I put a lot of thought and time into this paper Sadly I didn't put a lot of time in the actual writing, I managed to put it off, literally until the 11th hour (I started at 11, it was due at 1) so there are likely some mistakes, but it's an interesting topic. For the sake of conciseness and having a solid and permissibly biased argument, I didn't spend a ton of time on the studies that back up vouchers, but there's substantial (albeit contradictory) information about the success of vouchers in a few places. It's worth reading about, if you're into that sort of thing.
Race for the Finnish: Why Vouchers Won't Solve American Education
is broken. America, which once led the world in education, has
fallen far behind other developed countries, now ranking around 20th worldwide. As a solution, some suggest a voucher
program as a way to let the invisible hand of the free market create
better schools. This idea is flawed. In practice vouchers are not
an easy, catch-all solution, and could perhaps make things even
worse. What is needed is a greater paradigm shift in the way we
First of all, what
is the purpose of education? Some see education in a utilitarian view as a means to stimulate the economy and domestic prosperity. Others
see it in terms of egalitarianism: that education is the cure for the
inequality in our society, the means whereby the poor can rise up out
of poverty and achieve success. In either case, there is little
conclusive evidence that vouchers work. Private school students,
when adjusted for income, perform essentially the same as public
school students, or in some cases worse. The greatest determination
in educational achievement is not schooling or race but economic
conditions. In general, the rich do well wherever they are, the poor
do poorly. Thus private systems, already driven by free market
principles, have yet to outperform the public schools in a
significant way. From an egalitarian perspective, vouchers are
plainly ill equipped for equality. In a free market the richest will
always be able afford the best and the poorest will be forced to
settle for the worst. This is how schools are now; the rich can
afford to live in areas with good public schools and choose between
public and private, and the poor are stuck with their ineffective
local public schools. In this sense vouchers probably could not make
things much worse, but equality has never been the goal or the
product of capitalism.
vouchers are problematic. Typically the proposed vouchers would
cover around $3,000. Let us be generous and say it was $5,000. The
average cost of private school is over $10,000. It is lower at
religious schools, which are often non-profit models. At non-affiliated,
assumably more capitalistic institutions, the average cost is over $16,000.
The cost of educating a public school student is $10,000. Even
accounting for the supposed greater efficiency of private
institutions, it is difficult to imagine that a voucher would provide
better choices, when there is little incentive for a private entity
to seek out the business of losing money while educating.
conservatives there are important considerations for vouchers. It is
still a government imposed redistribution of wealth. The rich are
still paying more in taxes to fund the education of the poor. Those
without children are paying for the education of those with children,
assuming they do not get their money back. In addition, since
private schools would be receiving government funds, the government
would undoubtably want some control over how that money is spent. In
many ways, vouchers would destroy many of the supposed advantages of
private schools. A better option for conservatives who do not want
to be paying for other children would be to simply reduce taxes and
cut government spending on education, but this is harder to sell to
The argument for
vouchers invokes the mystical free market which unavoidably solves
all these problems. There would be no great costs, because supply
and demand would ensure competitive rates. Private schools would be
so effective that the cost of educating a student would drop
dramatically, allowing for even lower costs. Institutional
structures could be established to ensure that problems of unfairness
were taken care of (although this in itself is a step back from the
free market that would supposedly fix everything). Even public
schools, forced to compete with private schools, would perform better
as the monopoly of socialist education was eliminated. To be fair,
these are valid arguments, and there is evidence for them. Several
studies of voucher programs have shown some success, even improvement
for the public schools nearby. However, it is hardly conclusive.
One of the longest and most complete experiments in free market
schooling occurred in Chile, which for over a decade implemented the
voucher system under the guidance of Chicago economists. What
happened was a near collapse of their education system. Graduation
rates dropped dramatically and over all performance declined. It is
easy to argue that there were confounding factors, but it is clear
that the free market failed to overcome the challenges of educating a
nation. A similar effort in Sweden has produced a thoroughly average
education system, one that falls just behind The United States in
Whether or not
vouchers would help is a complicated issue. They have produced some
success and some failure in the various locations in which they have
been implemented, but it is clear that they are unlikely on their own
to catapult our country back to the forefront of education. I do not
presume to know the solution for this, but it is my feeling that a
larger change is necessary. American schools are focused so much on
'performance' that they fail to educate. In Finland, which
consistently places first or second in world rankings, the education
system is absolutely different from ours. It is completely
centralized, with a standardized curriculum across all schools and
colleges, which are free. Kindergarten starts at age seven,
following an extensive pre-schooling program, teachers are highly
respected and becoming a teacher is highly competitive, not
withstanding the pay being comparable to teachers here. There is
little standardized testing, and grades are not even given until high
school, and even then no rankings are established. The focus of the
system is not on competition or performance, but on equality,
ensuring that every student has as great an opportunity as every
other. From an american view point, the whole system seems so
european. But the results are difficult to deny, especially in light
of the fact that Finland actually spends less per student than the
Clearly it is not a
question of money, or incentive, but in the culture of education.
