Carol Platt Liebau: School vouchers, revisited

Thursday, August 16, 2007

School vouchers, revisited

This is guest blogger Wile E Coyote.

We received this comment on school vouchers from a fellow blogger:

"[O]ur public schools would be in much better condition if we just banned all private education (because then the parents who cared about their kids and had cultural, economic and educational resources would have no option but to participate in the public system.)"

Parents who send their children to private schools already fully support the public system financially, so the blogger must mean that it is the supervisory and execution capabilities of these parents that will make a difference.

The blogger must first consider whether other environments of state monopoly in which there is no opt out yields satisfactory service. Imagine the post office before FedEx or any motor-vehicle-licensing bureau.

The blogger should also consider that if he admits that the supervisory skill and execution abilities of these parents make the difference, then he should not complain when, as a result of applying these skills and abilities, these parents recommend improving and particpating in the public system through a voucher program. In fact, the logic of the blogger's reasoning should cause him to embrace such a recommendation.


Blogger matth said...

I disagree with the idea that only mandatory public education be allowed. Also, as in most things, there are exceptions and degrees to which the following comments apply.

The motivation that monetary gain gives private industry and which might be transferred to the US Postal Service is not the same as the motivation for teachers, neither private school nor public school, to want to teach. Suggesting that teachers will do a better job if they are competing for students is a flawed argument.
Also, I would bet that "these parents" with these superior "skills" don't universally advocate the voucher system, unless it is a system that would benefit them financially.
(I assume the post meant to say "participating in the private system through a voucher system" and not '... the public system...".

9:43 AM  
Blogger Chepe Noyon said...

I seize upon this rare opportunity to agree with you wholeheartedly, thereby proving that I am not, from your POV, completely insane. ;-)

11:43 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

That was the logic behind school busing. Everyone remember how that turned out?

Parents exercised school choice by moving out of the cities.

In Kansas City, a judge took oversight over a school. Despite all of his mandates, he couldn't fix it.

The public school system (at least in large towns and cities) is structured precisely to keep control with the insiders and away from the parents. The fastest way to break that monopoly control is to break the monopoly and give all parents the ability to choose the school their kids go to. Hence school vouchers.

The good schools prosper and flourish, the bad ones go under. Good riddance.

1:24 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here.

Since many voucher programs are severely means tested, many of the people promoting them who have children do not benefit financially. I could also turn your argument around and say that the teachers' unions and bureaucrats who oppose vouchers do so because it would hurt them financially.

I did indeed intend to write "particpating in the public system through a voucher program". What matters is the government funding, not the service provider. Think of food stamps, or Section 48 housing vouchers.

If you believe the proposition that "that teachers will do a better job if they are competing for students is a flawed argument", please point out the flaw. Why should the teacher be any more or less altruistic than the postal worker or other public servant or professional?

1:50 PM  
Blogger matth said...


My argument is based on personally knowing some (not all, of course) parents who now send their kids to private schools - these parents with superior "skills". They are motivated to private school their kids because they believe the private school is better than the public schools, for sure. But believe me, the idea of vouchers providing the means for disadvantaged kids, some of the same kids who may be transferred to the neighborhood public school from which the private schooled kids were pulled, to attend their private schools is counter to one of the things they are trying to do - get their kids away from the kids that might be a negative influence on their children. And I would say that is a valid motivation. It is these parents, of which I believe there are significant numbers, who wouldn't support vouchers. As far as not benefiting financially goes, isn't a voucher more or less a coupon, worth an amount of money that can be applied to the cost of a private education? That's a financial benefit, isn't it?

I've worked in the private and public sector. You'll get no argument from me that the driving forces of free enterprise don't make the public side run more efficiently. And my perspective is that of a spouse of a teacher, one who has gotten a lot of grief over the years for not always being in complete agreement with her. I admit that the flaw I see in the motivation argument is probably anecdotal. But I have to take that step (not a leap, in my view) and say that on the level of the women and men that are in the trenches doing the teaching, private as well as public, their motivation is more altruistic than the postal worker or professional. It's not a case that they "should" be more altruistic. I'm an engineer. In general, my engineering professors had an interest and passion for their respective fields of engineering, as do the engineers I work with in private industry. While that is a motivation for what they do, I believe that the professors (again, in general) are also motivated by a desire to educate young people. That would be an altruistic motivation. I'd like to think that I, and other engineers that work in industry, do so for the benefit mankind. But again, I'd have to side with the teachers if we're going to do some sort of ranking. And it's actually not even a close call. I'm sure the idealogues that sit, ponder, and publish their opinions on the ways to better mankind are way up there on that list, too.
I have no firsthand knowledge of the details of a voucher system. But how would it benefit what I believe is a huge number of kids that have parents who are incapable of knowing what’s best? Most (almost 100% unfortunately) of the parents that at least know enough to take advantage of a transfer program and send their children to what is a good suburban public school in my case, are hapless (hopeless) when it comes to preparing their kids. The teachers’ unions shouldn’t be in control of schools, but these parents can’t be given control. What do vouchers do for all these kids?

9:05 AM  

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