Parents Taking Power Back

Utah voters go to the polls next week to vote on a controversial school-choice measure, opposed by most of the education lobby but supported by many voters in the state. The program would use means testing to grant vouchers for children to use in private schools rather than public schools, and the industry’s leaders see their monopoly slipping away. John Stossel argues that parents can do better with the money than the public schools have done so far:

What a great idea. Finally, parents will have choices that wealthy parents have always had. The resulting competition would create better private schools and even improve the government schools.
But wait. Arrayed against the vouchers are the usual opponents. They call themselves Utahns for Public Schools. They include, predictably, the Utah Education Association (the teachers union), Utah School Boards Association, Utah School Employees Union, Utah School Superintendents Association, the elementary and secondary school principals associations, and the PTA. No to vouchers! they protest. Trust us. We know what’s best for your kids.
They say they’re all for improving education but not by introducing choice. “When it comes to providing every Utah child with a quality education, we believe, as do most Americans, that our greatest hope for success is investing in research-proven reforms. These include the things parents and teachers know will make a difference in the classroom, such as smaller class sizes and investment in teacher development programs. Focusing on this type of reform will bring far greater success than diverting tax dollars to an alternative education system.”
Please. I’ve heard that song for years. Government schools in America fail while spending on average more than $11,000 per student. Utah spends $7,500. Think what an innovative education entrepreneur would do with so much money. It’s more than $150,000 per classroom!
The answer to mediocre public schooling isn’t to give a government monopoly more “teacher development programs.” The answer is competition.

Competition is one part of why these programs will eventually overtake the government monopoly on education policy. It will force public schools into accountability in some manner, as they compete for children and funding. The reduction of enrollees will hit their budgets hard, and they will be forced into improving their offerings to convince parents to keep their children in their schools.
What Stossel misses is why voucher programs have become a burgeoning movement, along with home schooling and the demand for charter schools. It springs from the loss of power from parents and the local communities to the federal government over the last four decades. The shift of control over curricula, standards, and mandates from local school boards to a vast federal bureaucracy — abetted by the NEA — has provoked this reaction. Parents want as much influence over the education of their children as possible, and federal control gives them no influence or say over how their children are taught. Power has shifted into the hands of the lobbyists, like the NEA, who represent teachers and administrators first, and children secondarily if at all, as I noted two years ago.
Vouchers simply provide parents with the power always envisioned by the public school system. It simply replaces the school board with a capitalist lever on quality of delivery. It requires more from the parents in terms of involvement, but at least in this system, their involvement actually gets rewarded. Right now, schools have so many mandates and top-down requirements that parents have little say any more — and when they do attempt to make changes, get treated with dismissive attitudes from the “experts” who assume they know the children better than the parents.
The NEA and the Department of Education drove parents to voucher programs. Utah will likely be the first to pass the program, but in ten years, expect to see it spreading like wildfire. One way or another, parents will take back control over the education of their children, and dinosaurs like the NEA will either adapt or die.
UPDATE: Speaking of which — how about yoga as a requirement for public schools?

30 thoughts on “Parents Taking Power Back”

  1. I spoke before my school board because they were teaching Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” as a history book. I had a list of Zinn’s lies and supporting documentation proving the errors and falsehoods in his fake “history.”
    What happened? Nothing. As you might expect. They still teach the loathsome Howard Zinn. Who cares about the truth when they have young minds to indoctrinate?
    Vouchers can’t happen soon enough for me.

  2. “Utah will likely be the first to pass the program, but in ten years, expect to see it spreading like wildfire.”
    Just too bad that by then yet another generation of kids will have received a substandard public school education.

  3. Monopoly is the key word here.
    No Monopoly has ever, nor will they ever, place the customer at or even close to the top of their list of priorities.
    What is the incentive for public schools to improve? Where else will people go?
    Smaller class sizes? That tired excuse? That’s union-talk for hiring more teachers. Japanese schools have a much larger teacher to student ratio and they run rings around American public schools.
    Public schools are a jobs program, pure and simple. The adults who teach and work in public schools, are placed far above the children.
    Yes, the children are a priority, but they certainly aren’t anywhere near the priority they should be as far as public schools are concerned.

