Vox Populi

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Marc Jampole: The Real Reason Why The Right-Wing Loves Voucher Programs And Hates Public Schools

Want to improve your children’s chance of academic success? Research says send them to public schools.

I’m not sure whether it was the author or the headline writer, but someone in the New York Times produced a headline that certainly constitutes false news: “Dismal Results from Vouchers Surprise Researchers.” The problem with it is that those researchers who have been paying attention already know that public policy driving families to put their children into private schools will achieve dismal results. Objective researchers in the pursuit of knowledge aren’t, or shouldn’t be surprised that kids using vouchers to attend private schools experience declines in academic performance. Perhaps Kevin Carey, who wrote the article, or the unknown specialist who composed the headline, meant to say that it surprised right-wing policy wonks and political pundits, who for the better part of a quarter of a century have been pushing vouchers, charter and private schools as a means to destroy teachers’ unions and produce new income streams for businesses.

Certainly Carey, who directs the education policy program for the ostensibly non-partisan think tank New America, must have read The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, a 2013 study by Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher A. Lubienski that demonstrates without a doubt that public schools outperform private schools when we correct raw data to account for wealth, per student spending, disabilities and other factors. I wouldn’t expect the Times headline writer to know of this important book, as a Google search at the time it came but revealed just one review in the mainstream media. The media doesn’t like to review books that disprove the current political nonsense, whatever it is.

Using two recently generated large-scale national databases, the Lubienskis show that demographic factors such as wealth and disabilities explain any advantage seen in private school performance in the 21st century. Private schools have higher scores not because they are better at educating children but because their students come mostly from wealthy backgrounds. After correcting for demographics, the Lubienskis demonstrate conclusively that gains in student achievement at public schools are great and greater than those made at private ones. The Lubienskis take on the critics of real educational reform, the politicians and other factotums of the rich who don’t want to do anything that requires greater spending on students, such as teacher certification programs and curriculum and instruction advances. The Lubienskis show that these reforms do work.

The latest research reported by Carey in his Times article concerns the results on standardized tests of students who have used voucher programs to enroll in private schools. Vouchers, which right-wingers and Republicans have been pushing for years, give money earmarked for public education to families, which they pay to private schools to educate their children. The never-proved principle underlying vouchers, first proposed by right-wing economic mountebank Milton Friedman, is that giving parents choice will improve public education by forcing it to compete with other schools.

Over the past few years, Republican legislatures have implemented widespread voucher programs in a number of states such as Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio. As Carey reports, vouchers have largely failed to improve school performance, and in fact, have harmed the performance of many children:

  • Indiana children who transferred to private schools using vouchers “experienced significant losses in achievement” in math and saw no improvement in reading.
  • Children, primarily poor and black, who used vouchers to switch to private schools in Louisiana, achieved negative results in both reading and math; elementary school children who started at the 50th percentile in math and then transferred via voucher to a private school dropped to 26th percentile in one year.
  • A study financed by the right-wing, anti-union Walton family and conducted by a conservative think tank found that Ohio students using vouchers to attend private schools fared much worse when compared to their peers in public school, especially in math.
  • It turns out that the best charter schools, another variation on school choice liked by the right wing, are those that are nonprofit public schools open to everyone and accountable to public authorities. The more “private” a charter school, the worse its student perform.

There could be many explanations for the lousy performance voucher students in private schools achieved compared to public schools, but I think it comes down to the simple fact that the teachers tend to be more experienced, more educated and more professional in public schools. Why is that? Because they are better paid.

In the real world, the best get paid the most. The best lawyers tend to make the most money. The best accountants tend to make the most money. The best writers—business and entertainment—tend to make the most money. The best musicians tend to make the most money. Forget the obscene fact that Beyoncé makes about 200 times what the concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic and the masterful jazz pianist Orrin Evans do. They both do quite well when compared to the average piano teacher who gives lessons at the Jewish Community Center or YMCA.

Public school teachers make more money than private school teachers. Doesn’t it make sense that they would therefore do a better job and that public schools would therefore do better in quantitative comparisons?  I know that there are some very competent and dedicated private school teachers, but in general, how could the aggregate of private school teachers keep up with public school teachers, who make so much more money?

The reason that public school teachers make more money is one of the primary reasons right-wingers want to dismantle public schools: unions. Right-wingers hate unions because they force employers to pay better wages to employees, leaving less profit for the company’s owners and operators. In unionized workplaces, employees make a far larger share of the pie than in nonunionized ones. Thus by leaving public schools and going into private ones, children leave an environment in which their teachers are highly paid but administrators make less than they would in the private sector for an environment in which teachers are paid less and administrators more, and if the school is for-profit, money is siphoned off as profit for investors. By definition, less money is spent on education in private schools. That is, unless the tuition is so high that the voucher covers only a small part of it, in which case the voucher is merely a subsidy to the wealthy, who likely would have sent their children to the chichi expensive private school no matter what.