Somehow, in our race to outperform everyone else, we are leaving our
children behind, even as we are being beaten by countries whose only
goals are equality. If America expects to be competitive in the
global economy, and if we desire to provide an equal chance to all
children, we must learn from the Finnish model. We must accept that
there is no single, simple, solution to such a complicated problem
and begin to determine how we can go about completely changing the
culture of education.
are various sites I read in thinking about this issue, and I've
referred to several of their findings, although with little
specificity. In all honesty I ran out of time to do an effective
bibliography, but for fairness here are the sites that I read and
some of their main points:
I also read a bit of Chile's
free-market miracle: a second look. This is a good book on vouchers
in Chile, it's on google.
As a bit of an after though, it didn't quite fit into the paper, but I was thinking about how intelligence is portrayed in the public. If we are going to continue to call intelligence elitism, attack higher education as secular, vilify teachers as incompetent and lazy, and remove all responsibility from parents and children for their performance, performance which is measured by artificial tests which don't necessarily translate into real knowledge, should we really be surprised that our education isn't the best?
The plan was to do my homework, but I am mysteriously sleepy. I'm going to blame taco bell, I don't know how that could have been a good idea. I'm going to try to tell a linear story, we'll see how this goes:
A few weeks ago, I realized I needed to give myself a budget. I had gotten a raise at the MTC, and I was falling into the habit of spending money because I could. Zappos sent me a free vip membership, so I bought some shoes. Threadless kept telling me about these great deals, so I bought several T-shirts. Spencer (my cousin) tipped me off to a super cheap bike on KSL, so I bought it. My computer broke, on account of being dropped, so I had to pay two of my friends gas money to drive me up to Salt Lake twice over the course of two days in order to have it fixed at the apple store. Not withstanding having bought lots of really great things at really good prices, I realized I needed to control myself a little.
Then, I was checking ksl for scooters as I often did, and I the scooter I've been waiting for all this time. It was a tiny bit more than I was hoping to pay (I wanted to pay around $450) but it was perfect. And then the weather became perfect, and on a bit of a whim, I called the guy, and bought it. Having never driven a scooter before, and not having a helmet, driving it home at night was one of the more nerve wracking experiences in recent history, but I didn't die, so that was a huge success.
The second day of owning a scooter was a bit of a trial of my scooter faith. I realized I had to get it registered and insured and deal with all these absurd laws and taxes and things that just don't exist for bikes. Then I went to start it and I couldn't get it to start. I tried with the kick start for about 20 minutes, and finally got it, and then turned it off to run in for my stuff, and then when I came back i couldn't get it to work for an hour or so. I finally got a friend to jump start it, so that I could drive it to the inspection place so that I could get it registered, I got there and they failed it for the tire tread, and informed me that I needed a new tire. I had already read that these people were a little over zealous in their problem finding and a little slothful in their problem fixing, so I kindly rejected their offer to fix the tire for $80. Once again, I couldn't get it started, so I had to ask them to jump it, which they graciously did for free. It was a beautiful day though, and driving my scooter home was basically amazing. That day I was talking to my friend about it and he told me of a magical place that would pass scooter inspections in all but the most serious cases. I had hope.
The next day I set off for the Sinclair on Center st. Miraculously, my scooter kickstarted on the third try, and I drove it all the way there without any problems, then I left it running for about half an hour while they took care of everything, so as to recharge the battery. And it passed, with flying colors. I drove it back home, and bought some helmets, so that I would could stop tearing up (from the wind) and stop worrying about dying (from the road). The next day was sunday, and after our weekly brunch I went to show a couple of the girls my scooter. This was a big step in scooter ownership. I tried to start it, but it didn't work, but then the kick start worked relatively easily, and it was lots of fun to give them rides around the parking lot. I resisted the powerful urge to drive the scooter to church, and around town in the afternoon, since I still lacked license, registration, and a helmet.
Anyway, to wrap up: after the initial rocky start, it's been a dream. I managed to take care of my license, registration, and insurance today, and my helmets are in the mail. I had no idea how absurdly fun owning a scooter would be, it's totally worth the money I've spent,
Which brings us back to the budget. Having been wholly unsuccessful in creating a budget, my new budget is that I'm not allowed to buy anything unnecessary during the month of march. We'll see how much money I have when march ends, and then I might continue it through april. We found a really good deal on summer rent though ($65 a month) so I'll catch up pretty quickly.
So that's the saga of how I spent way more money than I should have in the space of about a week, I'll put some pictures up once I take them. That was supposed to happen today, but it got dark before I got around to it. If you find yourself considering buying a scooter, my only advice is to do it quickly. My main regret is that I didn't buy a scooter last year at this time when I was considering it; so much time wasted.