  4. It takes four years (on average), to teach a child to read and to write. And, to do basic math.
    It takes five years in China. Because their writing system is so much more complicated than ours.
    Do you know how little schooling, for instance, Lincoln had? But he LOVED to read! He loved poetry, the King James version of the Bible. And, Shakespeare. (It was his love of Shakespeare that gave the “ticket” to John Wilkes Booth, to enter the presidential box, that night.) Alas.
    But education doesn’t need the credentialing at all.
    What schoold “do” … besides strapping taxpapers with huge expenses; is KEEP KIDS AWAY FROM GROWING UP!
    Ya know? In Lincoln’s time, it wasn’t unusual for a girl of sixteen to be wed. (It also wasn’t unusual for women to be dead at 23.) Life, itself, took its toll.
    In the growing up process; before automobiles, horses could be dangerous. They could fall down, and trap a rider’s leg. Crushing it. (This happened to Cole Porter. Who eventually had to have his leg amputated.) Medicine would have done that sooner, 100 years before. Sans anesthetics.
    One of the reasons we’re holding back on our kids’ development, is that by keeping them in school, we’re not exposing another reality: JOBS.
    Where are kids, today, gonna learn the skills to earn a living?
    Believe it or not, once out of school,working at flipping hamburgers; all the joints that sell them, deal with the kids who can’t read well. Can’t make change on a simple transaction. And, need to be “educated” where it counts. Paycheck to paycheck.
    No. We don’t encourage kids to “go out and find work.”
    But if you read any American history; you might have come across … say, a book by Samuel Fuller. Immigrant kid. (Found his way, by the time he was 15. And, could hustle at a journalist’s job), in Hearst’s employ. School? Very little. He learned everything he knew … starting about the age of 8. Selling newspapers. Because his mom was widowed. And, there was a shortage of money at home. He found employment the way a lot of kids (prior to government welfare), found they were responsible for helping out at home, in ways that were very real.
    School vouchers?
    It’s not gonna touch the problem!
    You think it’s the teachers? What about the law makers? What about a system that would be terrified putting 15 year olds into non-academic traning programs?
    We still do this the hard way. Every individual kid, by him, or herself.
    While others? Waste time at malls.

  5. I suspect that “federal bureaucracy” is a misleading (at best) or erroneous (at worst) term.
    Many of the positions the public doesn’t (as an aggregate) agree with are inflicted by the Federal courts.
    Federally mandated Bussing, anyone?
    A lot more in the disabling of the ability to enforce the old “moral turpitude” clauses, which left rabid activists coming out of the closet still in positions of power.
    Other positions were enabled by tort fears, as in don’t stop us from promoting deviant behavior (and IMHO promoting any sexual activity to school children under that state’s legal ago-of-consent is deviant by the standards of that state) or we will have the ACLU crush you.
    A large part having nothing to do with federal or even state bureaucracy is the lack of people to run for the local school boards who possess the spine to stand up to the NEA and its ilk, the business sense to oversee the local schools, and the moral sense to see bad as bad, and the common sense to say NO” to the various human factors bleeding our children’s school systems of educational values and the cold blooded heart to refuse various good-sounding social engineering substitutes(aka indoctrination) for education and focus the grade schools on “the 3 -Rs” with what is left going to American History.
    For various factors, we don’t have such citizens on the school boards in sufficient numbers.

  6. It’s not just the federal bureaucracy; here in California, at least, the state and local school boards are equally elitist and bureaucratized. In fact, the LA school board serves as little more than a training ground for liberal Democrats who want to move on to the legislature.