The reason companies bust unions is greed. Greed also plays a major role in the insistence against all facts and reasoning that school choice will solve every educational challenge. Choice is the preferred answer because it doesn’t involve spending more money and raising taxes. In fact, over time, vouchers can be used to cut educational budgets if the stipulated voucher amounts do not keep up with inflation.

Despite the fact that taxes on the wealthy are still at an historic low for a western industrial democracy, rich folk and their political and policy factotums do not want to raise the taxes needed to create an educational system that works for everyone. Here are some of the things that we could do with added tax revenues earmarked to public education:

  • Smaller classroom sizes for elementary and middle school children.
  • Computers for every student in every class.
  • A return to the days of art, music and other enrichment programs.
  • New textbooks that reflect the latest findings in science and social science.
  • More special programs for both the disabled and the gifted and talented.
  • True school choice, which involves vocational programs in the technology, hospitality and healthcare industries for high school students.

Keeping their taxes low and busting unions are not the only reasons well-heeled ultra conservatives advocate for vouchers. Some, like our current Secretary of Education, hope to profit by investing in for-profit schools. Others, and again Secretary DeVos is among them, want to use public funds to finance the teaching of religion in private religious schools. Perhaps not ironically, moral education of the masses and suppression of unions seem always to go hand-in-hand since the industrial revolution of the 19th century. In this sense, religion is a form of social control and a social solvent that dissolves the perception of class differences.

Thus, when you hear Trumpty-Dumpty, DeVos and other supporters of voucher programs for education spout their pious homilies, remember that they have absolutely no interest in providing our children with a high-quality education that prepares for a meaningful life and rewarding career. Nor are they dedicated to a higher principle they call freedom that trumps all other concerns in a free society. Remember, there are all kinds of freedoms, such as freedom from hunger, from ignorance, from illness, from pain. Be it education or healthcare, when they cry freedom, they only mean freedom of choice or freedom to make money unencumbered by social concerns.

No, it’s neither an interest in America’s children nor dedication to principle that motivates the rich folk behind the school choice movement. It’s simple greed.


Copyright 2017 Marc Jampole

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4 comments on “Marc Jampole: The Real Reason Why The Right-Wing Loves Voucher Programs And Hates Public Schools

  1. Marc Jampole
    March 3, 2017

    I think it’s obvious I was referring to the leaders of the voucher and privatization movement. I clearly wasn’t referring to the parents who are manipulated by the leaders of the voucher movement. They are largely an innocent lot, long abused by lying rightwingers, except for those among the parents who flee public schools for racial reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerry
      March 3, 2017

      in my experience, most of the local private schools have unusually heavy involvement by the parents whose children comprise the student body at any given time. The lines aren’t always clear, with individuals filling only one role. This is especially so in the hybrid public/private charter schools, where the teachers own children are often enrolled as students. Many such teachers, some of whom are excellent but willing to work for less, do a fine job. Money isn’t the only motivation.

      Regarding your reply itself, I’m reminded of the otherwise brilliant philosopher of the Scottish enlightenment, David Hume. Becoming exasperated in the midst of an casual debate onevday, Hume finally, angrily, and loudly said, “I refute it thus!” Stomped his foot on the cobblestones, turned and stormed away.

      Obviously, it was not entirely obvious what you meant, If it were, my response would have been different, or perhaps I would not have responded at all. Stomping your foot helps neither of us better understand the other.

      Like

  2. Jerry
    March 3, 2017

    I think you have correctly accounted for the main reasons, but I think that you over state your position when you argue that advocates of vouchers are driven only be greed. I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want the very best education for their children. Have you? Greed on the part of private school businesses is clearly a large factor, but they too seem to want their students to perform well. After all, if you want to get butts in seats, you have to show parents it is worth it.

    I think that you oversimplify the complex array of motivations that drive the private school/ voucher movement. Furthermore, while this information is interesting and provides both useful context and insight into how we might best counter the specious arguments put forward by advocates, it is not the best point of attack. The most important argument here is that individuals have absolutely not right to expect tax paying citizens to subsidize the private education of their children.

    My children are grown, but a portion of my taxes still go toward the public schools. I don’t mind this. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, with his, we buy civilization. We are paying for our youth to learn skills that are valuable to our society, making them employable, to their benefit and ours. We pay to enrich them through the arts, to their benefit and ours. And we pay to teach them how to be good citizens in our democracy. We do not, or should not, pay to assist the rich in building a greater division between themselves and the rest of us. And we should not be expected to subsidize religious zealots in teaching their children that the earth is 4000 years old,?that Adam and Eve ride dinosaurs, and Armageddon is on the doorstep.

    The motives of greed and otherwise are important to understand, but in the debate over vouchers it isn’t going to get us far to call others greedy (though this may be true in spades). It is more effective to establish why the public should pay for schools in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. anisioluiz2008
    March 2, 2017

    Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

    Liked by 1 person

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