More Private Schools Won’t Solve Educational Inequality

Real-life voucher programs, as Scott points out, tend to accommodate far too few students to make a difference in the systemic way we educate poor children in this country. But to respond to a point Megan McArdle made in an earlier post on vouchers, let’s imagine for a moment that every child in an underperforming urban school district receives a voucher to attend private school. Since there definitely aren’t enough existing parochial and private schools to meet the demand, new schools open to take advantage of the government subsidies.

This will still be a drastically unequal system. Why? Because many, if not most, of the new schools will continue to cater exclusively to poor, non-white students. Those schools will suffer from poor reputations (racism and classism are real), less parent volunteer time, less investment from the community, and probably less funding. Megan, one reason to support the federal government providing any service is that greater centralization can reduce inequalities. Many of the inequalities already present in our educational system are the result of state and local funding apparatuses for the schools that rely upon local property taxes. The inequalities are also the result of many wealthier, whiter people drawing boundary lines so that their kids’ schools cater only to people like them.

I agree with Megan that it’s a problem so many affluent families opt-out of the public schools. But vouchers aren’t the solution. We need to decrease the isolation and concentration of already stigmatized groups within our education system. Since there is no evidence that private charters do a better job at educating kids than public schools do, what makes us think crowding poor kids into private schools en masse will fix the problem? Rather, we need to make more public schools into good public schools, so that more parents opt-in. This doesn’t have to take decades. Schools can turn around in a year or two under good leadership and with quality teachers and high academic standards.

cross posted at TAPPED 

2 thoughts on “More Private Schools Won’t Solve Educational Inequality

  1. JB

    This is exactly what happened in Milwaukee (which no one seem to want to discuss despite the fact that it’s the oldest running voucher program in the country).

    When the voucher program expanded in the mid-90s new schools popped up everywhere in the city, and many of them were little more than glorified day care centers. While some of the kids who received vouchers were able to use them at well established private schools, some students just ended up in makeshift neighborhood schools run by people who had no educational experience whatsoever. To make matters worse, these tended to be the youngest of students, who conceivably received no real education during the an absolutely essential period of their lives.

    Further complicating things, the Milwaukee voucher program has no mechanism for accountability … but the Journal-Sentinel (see here: report (see here: link to www2.jsonline.com) basically gives the impression that, even on the best of days, the voucher experiment has been little more than a wash.

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  2. Crimson Wife

    Having high academic standards is politically incorrect among educrats. My local district has a magnet school called S.T.A.G.E. (“School of Talented & Gifted Education). The brochure talks about offering Mandarin, “advanced math & science”, and so on & naively, I thought it was a true GATE school. When I looked into it further, however, I discovered it’s all just window dressing. There is no minimum IQ cutoff for enrollment or any selectivity in the admissions whatsoever. I talked with the principal and she told me “All children are gifted.” That’s a load of B.S. All children may be gifts from God, but they are not all intellectually gifted. Can you imagine a sports director justifying not offering tryout teams because “all kids are athletic”?

    There is a private GATE school in our area, but it charges $23k/yr per child. So basically all the gifted kids from low-to-moderate income families are left without an appropriate educational option :-(

    I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can afford to homeschool our children. But most families around here need both parents’ incomes just to get by.

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