Sunday, April 06, 2008

Vouchers

For those of y'all who may not know, the state of Louisiana has been legislatively considering tax breaks for folks who send their kids to private school. Because I teach in a public school, I got to hear about how much others in my profession thought of this idea. I don't need to get too far into a description to let you know that such an idea wasn't held in such high esteem.

The two big arguments against, the ones that I heard anyway, were 1) that private schools aren't really that much better, educationally speaking, because they may or may not be required to hire certified educators; and 2) that such a plan would take money away from an already cash strapped public school system.

Then there was 3) much ado about this program being an effective tax break for rich people, who send their kids to private schools anyway.

For those of y'all who know me, you know I couldn't keep my mouth shut. You see, I am of the firm opinion that:

1) Certification programs have very little impact on how good an educator someone is. I took EDU classes at the University of Georgia for several years, I helped administer Masters of Education classes at a sattelite campus for Troy University, and I've taken certification courses through the University of New Orleans. In all that time I learned a lot about what Ed.D's and Ph.D's think of the field of education, but not much of it prepared me for life in an actual classroom working environment. Things that prepared me more for the classroom included participation in local theater for 10 years (how to plan a show), working in the restaurant business (prepped me for the general minute-to-minute abuse) and playing in various bands throughout my life (how to keep the show going even when everything goes wrong). Just because you can take 25 - 30 semester hours of college level courses does not mean you are automatically an effective teacher.

2) Public school systems (in places like Coastal Georgia, Northeast Georgia, Southeast Louisiana and anywhere USA) are cash-strapped and it has very little to do with private school patrons getting a tax break. People who think about the problem this way are oversimplifying the argument, and doing so only gives succor to the people who are the really real problem.

If you want to know why your public schools have no money, go and look at how much money administrators at the state and local level make. Look at how much money is being spent on education-industry subcontractors (hell, just look at the cost of endless standardized testing alone). Look at how much money is being wasted by leaving infrastructure issues to fester until they are far larger problems (and higher dollar items) for the physical plant. Look at how much sheer time teachers and administrators have to burn handling behavior-management and ineffectively run special education situations instead of spending their time teaching and improving instruction. You think it isn't a waste of money every time I have to stop class because some clown thinks it is funny to cover school desks in blue ink from a pen they purposefully broke?

Tax issues are a problem in their own right, but let's put a fine point on it: cash-strapped educational institutions arise from mismanagment at high, high levels by people who are elected or hired specifically to keep these same issues under control. Private school tax breaks are a drop in the bucket in comparison to this stuff.

3) Tax breaks for folks who send their kid to private schools are tax breaks for rich people. They are also tax breaks for middle and lower class folks who are tired of their kids going to school in a system that is not serious about dealing with behavior managment issues or handling special education appropriately and effectively. The rich folks are going to send their kids to private school anyway, but with a tax break, some middle and lower class folks might be able to make ends meet a little better and get their kids into a safer school - or a school that isn't legally required and hamstrung to keep "aggravated assault students" on their rosters.

Which is the primary reason a lot of folks put their kids into private schools in the first place.

It isn't a good solution to the situation by any stretch of the imagination. It allows politicans to create a wedge issue instead of doing their jobs and dealing with the real problems. It allows establishment industries and special interests to wail about unfairness in funding. It creates further animosity between teachers, parents and administrators. It creates further paranoia and cynicism in the population most in need of effective educational institutions.

But it is -a- solution of some stripe, as much as it pains me to say it. Are the drawbacks worth the rewards? Who can tell? But with the current legal, systematic and entrenched environment, expect more stuff like this coming down the pipe. And expect it to win big in the hearts and minds of the majority.

.

3 comments:

DADvocate said...

Good comments. In education, I usually put the burden on the parents first. Kids who have parents that stress the importance of education and teach/enforce/reward good behavior do better in school, etc.

I also think good administrators help a great deal. When I moved to my present location 18 years ago I swore my kids would never go to the public school here because of the poor academic reputation and reputed behavioral problems in the school. Rather they would go to the small local parochial school.

Now I've switched. The public school hired a new superintendent and assistant superintendent. They got tough on misbehavior and serious about academics. The system is now in the top 10% in Kentucky according to testing scores.

Interestingly, sports got better too. Athletes grades are checked weekly during the season. Poor grades, no play. The basketball team has won two state championships since the new administrators came. You've probably heard of our most famous basketball graduate, Chris Lofton.

The football team came from nothingness to a perennial district champion contender.

Another interesting note, the percentage of male teachers is higher than the national average. I checked this out once but can't remember the actual percentages. My son is a freshman in h.s. and only has one female teacher. Just the other day he mentioned how much he liked having male teachers.

Schroeder said...

Excellent comments. I'll be chewing on these ideas for a while, but I'm already adjusting my own thoughts on the issue.

Schroeder said...

By the way, you should change your Blogger settings to allow non-Blogger/Google comments.