifically in the case of vouchers, the public opposition, even if it were worth discussing, is hardly convinced of itself. Studies have shown that the support for vouchers fluctuates wildly depending how the questions are worded, and four in ten Americans say they don't even know enough about the subject to have an opinion. And judging from the misinformation passed on by the purveyors of these myths, the other six probably don't know enough, either.
The above work is the opinion of the author, and not necessarily that of the Prometheus Institute.