Friday, June 13, 2008

Vouchers villified. But why?

In Washington DC teacher unions are trying to stop a voucher system for the poorest black and Hispanic children. Yet 90 percent of parents are apparently very happy with the scheme. What's the problem?

Opponents claim there is no evidence that the D.C. scholarship program is raising academic achievement. The only study so far, funded by the federal Department of Education, found positive but "not statistically significant" improvements in reading and math scores after the first year. But education experts agree it takes a few years for results to start showing up. In other places that have vouchers, such as Milwaukee and Florida, test scores show notable improvement. A new study on charter schools in Los Angeles County finds big academic gains when families have expanded choices for educating their kids.

Does it cost more?

The $7,500 voucher is a bargain for taxpayers because it costs the public schools about 50% more, or $13,000 a year, to educate a child in the public schools.

Does it prevent choice?

Many of the parents we interviewed describe the vouchers as a "Godsend" or a "lifeline" for their sons and daughters. "Most of the politicians have choices on where to send their kids to school," says William Rush, Jr., who has two boys in the program. "Why do they want to take our choices away?"

Because just like New Zealand's teacher union and New Zealand's political left, the US unions are frightened that success in the private sector will mean parents abandon public schools. It's not about children and it's not about parents.

The teachers unions have put out the word to Congress that they want all vouchers for private schools that compete with their monopoly system shut down.

It's about unions protecting their patch, whether it grows weeds or prize winning pumpkins. ACT's education vouchers policy is anathema to monopolists (including National?). We will be pushing it with passion.


Anonymous said...

Because just like New Zealand's teacher union and New Zealand's political left, the US unions are frightened that success in the private sector will mean parents abandon public schools. It's not about children and it's not about parents.

Private schools are better than public schools on every level. Unfortunately, vouchers tend to turn private schools into public schools.

What's the solution:
* fix the ERA to deal with the unions once and for all. You don't have to ban union membership - but Just make union membership incompatible with holding a job or receiving any state benefit.
* fix the pubic schools: cancel all employment contracts, put the real estate up on trademe.
* flatten the tax burden so people can pay for their kids education
* remove school leaving age so that children who will not profit from education can profit from work

now why did you need vouchers again?

I'm sorry, but the legislative overhead of voucher schemes will be *much greater* that anything like the above.

Gekko said...

Despite being a libertarian I remain unconvinced by the voucher argument. I simply cannot see the state allowing people to spend what it sees as 'it's' money indiscriminately on whatever schools they like.
Surely a more likely situation is that schools that are 'eligible' (in the state's eyes) to accept vouchers will have to be vetted and pass all the usual state criteria for being an acceptable institution, etc etc.
So in the end any school which is deemed to be an acceptable place (by the state) to spend your voucher will be under strict compliance with state enforced regulations. How is that better?
Clearly the better way forward is to remove the state from education and reduce taxes accordingly so people can *genuinely* buy their own choice of education. In the interim perhaps removing the ridiculous zoning laws would help mobility and market choice without the additional bureaucratic overhead of the voucher system.

James said...

Vouchers are a half way house measure towards the real goal of Privitised education free of the least its a steop in the right direction.We aren't going to get the Libertarian utopia over night so lets not keep fooling ourselves...

Gekko said...

"We aren't going to get the Libertarian utopia over night so lets not keep fooling ourselves..."
That is a little disingenuous and avoids the real issue of my post. Nobody mentioned libertarian 'utopias' except that we both agree that the final goal is removing the state from education.

My point was that I am not convinced that vouchers are actually step in the right direction. From what I can see it will simply increase the states stranglehold on any school that wants to be able to redeem vouchers. To me it is potentially a step in the wrong direction and I haven't seen any discussion on how voucher schemes will avoid that pitfall. To me a better way to go is to reduce regulation around education rather than add an extra layer of state control and bureaucracy to the existing system.

Lindsay said...

But Gekko, Existing independent and integrated schools are 'vetted'. They still present a real and often better alternative to state schools. We need more of them. James is right. It is a step in the right direction.

Gekko said...

Lindsay - you haven't addressed the issue. They will still be 'vetted' under a voucher scheme so we are no better off, but now the state will want more control because it is effectively paying for them. At least under the current system we can choose to provide the funds from our own pockets and while the state still has some level of legislative control over them it cannot control them in the same way it controls purely state funded schools. Once all schools are effectively state funded through vouchers we just increase the states level of intrusion into education. Isn't that is a step in the wrong direction?

As I said, wouldn't a better interim step be to try and reduce the current level of state intrusion in all schools rather than add a whole new layer? Surely that state interference *is* the problem and we should be working to reduce that rather than wanting more of the same by giving them yet another weapon with which to control.

Anonymous said...

With Phil Goff as PM, Rodney deputy, and Roger Douglas, Minister of Finance, in the new Labour-led Government it may well be that a fresh look at education will see some radical changes. If Peter Dunne survives he would support major new initiatives. Maybe Shane Jones.
With Clark and Cullen stepping aside post-election anything will be possible.

Sus said...

Hi James & Lindsay: I know what you're saying & why you're saying it, but I agree with Gekko.

While the concept of vouchers might have merit in theory, I believe it would prove no better in practise. With the same diehards in control at the ministry, you'd see very little change because it would be in the latter's interest to *not* enact change/s.

In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that you'd end up with even more bureaucracy than you started with.

You really trust those guys to allow children easier access to private/independent schools and show up the public schools' shortcomings for all to see & none to deny? Not this little black duck.

I see masses of regulation designed to trash & ultimately fail the scheme from day one.

It's a half-measure. It's still the state calling the shots. Why do you expect these people to change their tune?

Lindsay said...

Go back and read the original post. Voucher schemes are getting better results where they have been introduced. Better. Maybe not best but better.

We have one child thriving at a small independent school. But we will struggle to send the second child to the school she wants to go to. Unless vouchers are introduced. Otherwise it will likely be to the local state 1700-roll, bully-tolerating provision. What most parents face for their kids. It's not right.

The trouble with hanging out for no-state means no improvement in the interim.

Anonymous said...

Education authorities always claim positive results for initiatives they have implemented. With the state having complete control over all aspects of the evaluation process, there is no objective measure.

If ACT believe in choice why doesn't ACT policy say that in the voucher environment schools will be allowed to specify their own curricula and decide for themselves who can teach it and how they can do it?

Dave Christian

Sus said...

I read the post again as you suggested. I didn't argue with the content, per se, being American examples the first time and I still don't.

My point is its potential failure in implementation *here* in NZ, being as socialist as we are, especially where education's concerned.

It would be hijacked by the very individuals charged with its implementation, as much as I might wish otherwise.

The core problem is the state, not the way the state works. I stand by my last two paragraphs.

Anonymous said...

Half of all the teachers in the education system are performing at a level that is below average.
Vouchers will amass the children, whose parent's care enough, at the schools that will employ the above average teachers.
The rest are headed for the growing scrapheap (breeding ground)of welfare dependency. And who are they going to vote for?