Schmoke's retreat to school choice Mayor says schools need 'excellence' and 'accountability'

March 17, 1996|By Willis D. Hawley Time to root socialism out of schools; All the results show government monopoly can't work; For choice

Conceding that his school reform efforts have been futile, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has appointed a task force to examine choice, a controversial plan that would allow parents to choose their children's schools. Schmoke was heavily influenced by a Cato Institute book titled, "Liberating Schools Education in the Inner City," by David Boaz. On March 7, the mayor publicly unveiled his support for choice during a speech before the Johns Hopkins Club. Here are highlights of the speech:

I have to admit that far too many of our students score far below state norms on the MSPAP and other standardized tests. For too many of our students, poor academic performance begins in elementary school and continues straight through to high school with devastating consequences. ...

Why do I believe choice is important? Two words answer that question: excellence and accountablity. Parents want academic excellence for their children. They also want to know that there is someone in the school who is accountable for achieving high standards. But if your child is zoned into a school that is not performing well academically, and where teachers and administrators don't see themselves as being responsible for that academic performance, there is little that you can do. You can only send your child to that school and hope for the best. ...

It's time to give all Baltimore parents the option to pull their children out of poorly-run schools and place them in schools where they believe their children will get a better education. If exercising this option leads to a mass exodus from some schools, these schools will learn a painful lesson: either they will have to improve or declining enrollments will force them to shut down and poorly-performing staff would lose their jobs. Successful teachers and administrators, on the other hand, would be rewarded for the progress of their students. ...

I will ask the task force to consider to consider the pros and cons of parental choice plans in all their variations including public school voucher plans like the one implemented in Los Angeles, private school voucher plans like the one in Milwaukee, magnet schools and charter schools.

Higher costs and imaginary benefits; School vouchers would further fragment America; Against choice

BEFORE BALTIMORE decides that giving parents vouchers to enroll their children in private schools will improve the education of all children, the common justifications for this proposed approach to school improvement should be critically examined. Such an analysis will show that the claims for the benefits of providing parents with public funds for private school tuition do not hold up. Moreover, the widespread use of vouchers for private school tuition will increase the costs of education for taxpayers, undermine support for public schools, and further separate children by class, race and beliefs.

Voucher Justification 1.

Providing parents with options in the private sector will cause schools to compete for students and this will lead to improvements in the overall quality of instruction and the rigor of the curriculum in both public and private schools.

If this assumption were correct, private school students would outperform public school students from similar backgrounds and private schools would compete for students by developing new and powerful strategies for enhancing student learning. But private schools are not, on average, more effective than public schools and there is no evidence that innovation is a characteristic that differentiates private and public schools.

The advocates of tuition vouchers argue that market forces will increase competition in ways that increase the general welfare. However, the characteristics of effective competitive markets relatively simple and reliable ways to assess product quality, equality (or symmetry) of information among consumers, low needs for regulation related to safety or equity, independence of purchasing acts, and no third-party payments are not present in the market for schooling.

It is very difficult for parents or researchers to know how much difference one school makes in student learning compared to another. This reality, coupled with the desire of most parents to have their children attend schools with people like themselves (or people they want to be like) and to avoid unfamiliar school settings, means that parental choice seldom turns on evidence of school quality. Student characteristics, location, physical facilities, religious preference, and ideology are the most common bases of parental choice. These reasons for school selection do not lead schools to compete with one another to achieve higher levels of educational excellence. Indeed, they probably detract from parental concern for academic differences among schools.

Voucher Justification 2.

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