Friday, June 29, 2012

Vouchers are not Cheaper

Many education reformers often talk about how distributing vouchers will lower the cost of education in addition to their belief that vouchers will enhance the quality of education. They say that many private and charter schools, particularly in places like Washington, D.C. and New York City, cost less than public schools. Private school parents still help fund schools through taxes, so they cite unfairness as well. Reformers see vouchers as a great way to reduce the cost of education. They hope that by giving each kid a voucher and then giving the parents the power to choose a different school, then they can reduce the education budget. 

The idea behind vouchers is that school tax money should be attached to the student instead of going straight to the "zoned" school. That way, the student can enroll in the school that best suits his needs. Well, that is exactly how things operate with students currently enrolled in public and charter schools. If a student moves from X Public Elementary School to Y Public Elementary School over the summer, then Y Public Elementary School will receive the tax dollars designated for that student. If that student moves to a charter school, then that charter school will receive the money. While vouchers cannot be used at private schools in many places, most areas already have a quasi-voucher program in place. 

This idea of vouchers saving money does not take into account the thousands of students who are currently enrolled in private schools or who are being home schooled. Those students are not a financial burden to the states. If state spending on education is $6,600, which is approximately what Florida spends per student, the state saves $6,600 for every private school or home-schooled student. If we go to a full voucher system, then the school districts and states would have to spend multitudes of money providing vouchers to students who are not in the "system."

Here's an example. Let's assume there is a K-12 private school within a school district that has 1,000 students. Let's forget about the fact that tuition there is $15,000 per year while public school spending is $6,600 per year. If we institute a voucher system, that school district would have to produce an additional $6.6 million so that these currently enrolled private school students can receive a voucher. Remember, that's just one private school. If we add home schooling students into the mix, that's even more money. How could such a system be economically feasible when there isn't enough money to sustain the public school system in its current state?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who Owns the School: Just the Parents or All Taxpayers?

Last week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention in Orlando, Florida, mayors voted unanimously to support the passage of "parent trigger" laws in public education. This would allow parents in failing schools to vote to override elected school board policies and even turn schools over to private management, mostly to for-profit charter school operators. California is the largest state with such a law on the books. An attempt to pass the law in Florida was unsuccessful due to the fact that nearly all Florida-based parents groups were against it. The only parent group that seemed to be for the bill was Parent Revolution, who is based in California

Other than the fact that these laws only serve as a ploy to increase the number of charter schools and there was no provision to turn a "triggered" school back into a traditional public school if the charter school fails, there's a bigger philosophical question at play. Does the community at large own public services, or are they only owned by the people utilizing them? Does the taxpayer with no children in the system have a say in how the local school system operates, or is it solely the property of the parents with children in the schools? I believe that the community at large has a say in the operation of schools, public parks, libraries, health services, etc. whether or not individuals in the community use each service. 

Parent trigger laws would take away the community's shared responsibility for the upkeep of the school system. If the power of elected local school boards is taken away through the conversion of its schools to publicly-funded but privately-operated charter schools, then the citizens will not be able to express their concerns about curriculum, facilities, financial accountability, etc. in an effective manner. It's important that citizens engage with their elected school boards and state education departments as they would their state and national representatives to lobby for the changes they wish to see rather than taking on the risk of turning schools over to private entities who would not be subject to the same level of oversight and accountability as traditional public schools.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cradle to Grave?

Oftentimes, you will hear people, particularly conservatives, complain about how the government wants to be involved in people's lives from the cradle to the grave. Such interventions would include earlier schooling, housing assistance, food assistance, sex education, health insurance, Social Security, free college, etc. I agree with the notion that this would be too much government involvement. This would usurp the need for people to take personal responsibility for their own lives. Too much government involvement in the lives of children would take away the responsibility parents have to bring their children up in a proper manner. 

When public schools seem to receive the blame for almost everything one fails to achieve in life, can you blame some school districts or states for waiting to expand early childhood education? If a child's K-3 teachers are going to be blamed for his poor third grade reading test results, would it serve the district's interest to lobby for more funding for expanding pre-kindergarten and starting it earlier so these kids actually come to kindergarten prepared? This could be said of food, healthcare, housing, etc. I mean, more kids in the suburbs have stable housing, food, healthcare, extracurricular activities, etc. and they seem to perform better. If schools are going to be blamed for things they can supposedly control (student learning), then the natural response would be for them to advocate for more influence in other aspects of children's lives.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More Tests to Come

Today, there is an article in the Orlando Sentinel about the ever increasing role of people known as "psychometricians" in public education. In a day when state governments are claiming to reduce spending, districts are forced to create new positions to implement education laws passed by the legislature. Of course, the bill didn't come with a check.

Due to the passage of Florida's HB 736, dubbed the Student Success Act or merit pay, teachers must be evaluated in part by the performance of their students on standardized tests. 

The merit-pay rule calls for half of a teacher's evaluation to be based on students' standardized-test scores. Districts have used mostly FCAT scores for that purpose, even for teachers who don't teach FCAT-related subjects.
Because of the rule, districts are banding together and scrambling to create dozens of assessments to help grade teachers in subjects where no standardized test exists.

Current reform supporters claim that the state has reduced the amount of time students spend in standardized testing, and one reformer has gone so far as to blame districts for testing that exceeds what the state requires. Well, if everything about a school's worth and value is going to depend on the results of one standardized test, I'm sure those districts are going to do their best to administrator pre/post tests to predict students' performance on the big exam. Furthermore, I don't see how the state claims it is reducing the amount of tests when it is now requiring districts to create dozens of tests for subjects like art, computer science, physical education, music, etc. that are not currently tested. These tests will pose no consequences upon the students who do not perform well, and they will reduce classes known for physical performance to classes that focus merely on memorizing information that will appear on the test. 

Monday, June 25, 2012


Welcome to Education Policy Musings! I started this blog to provide commentary on issues affecting education in America. I am amazed at much of the misinformation out there about public education. It seems as though the most influential people in education policy today are people with little to no K-12 classroom teaching experience. I believe that teachers should always be at the table during education policy debates instead of being ignored. This blog will provide insights into what's happening in the world of public education from the perspective of someone who is actually in the classroom. 

I understand that public education in America is not in pristine condition. In some areas, particularly  in major cities, many public schools are in crisis mode. However, I feel that many of the reforms that are being put into place today are doing more harm to public schools than improving them. It is my goal to provide my readers with information I believe will help strengthen our schools for the benefit of the students. I hope you enjoy my blog!