Government And School Essay, Research Paper
School choice will improve education in America. Public schools are grossly inefficient, and are not educating many of America’s youths adequately. Schools that are run independent from local government bureaucracy provide better education at lower cost. School choice would allow more students to attend better schools. School choice is a potent educational reform that is far more effective than increased spending. The fears of opponents of school choice are factually unfounded. School choice is necessary to improve American education.
Through allowing more parental choice in education, school choice forces education into a free market environment. As it is now, parents send children to the nearest school, assigned to them by the school district. If a family is wealthy enough and chooses to do so, parents can send children to private schools. However, this family then pays twice for one education. They still pay their taxes, and they pay the tuition for the private school. Under a school choice plan, any parent who decides to send their child to a private school will receive a scholarship from the government, redeemable for tuition at scholarship accepting private schools. The scholarship dollar amount is far below that of the average cost per student per year at public schools, but would allow millions of parents who cannot presently afford private tuition to do so.
If a school performed poorly, parents would choose to remove their children, and then send to them to better schools. If a school began losing all its students, and therefore all its funding, the school would desire to improve. Under the current system, government schools get your money whether they are doing a good job or not.
Milton Friedman was one of the first people to propose a school choice plan. Since he did so over a quarter century ago, support has expanded rapidly. However, few plans for school choice have actually been enacted. The city of Milwaukee enacted a program designed by future choice icon Polly Williams. She asked the simple yet brilliant question, “Why not allow tax dollars to go to the schools that are working?” (Harmer, 162) The plan does not allow religious schools to participate, and allows only low-income children to take part. Schools that participate can have no more than 49% of their students are scholarship receiving students. The extremely limited scale demonstration has had little effect on Milwaukee public schools, but has enabled many students to attend better schools. The number of students in the choice program has grown every year, in 1990 there were 341, in 1994 there were 846. (McGroarty, 36)
In California in 1993, the Parental Choice in Education Initiative was placed on the ballot. The initiative was defeated by more than 2 to 1. However, proponents were outspent by a factor of 4 to 1. Unions such as the AFL-CIO, Nation Education Association, and California Teachers association raised over $17 million. Proponents raised only $4.1 million, and were left with only $2.5 million once they got the initiative on the ballot. (Harmer, 147)
Demonstrators attempted to physically prevent people from signing the petitions to get the initiative on the ballot. People deliberately signed the petition multiple times to hamper school choice efforts. One person signed 23 times. Principles and teachers sent home anti-school choice information with children. School boards, such as that of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), illegally used public funds and forums to send an anti-choice message.
From the standpoint of well to do Washington, D.C. suburbs, a school choice plan may seem unnecessary. Choice plans are not designed to help the upper-middle or upper class children. David Harmer wrote, “In my travels as president of the Excellence through Choice in Education League (ExCEL), I rarely met rich white suburban Republicans who were desperate for alternative schools.” (Harmer, 114) They already get a good education from government schools. However, rural poor and inner-city children do not have that luxury. For example, in the city of Milwaukee, only 40% of freshman will eventually graduate from high school, and the average GPA for students is a D+. (McGroarty, 30) School choice plans would help these students the most.
The people most involved in the education system are the ones who most easily realize the problems of government schools. The Wall Street Journal wrote that, “The California State Census Data Center, after analyzing the 1990 Census, found that about 18.2% of the state’s public school teachers send their children to private schools. That’s nearly twice the statewide average for all households, which is 9.7%” (Harmer, 28)
College entrance exam scores have been dropping across the board, and the US often ranks dead last in international comparisons among industrialized nations. From 1960 to 1992, the average SAT score dropped 76 points. If one were to include the reenterings of the SAT test, scores would drop even further. (Harmer, 19) The landmark study by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, claimed, “Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.” (Harmer, 25)
In addition academic failure, public schools are failing to produce good citizens. According to a Tulane study, 20% of suburban high schooler’s condoned shooting someone who had stolen something of theirs. (Harmer, 29)
The answer, contrary to what many education reformers claim, is not to throw more money into schools. Only one nation in the entire world spends more money per student, per year than the US, Switzerland. Japan, whose schools consistently outperform those of the US, spends only half as much money per student. Accounting for inflation, per student expenditure has increased 40 percent since 1982, and has tripled since 1960. (Harmer, 38) The image of the “criminally-underfunded” public school is false.
Class size has also failed to improve education. The pupil teacher ratio declined from 25.8:1 in 1960 to 17.3:1 in 1991. Even in urban public schools, the ratio is as low as 17.9:1. (McGroarty, 16) The image of the over crowded inner city school is also false.
