Vouchers, Choice, and “Choice”

Jul 22, 2008 by

cross-posted at The G Bitch Spot

From the latest T-P articles on the voucher program and RSD schools, it seems that Jindal, Pastorek, and others (Vallas? I don’t know) see the RSD as the school system of last resort and don’t see that changing. I get this from the “assumption” that any school in the RSD or chartered by it must be a failing/failed school. I thought the changes occurred to improve the schools, not warehouse failures. Is this surrender? Resignation? Pragmatism? Is it that the children in those schools can’t be “educated”? That their test scores will never really rise even though lots of adults patted themselves on the back over the teeny rise in scores last school year? Or perhaps the goal of the vouchers is oddly altruistic, aimed at taking some of the burden off RSD schools and charters to help them enact new methods, pedagogies, etc.


And this touches on a point that has burned my ass, and other parts, about the schools systems—there’s been no overall reform, just fracturing. The breaking up of the Orleans public schools was fueled by frustration and not a desire to enact specific reforms for specific problems. Yes, there were some really bad schools in this town, and there are some poor schools all across the state, but breaking up the system so the worst schools are over there, middling schools here, and former-magnet-now-charter schools are up here—that’s not reform. It’s the same system we had before with many of the same problems. There was and still is little public talk about what happens in the schools, in classrooms, with teachers, with students, between teachers and students and support staff that is different, that creates improvements in outcomes. And what changes are discussed are hampered by being geared toward raising test scores. Test scores make ADULTS think that something is happening and being done. What about the children? Teachers? Parents?

Choice is a double-edged sword and generally has proven itself to be, especially the more “choice” there is, the more the system adopts universal choice with multiple ways to opt out of the public schools. The parents with the most education, drive or ambition, and access to resources (whether that’s money, time, a computer, family members, whatever) are most likely to benefit. Though choice, including universal choice, is promoted as a way to improve low-performing schools, in practice, it often takes the most capable, directed, and supported kids out of the public school system, leaving behind children who pose the most educational, emotional, behavioral and social challenges, who need the most time, patience, and resources, a recipe for failure no matter how dedicated the school’s staff may be. It helps some of the kids, those who opt out and actually stay out (there’s a high turnover rate with most voucher programs, with families using it one year and not the next for various reasons), but does little to help the whole system, little to ameliorate the challenges urban public schools face. (These are also not problems that only occur in cities with black and Latino children.) Choice and vouchers can also undermine the good going on in a public school system, as people absorb and accept without question that “private” schools are “better” than “public” schools and drain their children and the money and auxiliaries attached to those children out of the public schools. Privatization/choice alone is not a solution. And can add to the problems.

It’s not now we should be praising ourselves over. We should be planning, analyzing, fretting, debating and preparing for the future, what happens in 2, 5, 10 years. Will we have served students, families and our community?

None of this is new, people. Look at who says what and why. And how often they mention “students,” “teachers” or the future.

G Bitch


photo courtesy of angela7dreams, used under this Creative Commons license

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