Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Vouchers needed to escape high performing schools

This one is kind of interesting. I am not sure what to make of it. Read "The New Separate But Equal."

According to the author, liberal white parents are fleeing high-performing schools in large numbers in areas of San Francisco because there are too many high-performing Asians.

The author says, "Our best hope for a truly color-blind society is not quotas or reverse discrimination, but to allow all parents the opporunity to provide the best edcuation for their children by offering them options such as tuition vouchers, charter schools, school choice and merit-based techer pay."

So, let me get this straight - the "best education available" is to make sure I take my voucher and go to a lower-performing school.

As they say, if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. This is the first argument for vouchers I have heard that involves the need to escape a high-performing school.

I think voucher advocates would have gotten a lot further in their efforts if they had just tackled this from the beginning with the liberty/parental rights perspective.

This approach might have avoided a few of the ongoing disputes over charter school effectiveness, and the effectiveness of vouchers etc. Trying to prove charter schools are better than public schools is proving to be a tough row to hoe. Arguing over whether or not to give parents more choices is a much "cleaner" argument.


At Wednesday, December 14, 2005, Blogger GuusjeM said...

We are seeing a bit of that here. In an attempt to level the playing field at the state universities, all students in the top 10% of their HS graduation class get automatic addmission to Uof Texas and Texas A&M. Some parents are pulling their kids from the very competive, very academic high schools and enrolling them in lower performance schools where they stand a better chance of being in that magical 10%

At Thursday, December 15, 2005, Anonymous Paul said...

My background is in technology and business leadership, so this story line has a familiar ring. The business adage is that you need to be careful when you set up commission plans for sales folks --because they actually work!

The VP in charge of sales would spend weeks lobbying the CEO for particular features for the sales plan to be applied in the coming year. For example, if we had two products A and B, the sales VP might say "A sells itself and is our volume and profit leader, so if you want to push B, then you need to make the commission rate of B twice that of A."

Of course, the sales VP would say that only if the perspective of the sales force was that B was actually going to be easier to sell than B in the coming year.

As a consequence, all the sales team would concentrate on B, letting A languish. The effect for the company might be that total profits significantly decline because no one is selling the highest profit product, A, meanwhile lots of commission dollars are paid out for selling B at a lower profit.

If the strategy of the company is to begin to replace A with B because of changes in technology or market trends, then this might be a good thing. But often the result is an unplanned distortion of sales and profits. Commission plans work.

The point is that public policy decision are viewed by the largely ignorant and/or apathetic public as being simply what they appear to be on the surface. Underneath, there is all kinds of personal agendas and politics going on.

Here in Ohio, the state government has allocated hundreds of millions toward the construction of new school buildings. Most would think that was all about helping the poorer districts. But I suspect the real motivator was the commercial construction industry. As evidence of that, a superstar principal in our district recently retired in his late 50s (with a very nice pension) to take a job with a school design and construction company.

I'm generally supportive of vouchers and charter schools. But for the noble part of this notion to work, we have to spend time understanding who will benefit from the proposed policy changes, and put appropriate rules and controls in place so that it is the kids who benefit, not big business.

Follow the money...

At Thursday, December 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Put aside for a moment that the perspective on parents fleeing a school system because it's too tough on their kids is inaccurate.

Focus on the more important issue: choice. As it is, parents sometimes have no alternative but to move to get their kids into what seems to be the best school FOR THE KIDS.

Many parents and students have no desire -- or need -- to spend high school in the most competitive environment imaginable. Some, in the case of this one tiny school system in California, have opted to move to find what they want.

Does every kid in the school system in question seek admission to CalTech? No.

However, those who think poorly of parents who move simply refuse to recognize the lengths to which parents must sometimes go to manage the education of their children.

Vouchers would ease the process.

At Thursday, December 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the first questions responsible parents ask when making housing decisions has to do with the quality of the school. In other words, thousands of parents every day participate in school choice. Responsible parents make wise choices and their children benefit. Less responsible parents make less wise choices and their children either benefit less than they might have been able to or in some cases might actually suffer because of their parent's choice. Of course, the same thing is true with a myriad of choices that parents make every day.

Either way every child is in the school they are in because of the parent's choice. School choice exists now without vouchers. The only question is whether or not vouchers would change anything. As the earlier posted noted, vouchers would ease the process. I would agree with that statement, but that is not how vouchers are being "sold." The question is whether or not the use of vouchers would produce better educational outcomes.

No one knows at this point. The theory is that they would based on a competition model. It's a great debate. It seems to me that for vouchers to make a difference in outcomes, we would have to assume that parents would make better decisions with their government money than they do with their own.