There is no relationship between spending and educational achievement in grade schools. A recent comparison of per student expenditure and scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests by Forbes and Right Data Associates found the correlation coefficient for a linear relationship between spending and test scores to be 0.12. (This value could range from -1 to 1, the closer the absolute value of the correlation coefficient is to 1, the stronger the relationship.) (Brimelow, 52)
Where does all the money go? In the LAUSD only 36 % of school funding is spent on teacher salaries, textbooks, and supplies. Thirty-one people are paid over $100,000 a year, only one of which is a teacher. Statewide in California, only 44 percent of the people employed by the school system are teachers. In the independent schools in California, 86 percent of school employees are teachers. (Harmer, 41-43) The situation is the same nationwide. Researcher Michael Fisher found that only 25.7% of funds reach the classroom in Milwaukee schools. (McGroarty, 21) It is plain to see that throwing more money at schools and calling it reform won’t help the situation.
Leaders of the National Education Association and its statewide affiliates have done much of the campaigning against proposed school choice plans. They represent the only people who are set to lose because of school choice: the education bureaucrats. Their jobs will no longer be guaranteed by a government monopoly.
Many people fear that schools supported by the new choice movements would be fly-by-night institutions that are out to make a profit, teach racial and religious discrimination, and condone violent behavior. However, legislative school choice efforts have placed regulations on independent schools. The Parental Choice in Education initiative in California contained the following items: (1) No school, which discriminates on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, may redeem scholarships. (2) To the extent permitted by this Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. The State shall prevent from redeeming scholarships any school which advocates unlawful behavior; teaches hatred of any person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, or gender; or deliberately provides false or misleading information respecting the school. (3) No school with fewer than 25 students may redeem scholarships, unless the Legislature provides otherwise. These measures would prevent fraud and discrimination. School choice does not condone discrimination. Government already regulates private schools to some degree, and this would definitely not decrease with the use of vouchers.
Too many people are under the opinion that private schools are all elite academies or preppy boarding schools, both of which charge admission the price of a college education. However, 95 percent of Catholic schools, and 88 percent of Protestant schools charge tuition under $2,500 a year. Robert Genetski said, “Average cost data for public and private education indicate that in 1990 the operating cost per student for kindergarten through grade 12 in public schools was $4,841, compared with private school costs of $1,902.” (Harmer, 76) The truth is that even the poorest of parents would be able to afford a private education with a school choice plan. In legislative efforts for choice in California, parents would receive a voucher for half the cost of public schools, which would completely cover the costs of many adequate private schools.
It is true that the government would lose money by giving scholarships to students already attending private schools. However, the government gains money by losing new students to private schools, since only half of a students tax money follows the student. The students that leave after school choice is enacted would provide a pool of money that would more than cover current private school attendees. Furthermore, David Harmer, author of the Parental Choice in Education initiative and School Choice: Why You Need It, How You Get It, said that if he had to rewrite the initiative, he would include a measure that would phase in school choice. Each year one new grade would be allowed to participate, starting at Kindergarten, and ending with grade 12. No students currently in private schools would benefit from school choice. (Harmer, 178)
Opponents of school choice fear that children with special needs would be left out in the cold, since private schools would deny them admission. However, special education is already dealt with by a voucher type system. Public schools cannot meet the needs of many children, so the government sends these children with special needs to private contractors, such as the local School for Contemporary Education. Children who have special needs are guaranteed an equivalent education by many state laws, and this would not change under a school choice plan.
Edd Doerr wrote that, “Despite repeated and misleading claims to the contrary, vouchers are merely the latest in a long line of attempts by sectarian special interests to channel public money to church-related education institutions.” (Doerr, et al, 37) He conjures up images of “government funded religious schools” that, horror of horrors, teach religion. However, the GI Bill is constitutional! If a student decides to spend money from the government on a religious education, it does not mean that the wall between church and state has come tumbling down. Today students use money from the GI Bill and Pell Grants at religious colleges without any problem. Voucher plans are the exact same thing, except with younger kids. George Bush even called his school choice plan the “GI Bill for Kids.” To say that vouchers fund religious schools is to say that food stamps are government funding of supermarkets.
As to cultural balkanization, school choice would not effect this at all. Religious or racial discrimination is not allowed. The claim that society is held together by a “common school experience” is a faulty argument. Schools exist to teach, not for the sake of existing. Americans respect diversity and freedom of opinion, but somehow a diversity of ideas in education seems anathema.
Private schools send a higher percentage of students to college than do public schools. Their students perform better on standardized tests. They operate more cost efficiently. They are directly responsible to the parents of their students, while public schools pay more attention to school boards and administrators. Government schools have had a monopoly on children for far too long. Thanks to their efforts, one third of American seventeen-year-olds cannot locate France on a map of the world. Only one in ten can write a reasonable paragraph or do pre-college mathematics. Every citizen in America deserves a decent education. School choice can make it happen.
Brimelow, Peter. “Bottomless Pit.” Forbes 3 November 1997: 52-3.
Doerr, Edd, Albert J. Menendez, and John M. Swomley. The Case Against School Vouchers. New York: Prometheus Books, 1996.
Harmer, David. School Choice: Why You Need It, How You Get It. Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 1994.
Friedman, Milton, and Rose Friedman. Free to Choose. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980.
McGroarty, Daniel. Break These Chains: The Battle for School Choice. Rocklin: Prima Publishing, 1996.