Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dialogue with friend on vouchers

Kim: A friend wrote a response to my posting the article about Romney supporting vouchers (though not calling them that). The local governments does three things with k-12 education: they make it mandatory up to a certain age, they tax people to pay for it, and they run the schools. Some have said that the schools could be run privately. The voucher system is a means to jump-start that process, taking some of the money generally given to public schools and giving it, through the parents, to private schools.

Friend: My thoughts about that school voucher issue. . . Not that you actually asked for them.

I once heard Bob Moses argue that we (the US) run a system of failing schools and we rescue the students that we can. We rescue them through ABC programs, charter schools, affirmative action, vouchers, ect. He argued that the reason the system doesn’t blow up is because the steam is allowed to escape in the form of these programs. He suggested there needed to be a national discussion about the SAT and/or ETS.

Kim: I think mandatory city-run schools are like the draft. If it was required that everyone must send their kids to public schools then we'd really see an explosion. Parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools because the kids get a better education there, and also are not subjects to the dangers of public schools.

Friend: I have also heard the argument that the voucher program is not a viable or desirable because you get a voucher for x amount of dollars (too lazy to look up the figure at this point) and this is not money enough to go to any private school. Moreover only fools would take there child out of a school system where their child is worth greater than x dollars to get a voucher for x dollars to try to get that kid into a school that requires greater than x dollars. The voucher program (at least as it runs currently) devalues a child’s worth in many peoples’ minds. (I have no child and am therefore uncertain if this is true.)

Kim: It is true that in practice vouchers are not equal to the amount spent per student. This should pacify the teacher unions who claim that vouchers deplete the resources of the public schools. Public schools profit when students choose to use a voucher for a private school, because they still get some money for that student. I've never heard that the voucher program devalues a child's worth, so I can't respond to that except to say the if any devaluing is done, it is in the minds of those doing the devaluing. 1/2 of the money given to public schools per student is a welcome tuition for some schools.

Having said that, economists talk about two ways of talking about costs. If you have a widget company, you can divide your investment by the number of widgets you produce to find the cost per widget. But if you decide to make one more widget, then you might spend a minimal amount ... nothing close to the cost per widget from the first calculation. If you reduce the number of students by 10% you don't reduce your cost of operation by 10%. Adding a few students to the classroom might not cost additional monies, thought it may negatively impact the learning.

Friend: I personally find it odd that the article you posted is using the words, ‘voting with their feet’ and that Mr. Romney talks about giving poor students the freedom to choose a public school outside their district. I think if Mr. Romney spent any time in the school I went to he would completely understand why I have to laugh about this. I do believe that Romney has never heard the argument that the school system went to hell when they started bussing in students. I have heard this argument many times and I am more than confident that you have heard this as well. I would argue that this is the number two reason people who participated in that white flight event playing out in the 90s give for having to move out (the number one reason being all the crime coming into the area). The bussing program was meant to give some poor students the (I don’t know that I would say freedom) ability to attend a public school outside their district. And this is the reason the schools got bad and forced many people to move away from their communities according to many. I really want to know how this voucher program is different than the bussing program in the minds of people who might be willing to pack up and leave (or vote with their feet) once those ‘poor students’ show up in their district. Also much of the opposition to the bussing program involves the idea that it is too expensive to bus students in and that it would be better to use that money to lift up the district the poor students are trying to escape. I think the very some argument would be applied to a voucher program in only a short matter of time.

Kim: I agree that bussing didn't work. The students were treated like stepchildren and never fully integrated into the school. There are many variables for success in school. One is the school, another the parents, another the upbringing and parental support for education. Vouchers put the responsibility of education back into the hands of the parents and for that reason should make more of a difference.

Friend: If one is willing to give students enough money to go anywhere they want for school, why not just start discussing how schools are funded. If it is the case (and I don’t know that it is) that the underfunded schools (those with a smaller influx of money) are also the schools that do not perform to standard, then maybe instead of sending the kids else where, the funding mechanism could simply be redesigned to redistribute funds more evenly. School funding is based on the property values of an area. Schools in neighborhoods with high property values have more money. In most cases around me, these are not the schools that are having academic performance issues. If the education money were distributed more evenly, I really think students wouldn’t need vouchers to travel across town to try to educate themselves in places that might be hostile to their presence. I realize that some districts have a money management problem (or that they are just controlled by thieves) but if the money was being redistributed than even those outside of an underperforming district would have a stake in how that money was being spent.

