Bad Ideas and Principles During "School Choice Week"

Last week, there was a lot of emphasis on income inequality, social mobility, and class concerns, but not all of the attention came from President Obama and his State of the Union message. It was also "School Choice Week," and proponents of taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to pay for private and religious schools seized the opportunity to claim that vouchers will solve these challenging societal issues. However, when "school choice" means vouchers, what it really offers is discrimination and unaccountability.

Recent polling by Phi Delta Kappa and the Gallup Organization found that 70% of the public, the highest number in the 20 year history of the poll, oppose private school vouchers. The reasons why are clear when parents and taxpayers look at the reality behind the veil of good intentions. To understand the perils of public funds going to private schools, we can simply look to the fact that these private schools take taxpayer dollars and then can decide to exclude students based on sex, religion, academic achievement, sexual orientation, and even economic status. Not only that, but voucher programs also discriminate against students with disabilities and are mismanaged.

And what about academics? Voucher schools are often low-performing. Voucher programs don't improve reading and math achievement, and students interested in careers in the STEM fields could be at a significant disadvantage as many voucher schools reject evolution and teach creationism.

Yet, those who want vouchers continue to promote these misguided policies. Last week, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) introduced the CHOICE Act, a bill that would authorize a range of bad ideas, including creating new federally funded vouchers for students with disabilities (even though students with disabilities often reject or drop out of voucher programs) and expanding the deeply troubled Washington, D.C., voucher program. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), introduced the Scholarship for Kids Act, which could potentially deprive $24 billion from public schools and put it into the hands of private and religious schools.

How do discrimination and miseducation address income inequality? They don't. Legislators should be ending voucher programs, not expanding them.

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HawkAtreides

It's also worth noting that the push for "school choice" is often also tied closely to "charter schools", which may have little to no curriculum oversight, and whose curricula are not questioned as long as a certain number of students are meeting a standard judged by testing. We had to pull our son out of his high school because his school, a city-run charter school, was teaching an experimental math program that had no textbook, scatter-shot curriculum progression, and required teachers to literally NOT teach students in favor of having them perform "experiments" to "discover" mathematical fundamentals, all without actually giving any guidance on whether or not the students were succeeding in that task. A child who had previously been an A student in mathematics was failing because he did not understand what he was even supposed to be learning, let alone whether or not he was actually learning it. "School choice", even when it doesn't funnel money to religious schools, is little more than a way to divert funds away from schools that need them to schools that are, often times, already overfunded, bolstering high-performance programs (like the IB program) and extracurricular activities at the cost of the education of the average student - in fact, one of the primary complaints at my son's former high school was that his teachers literally didn't care about the education of any student outside of the IB program, and school administrators often resorted to lying to or denigrating parents when they questioned the efficacy or utility of the curriculum.

In short, "school choice" only helps those who are already primed to take advantage of what a school can offer, often times students who were already served by magnet programs or private education, docking their boats higher while doing nothing to raise the tide.

Anonymous

Those are some excellent points made. It sounds like "Separate But Unequal" is back in vogue.

Anonymous

Wow you must have missed point 2 in the GAO report, who cares about biased standardized tests? 19% increase in graduation rates. But you know Baltimore schools are so successful we really don't need any choices unless, you're rich.

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