NPR Panelists Discuss School Vouchers at GSE
Panelists for National Public Radio (NPR) debated the usefulness of private school vouchers before an audience of 200 in Gutman Library at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) last night.
The debate was moderated by NPR's John Merrow, featured Cleveland City Councillor Fannie Lewis and Clint Bolick, executive director of the Institute for Justice.
Bolick and Lewis advocated the use of vouchers, which enable students who forego public school a subsidy toward private school tuition, as a solution to inner city education problems.
Professor of Education Richard F. Elmore and Elliot Mincberg, vice president of the People for the American Way Foundation, however, both labeled vouchers a diversion from real problems that demand immediate attention in the inner cities of America.
In addition, Elmore noted that there is no evidence that private schools attended through voucher programs provide better instruction than public schools.
"In most voucher and charter schools, the instruction is only decent, in relation to even the poorest public schools," Elmore said. "There is no other industrialized country in the world where they've improved public schools by using vouchers."
However, Lewis and Bolick both said that a private school education is necessarily safer and, in most cases, more comprehensive than that available in public school systems. Both advocated more choice in education, something they said is needed because of the terrible conditions in many inner-city public schools.
"In the Cleveland public schools, students have a 1-in-14 chance of graduating school on time with a senior level of proficiency," Bolick said, "and a one in fourteen chance each year of being a victim of crime."
Lewis added that "more than 50 percent of the youngsters in my community are being lost, dropping out of school...or not graduating with enough skills."
Bolick said vouchers would provide immediate relief to poor families in addition to forcing public schools to raise their educational standards in the long run. According to Bolick, most families affected by voucher systems in public school districts would have below-average incomes.
In Milwaukee, she noted, the median income of families receiving vouchers is currently $7,000.
"Anytime you've seen competition introduced into a previously monopolized area where you don't have choice...it's forced them to improve," Bolick said.
But Elmore and Mincberg emphasized that public schools will be hurt, both in the immediate and distant future, by the institution of voucher programs.
"The evidence is that children and parents who take advantage of voucher programs tend to be more actively involved in education," Elmore said. "But what about those left behind?...The net effect is a reduction in performance."
Mincberg estimated that if a national voucher program were instituted $16 billion would go to students already in private schools. Elmore suggested that, rather than instituting a voucher system, school districts should concentrate on increasing performance educational performance standards to improve public schools.
"We need higher expectations, clearer standards, and they need to apply to every student," Elmore said. "We need very high standards for teachers."
Elmore and Mincberg both pointed to Public School Districts two and four in New York City as examples of the way that public schools can be reformed without the use of vouchers.
According to the two panelists, both districts made efforts to improve performance and offered students the chance to choose which public school to attend, and both dramatically improved.
Elmore attributes very little of this improvement to the public school choice offered, but said he would not oppose such a program.
According to Mincberg, rather than improve public schools, vouchers "would leave most kids in a very bad situation in public schools that will keep getting worse."