In Tennessee, we are experiencing renewed discussion on school vouchers.Â Essentially, that’s taking State education dollars and allowing parents to use those dollars toward private school tuition instead.Â Â The initial bill would apply only in the state’s four largest cities (Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville), and only to economically disadvantaged students.
At first blush, why not?Â Shouldn’t poor parents have the same opportunity for their children’s success as well-to-do parents?
The heart of the matter is, that ‘s the problem that public education seeks to address in the first place.Â Vouchers wouldn’t level that playing field, because the dollars they’re offering (about $5k/year) wouldn’t cover the tuition at most, if any, private or parochial schools.Â If the parents are poor to begin with, it’s unlikely that they could come up with the difference.
Secondly, private schools don’t play by the same rules as public schools.Â Getting in is not just a matter of paying the tuition, but being accepted in the first place.Â Academic and behavioral records are a strong factor, as are things like the ability to pass an admissions test.Â Of course, a strong athlete might be granted a waiver on those types of things if the private school was looking to beef up the football team.Â However, since private schools aren’t held to the same accountability standards as public schools, who’s to say that little Johnny Quarterback is going to be any better educated when he gets out?
If you believe the generalization that public schools are failing and private schools are not, why not level the playing field and make the rules the same for both?Â Require all to take (or not take) the same tests; require the same (or no) certification and evaluation of teachers.Â Allow both (or neither) to use selective admissions criteria.
But if we did that, then what would be the distinction between the two?
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This morning, I read in the Commercial Appeal that some schools are now offering supper (in addition to breakfast and lunch) to students enrolled in their after-school programs.Â Granted, I understand that the only nutritious meals some children receive are those served at school, but at the same time, one of the key factors in a child’s well-being is the consistency of meals taken with the family.
If that’s not happening, what’s the value of going home at all?
One of the commenters noted that perhaps the school should simply become a boarding school, and just send the kiddos home on weekends for a visit.Â Perhaps that comment was in jest or sarcasm, but… why not?Â For kids in the worst inner-city schools, with the worst home conditions, that might very well be the best thing that could happen.
If the state and/or federal dollars that currently go to support those families (WIC, food stamps, welfare, housing subsidy) instead followed the children to boarding school, I’d bet that the kids could improve academically and socially a whole lot faster.Â Â They would be in a stable environment where study and proper behavior was the norm.Â They would be properly nourished, with adequate sleep and supervision.Â They would not be subjected to the criminal environment that pervades their parents’ neighborhoods.
It sounds like a drastic change, but not unlike the drastic changes sweeping public education in Tennessee today.Â We’ve added high standards and testing for students, as well as high standards and evaluations for teachers.Â To truly succeed in reform, however, we need to address the quality of parenting.