Why Vouchers Aren’t the Answer

I’ve heard from a lot of self-proclaimed education experts that a voucher-based school choice system is the best way to go, since it would force the schools to compete for students. It is definitely a terrible, terrible idea, and here’s why:

In a perfect voucher world, kids would switch to whatever schools they wanted to because a school is demonstrably better than the one that they are currently in. So, obviously, there would be an influx of children to what they or their parents think are better schools. With more children in these “better” schools, class size and student population become huge issues, especially in the cafeteria, where seating is limited for the entire school. As class sizes increase, the quality of the education, obviously, goes down — counteracting the decision to even move to a new school. This trouble could be halted with the aid of a student “cap” or limit that a lot of schools already have, but that would eliminate the point of the voucher system, as kids couldn’t get into the school of their choice because too many kids were already enrolled.

Furthermore, this would have an equal and opposite effect on the schools children were leaving. If kids left schools in large numbers, there would (obviously) be less kids at “underperforming” schools. What happens to the kids who are unable to change schools due to student “caps”? Higher level classes, such as APs, get cut from the curriculum, and the advanced children who didn’t abandon ship like their classmates are left in the dust.

As children leave schools to “better” ones, their money goes with them. If a school is deemed unworthy by parent and child alike, and kids move, the schools they are getting away from lose money, and that means that the wages of everyone in the schools — counselors, teachers, principals, etc. — go down. Eventually, as the voucher theory dictates, these schools will close. Great! Now at least 50 professionals don’t have jobs! Well, maybe, as the “better” schools started to accommodate larger numbers of students, they have to…

The Darwinarian approach of the voucher system eventually leaves one “super-school” on top of the heap. If one school is always on top, then there will always be an exodus out of “lesser” schools to the one “good” school. As students flock to the better school, that school will eventually need to expand to accommodate more students — resulting in more hiring of faculty. Assuming that so many kids have left schools that some are forced to close down, then teachers and faculty from other schools will be left jobless and will flock to the expanding “good” schools. But hold on a second: weren’t the weak faculty the reason why the schools that were closed down in the first place?

Not so fast. Teaching talent can only go so far – I’m a firm believer that, regardless of teaching talent, the student body really makes the school. When schools close, this simply eliminates a choice. The inevitability of the situation is that, as schools swallow other schools, one massive school reigns supreme (through elimination of “lesser” schools) — and is merely average, since it will have every child in the district. And now we’re back to square one, except without any choices. Is that what we want?

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