Yesterday was my first day of field observations and I absolutely loved it. This semester I am enrolled in a course called Field Experience: Middle Level Environment. This course is half lecture and half observation. Once a week we meet in lecture to discuss strategies for teaching middle grades students, and the other days we spend inside a classroom observing. For the first half of the semester I am observing a 5th grade classroom. The second half of the semester I will be observing a middle school classroom. After my first day of observing, I am so excited for the rest of the semester. I am paired up with a great, enthusiastic teacher who seems completely invested in helping his students succeed. Despite having only spent one day in 5th grade, I have already learned a lot and I’m so excited to keep learning more. Hopefully in the coming weeks I’ll have some great stories to tell about my experiences in the classroom.
I’m not completely sold on the idea of vouchers. I agree that something needs to be done to help students at underperforming schools, I just don’t think that the current voucher system is the answer. The idea of being able to help children in underperforming schools is great. However, the cons of the current voucher system outweigh the benefits. One way to fix the voucher system would be to increase the value of vouchers. This would allow more students to utilize the vouchers and ultimately help the poorer students vouchers were initially intended to help. However, this would require more money. Which leads me to the question, could the underperforming schools be improved if they received more funding?
Currently, there is very little evidence to support the claims made by school choice advocates. Part of this is due to the fact that vouchers are not widely used in America yet. There are a handful of states that offer voucher programs, but all of these programs are slightly different. In the states where vouchers are used, researchers have tried to collect data on academic performance and student outcomes. Additionally, very little data has been collected in terms of long-term outcomes. The data that has been collected has shown little or no difference between students that use vouchers and those who remain in their public schools. For example, in Washington D.C. a group of researchers looked at standardized test scores for students that participated in the voucher system and compared these scores to those from students at their original schools. Results of this study showed that there was a marginally significant difference in reading test scores for those who used vouchers. Students did not show any difference in test scores when math skills were assessed (1).
There have been a few studies conducted that have shown improved academic performance for students who utilized vouchers. However, the results of these studies have come under question. To begin with private schools have been accused of only accepting vouchers from the best and brightest students. This creates something called the cream skimming effect where the smartest and wealthiest of inner city kids use vouchers to switch schools, leaving behind the other students who cannot afford to change schools (2). When a school is allowed to select which students, it accepts it can be expected that the school will perform better than schools that must accept all students.
Another argument that has been made against the data supporting the effectiveness of vouchers is that parent involvement serves as a confound. This argument states that families that use vouchers to send their child to a better school are more likely to place a higher value on education. Parents that place a high value on education are more likely to help their children with school work and push them to do well in school. Which could serve as a possible confound.
Although vouchers have not shown a large impact on academic achievement (test scores) data has shown that minority students who receive vouchers are more likely to attend college.
At this point, there has not been enough research done to be able to definitively say whether or not vouchers help to improve educational outcomes.
- Wolf, P., Kisida, B., Gutmann, B., Puma, M., Eissa, N., & Rizzo, L. (2013).
School Vouchers and Student Outcomes: Experimental Evidence from
Washington, DC. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 32(2), 246-270.
- Altonji, J., Huang, C., & Taber, C. (2015). Estimating the Cream Skimming Effect
of School Choice. Journal of Political Economy, 123(2), 266-324.
- School vouchers provide parents with the right to choose.
- School vouchers allow parents and children to make a decision about their education. Parents are allowed to choose where their child attends school. This can allow families to remove their children from underperforming schools and send them to a better school. This also provides parents with the ability to choose whether their child attends a public or private school.
- Vouchers create better public schools.
- By implementing vouchers, competition is created between schools. Essentially, schools become a free marketplace. If families have the ability to remove their children from underperforming schools, the underperforming schools must either improve, or shut down.
- Vouchers provide low-income families with the opportunity to receive a great education.
- Typically, only wealthier families can afford a private education. Statically, students who attend private high schools are more likely to graduate and attend college. Additionally, many of our nation’s underperforming schools are located in poorer urban settings. Therefore, most children living in poorer urban areas are typically stuck attending underperforming schools. Vouchers would allow lower income families to attend private schools by subsidizing the cost.
- Separation of Church and State.
