I have stated that vouchers have potential benefits to our education system and also that they do not address the core issue that is leading our education system down the path of crisis. So here is my position on vouchers.
The bills that we are going to vote on are flawed – most bills are. That being said, I will support vouchers at the ballot box and then I will work to improve the public education system. The virtual monopoly of our public schools in the arena of primary education is not beneficial to our society. That monopoly must be challenged. Only as it is challenged will we give our educational administrators the incentive to root out the inefficiency and manipulation that are pervasive in the current system.
Despite any claims to the contrary, the public education system is not designed to educate. It is designed to measure. It measures things like how many hours a child sits in the classroom – which is not related to how much they learn. I have a friend who has chosen home school because she was told that her son was in danger of not advancing to the next grade because of the number of absences he had that year. This was without regard to the fact that this child was at or near the top of his class in every academic measure of performance. Those measures meant nothing next to the butt-in-seat time where he was flirting with the legislatively imposed rules of what constituted acceptable attendance. The public education system also spends large amounts of money on academically unnecessary things like upgrading high-school athletic facilities while complaining about lack of funds. (That is just one example of spending that is completely unrelated to academics.)
Our standardized tests are more academic in nature, but the emphasis on such testing encourages the employment of every intellectual pump-and-dump scheme that can be found. Teachers do not want to lose their jobs so they teach to the test without regard to any retention after the test is administered. This is because teachers are graded (formally or informally) on a bell curve. The result is that some percentage of teachers are going to fail and some percentage are going to pass regardless of whether the entire system is getting better or getting worse. Such a norm-referenced mindset works well in the media because people understand it, but it does not work well in improving the system. I honestly believe that most teachers are interested in improving the minds of their students, but if they lose their jobs they can’t do that. Their jobs are not based on how much their students learn, but on how much their students remember on the day of the test as compared to other students. That kind of environment will eventually wear out most well intentioned people so that they either leave, become complacent, or resign themselves to the flaws in the system.
My assertion that a quality education can be had only based on parental involvement suggests one of the risks of vouchers, or any other escape from the public school system. When provided with an easy alternative, most involved parents are likely to abandon the public school system because other options (home, private, charter) do not carry all the baggage that weighs down the public education system. This leave the public schools worse off than before because it will be left to care only for those students who come from homes where parents are not involved and where there is no culture of learning. (Voucher opponents use this fact to accuse supporters of engaging in class warfare because the culture of learning is less prevalent among the poor – who’s parents are not generally as well educated as the rich.) Because of that risk, I will actively encourage people, including myself, to avoid using vouchers to leave the public schools unless it is absolutely necessary.
The educational bureaucrats must know that we have the option to leave, and that we are interested enough to vote for change. Once we have made that known we must show them that we are willing to work with them, for the good of everyone, to improve the public schools. (Utah Rattler stakes out a similar position.) We must demonstrate that leaving them to deal with those who have the least support is not our objective, just as living off our taxes and raising their own paychecks should not be their objective. (Admittedly I do not think that is the objective of most administrators, but who can resist the chance to give themselves a pay raise when their colleagues keep reminding them about how hard they work.)