  7. My son went to California’s public schools. (Well, I leave in a community know to deliver excellence in academics.) Where Asian parents shell out extra money to see their kids “enriched.” In math. And, writing. Whatever it takes to make classrooms hum with excellence.
    Ya know, Pasadena once tried to send buses into this community. And, the community responded by cutting off the Federal funds. And, for a time, parents made up the difference.
    One of the things about politics is the FLUX. Things keep moving. And, if you’re not contaminated; you’re not gonna get contaminated.
    The dollar value also brings in only those who can afford the homes. Big mortgages are the rule. And, so, too, big rent bills. This, too, makes a difference.
    There are about five communities that cluster around, and each one is known for its public schools.
    Bands. Orchestras. Football. And, 100% PTA enrollment. It takes that, too. To keep the school on its toes. With parents vying to serve on the school board. (Which is an elected position. There are either 3 or 5 of them. I’m just not sure.
    While California has another “unique” problem. A lot of its tax dollars go to teach Mexican kids; who do not hear a word of English spoken at home.
    (Other cultures? Compensate. As I said, there are after-school businesses here, that thrive. Kids are encouraged to do their homework; where adults review this stuff. And, for the kids that need “extra” attention. Paid for by parents.)
    There nothing like a functioning public school!
    By the way, my community remains the most academic. Nearby, in Arcadia, you get a very good curriculum for kids who need “shop” … and who don’t excel in academics.)
    You think parents, at home, can deliver to kids the whole experience? I think, not.
    And, I’ve known public school teachers who are adored. You think the PTA sits on its hands, here?

  8. “Parents Taking Power Back?” I doubt that school vouchers will help parents do that. Infact I think the vaucher program would actually bring private schools under state control.
    And teacher development programs? Who will over see that program? The same deadbeats that now control it?
    I am not for school vauchers, but for cleaning house at the Board of Education in each state, and breaking the teachers union.
    What I see happening if the vaucher program takes hold is the public school system education getting progressively worse, and the private school education becoming increasingly expense so that the poor kids still will not get the benfit of a better education. They will have to use their vauchers on the public schools because the private schools will charge more than the vaucher.
    I have found that kids in school (starting in middle school) get bored because the teachers do not know how to interest their students in the subject they are teaching. The schools have become nothing more than child care centers and by the time high school comes around the students are so bored they drop out.
    About three years ago myself and several other business people in the community approached the high school in our community with our offer to start a vocational training program for the high school students that were interested. Our community needs trades people. We had some meetings and in the end gave up because of a lack of interest by the school authorities, and also because the Board of Education wanted us to get certified as teachers and go through their training.
    The dismal record and drop out rates in our schools, in my opimion, is caused by policies that are out of touch with reality, and people running the system that are only interested in their paychecks and benefits. The system has become rotten to the core and staffed with people, inept of teaching skills, poor in leadership abilities, and having no vision.
    Our board of education.
    School vauchers is only running from the proplem. I would like to see our next President and congress really come up with a way to get rid of these Board of Education parasites – they are only interested in their paychecks.
    Public education benefits everyone and that is why we started it in the beginning. We gave it plenty of money and that has attracted the parasites. Now we need to do some serious house cleaning rather than run from the problem.

  9. Carol,
    John Gotti’s estimate is that it takes a properly-prepared child about 100 hours to learn to read. Should we be surprised that NEA has managed to pack a hundred hours of reading instruction into a mere four years of school attendance?
    Competition isn’t a bad idea, but I think Myron Lieberman nailed it when he pointed out the severe conflicts of interest in having the same entity (government) playing the role of provider, regulator, and customer of education.
    Vouchers would at least take the government partially out of the customer role in favor of parents, but what we really need is separate entities for each role. Have the provider be distinct from the regular and the provider and regulator be distinct from the customer.
    I can almost imagine having the federal government do the regulating, and let the states worry about how the education is provided. Sure, federal involvement in education is extraconstitutional, but that ship sailed a long time ago.
    Wait … isn’t that what we already have, with NCLB?

