I’ve thought a lot about vouchers, charter schools and other alternatives to public education. When I took American Heritage, Professor Latimer spent a lecture discussing the merits of applying free market principles to education. As with everything else, we were taught and I continue to believe, that competition would bring a better and cheaper product.
Whatever you may think about No Child Left Behind, you cannot say that President Bush hasn’t spent enough on education. Not a dollar has been spared in a continued effort to improve public education nationwide. Despite these efforts, schools continue to fail–most of them in the inner city where they are populated by minorities.
I believe that education is the great equalizer. If reparations are to be made for past wrongs–speaking pointedly about slavery and segregation–then I think those reparations need to made through education. I don’t know how this is to be done. But I do know that attending failing schools continues a vicious cycle that all too often ends in prison or face down in a gutter.
The simple introduction of vouchers, essentially applying competition to education, rewards successful schools and punishes failing ones. We’ve all had good teachers. As I think of my experience in public schools, I can think of a few that were exceptional. The flip side of that are all the bad teachers–some of them downright horrible. In public education there’s no way to escape it.
Dennis Miller in “The Rants” talks about how teachers get paid worse than “the kid who hauls grit.” Its cliched. Teachers don’t get paid enough. The truth is, good teachers don’t get paid enough while bad ones get paid far too much. Honestly, if teachers weren’t getting paid enough there wouldn’t be so many of them willing to work for so little. And yet, the low pay fails to attract those dynamic individuals who were born to teach. Why teach when their skills sell for so much more in the private sector?
It is all the more disconcerting that union-backed Democrats in Florida and Wisconsin are so anxious to strike down laws supporting school choice. Especially when it has had so much success. The Wall Street Journal, a champion of school choice, notes the positive gains made in Milwaukee(as always for non-subscribers, email me with requests for a full-text version of the article).
There’s no question the program has been a boon to the city’s underprivileged. A 2004 study of high school graduation rates by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute found that students using vouchers to attend Milwaukee’s private schools had a graduation rate of 64%, versus 36% for their public school counterparts. Harvard’s Caroline Hoxby has shown that Milwaukee public schools have raised their standards in the wake of voucher competition.
Vouchers, competition, basic economic principles applied to education–these things would give education and therefore America’s youth (especially the underpriveleged) a chance to succeed. It should come as no surprise that a self-interested teachers union opposes school choice. Both the good teachers and the bad pay union dues and neither has control over the use of those dues.
Just last November, a measure in California failed which would have forced unions to get member approval for political use of funds. It’s worth noting that its opposition was funded almost exclusively by unions whose members probably never had any idea how their dues were being used. And now, thanks to the success (or failure, depending on your point of view) of their campaign against the referendum, they never will know.
With little incentive other than the internal, warm-fuzzy type to keep the good teachers going, eventually they are worn down. Soon they, like their inept or incompetent brethren, begin to hand out the busy work, down the Diet Cokes and look on as their students cheat under their noses and wonder how their teacher, Mr. or Ms. So-and-So got to be such an idiot.