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Privatization and the History of Vouchers in Education. Three Educational Innovations. Private School Choice: Vouchers (today) Public School Choice: Charter Schools. Questions to Ask:. Who promotes these programs? What are the ideas that shape these innovations?

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three educational innovations
Three Educational Innovations
  • Private School Choice: Vouchers (today)
  • Public School Choice: Charter Schools
questions to ask
Questions to Ask:
  • Who promotes these programs? What are the ideas that shape these innovations?
  • Who benefits from these programs? What is the effect on social inequality? What is its effect on quality of teaching and learning in school classrooms?
neo liberalism
  • Competitive private enterprise is likely to be far more efficient--producing the most at the lowest cost--than government-run enterprises.
  • People will spend their money at the business where they get the best product for the smallest cost.
neo liberalism5
  • This view of the world has affected not only educational policy, but also health policy, the proposal to change social security so that individuals can set up private accounts, and the way that the government does business through sub-contracting (military, accounting services)
milton friedman
Milton Friedman
  • A neo-liberal economist (who graduated from Rutgers University, 1932)
  • First proposed vouchers in an article, “The Role of Government in Education,” 1951.
  • Government has a monopoly over education: no wonder the education system is in terrible shape!
governments should finance education but not administer it
Governments should finance education, but not administer it

“Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services. Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an ‘approved’ institution of their choice.”


“The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operating for profit or by non-profit institutions of various kinds. The role of the government would be limited to assuring that the schools met certain minimum standards such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants to assure that they maintain minimum sanitary requirements.”


“Government has appropriately been concerned with widening the opportunity of young men and women to get professional and technical training, but it has sought to further this objective by the inappropriate means of subsidizing such education, largely in the form of making it available free or at a low price at governmentally operated schools.”

a definition of vouchers
A Definition of Vouchers

“Education vouchers are tuition certificates that are issued by the government and are redeemable at the school of the student’s choice. Their aim is to make the education system operate as much like a free market as possible.”

--Laura Hersh Salganik, “The Fall and Rise of Education Vouchers,” Teachers College Record (1981) 83:2.

cleveland scholarship and testing program 1996
Cleveland Scholarship and Testing Program, 1996
  • Gives students a scholarship which can be used to attend an alternative school (registered private school or a public school in another district) or to hire private tutors
  • Scholarship depends on income level of student, but cannot exceed $2,500
other voucher programs
Other Voucher Programs
  • Milwaukee Voucher Program, 1990
  • Florida Voucher Program, 1999
  • Small, privately-run programs in Washington, DC (1993), New York City (1997), Dayton (1998), and San Antonio (1998)
  • All aimed at low-income students
  • Vouchers ranged from $1,200-$4,000
free enterprise supporters of vouchers
Free-Enterprise Supporters of Vouchers
  • Private sector works better than public sector.
  • Competition breeds innovative programs and the diffusion of best practices in teaching and management.
  • Families more likely than the state to make educational decisions that benefit children.
parental supporters of vouchers
Parental Supporters of Vouchers
  • Parents in urban areas who feel that the neighborhood schools are failing and seek other options
  • Parents who seek religious education for their children
  • Parents whose children already attend private schools

“The push for school vouchers has created some strange bedfellows. Free marketers not known for their sensitivity to the plight of the poor find themselves allied with disadvantaged urban parents and community organizations that are simply fed up with the abysmal quality of the schools their children must attend. For [urban parents], vouchers loom as offering an escape hatch for at least some of their children.”

--Edward Fiske and Helen Ladd, “After Zelman: The Need to Focus on the Core Education Issues,” Teachers College Record (2002).

black ministers council backs school vouchers

“Black Ministers’ Council backs school vouchers”

Headline in the Courier Post, Friday, February 11, 2005

Mainly the Black Ministers’ Council of New Jersey supported vouchers because of dissatisfaction with the local public school systems

philosophical opponents of vouchers
Philosophical Opponents of Vouchers
  • Doubt a market system can be equitable and efficient
  • Vouchers would require: well-informed consumers who have equal bargaining power and a variety of schools, with diverse programs and well-measured quality
institutional opponents of vouchers
Institutional Opponents of Vouchers
  • Teachers’ unions: concerned about the loss of jobs, benefits, and pay
  • Private schools: concerned about government regulation (special education, standardized tests)
unequal education with bill moyers 1994

“Unequal Education” with Bill Moyers (1994)

Jon Chubb and Jonathan Kozol on school vouchers

no child left behind 2001
“No Child Left Behind” (2001)
  • Although the Republicans are generally for vouchers, they could not implement completely a voucher program because of the need to craft a compromise that would pass Congress.
  • Congress did pass a voucher program in the District of Columbia (2003).
no child left behind 200121
“No Child Left Behind” (2001)
  • Students in schools identified for improvement must be allowed to attend a better public school (including a public charter school) within the district.
  • Low-income students in persistently failing schools must be allowed to use Title I funds to obtain supplemental educational services from a public or private school selected by the student
  • Schools must use 20% of their Title I funds to provide school choice and supplemental educational services
no child left behind 200122
“No Child Left Behind” (2001)
  • Promotes public school choice (district charter schools, magnet schools, and state-wide, inter-district transfers) in addition to private tutoring choices for low-income students.
  • Mandates greater accountability, which makes private schools more wary of participating.
philadelphia inquirer december 16 2004

Philadelphia Inquirer,December 16, 2004

“Fewer than 2,000 students are getting free outside tutoring this year in Philadelphia, although there are more than 110,000 children enrolled in underperforming schools that are required to offer this service.”