  10. “our greatest hope for success is investing in research-proven reforms. These include the things parents and teachers know will make a difference in the classroom, such as smaller class sizes and investment in teacher development programs.”
    Translation: One-sized fits all, trendy solutions that teachers and educrats favor, for all!
    Bad idea. The worst.
    Not saying that all of the ideas in the public schools are wrong, but they are not the only ideas out there. And they may not be the best for everyone’s child.
    School funding should follow the child, not the child the funding. Parents should be able to decide what method of education best fits their children, not educrats with a vested interest in the status quo.
    Not even saying that public schools should cease to exist, but that they should have to compete.
    The arguments for public schools remind me of the arguments Detroit made in the late 70’s and early 80’s when they were turning out terrible, overpriced cars.
    Does anyone clearly think Americans should be spending $10,000+ per pupil, per year, for the equivalent of an AMC Pacer education?

  11. “our greatest hope for success is investing in research-proven reforms. these include the things parents and teachers know will make a difference in the classroom, such as smaller class sizes and investment in teacher development.”
    This all sounds great but misses the mark.
    Reading, writting, arithmatic, the 3 Rs – it already has a solid methodology for teaching.
    Remember schools of the 50s and 60s? We were focused on learning and did not have the distractions of cell phones, television, and all the gadgets and laptop computer video games that take up our attention.
    Today’s young children are smart and their minds are wide open for learning, but our school system with its antiquated teaching method and lack of mind stimulation bores them.
    Our greatest hope for success is in employing teachers that have not only a theory based understanding of the subject they are teaching, but also experience in the application of the subject matter in the real world. Then those same teachers need to have the skills to interact with the minds of the students they are teaching.
    I think we have some teachers that are capable to teach our children, but are frustrated by the restrictions placed on them by the current “black hole” system in place.
    Research proven reforms? Who will be doing the research? The same deadbeats that control the system now? How will the research be done? With grants? Who will decide what reforms will be accepted? The same deadbeats running the system now?
    Who will be in charge of the teacher development programs? I think it would be the same deadbeats in charge now.
    In conclusion what I am saying, is without getting rid of the crop of “board of education” deadwood in place today, all the new ideas, research-proven reform, and teacher development programs won’t amount to a hill of beans.
    What we need to staff our schools, are administrators and teachers with leadership skills and imagination. After all isn’t it our goal in the schools to give our children the best education possible and teach them the leadership skills neccesary to keep our society going?

  12. Even if it passes, you can bet that our imperial judiciary will squelch it.
    I am a lukewarm supporter of vouchers. Competition is a good idea, and anything that shakes up the teachers’ unions and the MSM must be considered a benefit to society.
    But I wonder if shuffling students from lousy public schools into good public schools might simply be a case of spreading the problem around. How long will good schools stay good when faced with huge surges in enrollment and the PC-related nonsense that will inevitably try to worm it way inside?
    The one ability that educrats and the MSM have shown in this debate is a laser-like efficiency in destroying whatever reforms that manage to get enacted into law. Require discipline in schools? Racist discrimination! Academic standards? Cultural imperialism! Accountability and transparency? Them is fightin’ words! Spend spend spend – and don’t ask questions.

  13. I will join the minority here and say in 10 years if vouchers go through there will be Muslim schools, Catholic schools, fundamentalist Christian schools (think Phelps), atheist schools, and what is already a mess will be even worse-the law of unintended consequences will kick in with a vengeance.The American taxpayer who will have to pay for the vouchers will be saddled with an even bigger tax burden and our society will be even more fragmented. Voters need to work to improve our public schools and school boards need to take charge from the professional educators but do not replace public apathy over our schools with total withdrawal and abandonment

  14. Why do parents have to wait for vouchers to take control of their children’s education-everything I did when my children were little was with an eye on educating them and enriching their environment although they were in public schools and we were well rewarded with more than one merit scholar, a Presidential Scholar, valedictorians,gold medals in academic competition and the clincher was the scholarships based on merit to colleges of their choices which saved us a fortune. And it was all fun.

