of Education minces no words in stating its position on private school
vouchers: "Using public tax dollars for private school vouchers fundamentally
undermines 200 years of public education in America." Vouchers and other
key issues are examined in a new Department of Education report.
Quality public schools are the wellspring of a democracy and a free enterprise
economic system. That's the basic message of What
Really Matters in American Education, a report released this fall
by the U.S. Department of Education. And private school vouchers, maintains
the report, "threaten the fundamental mission of public education."
"I can tell you this -- if you gave the American people a choice today
between using federal dollars to renovate and build new public schools
or using public tax dollars to pay for private school vouchers, there
would be no question how the American people would vote," asserted U.S.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley in a speech made when the report
KEY ISSUES IN EDUCATION
The critical issues in education that the report examines are:
- the interrelationship between public schools, democracy, and free
- the position that vouchers threaten the fundamental mission of public
- the impact of vouchers on schooling.
- the impact of choice and school type on student achievement.
- which fundamental improvements are needed in public schools.
- how national and local indicators suggest reforms are beginning to
PUBLIC SCHOOLS, DEMOCRACY, AND FREE ENTERPRISE
Laws that provide for public schools reflect a commitment to the concept
that all children should have access to an excellent K-12 education, regardless
of their race, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, academic readiness,
or special education needs.
"Therein lies the power of the American system of education -- it is
truly public," asserts the report. The lessons of public school include
not only academic learning but also the experience of attending a school
with a diverse mix of students. The existence of public school is, the
report points out, the open door to education in the United States.
VOUCHERS THREATEN FUNDAMENTAL MISSION OF PUBLIC EDUCATION
The Department of Education minces no words in stating its position
on private school vouchers: "Using public tax dollars for private school
vouchers fundamentally undermines 200 years of public education in America."
Public schools don't serve the public, the report states; they create
the public. Private school vouchers, maintains the report, would undermine
public school education by:
- diverting attention from the drive to improve the public schools.
Helping a few students to attend quality private schools would not help
the majority of students, who need quality public schools.
- adding to the public cost of education. A voucher system would
provide public money to pay private school tuition for children already
enrolled in private schools, thus adding to the public cost of education.
- reducing accountability. Private schools are run outside the
oversight of public school authority and have no public accountability
- forcing private and parochial schools to become less private.
The influx of public dollars into private and parochial schools under
a voucher system would cause greater demand for scrutiny of such schools.
- possibly violating state and U.S. Constitutions. Channeling
public tax money to pay tuition at private religious schools might violate
the constitutional separation of church and state.
The report concludes that "private school vouchers are too small, too costly,
and too divisive to have any potential for improving the public school system."
IMPACT OF VOUCHERS ON SCHOOLING
A voucher program would violate principles of educational equity for
all students because:
- Private schools lack the capacity to accept a large number of additional
- The majority of private schools are religious, and few are likely
to forsake their religious mission to surmount constitutional barriers
to receiving public funds.
- Private schools could accept only the "best and brightest" students.
"Instead of giving a few students a way out," the report states, "we need
to give all students a way up by improving the quality of all schools."
IMPACT OF CHOICE AND SCHOOL TYPE ON STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
Research on the effect of existing private school voucher programs has
not shown significant achievements for students in those programs, the
report asserts. Most differences between performance in public and private
schools, according to the report, can be attributed to elements in the
family background of the students, such as family income and the parents'
Various studies of the impact of private school voucher programs now
in effect have demonstrated mixed results, the report points out, and
some of the studies suffer from methodological problems. The report cites
an analysis of 1991 International Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP)
data as offering international evidence that private schools do not have
significantly higher student achievement than public schools after
controlling for student background.
An analysis of National Educational Longitudinal Survey (NELS) data,
the report goes on, indicates that the kind of mathematics courses students
take in high school are more related to math achievement than is the type
of high school students attend.
"A growing body of evidence demonstrates that public school reform efforts
such as challenging standards and rigorous course-taking can improve achievement
for the majority of students who are in the public schools. States and
local communities that have set more challenging standards are seeing
substantial gains in student achievement."
