School choice. Vouchers. No Child Left Behind. All of them buzz words in the ongoing discourse on education policy. Where do I stand? I can’t say that I wasn’t skeptical of the NCLB
when it first came out, being a dedicated partisan at that moment. But over time, I’ve come to be less righteously indignant towards this particular Bush policy stance because of its status as a Bush policy stance. What’s changed? In contrast with my stance on vouchers, I believe that an opportunity exists for reform on the teaching end. I’ve met some ass-crappy teachers
, teachers-in-training getting their certification through the Barbazon school
for modeling, and school administrators who didn’t know the difference between their asshole and their elbow
. Personal anecdotes that I’ve encountered and media coverage of teachers conducting themselves in ways that even convicted felons are ashamed of have really pulled me away from blinding, partisan agreement with every GOPers favorite teacher’s union, the National Education Association (NEA)
. The NEA (also known as a terrorist organization
in some Republican circles), in keeping good faith with its staunch Democratic allies in Congress, maintains the same defense
of the status quo that I once subscribed to.
But there comes a point where enough is enough, and unions, originally established to protect its members from “unfair treatment” by management, may be more prone to shield
its bad teachers from the repercussions of their poor performance. While I’m not claiming to be an advocate of turning education over to the full might of market forces, we can go a long way towards improving our public school system if we hold our teachers to the highest standards AND force teachers to meet them. That’s the substance behind the NCLB and other accountability focused methods (including the Standards of Learning (SOLs) exams). Teaching to the exam? Detractors can apply that logic towards other standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, APs, etc. But we’re talking about MINIMUM standards here, we’re not grooming every student in middle or high school to become rocket scientists or politicians for god’s sake. If students pass the fourth grade, don’t we want them to read at a fourth grade level? Why CAN'T we fire teachers for being of lesser quality than what's expected? I’ll leave the pedagogical discussions up to the real experts, but I’m just hoping we can eventually get some consensus on the merits of this one. Also, concerning the issue of underfunding
the NCLB, that’s a completely different can of worms. This act isn’t coming with an outlet price tag, that much is certain.
As far as school vouchers and school choice are concerned, my opinion is markedly different. The NCLB should have been coined as a long-term solution, not one that cures everything wrong with the system overnight. There’s still quite a bit of contentious discussion on this topic, but again, the school system is a fairly entrenched institution and it will take time to adjust. The NCLB contains a time table setting deadlines for schools across the country to enhance their performance, so at its core, the NCLB maintains a small amount of flexibility. But now we have these little treats called vouchers, which take the concept of a school ‘adjustment period’ and throw it out the window, onto the grass, where Fido takes the mother of all craps on it. Vouchers seem to be a popular
solution to our educational woes, but lets not forget that the popular solution
isn't necessarily always the BEST one. If your child attends an underperforming school, you have the opportunity to take advantage of a federal subsidy to send your child to another, supposedly better school, more often than not a private institution. If school voucher detractors want to claim that voucher supporters are in it to convert everyone to Christianity, by all means continue to do so (Conspiracy theories are fun every once in a while.). But my main concern is this: If you take a population of school-aged kids, and allow their parents to make educational decisions for them, they may end up hurting their children’s chances along with every other child’s chances as well.
Lets start with a simple scenario of two schools: If there’s a mass exodus from the bad public school to the good private school, what do we have? At the private school where the student-teacher ratio was once low, we now have overcrowding. Where skilled teachers once had the opportunity to teach students of similar caliber, we now have students who may or may not be at the same academic level consuming more of the teacher’s time for catch-up or special instruction. Where the private school once had a relative abundance of teaching and physical resources, we now have disgruntled parents, dwindling materiale, etc., etc. And how about at the public school? Where we once had students sitting two to a desk, we now have underused capacity. Where we once had semi-gifted teachers who truly cared about their students, we now have teachers with low morale, feelings that ultimately trickle down to their work and home lives. Where we once had a public school only marginally in the red, we now have a public school faced with the possibility of closure because of its inefficiencies and poor reputation. Every school system will be in a state of constant flux, student rolls will skyrocket or plummet annually, and the kids who we were supposed to help initially, may be worse off because of it.
Understandably, I’m making a large number of assumptions and assertions lacking a LINK to empirical evidence (I'll fix this soon). But at this point, if vouchers are introduced without taking into consideration the kind of upheaval they could cause, we’re in for a stretch where schools across the board perform no better than the Red Sox in October
. It’s obvious that a certain amount of pain is necessary to reform our flagging school system. What’s not obvious is the best course of action. Discussion
concerning the NCLB, vouchers and other important education topics are ongoing.