  15. Unfortunately, the teachers union and the schools are so strong that I don’t think it’s going to pass. I work in a school and I’m voting for it, but there are so many teachers who think their job is in jeopardy that they have convinced all of their friends and family to vote against it. I was hoping that this state could get it together and pass it – apparently not.

  16. “everything I did when my children were little was with an eye on educating them and enriching their environment”…
    You are to be congratulated. But you are the exception, I’m sorry to say, my expericence.
    Most parents either don’t care, throw their children in school (some don’t even make them go to school) and expect the school to teach them, mother them and care for them way outside the boundries that teachers and schools should have.
    While other parents that do care, just don’t have the time because of their jobs or the nature of their jobs or the hundred other reasons that they can’t be involved like they should be in their kids education (or even their lives).
    PTA, yes it was a good thing once, but now run by soccer moms and professional PTA parents. School Boards? Like said, run by people more worried about making a rep for themselves than what is right for the kids or even right…period.
    Unions? Once the best thing that ever happened to the working man, now a hindrence and bane to almost everyone.
    Education in America has been falling behind and falling apart for the last forty years. Soon, we will have no American generation that will be able to invent anything, build anything, nor even hold and protect our beloved Republic.
    Papa Ray
    West Texas

  17. Schools have changed over the past five decades, but the structure has remained the same. Whether the grading the system, the administration, and it seems the salary in relation to economic inflation. As a future teacher I believe that teaching anyone requires a relationship. How is it possible to build a relationship with over 30 kids in one fifth grade classroom? The public should be thankful for these people who give their lives, imagination, and understanding to their children. Many parents say they want to be involved in their child’s education and take an active role at home to further educate them. Can you expect a teacher to do these things if you don’t allow them the time to get to know them? Learning is a process that is different for everyone, I don’t care who says it takes four years or 100 hours to read, write, or “do math.” It varies. When did you learn to walk? and your neighbor? Don’t you want an encouraging environment and not someone who is grading you on your interaction with your child, or how your child is progressing. Unless your ego is in need of a stroke I don’t think so! Accountability is an educrat word, so if you are using it beware! you are one of them now!

  18. Oh yeah and merit based scholarships, class rank, and grades in general has been a topic of conversation in my education classes recently. Is competition really a healthy thing for students? Same example I used before, would you like to compete while learning how to walk? Sure it makes the loser feel bad but what is it teaching the winning child? Is that something we want to foster and encourage in life? Sorry but many of my overachieving friends might benefit from that required yoga class offered.

  19. This is why my wife and I home-schooled our son. I don’t think we did as good of a job as we could have his last few years, but now that he’s in college I can see that he’s not any worse off then his class mates who went to public schools (with the exception that he wasn’t taught how to put on a condem and that it’s ok to have two mommys and daddys or any combination you like).
    And speaking of monopolies, remember how AT&T warned how competition would ruin the industry? I’m quite happy w/ all of the “choices” and the improved quality and customer service that I have now. School choice will be the same.
    Although, I wonder why competition doesn’t work for colleges?

  20. I could not agree more. I love when I find things and people are thinking along the same line. Its so hard to understand why the schools keep failing and they are not willing to try something different, something new and innovative. Do they want the schools to keep getting worse and worse, or never improving?
    Missouri has been facing some struggles as well these days. They need some choice there, and the need some change now.
    Check these sites out for the huge issues facing Missouri right now.

  21. Remember that little educational pounding toy that your kids have or had when they were toddlers and supposed to be learning shapes? If they put the stars in the star cutout they could pound it all the way through etc. Schools are like that pounding board but with the round shape cutout only and they try to push the squares, the ovals, the stars all through that little round hole, hacking off the corners that don’t fit as they push the students through. Average teachers love average students. That’s why it’s so important for parents to take an active role in their children’s education and make sure that their square, star or whatever children are not all rounded off into just another homogenized public school student, IMO. I would imagine that parents who want vouchers to put their kids in schools of their choices are the kinds of parents who really care about how their children do in school. I would rather see them put that energy into fighting for and working to improve the public school system. Fight not flee.