FUNDAMENTAL IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Our nation's public schools, although they are moving in the right direction,
have a long way to go, according to the report. The Department of Education
supports the following public school improvements or reforms:
- Safe, disciplined, and drug-free schools. A strong focus on
discipline in schools and no tolerance for drugs are prerequisites to
- Clear focus on improving learning and learning the basics.
All resources are dedicated to enabling all students to first learn
the basics and then reach higher levels of academic performance.
- Family involvement and public commitment to improving schools.
Research demonstrates that greater family involvement helps ensure a
safer, more stable learning environment in a school.
- High academic standards and rigorous course-taking. Substantial
gains in student achievement are linked to more rigorous courses, according
to research cited in the report.
- Sustained and intensive professional development for teachers.
Teachers must be enabled to teach to higher standards of student performance.
- Buildings and technology suited for learning. Schools that
are safe, modern, and technologically up-to-date create a setting for
enhanced student performance.
- Reinforcement through after-school and summer programs. According
to research, children in quality after-school programs with lower student-to-staff
ratios, age-appropriate activities, and academic and enrichment activities
show higher academic achievement and have better attitudes toward school
than children left alone or under the care of siblings.
- Greater school autonomy and accountability. If teachers are
given responsibility for making decisions regarding school practice
and policy, they act as professionals.
- Expansion of public school choice options. Public magnet schools,
charter schools, and open enrollment policies all expand public school
choice in positive ways.
Drastic steps, the report asserts, must be taken to upgrade chronically
troubled schools. In San Francisco, for example, failing schools have been
closed and then reopened with new administrators, teachers, and programs.
NATIONAL AND LOCAL INDICATORS SUGGEST REFORMS ARE BEGINNING TO WORK
Various national indicators show substantial short-term and long-term
gains in public schools:
- The proportion of high school graduates taking the core courses recommended
in A Nation At Risk increased to 52 percent by 1994, up from 14 percent
in 1982 and 40 percent in 1990.
- Long-term gains in student achievement in mathematics and science
have been demonstrated by the National Assessment of Educational Progress
- Even as the numbers and diversity of students taking college admissions
tests are rising, average scores on the tests are increasing. On the
SAT, combined verbal and math scores increased 19 points from 1982 to
- Dropout rates, especially for minority students, are decreasing.
On a community basis, a number of big cities -- including San Antonio,
Memphis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, New York City, and Chicago -- have instituted
reforms focused on enabling students to meet high standards. Student achievement,
the report says, has improved as a result. As students progress, the report
maintains, so does our nation.
Article by Sharon Cromwell
Copyright © 1997 Education World
- ACT (1997). "Trend of Increases in ACT College Entrance Scores Continues."
Press release issued by ACT on 8/13/97. Iowa City, IA: The American
College Testing Program.
- High School Achievement: Public, Catholic, and Private Schools
Compared, by J. Coleman, T. Hoffer, and S. Kilgore. New York: Basic
- "What Can We Really Expect from Large-Scale Voucher Programs?" by
R. Corwin and M. Dianda, Phi Delta Kappan, September 1993.
- "The Consequences of School Choice: Who Leaves and Who Stays in the
Inner City," Social Science Quarterly, 6 (3), 485-501. 1995.
- Strong Families, Strong Schools: Building Community Partnerships for
Learning, by the U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: Published
by the author, 1994.
- "Barriers, Benefits and Costs of Using Private Schools to Alleviate
Overcrowding in Public Schools: Preliminary Report," by L. Muraskin,
S. Freid, and K. Lahring. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education
- What Really Matters in
American Education A comprehensive report from the U.S. Department
of Education examines a number of timely educational issues and makes
a case against the adoption of private school vouchers.
- Remarks by
U.S. Secretary of Education, Richard W. Riley U.S. Secretary of
Education Riley speaks about the key educational issues more thoroughly
developed in the above report and stakes out the administration's position
opposing private school vouchers.
Defeats Bill on Private School Vouchers A news report by Reuters
news service (11/4/97) about the House of Representatives defeating
a plan to let states use public funds for private school vouchers. Both
sides of the issue are presented.
- Nationwide Campaign
Targets Private School Vouchers This Education Week (4/9/97)
article explores efforts by the NAACP and People for the American Way,
which have joined to battle private school vouchers. Both groups called
the move toward private school vouchers a threat that would damage public
Article by Gary Hopkins
Copyright © 2006 Education World