Now that $7,500 doesn't look so great, does it? For some of these schools, that wouldn't even cut tuition in half. Although, again, I have no idea how this program would work. These schools could conceivably pick up the tab for costs that go above the voucher money in an effort to promote the program. Oh, wait a minute:
Bush did not use the word "voucher," instead calling the tuition grants "scholarships."So anyway, vouchers could be a very good thing for poor students, if it means they get a free ride to an expensive private school.
But I think it's bad for kids who get left behind in public schools. The theory is: a voucher system that allows for more school choice fosters more competition and forces the public schools to improve. But that theory seems to be rooted in the idea that a public school system operates like a business. It doesn't; public schools exist solely to educate children, not turn a profit or satisfy shareholders. The motivation in a public school system is supposed to be education, and that's it. The number of kids attending the school isn't supposed to matter in the classroom.
I could see how it might matter to school system administrators, whose jobs would presumably be on the line as more kids are pulled out of public schools. But does anybody think the administrators in the D.C. system will all of a sudden be motivated by competing with private schools for students?
Hello!? These are the same people who are too busy using city credit cards to make personal purchases at Best Buy to educate their students. They'll probably be happy to have fewer kids roaming the halls; it would mean fewer distractions from playing Unreal Tournament.
The D.C. school system is filled with corruption and incompetence from top to bottom; it seems to me the worst place to try to prove that competition will help public schools, simply because nobody seems to care enough to fix it in the first place. I suppose it's possible that pulling students out might finally convince them that the entire bureaucracy is flawed and needs to be reorganized and rethought, but why should it take subsidizing a private/religious school education to do it? Why aren't the people and politicians of D.C. motivated right now to overhaul such an obviously failed system? I just can't conceive that throwing vouchers into the mix and removing students is going to change any of that.
One of the reasons I'm skeptical of this plan is because of my own high school experience. I actually attended an Episcopalian private school from 7th grade through the middle of 9th grade. The tuition was high (I had a need-based scholarship), the campus was beautiful, and the facilities were pristine. And it was absolutely the worst experience of my life. The other students made my life miserable; the teachers ignored my pleas for help; my grades and my self-esteem dropped lower than they had ever been. In the one move of mine I am most proud of (so far this lifetime), I pulled myself out of that school and enrolled in a local public school, which was the college prep magnet in the poor part of town. The building was ancient; the floors hadn't been swept since the 1950s; equipment was often stolen out of the classrooms. But my grades and my outlook improved because I was around other kids who wanted to learn, and I was around teachers who were willing to give me individual attention when I needed it. Private school wasn't the answer for me; I actually went to a public school that got it right (and was ranked in the top three high schools in the country in a recent Newsweek article).
I think our main educational failing is that we spend too much education money on administrators, school boards, standardized tests, research, etc, and not enough on the classroom: teachers' salaries, books, computers, equipment, etc. We keep trying to find more ways to bureacratize and standardize the educational experience, and "prove" that our kids are learning at a certain rate, and in the process we ignore the actual student.
Learning can't be standardized; it's perhaps the most individualistic experience there is. I think teaching must be tailored to individual students as much as possible to be successful. Instead of conducting grand social and economic experiments on our kids (that means you, vouchers), we've got to focus more on the individual students' needs if we want to teach them properly. Let's get our kids to want to learn by paying more attention to their individual needs.