Friday, October 01, 2004


The Milwaukee school-choice program just gained a PR boost with a study that nearly twice as many students in the choice program graduate than in the regular public schools.

According to Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute, 64 percent of the students who used vouchers to switch from public schools to private schools graduated, compared to 36 percent of students who stayed in the Milwaukee public schools. Note that the family backgrounds, income levels and parental educational attainment of the two groups of students are essentially the same.

The news doesn’t necessarily prove that school-choice systems are better than what we have now, just that private schools are better than public schools in the key measurement, graduation rates.

There are lots of problems and hazards with voucher systems. The most critical is that the ‘’strings’’ attached to public money are too dangerous. By “strings,’’ I mean accountability measurements such as government assessments that would likely be mandated in private schools that accept voucher revenues. If the kids don’t do well on those assessments, the voucher revenues would be cut off. This would at the least mutate, and more probably, destroy, private-school curriculum.

The reason: private schools would have to change their ‘’input’’ into students so that the kids’ ‘’output’’ on government assessments would be satisfactory. If private schools keep teaching the good, objective, traditional academics they now deliver, the kids won’t do well on the subjective, nonacademic, Politically Correct government assessments. So vouchers may wind up strangling the alternatives to public education instead of helping more kids get a better education.

I’m not calling for a voucher system in Nebraska, because of that likelihood, and also because I don’t think the public schools in Nebraska are anywhere near as bad as they must be in Milwaukee. Think of it: two-thirds of the kids in that city’s public schools don’t graduate. That’s certainly far afield from the results in even the poorest neighborhoods in the Cornhusker State.

What I am calling for, though, is more scrutiny of how much better private schools are than the public ones in this state. I think they’re better -- in some cases, a lot better. And if they are, how can we get more kids into private education? That’s the study I’d like to see.

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