10 November 2007

Weekend Conversation - Referendum 1 & School Vouchers

We realized, after linking to it in one of our recent posts, that unless you, dear reader, are a member of cougarboard.com, you would be unable to access the discussion thread. Since many important questions were raised and addressed in that thread--questions which we continue to be asked in person and email--we thought it would be worthwhile to copy and paste at least part of that dialogue here, at OL&L.

To draw traffic to OL&L, we posted posted the following at cougarboard.com (cougarboard.com question/contention in italics, OL&L response in regular type):

43% of minority students--primarily African- and Latin-American students--fail to graduate from high school in the state of Utah. Meanwhile, student test scores fail to match those of students in states with similar demographics.

Vouchers probably wont affect your students, but they could give less fortunate students a real chance to succeed.

How does someone not graduate from high school? I don't care if you are black, pink, purple, striped, or polka dotted. How on earth does someone not graduate from high school? All you have to do is show up and do a minimal amount of work and you are good to go. What on earth could cause 40% of any group to drop out?

How DOES someone not graduate from high school? "All you have to do is show up and do a minimal amount of work and you are good to go."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for public education anywhere.

I'm not trying to say it's hard or endorse public education. It seems to be that a high school diploma is just the absolute bare minimum that any competent person could accomplish in their life. I live a pretty sheltered life, but I don't know anyone who failed to graduate from high school. I just can't imagine what on earth could cause any group to fail to graduate 40% of it's members.

Your response reads like the response of teacher's unions. Clearly they haven't been able to discover what it is that causes over 40% of a certain demographic to fail AND more importantly, they have been unable or unwilling to do anything to rectify it.

But then, it isn't your job to figure out what the root cause or causes are, so your incredulity is understandable. What's infinitely more frustrating and not understandable is the inability of public education to figure out the problem.

Clearly the one-size-fits-all of public education *doesn't* fit all.

What's your reasoning? I'm inclined to say that it is the students fault. It doesn't take a whole lot of effort to get a degree. The school district can't drag kids to school. At some point they have to value themselves and their future lives enough to put forth the basic effort to get a degree.

I have a hard time being sympathetic to anyone who is to lazy to put for the minimum effort required for a HS degree.

I refuse to believe that 43% of all minority students fail to graduate because they are lazy. Sure, this is a popular excuse, but it's also too lazy.

But you know what? Neither you nor I need to figure out why it is that 43% of all minority students fail to graduate. It's as simple as looking at the status quo--public education--recognizing that it doesn't work, and demanding a change in the form of vouchers.

One additional point: monopolies are bad for a number of reasons. One of them is because they do not meet the needs of consumers. Because they control the market, they decide what to provide and for what price. There is no incentive for them to improve or lower their prices. Thus, the problem with public education and minority students.

Vouchers and privatized education overcome this problem because they are directly answerable to their students and the students' parents. If a voucherized school underperforms, the parent can immediately remove their students from the school--the threat of lost revenue and school closure will motivate those teachers and schools to succeed. Furthermore, the incentive of increased revenue will cause these schools and teachers to find a way to reach the minority students failing in the status quo. They want those students to succeed because they want their money.

Why they fail is not the question. Why we continue to permit a system that allows them to fail is the relevant question. And the answer is to set up a system that rewards those teachers and schools who find a way, despite the long odds, of helping those now failing students to succeed.

Vouchers do that.

Do other systems truly work? Perhaps those minority students who attend private schools currently come from more affluent families or have more parental involvement. I'm not convinced that taking the thug out of the ghetto will automatically take the ghetto out of the thug.

It appears that you are simply here to spout off political rhetoric and try to support vouchers. I'm not interested in that.

I'd love to discuss the reasons that minorities don't graduate as that is a huge mystery to me. I'd love to get some different viewpoints on your statistic. However, to simply say that public schools fail minorities is a pretty "lazy" argument as well.

Your question is far more important than anything you typed.

"Do other systems truly work?"

For the most part we don't know because of the stranglehold monopoly that public education has in the United States. Those programs I cited--Milwaukee, DC, Florida--have only been able to offer vouchers in a very limited form and even then, they haven't been around for very long.

Like you, public schools have been "discussing" why minorities don't graduate for a long time. Unlike you, our political correct culture causes them to refrain from referring to all those who fail as "thugs."

Stereotypes like these are a "lazy" way of abdicating our responsibility to these failing students.

Furthermore, advocating for positive change and supporting it with logical, cogent arguments is not, as you suggest, "spout[ing] off political rhetoric." On Tuesday, I see an opportunity to make a lasting positive change in the state of Utah. Arguing in favor of that change is far more productive than yet another pointless discussion that blames minority failure on their "thug" status.

So you're for change for the sake of change? Look, I support vouchers as does my entire family (including my mother who is a school teacher). I'm not convinced they will benefit very many people (can a minority student's family afford $4500 tuition any better than they can afford $7500), but I do believe that it will save some money in the long run even if only a few children are able to use them. Also, I support alternatives to government monopolies even if my children won't be able to take advantage of them. The less control government has in our lives, the better off we all are.

However, it seems to be that you are throwing out vouchers as the solution for minority graduation rates. How can you fix a problem if you don't know what the problem is? Creating or funding another program won't necessarily solve your minority graduation rates. Again, I don't know what the underlying issues are. However, I would be very surprised if a simple change of scenery was enough to solve the problem.

Also, what responsibility do I have to these failing students? They have the exact same opportunity that I had. They can choose to make the most of their public education or they can choose not to. It's their choice, their opportunity, and their life.

I believe that vouchers will solve the problem you outlined--minority graduation rates--in the same way a business finds ways to meet the needs and desires of consumers. It's in their best interest to come up with a solution. Because they must be more responsive to students and parents, they will try anything and everything to solve the problem. If they don't succeed, the student will leave and they will lose money. The best teachers and best methods and best schools will be rewarded with more students.

We all went to public school, we know there are a few really really good teachers, lots of middling ones, and a handful of poor ones. Rather than compensating them all the same the way the current system does, a voucherized system will encourage and reward those who find ways to reach every student--including the "lazy thugs." Some teachers are able to do this; finally, we will reward them for their efforts rather than overworking them and underpaying them along with their subpar coworkers.

Regarding your responsibility to these students: I guess you could say that it is in your self interest to see that they are educated and become productive members of society. High school graduates earn more money, pay more taxes, are less likely to commit crimes and have children out of wedlock. A more educated populace makes us all better off. Though unfamiliar with your situation, I doubt many of these students "have the exact same opportunity [you] had." Unfortunately, many of them come from low income, single parent homes. As you must know, these two factors increase the "difficulty level" of graduating from high school significantly. A voucher system will reward those teachers and schools who have found ways to "reach" poor and minority students rather than doing as public school system has done: simply shrugging their shoulders and exclaiming that "it's their parent's fault for not being more involved."

We can't find and force every absentee father to go home or the mother to quit working two jobs to support her family, but we can create an education system that gives those disadvantaged students a chance by rewarding those teachers and schools that have found a way to educate them against the odds.

FYI: the median cost of private school in the state of Utah is $2500.

Tomorrow, the rest of the conversation.

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