Mike, one of my readers, left this comment yesterday on the negative consequences of school choice. I thought it was well worth highlighting because it paints a solid picture of some of the real challenges of school choice as a policy for education reform:
It may be useful to consider that there are very good reasons why our public school system has evolved to its current state. Among them is that running schools in terms of facilities and supplies is extraordinarily expensive. So expensive, in fact, that private business simply can't, with few exceptions, do it properly. Yes, there are those privately funded schools with decent facilities, but those are limited in the number of students they accept, and cannot offer the range of activities that the average public school offers. Indeed, many private schools sue their local governments for access to activites such as sports, band, choir, dance, etc., books and various other supplies for their students.
Should the wildest dreams of the voucher crowd come to fruition, we'd find private schools popping up in church basements, abandoned storefronts, condemned school buildings, and dilapidated warehouses throughout the nation. And who would teach in these paragons of capitalism? People willing to accept starvation wages, perhaps well intentioned, perhaps merely willing to accept the ideology, religious or otherwise, of their "schools." Would there be education requirements for teachers? certification? Criminal records checks? Unlikely, as private schools have no such strictures.
Great! We'll buy computer programs and engage in direct instruction. We don' need no stinkin' teachers!
And in the meantime, public schools will be bleeding money, which will have a significant negative effect on their ability to do their jobs. They'll have no choice--they have to remain open and serve every student who knocks on the front door. Private schools can open and fold as the free market dictates, and they will open and fold with stunning rapidity, leaving wasted years of kid's learning lives in the dust, while true accountability remains with the public schools, on your corner, in your town, taught by your friends and neighbors, and by the school boards you can elect or turn out of office, just as it always has.
Choice? Yes. Parents can make the choice to get involved, positively, in their children's educations and in the operation of their schools. Students can make the choice to be involved in their own educations and to take advantage of the many opportunities their schools daily provide.
There are indeed some fine private schools, but in a voucher laden, free market for private schools, many private school students will find themselves in the same predicament as hour old McDonald's hamburgers: relegated to the education trash bin when those running private schools learn in short order that running a school is not, inherently, a for profit enterprise.
So what do you think? Is Mike on target about school choice? Which of his arguments carry the most weight with you? Which do you think are fundamentally weak?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts....