Thursday, March 08, 2007


At first blush, school-choice vouchers seem like SUCH a great idea. Give low-income parents tuition assistance so that their kiddies can attend the private school of their choice, if the public school isn't cutting the mustard. Start the bus! The public schools will lose enrollment, which will feel very, very bad. But in the long run, that'll be good. It'll force the public schools to wake up and smell the Java(script), clean up their acts, get better in order to compete, and then we'll all be happy and kum-ba-ya'ing into the sunset.

But check out the revelations in the middle of this story about the Utah vouchers. Now the wolf in sheep's clothing is revealed. Note the reference to "assessments" which would be following the kiddies into the private schools in Utah, as the "strings attached" to the vouchers:


Ah. Therein lies the rub. That's what would happen here. All the schools would eventually be alike, because all the schools would have to conform to what the "assessments" are after. And it ain't school the way you and I know school. (See my latest Public Policy brief on student data mining on www.GoBigEd.com, down below on the left-hand column.)

The "strings attached" to vouchers are why we have to stick to private-sector initiatives ONLY, to provide true school choice. We really do have to forego public funds for private education. It's the only way to keep our existing good alternatives -- private schools and homeschools -- as safe as we can from manipulation and government "specs."

Voucher plans ALWAYS have an "accountability" clause. They ALWAYS want the kiddies to take "assessments" so that they can see how they're doing in school. Now, that's sensible: if you're using taxpayer dollars, then taxpayers have a right to see what kind of a bang they're getting for their bucks.

But the "assessments" are always strapped to the curriculum, and reflect it as sure as shootin'. So to score well on the "assessments," the school has to align its curriculum that way. Now, the public schools are moving away from objective, "content-based" curriculum -- knowledge and facts -- to the much more subjective, "process-based" curriculum -- attitudes, values and beliefs. You know: all that Whole Language, Whole Math, Multiple Isms type curriculum I always gripe about.

So if a private school wants to keep up, it'll have to switch from the curriculum and instructional methods it uses now, to mimic what the public schools are using.

Even if that private school has built a high-quality, traditional, unique, content-based curriculum, its scores won't look too hot compared to the private schools that have caved in, and to the public schools that are already completely in.

So people won't send their kids to the better private schools, because they won't LOOK better on paper. Parents will only look at the score, and they don't know that kids aren't being tested on the kind of academics that we WANT them tested on.

It's a pickle. Unfortunately, for the same reason, charter schools are a trap, too. Again, it's that public funding conundrum.

Answer: find creative ways to foster more educational entrepreneurship. Let's look for private-sector initiatives that are both nonprofit and for-profit, and that really work, and expose what the Government Nannies are doing as ineffective. Then we'll have a real educational marketplace . . . and then we really CAN kum-ba-ya off into the sunset.

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