- One of the largest arguments about vouchers is the fact that they blur the lines of separation of church and state. In 11 of the 13 states that currently use vouchers, families are allowed to use government money to send their children to religious schools. Critics feel that government money should not go towards funding religious schools.
- Vouchers hurt already struggling public schools
- When a student leaves a public school, the money travels with the student. Therefore, the public school is now receiving less funding. Even though the underperforming schools have less students to educate, their operating costs do not decrease. As a result, schools feel the consequences of economies of scale (I guess two years at a business school did teach me something, thanks Bryant). The idea of economies of scale states that as your business expands, it becomes more efficient and the cost of producing each good decreases. For example, whether you have twenty-eight students, or eleven, you still have to pay for one teacher. Schools still typically end up having to pay the same number of teachers, so this part of the budget remains unchanged. However, this leaves less money in the budget for other items and services such as textbooks, extra-curricular activities and art classes.
- Vouchers help middle class families, but hurt low-income families.
- Vouchers do not always cover the full cost of a private education. Even when vouchers cover the full cost of tuition at a private school, there are additional fees that typically do not get included in tuition. For example, many private schools have uniform fees and activity fees. Parents that cannot afford to pay the extra money that vouchers do not cover are stuck keeping their children in the underperforming schools. As a result, these poorer students are forced to stay in underperforming schools (which are being further under-funded as mentioned above.
Conclusion: Most of the evidence surrounding the effectiveness of vouchers is contradictory. Many of the studies completed on the effects of vouchers have been short term, and yielded insignificant results.
Coming up next: Do vouchers work? An analysis of current voucher programs.
One of my goals for this blog is to educate members of the community on the pros and cons of school vouchers. While I do plan on sharing my opinions in future posts, for now I am aiming to provide objective information about school vouchers.
One of the first things I realized while researching how vouchers work was that it is very difficult to find non-biased information about vouchers. Most of the videos I watched claimed to be unbiased; however, these same videos often emphasized certain points while leaving others unmentioned.
In order to talk about the intricacies of school vouchers, it is important to understand the basic ideas surrounding school vouchers. This NPR video does a good job explaining how vouchers work.
If you don’t feel like watching the video, I’ll give you a recap:
- School vouchers are like coupons given to parents who want to move their child from a public school to a private school/charter school.
- The money comes from taxpayer dollars that were initially allocated to public schools. For example, if a public school cost $100 to operate and there were 10 students attending the school it would be determined that the cost to educate one student is $10. The voucher in the example could be worth up to $10 if the government chooses to provide the family with the full amount they would have spent on the student in the public school. However, some states’ voucher programs do not provide the family with the full $10, instead they may only offer the family a voucher worth $7 or $8. The family may then take this money and put it toward paying for a private education.
- 14 states currently offer traditional student vouchers
- Studies that examined the academic performance of students who utilized vouchers have found mixed results. Some students do better at their new schools and some do worse. But, most students show little to no change in academic performance.
Coming up next: The Pros and Cons of School Vouchers
Why am I writing this blog? A few weeks ago I found myself sitting in the middle of a classroom being asked to choose an issue of public concern and research it. At the time, I thought I was going to be assigned the simple task of writing a research paper. However, this course took an interesting turn. Instead of being told to write a standard research paper, I was told that I could write anything I wanted as long as it demonstrated my new-found knowledge. My initial idea was to create a documentary, but then I realized a) I had never made a documentary before and b) I only had one week to create this final product. So instead I decided I would write a blog. Writing a blog gives me the freedom to begin a public conversation. In a standard research paper, there is little room for discussion. There is an author, who tells, and an audience, who listens. On this blog, I get the best of both worlds.
While there are many education blogs out there, I feel that this blog offers a new perspective. Most of the educational policy blogs that currently exist are written by current teachers or policy makers. However, I am not a teacher (yet). I’m on my way to becoming a teacher, but I have not yet fully experienced all that comes along with being a teacher. Despite this, I am able to offer a perspective that most teacher bloggers cannot. I am able to offer the perspective of a student. I get to see the world from both sides of the classroom.
While I hope everyone reading this blog gains some sort of enjoyment from reading what I have to say, my main goal is to inform all of you about current issues in education and begin a discussion. Everyone reading this blog has something to gain (or lose) when it comes to discussing education. Therefore, it is important to understand the issues and make informed decisions.