7 Feb 2017

School Vouchers Will Not Fix Failing Schools

School Vouchers Will Not Fix Failing Schools

School vouchers will not fix failing schools.  The issue is too complex and rooted in a multitude of social, cultural and economic disparities and educational neglect.  The appointment of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education, in combination with the President’s purported intentions, must be the catalyst for public schools across this country to diametrically shift from status quo.  Broad based public school failure to honestly address this issue has been the equivalent of hitting the snooze on the alarm clock for years.

The dominant assumption of school vouchers is that by providing parents the ability to choose what school is best for their child is an approach that deals with the symptom and not the cause of the affliction.  School choice has been in place for a long time but only afforded to the demographic of our country that has the economic means to do so.  This choice has been exercised through enrollment in private schools, charter schools, on-line schools and through the financial means to live in communities with successful schools.  Many Americans do not have that option and what is not guaranteed is if they would exercise choice through student vouchers.  Additionally,rural school districts with no available choice options dominate our country making school vouchers mute.  The proliferation of on-line schools benefits a few but may not be a solution to the underpinning issues.

Public schools must heed the demand of choice and be the leader in the public outcry for reform.  Public schools must begin to review antiquated school board governance models, erosion of local control through outside PAC money influencing board elections, reforms to teacher unions, due process rights, accountability processes, national guaranteed curriculum, student growth assessments, just to name a few areas to open up for critical conversations.  Public schools have operated on structural principles designed a very long time ago that may not meet the world we live in today or the future world our students will be entering.  Status quo is comfortable but not a means to the new ends.

Public schools must engage all constituents in their school district and engage in two-way conversations about inclusive reforms that benefit every student regardless of their backgrounds.  They must address the social, cultural and economic disparities to level the playing field for all students, not just those who reside in their school boundaries.  Public schools must begin to connect the curriculum with relevancy for students to be college and career ready in a 21st century global economy.  Choice is pervasive in every part of our lives and the lives of school children but not so in 13 years of their formal education.  Customization is paramount.  Public schools should reduce barriers, eliminate tracking and empower students and parents with a multitude of choices in their college and career readiness pathway.

The factors plaguing our country for years with regard to social, cultural and economic disparity are the root causes that must be tackled first.  The solution is not to defer to each state to decide how federal block grants are distributed.  There should be national oversight to ensure adequacy and equity for all American school children free of local and state political agendas.  To approach this complex issue by simply assuming moving schools is the fix is short-sighted and frankly, educational malpractice.  School vouchers will not fix failing schools as a stand alone intervention.  The alarm clock is ringing and public schools can’t just hit the snooze.


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