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School vouchers are a topic that has stirred a lot of heated debate. This article reviews the pros and cons of school voucher programs. The article is taken from the following Sources: National Education Association, Vouchers [online] School Choices, A Citizen’s Guide to Education Reform [online] PBS, NOW with Bill Moyers: Society and Community - American Education, School Vouchers [online]
The school voucher debate is part of the larger discussion about a parent’s right to choose which school his or her child attends. Individuals and organizations on both sides of the school vouchers debate have passionate arguments about whether vouchers are effective, fair, or even legal.
School voucher programs allow parents to use monetary vouchers from the city, state or federal government to pay for their child’s private school education. A few U.S. cities, and many foreign countries, already have school voucher programs in place, and some states are considering voucher programs. The amount of the voucher is generally about the same amount that is granted to public schools for each child’s education. In some cases, school vouchers only go to those who have a lower income or are attending substandard schools, though some school vouchers can be used by anyone at any school. The idea behind either type of program is to allow parents more choices in their children’s education and to provide opportunities to children whose schools are failing them.
School vouchers touch on issues of separation of church and state, parents’ rights to have a choice in their children’s education, and the future of America in the education of its young people. Because these topics are so important in the United States, it is not surprising that they stir a great deal of emotion in people and lead to debates with strong arguments on both sides.
People who support school vouchers claim that:
- Parents have a right to decide where their children will attend school, regardless of their income. It is not fair that only wealthier students or students who are able to earn scholarships are able to attend private schools.
- Parents who do send their students to private schools are paying twice for their education; they are paying for the public education system through taxes, but they are also paying for their student’s tuition at a private school.
- Because schools are supported by tax money, parents have the right to decide how it is spent in the case of their children.
- People deserve choices in education because families have different needs that may not be met by the current public education system.
- The government is not doing a satisfactory job running the education system, so it’s time to privatize education.
- School vouchers would improve the quality of education in America by increasing competition between schools.
- Vouchers would give disadvantaged young people a chance to experience a better education.
Some people who support vouchers think of them as part of the larger education system, competing alongside a variety of public schools to give parents and students educational choices. Others would prefer to see the entire education system privatized, meaning the government would no longer support any public schools, and vouchers would let parents choose between private schools.
People who oppose school vouchers claim that:
- School vouchers take money away from public schools, where it is desperately needed to fund educational programs for all students.
- The majority of private schools are religious, so through school vouchers, tax money would be going to support a religious institution, violating the separation of church and state.
- School vouchers are elitist and would not benefit all students equally; private schools could still turn away students and discriminate against some groups.
- School vouchers would serve to further divide America, while public schools help to unite it.
- Private schools would just increase their tuition if vouchers were instituted, meaning they would make more money, and still turn away poor students.
- Poor quality private schools would pop up to take advantage of unsuspecting families with school vouchers.
Both sides of the debate look at experimental school voucher programs and argue over whether or not they are successful. Because school voucher programs vary from place to place, they are hard to compare. Some voucher programs seek to eliminate some of the concerns above, such as by requiring private school in the city or state to accept vouchers for the entire cost of tuition, so private schools can’t prevent people from using the vouchers by raising tuition. The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the argument that school vouchers violate the separation of church and state, as long as parents have a free choice in where they use the vouchers, but several state courts have struck down voucher programs because they violate the state constitution. This variation in local programs and laws means that both the efficiency and the legality of vouchers are still open topics for debate, as is the issue of fairness.
In a school culture where we teachers try so hard to help students be honest (and not to cheat), why then do we hear of more and more teachers cheating themselves?
The answer is simple. More and more (ignorant, ill-educated, ill-informed) legislators are imposing sanctions on teachers–and schools!–where students are not performing yet better on high-stakes standardized tests.
When NCLB was the only game in town, some schools across the country were even shut down because their students didn’t show adequate yearly progress. When Obama announced the voluntary excision of NCLB from the states, we thought sure there would be more states opting out, but that hasn’t proven to be the case. I think it is because legislators still demand standardized-test proof that schools are doing well, and states haven’t come up with alternative measures for it.
I think the direction is clear. At present, many schools base performance pay on student scores. It’s a short leap to setting salaries by test scores, and a small tumble down the precipice to firing teachers based on these scores.
No wonder teachers are induced to cheat. Here are some ways they do it.
My favorite way for adults to handle these unfair measurements is John Gatto’s Bartleby Project. In Melville’s short story, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” the main character handles his daily grind by politely saying, “I would prefer not to.”
Of course, teachers can’t say that, but students can. I wish that Gatto’s approach would become a national movement.
I left college teaching so I could teach in juvenile corrections. What I brought was an arts-based approach to teaching and learning–and what developed has been more than a decade of wonderful relationships with incarcerated kids and with staff inside the facility. If it were not for new state and local strictures which actually forbid me from spending any time in arts instruction “inside,” I’d have a hard time actually letting go and retiring. As it is, however, for the last two years, I’ve been censured and restricted from doing any instruction, and particularly and always, arts instruction. It seems that the new fashion is more and more “answer-the-questions” worksheets–as if half a century or more of research has not proven that to be ineffective at best and perhaps harmful at worst. The research shows that arts-based instruction enhances intellectual capacity and creates positive reinforcement for academics–but evidently the juvenile-corrections educational administrations just do not care. I see arts instruction as a way of opening lifelong doors to rehabilitation and permanent change, and the facility staff has always agreed and supported it. I have tried to be compliant with the educational administration, but just weeks before my retirement, I don’t so much care anymore. What are they going to do, fire me? Of course, I still work to support their educational goals by making sure the book work gets done, but at the same time, I always include some kind of art, music, rhythm, movement or other activity.
Last Friday, after several days of learning basic body percussion a la Keith Terry,
which I learned at a Body Percussion Conference a couple of years ago, I showed them a wonderful YouTube video by a favorite group, Molodi, and then I taught them a short sequence I learned during the workshop (a brief disclaimer: it was hard for me to learn everything Molodi taught in the workshop, since most everyone there was under 30 and as you can guess, I am certainly not, but taking such risks is what helps me be a better teacher).
The sequence was a little hard for them, too. We had a good time practicing, laughing, and learning. Afterward, when we settled back down to the books, they started talking to me.
“You can’t retire!” they were saying. “I will give you $100 if you don’t retire! Who is going to teach us if you retire?”
This is about art, music, rhythm, and love. This is about changing lives. This is about relationships. This is sad indeed. But in the long run, retirement is probably the best thing for right now. If you could have been in the meeting where the administrator said, I kid you not, “Teachers, there will be no more teaching!”, then you would know that there is no hope for me left in my juvenile-corrections class. Hopefully after retiring, when we move to warmer climes, I can find another, more supportive venue, to bring the gifts that I have.
From what I can read online, one of the big criticisms of the Common Core is that it prescribes too much. Critics feel that good teachers know what to teach without so much detail.
Could be…although I see plenty of Language Arts teachers, for example, just having the students read the offerings in the books and answering the questions. In such cases, the Common Core is certainly a better alternative, because it purports to help students figure things out with critical thinking skills instead of just doing the book/question routine.
At least the Common Core gives students a chance to read and experience the classics. And if a teacher is skilled, students can even understand what they’re reading. That would be a gift! Assessments are another problem, because if higher-level thinking is the criterion, that’s indeed tricky to assess. I guess the potential test writers will have to do some higher-level thinking too.
If you are like me, you have despaired of the immovable entrenchment of high-stakes standardized tests at all grade levels. Teachers of tested subjects are so bound by the pressures of high-stakes test results that they often feel they can’t teach their best; they just teach to the test.
The whole point of the Common Core is to promote higher-level thinking, problem-solving, true understanding, and being able to apply what you learn. This is directly antithetical to teaching to the standardized test.
Did you know that on average, one in four high school students don’t graduate? And did you know that one in five cannot even read their diplomas? Yet these are students from schools that have passed AYP, which means that a high percentage of all students have passed the standardized tests. Clearly, they haven’t learned; they haven’t learned! Certainly they haven’t understood.
The Common Core requires understanding. True, there is a big lag between the actual Core and tests which address it, and that’s a problem, because students in schools with Common Core may not pass the standardized tests.
But from my point of view, the test results don’t show us much, unless they are formative tests, which only help us to see where students need help. The projects based on the Common Core certainly do show us that students understand.
There’s a state chapter of the Eagle Forum that hates the Common Core. They go to the Legislature every year to fight against it, along with sex education and other conservative issues.
As I understand it, they think that the Common Core will demand that everyone teach material that is offensive and that will corrode the family. They want teachers to have complete freedom in choosing curriculum so that somehow this will keep family values safe.
The irony here is that the Common Core material, which was selected by top teachers all over the nation, is very traditional. If you were to choose material that would actually suit conservatives this would be much of the Common Core. Ironically, if you have read Generation Me, you know that many young teachers today are members of the Me Generation, many of whom might not have even been exposed to the standard literature works that the Common Core provides.
I wish that conservatives would take time to peruse the common core literature list to see the excellent works provided there. I think they would see that there’s nothing subversive here. Indeed, they will likely see that these are friendly and familiar works that they read when they grew up.
This last week, and this upcoming week, we are making drums with our lovely Artist in Residence, Stan the Drum Man! Stay tuned for astonishing pictures of drums in progress!
The bell rings; go to class. Take out your pencils, write your name on the top right of the paper. Answer the questions (correctly!) in the chapter and turn in to be checked.
All of this produces obedient children and potentially good test scores, but it cannot produce thinkers.
There is a well-researched, brilliant pedagogy (for visual art) that I think can be applied to self-contained classrooms as well: Teaching for Artistic Behavior.
The idea: Teach children basic techniques with varying materials, show how to use for the particular subject-matter projects, and let them choose how to do it.
Choose! Will children choose well? Will they work well?
What’s the choice: give it a try or raise a nation of automatons? Even one day of choice per week, even a morning or an afternoon, compels children to think about what they’re doing, instead of simply and mindlessly doing what they’re told.
Will they fool around? Waste time? Misbehave? Do mediocre work?
The research–and many teachers’ classroom practice–say otherwise. My own experience is that students work hard to reach excellence, far harder than they would otherwise.
If you use art projects to teach academics, students must review concepts over and over in order to include them in the project. This type of review is deeper and more lasting.
Eventually, our students will graduate and enter a world of choices. Many of them fall into serious debt, drug use, sometimes aimlessness. We adults like to blame young people for this behaviors, but what if we have contributed to such behaviors by never helping kids make real choices?
We have the chance to do this in our classrooms. We should give it a try.