Secular School Vouchers

Non-Secular Vouchers Could be Unconstitutional

For the state to give money to parents who would spend it on religious education of their children would clearly violate the constitutional separation of church and state.  My own religious position (atheism) is reflected here.  I also think celibates, who often teach in religious schools, are not sexually healthy people, and we have seen a lot of bad results come from entrusting children to their care.  The federal Supreme Court has not clearly spoken on this issue, and I hope they uphold the idea that tax money may not be spent on religious education.  Such a ruling, however, would not rule out the possibility of secular vouchers.

Secular Vouchers Would Undermine the Teachers’ Unions, Which Are a Menace to Society

To find an association that is doing more harm to American society than the teachers’ unions, you’d really have to look at the mafia.

Elimination of the teachers unions would NOT result in teachers being paid minimum wage with no benefits.  Society is happy to pay teachers good salaries, and the US is tied with Switzerland as spending the most money per pupil on K-12 in public schools,  but the results we get are very poor compared to other developed countries.

If all that unions accomplished were to bargain more effectively for higher pay, I would be much less opposed to them.  But they don’t stop there.  They make an all-out assault on meritocracy.  Most people don’t like having their bosses evaluate their performance. Performance in many jobs is hard to assess objectively, so reviews are highly subjective and often unfair.  So when employees organize, they try to either get rid of the reviews, or at least make it such that their reviews have no bearing on whether they keep their jobs.

As a software engineer, I feel my reviews are very subjective.  Every program is different, difficulties arise, and how well you dealt with them is hard to judge.  Do I feel I’ve always been fairly judged?  Hell, no!  But I accept that it is in society’s interest for a judgement to be passed, and, if I keep getting negative reviews year after year, I should think about another line of work.  This whole process has been eliminated for most unionized public school teachers.  No matter how bad their results, their job is secure.  In American schools, we often have teachers in adjacent classrooms, teaching the same subject, achieving radically different student test scores.  Not only does the poorly performing teacher not get fired, but the outstanding teacher goes unrewarded.  As Bill Gates put it, “If you know how many years a teacher has been teaching, you know her paycheck.”.

Secular vouchers, by moving education from unionized public schools to non-unionized private ones, would end this status quo.  Occasionally, a private school would get unionized, but if the union undermines meritocracy too much, tests scores will slump, customers will flee, and the school will go out of business, which would be a big improvement over the current state of affairs.

When Seeking Good Schools, Parents Shop not Just For Good Teachers, but Good Peers

There appear to be a lot of people in this society who just don’t get it — they don’t understand that they will be screwed in life unless they apply themselves to their studies and acquire marketable skills.  So they wind up poor and often unemployed, and lead miserable lives.  And they don’t impart a motivation to learn to their kids.  Their kids go to school and pose a discipline problem for teachers, and undermine the education of everybody else in the classroom.

The many parents who are currently paying an arm and a leg for private school are often just trying to avoid having their kids educated alongside these difficult students.  They know their kids will have a much better life if they go to a school where everybody wants to learn.

The alternative to paying a fortune to send your kid to a private school is to move out to a remote suburb and pay for a house in a good school district that is really more expensive than you would otherwise want, and spend several hours a day commuting.  Huge amounts of money, time, and energy are thus squandered by parents just trying to get their kids educated in the proximity of desirable peers.

Private schools funded by secular vouchers would be free to refuse students and kick out discipline problems.  The difficult children could wind up in special schools that specialize in somehow being able to deal with them.  I have no idea how an educator would deal with these little monsters (corporal punishment comes to mind), but if they could at least be prevented from ruining the education of others, that would be progress.

You may feel that I am being callous with respect to these problem children, but is it fair to a parent who raises a well-disciplined child who is motivated to learn (no easy task) to have their child’s life ruined by the proximity of children whose parents didn’t put in that effort?

Competition Would Improve Performance

Secular vouchers would lead to a school’s survival depending on its reputation.  Incompetent schools and incompetent teachers would be weeded out by the system, resulting in a generally higher level of performance.

Final Details

Most proposed school vouchers are for much less money than the government spends per student in public school.  The amount should be the same — the full amount, and it should come from the budget of the public school system, which should eventually be dismantled — goodbye and good-riddance.

One good thing that has been achieved in our educational system over the last couple of decades is that standardized testing of all students in K-12 is administered by the government.  This should continue.  Students in private schools should be required to take these tests.  There are problems with this testing; I have heard that the tests are poorly designed, and they are often graded by the same teachers whose jobs depend upon the results.  The tests should be improved, and they should be graded by remote bureaucrats who are totally unaffiliated with the schools affected, in fact who don’t even know which school the students being tested went to.