Thursday, February 22, 2007

School Choice in Utah

Apparently, Richard Kahlenberg of The Century Foundation would like to redirect this award to the state of Utah, for its new school voucher program. He writes:
In debate over the voucher scheme, proponents made much out of the legislation’s provision that public schools losing enrollment would retain a portion of state funding for the first five years after a student departed. A similar “hold harmless” provision helped ease the passage of a private school voucher initiative for low income students in the District of Columbia. But harm to public school budgets is not the leading reason that plans like Utah’s are unwise. The cause for concern goes far deeper.

The late Albert Shanker, longtime president of the American Federation of Teachers, articulated something more important. “Our public schools have played a major part in the building of a nation,” he argued. “They brought together countless children from different cultures—to share a common experience, to develop understanding and to tolerate differences....Only public schools are designed to educate every child; only public schools serve to bring many diverse groups together.”

He is right to focus on something other than money--we care primarily about the quality of the product, not how its purchase is financed. And I agree with Shanker's quote up until the interpretation of the last statement that "only public schools serve ..." The relevance of this last statement presumes that this historical role is still being served--that's open to debate. It also presumes that this would still be true even if private schools were placed on a more equal financial footing with public schools--that's also open to debate. But more importantly, we shouldn't get our priorities confused here. The primary objective of K-12 schools is to expand students' intellectual capabilities; everything else is secondary.

Later, Kahlenberg cites some of his own work to contend that:
[E]ducation research has long found that what helps students achieve is not whether they attend private or public school, but whether the school has a core of middle class families—who provide positive peer influences, active parental support, and insist on high quality teachers with high expectations.
Well, if that's his view, then he shouldn't object to a law that allows parents to choose their childrens' schools, provided each choice has such a core of middle class families. More importantly, he should be a supporter of reform efforts that promote the positive peer influences, active parental involvement, and high expectations which are the fundamentals to student achievement. Many of us simply believe that the most reliable way to get those fundamentals in place is to increase the choice of provider beyond the local monopolies that now often prevail.


Anonymous said...

As long as we're quoting former American Federation of Teachers union boss Albert Shanker on education, try some of these on for size - here's a sample:

"When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children."

Anonymous said...

School choice is not about students (their performance is based upon other factors see Levitt's Freakonomics) it is about schools, in the same manner that airline deregulation was not about more convenient and comfortable air travel but about more efficient, competitive, and lower cost. The Best education is brainwashing, but you guys know that.