155 schools out of 267 schools fit the category of missing their academic improvement goals three years in a row.

questions regarding vouchers
Questions regarding Vouchers
  • Are vouchers constitutional if public money is going to religious private schools?
  • Do vouchers boost student achievement?
  • Issues of equity: are private schools open to all? Will this increase or decrease racial or class-based segregation? Are those who use vouchers the most well-educated and involved parents?
are vouchers constitutional
Are Vouchers Constitutional?
  • In Cleveland in 1999, 96% of voucher students were enrolled in religious private schools.
  • For low-income families, because of tuition costs and the amount of the scholarship (generally under $3,000 per year), the only private schools available to them will be religious.
  • Private schools in Cleveland admitted voucher students without regard to race or religion.
zelman vs simmons harris 2002
Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris (2002)

In a 5-4 decision, on June 27, 2002, the US Supreme Court held that “neutral educational assistance programs that

. . . offer aid directly to a broad class of individual recipients defined without regard to religion” are constitutional.

majority opinion
Majority opinion
  • Rather than being a direct grant to a school, vouchers is a “true private choice” by a parent.
  • The program is neutral in regards to religion, allowing all schools in the district to participate, both religious and non-religious.
  • This is a “broader undertaking to assist poor children in failed schools, not. . .an endorsement of religious schooling in general.”
dissenting opinion
Dissenting Opinion

No public funds should be used to support educational programs run by religious institutions, because it will pay for religious teaching: the covenant with Israel and Mosaic law, primacy of the Apostle Peter and the Papacy, truth of reformed Christianity, and revelation of the Prophet Mohammed.

colorado 2003
Colorado, 2003
  • Colorado first in the nation to pass a school voucher law as a result of the Supreme Court decision
  • $4,500 vouchers to be offered to K-12 students to help offset private school tuition
  • 11 districts with 8 or more schools that received low or unsatisfactory academic performance ratings required to participate
do vouchers boost student achievement
Do Vouchers Boost Student Achievement?

Vouchers seem neutral in terms of student achievement, with no significant differences between voucher students and those who remain in public schools (from studies done of Cleveland, Dayton, Washington DC, New York City, Chile, and New Zealand voucher systems).

do vouchers boost student achievement32
Do Vouchers Boost Student Achievement?
  • However, African-American students who switched to private schools did do better than their counterparts who remained in public schools but the difference was not consistent across cities or grade levels (Dayton, Washington DC, New York).
  • As a comparison, a Tennessee experiment to reduce class size helped African-American students far more.
educational innovation
Educational Innovation?

There is no strong evidence that vouchers promote educational innovation or the diffusion of best-practices management.

issues of equity
Issues of equity
  • Private schools are less likely to have a library, a nurse’s office, a cafeteria, and counselors.
  • Private schools rarely have programs for non-English speakers or students with special needs (disabilities, learning difficulties).
issues of equity35
Issues of Equity

When faced with increased enrollment, schools tend not to expand, but choose their students for the spaces available, based on academic ability, test scores, discipline records, interviews with students and parents, and parents’ willingness to volunteer at the school.

issues of equity36
Issues of Equity
  • Even in programs serving low-income students, those who use vouchers tend to be the most advantaged of the disadvantaged: those with higher parental educational levels and fewer special needs.
  • Only 1/3 of voucher students in Milwaukee and 1/4 in Cleveland came from public schools.
why vouchers may not matter
Why Vouchers May Not Matter
  • High dropout rates from voucher programs
  • Little gain in student achievement or educational quality
  • Vouchers are low subsidies, comparable to tuition costs
  • With greater push to accountability, private schools may not want to participate
henig s conclusion
Henig’s Conclusion
  • The how matters more than the what. How is the program put in place? Is it sensitive to issues of social inequality?
other forms of privatization
Other Forms of Privatization
  • Home-schooling: privately funded, privately provided, and almost completely privately regulated (about 800,000 students in 1999).
  • Tuition tax credit for private school tuition (currently about $1,000 in six states): reduce government revenues, subsidize private education, and unlike vouchers, only help those who pay taxes
why has the privatization of public schooling become so popular over the past three decades

Why has the privatization of public schooling become so popular over the past three decades?