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If you are interested in voucher issues in the United States you should check out: EPN | The Electronic Policy Network - School Vouchers

EPN says:

"A much-heralded study by researchers from the Brookings Institution, the University of Wisconsin, and Harvard shows that students in several cities with pilot voucher programs have benefited from the programs. On the other hand, as Howard Gardner wrote recently in the New York Review of Books, the difficulty in designing mass social-science experiments means that voucher studies in the United States don't make for good data -- and results from New Zealand seem to bode ill for nation-wide vouchers.

As rhetoric gets heated and even statistic-saturated, who's believable? A major new web resource from The Century Foundation hears all sides, and explains the true politics underlying the presidential candidates' positions on vouchers (though neither Bush nor Gore will say the word). School politics are even more heated this election season in California, where a ballot referendum could overhaul the state's education system. Meanwhile, a recent series of advertisements in The New Republic from the Black Alliance for Educational Options could signal the beginning of a well-financed push for public voucher support.

Even liberals are starting to come around. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed and a follow-up column in The American Prospect, Robert Reich argued that "progressive vouchers" could "go after the core reasons that poor kids are locked in bad schools" -- though "vouchers without a lot of extra money behind poorer kids are worse than no vouchers at all."

Proponents claim that voucher programs, which provide taxpayer funds for parents who wish to send their children to private and parochial schools, are a promising solution to long-running defects in the public school system. By making public education dollars available to private and parochial schools, they argue, voucher programs will foster competitition, innovation, and -- eventually -- improvement.

But there are good reasons to be skeptical. For one thing, it’s not at all clear that America’s schools are failing miserably. As Richard Rothstein points out, the perception of failure is largely inaccurate -- a product of the media’s overreliance on negative anectodotes and a dearth of statistical data. A moderate drop in average SAT scores over the past three decades, for instance, is not indicator that Americans students are less intelligent today than they used to be, but an indicator that a broader segment of American students are choosing to take the test -- and attend college -- than ever before.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Real problems exist in some American schools, particularly urban schools serving primarily black and Latino children. But are voucher advocates really interested in improving education? The recent experience of those cities and states that have enacted voucher programs has exposed vouchers as little more than a scam. In Milwaukee, often heralded as a model for voucher schools, People for the American Way and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found that as many as one-third of the 88 private voucher schools in Milwaukee were ignoring the state’s "random selection" requirement. (The Wisconsin State Supreme Court had approved the voucher program on the condition that voucher schools, like public schools, be open to all.) Indeed, similar violations of church/state separation recently led state and federal courts to strike down voucher plans in Ohio and Maine.

The seductive logic of "choice" -- an extension of the conservative dogma that market forces always create optimal social outcomes -- also deserves a hard look. "As conservatives have framed the debate, the question has been, ‘Are you for or against choice?’" writes David Tyack in a recent article. "But the question ought to be, ‘What kind of choice are you for? A free-for-all competition for a scarce resource -- fine schools -- between families that start out highly unequal in information, influence, and resources hardly seems likely to benefit the have-nots, though it might be attractive to the haves."

Despite the absence of any evidence that such programs actually improve schooling, voucher advocates -- primarily religious right organizations supported by conservative foundations and advocacy groups -- have organized voucher drives in dozens of states over the past several years. Republican governors and state legislatures around the country have rushed to drive through voucher programs, most notably in Milwaukee, Ohio, Florida, and Maine."

Posted by Mike Woods at January 08, 2002 10:25 AM

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