I think the voucher debate is an excellent one. I just think it should be de-coupled from the choice debate. School choice exists now.

At Thursday, December 15, 2005, Blogger Indiana Public School Superintendent said...

There are many parents who excercise their choices by moving. They should be commended for putting their children first.

The post focuses not on parents but about the arguments put forth by voucher advocates.

The post points out the "shotgun" strategy of a few voucher advocates. First the argument was that vouchers and charters were needed because they would be "Better" than public schools.

This was the first article I've seen that pushed for vouchers in order to flee a high-performing public school.

It just seemed ironic. That's why it seems like the argument for vouchers that stuck to the liberty/freedom of choice issues would seem simpler to grasp by the public.

The twin arguments of, "We must have vouchers to flee low performing public schools as well as high performing public schools!" seems a little odd.

The argument from a parent perspective of, "Let us choose the education that best fits our own children" is a simple argument. It doesn't branch off into "he said-she said" arguments regarding effectiveness that will take many years to research thoroughly.

Just saying, "We don't care if our school of choice is "better" or not. Maybe our definition of "Better" is different than yours! That's harder to argue about!

At Thursday, December 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, Super, so these parents have made a choice. A lot people - maybe a vast majority - would not agree with this particular reason. But I bet that there were people who also looked poorly upon California parents 10 years ago who exercised choice to avoid the "whole language" curriculum. What was seen then, by a large portion of the education establishment, as the right thing to do (whole language) is now known to be a disaster. I don't offer this scenario to equate the wisdom of these two choices, but to suggest instead: Why isn't it the parent's perogative? Should government -- the same government that mandated whole language -- make such choices? Or should that be left to the parents? Put another way, do schools want to be parents (and take on all the responsibities thereof), or are they willing to let parents be parents and to make choices?

Point two: You are simply dead wrong in suggesting that all parents have choice already. Period. No debate. If you think otherwise, then you are absolutely clueless to the struggles of inner-city parents.

Final point: The story you offer is one about parent choice -- the choice of one narrow set of parents. You have made an inexplicable link in calling this the new argument of "choice advocates."

Okay, one more: Let's be blunt. Do you think parents should have choices in their education, or not? They get to choose their own health care, even when government pays for it. And many of them even choose religious-based hospitals. Should such options be replaced by government-run clinics?

They get to choose their own food, even when the government pays for it. They get to choose their own colleges, even when the government pays for it. (Again, religious options are common here.)

These are all essentials of life -- some of them even more essential than education. And some of them, like health care, are much more complicated decisions. So why is k-12 so radically different? Why are choices so clearly appropriate in all these other areas of life, but not k-12 education?

Those are the kinds of arguments that I hear "choice advocates" making. Other than reading this one story about a narrow group of parents, I have no idea what choice advocates yhou have been listening to.

At Friday, December 16, 2005, Anonymous Paul said...

A bunch of stuff gets mixed together in this debate. One dimension is public vs private. Another is proscribed attendence areas versus open enrollment. To all that we add the term "charter schools."

In their 1979 book, “Free to Choose,” Milton and Rose Friedman wrote an essay entitled “What’s Wrong with Our Schools.” It should be required reading for anyone who wishes to debate the current state of the American public school system and the changes which are needed. One of the observations the Friedmans make is this: if every family in every district had the same income and wealth, then schools could simply be paid for by tuition assessments while each family had kids in school.

But that’s not the way things are. There is a broad spectrum of wealth and income, and those with wealth are prone to form exclusive (i.e. discriminatory) communities with other wealthy families. In this country, we may not discriminate by race, creed, color, or national origin, but we most certainly discriminate by wealth.

The cost the wealthy bear for being allowed to perpetrate that discrimination is that they must pay a ransom, in the form of school taxes, which is used to subsidize schools in poor neighborhoods.

Here in Ohio, schools are funded by a mixture of local taxes and state taxes. The local school district may collect both property and income taxes, although most use property taxes alone. The state tax is entirely income based. While the local taxes collected remain within the district, the state redistributes the income taxes it collect in inverse proportion to the taxes collected locally. The residents of wealthy districts pay out much more state income tax than they receive back, with most of their state income tax money going to the poor districts.

Why doesn’t this socialist approach to funding work? Because crummy schools run by inept administrators get money anyway! The urban district in our city spends more per child than many of the suburban districts, yet is among the worst districts in our state in terms of attendance, graduation, college admission and on standardized testing.

Giving that district more money won’t solve the problem. Giving the parents and kids a choice WHERE they go to school will. A voucher system as described by the Friedmans can work. Let’s give it a try.


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