Sunday, June 24, 2007

Vouchers won't fix Utah's schools

Conservatives who believe that free markets are a panacea have recently attempted to use Utah as a guinea pig to prove their point about public schools. Previously, the Republican-controlled Congress did the same for DC, whose ailing public schools are in as bad a shape as Utah's, but for different reasons. The results were underwhelming, to say the least.
Students in the D.C. school voucher program, the first federal initiative to spend taxpayer dollars on private school tuition, generally performed no better on reading and math tests after one year in the program than their peers in public schools, the U.S. Education Department said yesterday.

...[The] only [] exception[] to the conclusion that the program has not yet had a significant impact on achievement: Students who moved from higher-performing public schools to private schools and those who scored well on tests before entering the program performed better in math than their peers who stayed in public school.
A Republican-led Congress created the $14 million-a-year program in 2004. The five-year initiative provides $7,500 vouchers each year to 1,800 students, from kindergartners to high school seniors, who attend 58 private schools, most of them Catholic schools. ...

... [T]he initiative is one of the few government-run voucher systems in the country. Milwaukee and Ohio have similar plans, and Florida and Arizona offer vouchers to special education students.

In studies of those programs and others funded with private money, researchers tended to find little improvement in test scores after one year, said Paul Peterson, director of Harvard University's program on education policy and governance. He said it takes time for students to adjust to new surroundings.

"Kids lose ground when they change schools. Even if they may be in a better school, they're not going to adjust to that right off the bat," he said. "It doesn't happen overnight. It's a slow process."

That's right the Bush Administration's own Education Department, with NCLB brainchild Margaret Spellings at the helm, says vouchers don't work.

But don't worry, that won't stop Utah Republicans from making dishonest arguments about Vouchers and NCLB.
Utah once challenged No Child Left Behind, threatening to defy the No Child law and forfeit $76 million in federal aid. The Legislature, however, adopted a softer approach, telling state education officials to give precedence to Utah's own assessment standards over federal mandates.
[Scott] Parker [Rep. Rob Bishop's Chief of Staff] says Bishop has been trying to help the state receive waivers from the Department of Education for certain aspects of federal law and to allow Utah to try some pilot programs. But he said the voucher opponents are sending mixed signals by challenging the law.
[state school board chairman Kim] Burningham says Bishop and others are playing politics with the November vote.
''I guess the logic is that the arch conservatives are supporting vouchers nationwide and when we oppose them . . . it therefore weakens other conservative efforts like opposition to No Child Left Behind,'' he said.

NCLB has to do with testing and de-funding schools that underperform. Vouchers are PARTIAL tuition grants for children to go to private (often religious) schools. While an NCLB shut-down/defunded school makes children go elsewhere for their schooling, it has nothing to do with the use of public monies for private schooling. And exemptions to the testing standards has nothing to do with how to use public monies for education. This is just an attempt to confuse the issue.

Good thing our schools are so bad that people might not be able to understand how the Rep. Bishop's of the world are trying to make them worse. I say worse because if you spend more money on something that makes no difference you waste that money that otherwise could have gone to hiring more teachers, better/more teacher training, building more classrooms/schools, buying better/more textbooks, etc.

I think we all can agree that NCLB needs to be massively reformed, if not scrapped altogether. Since states/counties/school districts/schools don't want to lose funding, they have opted to teach to the test and/or make the test easier. Either practice defeats the original purpose of the bill, which was to RAISE standards and make sure our children were being educated properly. Countries like Germany & Japan score much higher on tests for not just math but in virtually every category. Maybe it is time to stop trying to reinvent the wheel and rather try to adapt their practices into the US.

I will give you a hint: they don't use vouchers.


Jeremy said...

Vouchers are a terrible idea for Utah not because Utah's public school system is failing but because it is so successful. Utah's schools are succeeding in spite of the fact that our state has such a hard time providing them with the funding needed to make them even better. Vouchers in Utah would be nothing more than a subsidy for people who want their kids in private schools in spite of our excellent public schools...not because of them. If, like Washington D.C.'s public school system, we were paying more than $10,000 per student per year and our schools were run-down crime-ridden cesspools I'd probably be in favor of vouchers here.

I support the voucher program in Washington D.C. and wish it were larger so all those who want out of that terrible public school system can have an opportunity. Public schools there have failed and vouchers represent hope for parents that their kids have a shot at something better.

The Washington D.C. voucher program has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not vouchers will work in Utah. D.C. is broken and I'm betting vouchers will work. Utah isn't broken and I can't imagine how vouchers could possibly benefit our students.

While I disagree with your comparisons of schools and voucher prospects in Utah and D.C. I completely agree with you that the NCLB BS is a smokescreen being thrown up by voucher supporters who don't want to talk about the real issues. Its pretty pathetic actually.

Davis Didjeridu said...

I'll have more on this later in the week. Good post, though.