Give students vouchers, not speeches

President Barack Obama will not improve education by making speeches in front of America’s schoolchildren. A better approach would be to start a nationwide tuition voucher program that would enable low-income parents to afford the same type of education he’s able to provide for his own daughters.

Vouchers have already been tried in some cities, such as Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. According the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the voucher program in Milwaukee improved graduation rates and test scores. “Standardized math test scores rose significantly more rapidly for students who used vouchers to attend private schools than for their counterparts in public schools,” said Cecelia Rouse, a faculty research fellow at NBER.  

In Washington, D.C., more than 1,900 low-income students received $7,500 toward a school of their choice. But earlier this year, Congress and Obama killed the voucher program to appease the teachers unions, who oppose vouchers because their own job security is more important to them than the quality of education children receive.  

Right now, some schools are not providing a quality education in spite of various reform efforts. As a result, SAT scores have not improved through the years and actually fell slightly in 2009. Thus, it should not be surprising that many parents are pleased to have more choice when it’s offered to them.

While parents want choice, groups within the educational power structure — teachers unions, school boards, superintendents’ groups, the National Education Association (NEA) — do not. These groups want the status quo, not a plan that would force them to earn the right to educate America’s youth.

Black youths stand to benefit the most from vouchers. Right now, black students in poor environments have no choice but to attend schools where drugs, guns and fights are pervasive, and where many students have no desire to learn. 

Black students who want to learn are bullied and ridiculed by their classmates for not being “cool” or for “acting white.” Why not give motivated black students more options, instead of forcing them into a dismal environment that impedes their chances for success?  

Of course, the voucher plan is not a panacea that would compensate for the breakdown of families and other factors that have contributed to the decline of education in this country. But at least vouchers would give parents and students more choice, and public schools would have more incentive to improve.  

At a minimum, vouchers would break the monopoly on education and scare the wits out of teachers unions, school boards and superintendents’ groups, many of whom care more about maintaining the present power structure than about education. With a more competitive environment, those in charge would have to change their ways quickly, or else lose their plush jobs.   

Zach Krajacic is a writer in Buffalo, N.Y.

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