Vouchers in Utah have the wooden stake right in the heart. That’s one proposal in one state. More voucher proposals are promised, and the debate continues.
Voucher advocates generally make a plea that colleges have something akin to school vouchers with Pell Grants (Basic Education Opportunity Grants), Stafford Grants, the GI Bill and other federal programs, plus many state programs, which give money to a student to use at a college of the student’s choice.
Why won’t this work for kindergartners, 8th graders and 10th graders? the voucher advocates ask.
The short answer is that we regard college students as adults. Beyond that are several other differences between elementary schools and colleges that we should, perhaps, explore.
Texas Ed: Comments on Education from Texas has a couple of posts that provide some insights to the issues. In the first one, “We Have Vouchers for Higher Education,” the question is raised about why not let elementary students operate like veterans, and take their government money where they choose to.
In the second, “Vouchers Are About Choice, Not Quality,” we get a glimpse of real life — parents fighting to keep open their neighborhood school, despite there being better performing schools available to take their kids.
We might want to compare systems, at least briefly.
In comments at Texas Ed I noted that higher education institutions keep up standards through different mechanisms that most elementary and secondary schools. While there are some licensing standards, generally, the field is pretty wide open for anyone to start a college, anywhere. To get the “vouchers” from the government, however, the school must be accredited. Accrediting is generally a difficult and sometimes onerous process, and they can be amazingly thorough. One institution asked me to fill out forms covering eight different states and various regional accrediting associations, to cover everywhere the school had a campus or extension program. Of course, none of the forms allowed the attachment of a vita or a resumé.
Public schools require licensed teachers, who must answer generally to state laws that set educational standards.
These are two radically different processes and systems.
Were there accrediting groups for elementary and secondary schools, we would probably have a better bead on whether charter schools and parochial schools provide consistent education, and how they stack up compared to public schools. Charter schools in Texas and Utah are largely unregulated, for example; they may hire unlicensed teachers, they may hire teachers without degrees. Students in these alternative schools do not take the state tests. Whether the students get a good education is left to a different set of judges (which I have not yet found). Texas charter schools are often problematic, making television news fodder for wasted money, inadequate facilities, unpaid staff and abandoned facilities. Even well-run charter schools find it difficult to manage the small amount of money they get (on a per pupil basis).
Could these schools withstand state testing? Some of the better schools would be fine, but I suspect imposition of state tests would reveal that non-public schools provide no significant advantages, all things being equal.
Could the charter and parochial schools withstand accrediting processes? The processes are designed to help schools measure up. I suspect many schools would not get accreditation on the first try. That’s no shame. The process would weed out and cause to close those schools that really do not perform, while giving good schools official and certifiable bragging rights.
Consideration of such a change should provoke discussion about the other differences between colleges and lower schools. Here are some of the things that make colleges work better, that other schools ought to try, and which probably should be in place before any voucher program is initiated:
- Faculty at colleges are generally paid better than elementary and secondary schools.
- Faculty are hired for their expertise, not their licenses.
- Faculty have real clout in the administration of the schools. Department chairs tell the administrators what is needed. Departmental resources generally are distributed by the department chair, or a dean closer to the delivery of the program than most principals are.
- Faculty in colleges have stature, and are most often regarded as important people with valuable opinions.
- Faculty in colleges can call for the head of the president — Baylor University had a vote of no-confidence for the president in the past 24 months that caused the president to resign. If we wanted to get rid of ineffective school principals, giving the faculty the right to vote them out would be a bold step that would produce immediate changes.
- College classes generally get better support from the department than classes in schools. Computers are maintained by the IT department, and individual instructors do not need to be computer experts just to get the technology in the class working. Copying is assumed to be a massive task, and copiers with staff to copy are generally available to faculty, much better in colleges than in lower schools.
- Faculty in colleges are expected to have outside interests, especially research interests, and to pursue them. College faculty are encouraged to join civic organizations to represent the school; high school faculty are discouraged from joining civic organizations because such membership detracts from the teacher’s time devoted to the school.
- College faculty have offices, and extensive library privileges to aid research for class.
- College faculty have time for lunch. Classes are rarely back-to-back. Some high schools have days where a teacher may have six classes with only a short lunch break.
- Accreditation depends partly on an analysis of the education qualifications and publications of the faculty — so the colleges help their faculty achieve distinction, where possible, to bolster credentials. An elementary or secondary school where the administration pushes to advance the careers of teachers entrepreneurally is a rarity, if one exists anywhere.
Gee, this rather turned into a rant for power to the teachers, didn’t it?
Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.