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November 30, 2007 07:43 AM UTC

Polis May Support School Vouchers, But What About You?

  • by: colorado_dude

What with all the recent debate going on here about Jared Polis receiving money from pro-voucher people (and others admittedly, but I’m sticking to this for the moment), I thought it would be interesting to hear some responses — either supporting or opposing — on this article I read in The Atlantic by Megan McArdle supporting school vouchers. This may very well be the best defense of vouchers I’ve seen, and I was wondering what the fine readers of Pols, pro-JP or not, have to say about her arguments here. More specifically, why is education treated as if it can be provided only, or best, by the federal government?

I don’t want to have any plagarization issues, so I’ll just quote the introduction here and put in the link for the rest.

Megan McArdle, “The Atlantic”

October 29th, 2007: “Vouching For Vouchers”

Forgive me–I’m about to get testy again–but this thread on 11D really does seem to me to showcase in stunning technocolor the moral bankruptcy of voucher opponents who have pulled their own kids out of failing inner city schools. They have no good answer for why their choice is morally worthy, but vouchers are horrifying; their response to the deep need of kids in failing schools is a slightly gussied up version of “screw you, I’ve got mine.” Their children’s future, you see, is an infinitely precious resource that trumps their principles of distributional justice and community solidarity, but they cannot imagine putting the futures of poorer, darker skinned children ahead of sacred principles such as “Thou shalt not allow children to attend schools run by the Catholic Church” and “Supporting the public schools (even when they suck)”. I could do a better job arguing against school vouchers.

Indeed, I shall, though of course largely for the purpose of illustrating why I find these arguments unconvincing:

to be continued…


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4 thoughts on “Polis May Support School Vouchers, But What About You?

  1. You asked, “why is education treated as if it can be provided only, or best, by the federal government?”

    Answer: it’s not, and you’re missing the point.

    I agree with a lot of complaints about the public school system.  They have class sizes that are too large (that and the standardized testing swamp are the #1 and #2 problems, from the view where I’m standing).  They have too few teachers; and some pretty bad ones, too.

    Other options are great, too.  Undoubtedly, there are some really great private and parochial schools out there, though I haven’t looked. I did spend six years working with homeschooling parents on science and math education programs, and there are kids who benefit enormously from their parents’ willingness to put in that kind of time instead of just drop them off at school every day (and even that’s optimistic in some public schools, where parents are a key cause of attendance problems).

    The thing is: there is no alternative.  At least in the current public school system, every child is getting an education.  Pretty much every child is getting at least a few really good teachers.  Kids rise above their surroundings and excel at things.

    So what is the alternative?

    Homeschooling is great, but only because parents care and invest their time in it.  It’s irresponsible to pressure parents into homeschooling when they don’t want to.  When that happens, there are some really bad consequences.

    Private schools are in the business of educating people with money.  As much as I’d love to share your optimistic view that they would throw open their arms and welcome all the new students, I don’t see many of them settling for state PPR instead of their usual higher tuition.  If you intend to force private schools to accept new students regardless of ability to pay, they will object.  If you intend to tell some students they can’t go there,

    Parochial schools can be good options, but they teach a specific religious position.  As a Catholic, I’d love to send kids to Catholic schools, and I fully support the rights of parents to send their children to other schools that teach their religious beliefs as well.  However, I don’t support leaving families with no other choice.  In any case, many of these schools still charge more than state PPR funding can handle, so many families would still be left out.  Churches can subsidize the difference now; but if enrollment quadruples, what happens?  Prices increase until enough families can’t afford it and they get back down to what they can support.

    The result is that privatization efforts would mean that some, but not all, families could leave public schools; leaving the poorest among us to suffer most of all from schools that are now even more critically underfunded.  Good plan?  No, I don’t think so.

    I do sympathize with your complaints, but I see them differently.  Schools don’t get enough money; and part of the reason is that not all children attend public schools, and then we take away money as a result.  Personally, I donate my time and money to schools in my area even though I don’t have kids.  That’s because our public education system is important to the whole society, not just families with children.  Unfortunately, decades of conservative attack have bankrupted the education system we have, and it’s in serious need of repair.  I wish people could get on with the work of repairing it, instead of looking for more ways to undermine it.

    1. first, on the idea that public schools need more money, that’s a hard sell for me. Admittedly we don’t spend nearly as much when compared with issues of health-care and national defense, but time and again it has been proved that an increase in education spending does not equal an increase in school achievement or student success. There are numerous reports and studies to this extent, but here’s one I found via Dave Thielen’s blog (gotta give credit where it’s due! 🙂 ), by ALEC, a bi-partisan research group: (

      As to your answer to my question, I wonder if we don’t treat education as something which can only be provided by the federal government why isn’t the possibility of privitization in more main-stream public policy discourse?

      Additionally, I agree that private schools are in the business of providing education to wealthy people, but that leaves the question open, if everyone had the means to pay for private education and had the option of choosing a non-religious school (i.e. a national, universal, secular voucher system), wouldn’t we see every child getting a better education? Is there any doubt really that private schools preform better than their public counter-parts? And as to the argument that this is just because there are fewer kids who go to these schools (keeping class under control like you mentioned), if the federal government backed every child’s ability to go to a private school (again via vouchers), is there any doubt that we would see a corresponding increase in the number of private schools? And all these new schools would maintain their high standard of education both by federal standards and by the free market principles of choice?

      I would agree with bpilgram below, we need a new solution, and I think there is a potential alternative. So a new (concluding) question arises, is there any other reason to suppose that a federally-backed (by vouchers and curriculum standards) private education system would not do a better job than our current system?

  2. In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, an old man was condemned to be stoned for blasphemy.

    As the judge read the charges, the condemned man said “You mean I’m going to be stoned for saying “Jevohah”?

    “Hold you tongue.  You’ll only make it worse.”

    The condemned man began to jump around and exclaimed “How could it be worse? Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah”

    The same circumstances seem to apply to public schools. Supporters of the status quo in public schools and opponents of vouchers don’t seem to notice that the public schools fail large numbers of our kids.  The graduation rates in Denver are less than 50%.  In Colorado Springs, it’s 67&.  In Pueblo, it’s 75%.  The results are unrelated to public expenditures as rich school districts can have abysmal performance and poor districts can have good performance.

    How could it get worse?  We have to try something different.

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