Friday, October 19, 2012

US Elections: Do School Vouchers Work?

corporate-sponsored school voucher press conf ...
Corporate-sponsored school voucher press conference 6-11-12 (Photo credit: NC Justice Center)
by Professor Glenn Altschuler, Vice President for University Relations at Cornell University, The Conversation:

Most Americans agree that public education in their country is broken.

The infrastructure of thousands of schools is decaying, scores on standardised tests are stagnant, and roughly 1.2 million students who should have graduated from high school in 2011 failed to do so.

One controversial solution which continues to attract the attention of parents, educators, and politicians is government-funded school vouchers.

By helping offset tuition at private and religious schools (and facilitating enrolment in a public schools outside a family’s “home district”), voucher programs offer parents of some students - usually low-income children and individuals with special needs - more educational options.

History of school voucher programs

School voucher programs are not new. The oldest continuing programs in the United States, in Vermont and Maine, began in 1869 and 1873. But it is only in the past 20 years that the school choice movement has gained momentum.

The Wisconsin legislature established a voucher program for the city of Milwaukee. Several states followed suit; and privately managed charter schools (authorised by state and municipal governments and eligible for public funds) – with considerable leeway over staffing, programs and curriculum - began to proliferate.

In 2011-2012, 16 school voucher programs served 81,590 students in the United States. Nine states and the District of Columbia and Douglas County, Colorado offer voucher programs of various types.

Advocates claim vouchers give low-income students and others a wider range of educational opportunities, force public schools to improve in order to compete, encourage innovation and accountability, enhance the quality of schools, and give parents more of a stake in - and influence over - the education of their children.

Critics say vouchers neither mandate nor enforce accountability standards for private schools, provide insufficient funds for students to attend the best private schools, and, most important, by removing the most informed, ambitious and competent parents and students, leave public schools with those who are least likely to succeed, and with fewer resources to assist them.

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