Free Essays on Possibilities Offered by Vouchers and School Choice

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The Exciting Possibilities Offered by School Choice

     We are in the midst of an unprecedented attack on public schools in the United States. What is causing this attack? Since schools are public institutions, they are by their nature subject to close scrutiny in a democratic society such as ours. All would agree that public schools must be willing to change to meet the changing needs of the greater society. It just seems that in the past decade, the mudslinging has gotten out of hand.


Only now is evidence emerging testifying to the fact that much of the criticism leveled at public schools is exaggerated and misplaced. It is easy to forget that schools reflect what is happening in society, not cause it. Schools of today have recently shown that they are performing better than ever. Unfortunately, the traditional challenges confronting schools have increased dramatically and broadly as the world and students have changed. Now schools are facing drastic change -- necessary change that must take place quickly so students are able to cope in a dramatically changing world of the future. All of the criticism creates fear in teachers and administrators rather than a desire to embrace change.


There is now a great push towards choice. Choice sounds innocent enough and very positive in a democratic society such as ours. Choice is fundamental to ours roots of democracy -- it produces competition, creativity, and high-quality results. Shouldn't people be free to choose where their children go to school and with whom? Those who propose choice systems of schooling argue that the public school system is a "failed monopoly" that would improve if it were subjected to the forces of the marketplace (Houston, 1993). They also argue that it will save public school money, that it will increase the sense of community and pride of ownership in schools -- either public or private, and that it will bring about sweeping changes in education. Supporters contend that it will make the school system much more responsive to community needs, improve accountability, standards and curriculum.


School choice has its critics as well. A voucher system means that public money would be made available to parents to use in any educational setting -- public or private. Just about anyone could open their own "school" and there would be little control. Most public schools are already underfunded, if resources are drained and given to private schools, would discrimination result for those who remain?

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Public schools cannot deny admission to anyone because of race, creed, national origin, religion, or handicap. Private schools do not have to abide by these same rules. People may choose to leave public schools for the wrong reasons -- media hype, disgruntled elderly taxpayers, cultural diversity. Media reports have painted a bleak picture about pubic schools and as a result many Americans have lost faith in public schools in general. An interesting study was done about confidence in schools and generally parents give their own children's schools good grades! (Houston, 1993). It would seem that the people who had the nastiest things to say about public schools are those who either no longer have children in school or never did have children in school!


There are those individuals who argue that competition is not good when it comes to schools. They also say that schools should not be seen as businesses. Peter Cohen speaks about this in The Gospel According to the Harvard Business School (1973). He states that competition is wasteful and every winner comes out at the expense of a hundred thousand losers. Cohen writes "It (America) refuses to see that too much pressure (from competition) doesn't move people, it kills them" (Cohen, 1973).


I would like to suggest that competition might just be the best thing that has happened to American education if two very important items would be taken into consideration along with the idea of choice. If public school educators were suddenly thrust into an environment of creative, competitive entrepreneurs, many would learn to provide the high-quality products (such as programs) that parents and students want (Sagor, 1993). Those educators who chose not to or were unable to create high-quality programs would be put out of business because they failed to attract customers. However, I am very concerned that if we used vouchers, private schools would still discriminate by charging higher tuition in addition to the vouchers. To use vouchers effectively, they must constitute the complete and total cost of academic tuition. If this is not done, then the government would be helping the rich, not the poor to afford better schools. Such a voucher would make an education from a private school as available to the poor and disadvantaged students as to the advantaged. The second change that must take place if vouchers are used is that all schools who choose to accept vouchers must comply with all the regulations currently placed upon their public school counterparts. This would ensure that rules, regs, and procedures that ensure inclusion and protect rights and needs of children will be maintained when the child elects to move into a private setting. If the private school will not comply, they lose the voucher.


What America needs is a high-quality educational system equally available to all children, rich or poor. It needs a system that appeals to the public, responds to individual student needs, and one that fits with parental belief systems. It remains to be seen whether school choice in the form of vouchers can provide all this, but it certainly does open one's mind to new and exciting possibilities.


Works Cited

Cohen, Peter (1973). The Gospel According to the Harvard Business School.

Houston, Paul (1993). School Vouchers: The Latest California Joke. PDK.

Sagor, Richard (1993). Creating a Level Playing Field. PDK.




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