  22. “I would rather see them put that energy into fighting for and working to improve the public school system. Fight not flee.”
    And after that, fight and improve the Department of Motor Vehicles, the IRS, the Post Office . . .
    Sorry, I’d rather desert this sinking ship altogether. My kid’s not going to any over funded, under performing basket case of a public school.
    It’s sad for the kids that are getting cheated, for the taxpayers that are getting cheated (I’m one of them), but I’m not betting I can change any entire leviathan public school system in time for it to properly educate my children.

  23. NoDonkey….well said….my kids are school age RIGHT NOW, and I am not waiting around for this school system to change if I have the choice to put them somewhere I know they will get an education.
    If the private school I pay extra for (meaning over and above what I pay in taxes to support a failing public system) does not perform, I have the option of finding a different private school, and since none of the private school money comes from the govt, they will feel that if enough parents decide as I do.
    I do not have this option with the public schools. My children are forced to go to the school that the board of education demands, regardless of past performance. Sure, it’s tough to afford, but this is my KIDS we’re talking about.

  24. from my perspective of 32 years teaching at the community college and public university lvl (and some research — Istill can’t spell due to coding Fortran IV for too many of those years) I propose that no “educator” (notice the little ‘e’?) be allowed to use the phrase “research shows…” without complete citations.
    Old Joe

  25. I am aware of one group of “future teachers”who were enrolled in something that came to be known as the “colored cohort”. These 20 students enrolled in September attended classes 1.5 days a month(one weekend each month). At the end of nine months (14.5 days of classes) this group of middle aged minorities did their teaching internships in local classrooms. It was during the summer school season so all of these folks only had to complete 6 weeks of internship in the summer school setting. AT THE END OF ONE YEAR, all of these folks were awarded each of the following degrees:
    1 B.A degree
    1 M.Ed. degree
    1 K-12 Teaching Certificate for this state
    Not bad considering that when they began this program one year before most of these people had not even completed 2 years of college–most did not have sophmore levels completed. Four of these folks enrolled in the program with known fraudulent online degrees.
    Best part of all of this was that the newly elected presdient ordered financial aids office to process these loans in such a way as to guarantee that these folks would never have to repay their federal student loans.
    NO THANK YOU! Private schools, vouchers, parent involvement is the only way we are going to recover our schools and our system of law and government.

  26. The Captain puts local communities on the wrong side of the debate — for here in California I see both the community and the state government as advocating a curriculum with which I do not entirely agree.
    My sister-in-law has the same opinion, but, unlike me, she has a solution for her children. She has vowed to home-school them, and her small church has a support program for exactly that purpose. It requires a stay-at-home parent, but she will decide the curriculum, not some liberal school board whose members are practicing their politics on their way to higher elected office.
    She’s already started with her pre-kinder kids, with a couple of hours of structured educational activity per day. The home-school parents also get together several times a week to socialize their kids.
    So her kids won’t have access to birth control pills while in middle school, nor abortion councelors, nor condoms, nor to graphically illustrated sex education, nor to a view of her Christian faith as bankrupt, but they will be ready to beat any public school kid on the SAT when the time comes.
    This is her way of beating a system in which the money does not follow the kid unless the kid is in a morally bankrupt place — her method is to ignore the money completely, treating it as Ceasar’s tax.

  27. Y’all bring up another conflict of interest: That between schooling as education and schooling as filtering.
    Put another way, schools currently serve two purposes in our society. One is to make people smarter and more knowledgeable. The other is to sort out the smart and knowledgeable from the stupid and ignorant.
    These two tasks conflict, and should be carried out by separate institutions.
    No, I don’t have a suggestion how to do that. I’m still chewing on this thought.

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