Friday, July 28, 2006

School choice and improving education

John Stossel criticizes a new study comparing government schools to private schools in his latest column. Stossel, like many misguided conservatives, trumpets the benefits of "school choice", which basically means vouchers.

I've explained on many occasions why I think vouchers are a bad idea. Basically, it comes down to one very simple phrase: "With government money comes government strings." When a private school accepts money from the government, it becomes beholden to the wishes of the government. What happens when a Christian school, after becoming addicted to the narcotic of government money, is told it must choose between daily chapel services and the ability to accept money from vouchers?

For conservatives in Monroe County, Indiana, a more relevant question is this: do we want the MCCSC School Board, which was attempting to ram through a sex survey using a fundamentally dishonest "passive consent" system in 2005, having any influence over the education of children at local Christian schools?

I would prefer to allow people with school-age children to "opt out" of the government school system and be given a property tax credit. This would provide a buffer between the government and private schools, and would also have the benefit of helping parents who choose to educate their children at home. Home schooling is a growing phenomenon, and has consistently proven to be a highly effective way of educating children. As a friend pointed out to me last week, school choice already exists for families who choose to sacrifice to send their children to a superior private school.

This is not to say that the idea of school choice should be completely rejected. It would be a good idea to offer parents the option of sending their children to different schools within the government school system. This would introduce the market forces and competition that advocates of vouchers content would force the government school system to improve, without putting religious liberty in danger.

Another way to improve the government school system would be to place an increased emphasis on discipline. Children and teens who are held accountable for poor behavior or a lack of effort will have an incentive to get their act together. I have heard one teacher in the local governemnt schools lament that he needs to be able to hold some children back rather than allowing them to move on to the next grade. There is a lot of pressure from parents, however, on both disciplinary issues and undeserved promotions.

This, ultimately, is where improvement needs to happen, and there is nothing that anyone in the government school system can do about it. If a student does not care and his or her parents do not care, there is virtually nothing that a teacher can do to force that child to behave and/or learn. So many parents raise such a ruckus when their child is rightly disciplined that it becomes easier to let the child "fall through the cracks" rather than deal with obnoxious parents.