Coase Colored Glasses

Thursday, November 03, 2005

More on education, and a response to Kilroy

Below is a response posted by Kilroy, my responses to his arguments are in red italics.

J Alexander:
You suggest a privatization of public schools through a voucher program so that teachers can directly generate income. What a wonderful idea! Let's reward those teachers who are able to attract the wealthiest students, those who don't give out anything but A's to the rich kids for fear of offending their wealthy parents, those who spend more time and resources on recruiting and advertising than teaching. The amount of revenue they generate for the school is a great standard to judge teachers' competency by!
First of all, I think it is a mistake to assume that all wealthy parents would buy their kids’ grades; even if they did, this “wealthy” family would not last another generation—thus terminating the problem as you see it. Also, if schools were operated as private businesses, they would be wise to hire marketers to handle the advertising so that the teachers could focus on teaching. This way the school would have excellent teachers in order to differentiate this school from the competition; not only that the teachers would be paid for their excellence.

As to the privatization of public schools through a voucher program, I think that it is a terrible idea and here is why.The main reason I oppose vouchers is that it would further stratify and divide society. Public schools provide a public cohesiveness, a common standard of education, a shared background, and most importantly, diversity in the classroom. You’re right, communism does make everyone equally poor; or in this case, it would make every school equally worthless. The freedom of choice that vouchers give would divide American society along the lines of class, race, and religion. Rich parents will (continue to) send their children to exclusive schools where they will (continue to) associate with other privileged students. Most parents won't send their white child to a school that is predominately black, (further) segregating schools. And you know that the fundamentalists Christians will be sending their kids to a school where they will be taught that evolution is the devil's doctrine, and science is to be mistrusted. An entirely different debate, but let’s just say that discarding the possibility of intelligent design is an artificial restriction on science.
So what is wrong about allowing parents to reinforce their own beliefs and norms in their children by allowing them to send them to schools where they will be surrounded by like-minded and like-experienced students and taught the particular brand of education that the parent favors? I hope that this question is merely rhetorical. If not, we can get into a discussion about the benefits of diversity, or the benefits of broadening one's horizons and viewpoints beyond that which has been inculcated from an early age, or the benefits of having diverse opinions in the classroom, or of having lower-ability students next to higher-ability students (as the lower-ability benefit from their help, and the higher-ability benefit from assuming the role of mentor and teacher), or the social benefits of increased understanding and tolerance and decreased fear and hostility that come from associating with peers from different backgrounds. The only diversity that is truly beneficial is diversity of thought. A person’s skin color has no bearing on what that person can or cannot contribute to education.
Another reason I oppose vouchers is that they allow schools to escape accountability to the public. A privatized education system would make schools ultimately responsible to please the consumer (students). Just as businesses fail if they don’t do a good job meeting the consumers’ needs, so too a school would fail if it failed educate its students. Although they are partly funded by taxpayers, these schools are for-profit, and have profit at their motive. The profit motive is a powerful tool—it forces organizations to reach excellence. This would be no different for schools. This leads these schools to streamline – to strive for efficiency. The result? Inefficient programs like those for the disabled are cut, because they don’t further the bottom line of profit (or maybe you think this is a good thing, because the market will step in and provide some school just for the disabled, where the price is high, but the chance to associate strictly with other disabled students makes it worth it!).The last reason I oppose these vouchers is that I don’t believe they work. Read about the results of the trial voucher program in Milwaukee, and about how essentially no academic improvement was noted among those who switched from public schools to voucher-funded private schools. Many of the top private schools already in existence (44% in California) have said that they would not accept vouchers (why should they? They are already making plenty of moolah). What good is a system in which the top schools won’t even participate? The idea that by simply privatizing schools you are making them “direct generators of income” is absurd. Schools are not factories, they are not farms, they are not businesses, and they are not venture capitalists. If schools were private, good teachers WOULD generate revenue by attracting customers. They, do however, produce an item of extreme importance for the economy – a well-rounded graduate who has received a MAINSTREAM education; has associated with other classes, races and religions; has gained a common background and cohesion with the rest of society; and was afforded an equal opportunity to learn that which has commonly been accepted as essential in order for a student to deserve the appellation “educated” (accepted by qualified scientists, educators, and intellectuals, not by the often self-serving, uninterested, “bad”, absent altogether, uneducated themselves, racist, elitist, or fanatic parents (a description of SOME parents, I recognize that most are ok)).

There is simply no escaping the fact that a private school system would lead to a better, more cost-effective education system. Free enterprise forces participants to constantly improve, and thus allows consumers to constantly be better off. Which is more favorable: A school system that constantly strives for excellence? Or one that simply values a “MAINSTREAM” education that never improves, and is perpetually barron of quality educators?


At 2:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be prepared for the next hurricane katrina path or find another one that's similar. As the Boy Scouts say: "Be Prepared"!

At 1:12 PM, Blogger unum said...

I understand the idea behind vouchers and think they have a lot of merit. I also have a lot of concerns. Mine are somewhat different from kilroys.

There needs to be enough money tied to each vouchers that small indepent schools can exist based off of the vouchers. The schools need to be ran by non-profits, and the schools need to allow students to attend with out paying extra fees.

In Utah we are already doing something similiar and the ones in the valley seem to be doing quite well.


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