Kim: This article from 2008 in the Washington Post says that the cost per student in the Washington DC is $25000 per student. These are failing schools. I don't believe it has been shown that throwing more money at a school will necessarily improve it.

Friend: People already ‘vote with their feet’ when it comes to education. People are willing to pay more for less house and community services in order to ensure they are in a decent school district. This has been the case for my entire life. This (as I have already argued) is the number two reason mass migration occurs in my city. Vouchers and charter schools are not going to fix this issue.

Kim: I agree that people who can afford it will choose to live in neighborhoods with better schools. Hopefully vouchers will encourage new schools to form in neighborhoods with failing schools to give students a choice. This is the hope.

Friend: Don’t get me wrong. If given a voucher back in the day, I would have high tailed it right out of the unaccredited school I graduated from. But my education at a poor school allows me to recognize the absurdity in the idea that letting some kids go to schools outside their district is a solution. That shit was done before under a different name. And nobody. . . not the kids on the bus; not the kids in the good district, not the parents of any of these children seem really happy about how all that turned out.

Kim: That you'd choose a voucher is indicative to me that it is a good program. You want to choose your school. You might want to go to a school for kids interested in art or science or cooking. This will be more apt to increase your passion for learning, which, for me, is the key to getting an education.


Anonymous said...

"Friend" is quite articulate considering she graduated from an unaccredited school district. It is a tough question for me to decide. I have found merit in both sides arguments. H.

Anonymous said...

Kim: I've never heard that the voucher program devalues a child's worth, so I can't respond to that except to say the if any devaluing is done, it is in the minds of those doing the devaluing.

Me: Perhaps I could explain what I meant better by devaluing a child’s worth. I don’t mean that the child is devalued. I mean that if a public school spend (pulling a figure out of my butt here) $10,000 a year on a child and you are offered a voucher for $1,000, the child is in essence taking a pay cut. In addition to the pay cut, you have a chance to use that $1000 voucher to try to get into a school that wants $30,000 a year per child. The voucher is therefore not a good deal and not really a viable option. This is the argument I have heard. Again, I’m not exactly sure this is how it plays out since I have no child and haven’t spent too much time trying to verify this argument. But I do know that it’s not an argument about pacifying teachers unions. It’s an argument about parents recognizing this is not a fiscally responsible way to deal with a child’s education.

Kim: That you'd choose a voucher is indicative to me that it is a good program.

Me: No. It’s not. It’s indicative that I would be willing to be that ‘steam’ let out of the system so that it doesn’t blow up. That metaphor Bob Moses brings up. Not every student is going to get a voucher. It’s just a few students here and there that are going to get that chance. The fact that I would have been willing to be one of the few students in no way means that I don’t recognize that not everybody is going to benefit from this. It’s helping a handful of kids so that the larger issue doesn’t have to be looked at. It’s not trying to lift everyone up. It’s giving a chance to a few to appease voters.

I still don’t really see how this is all that different from bussing. I really don’t. In both programs, you are taking a few kids and sending them to a school that is not failing. Neither program addresses a failing system. As hard as certain school districts fight against bussing here. . . You think they are going to embrace a voucher program. . . No. I don’t think so.

Also you cannot convince me that certain school districts (Riverview) are more funded than others (Clayton). I know you think that more money isn’t necessarily going to fix the problems. . . But throw a little money our way and lets just see.

In a lot of ways when I was younger, I was upset and embarrassed that I went to a school that had lost accreditation. People associate negative things with students from unaccredited schools. But in all reality in addition to book learning, I got a kind of ‘education’ that I don’t think I would have ever gotten from a private school. And some of those people who went to private schools that are around me now. . . I don’t think of them as that smart (not all, but some). I think of them as having a ridiculous sense of entitlement . . . and I don’t mean entitlement in a welfare kind of way.

Also ‘unaccredited’ in my mind means that a certain percentage of students choose to mark ‘c’ for every answer on some standardized test so that they can then take a nap because the standardized test has no baring on their grades and they (being young) don’t understand the more long term consequences of such behavior. Damn you Marty and all your sleepy time friends. You screwed us all.

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