Vouchers for Dummies

Are vouchers the solution for curing public school failing to teach Utah kids?


poster vouchers

Most public high school graduates in Utah are dummies. Compare our graduates to  high school graduates from the rest of the developed world and you will come to the same conclusion. Public high schools catering to average students fail to provide the necessary skills to succeed in college, the majority of graduates are dummies and anyone who tells you otherwise is in denial.

I came to this harsh realization that I was a dummy after graduating high school with a decent G.P.A: a 3.3, middle of my class, yet found I was totally unprepared for even the Community College.

The following story is about how I graduated a dummy, how I realized the fact, and why I believe vouchers are our greatest hope in graduating fewer people like me.

I graduated from Skyline High School –one of the top ranked public high schools in the state of Utah. I was inspired by one teacher I had, my History teacher Mr. Stokoe. He created a true spirit of learning by encouraging us to ask questions. We rigorously examined historical topics and write about our findings. That was my Sophomore year. Beyond that class my high school education is a blurry haze of days filled with boredom, languor and longing to move on and get out. The drool slowly flowing from the sleeping boy’s mouth in Ferris Buhluer’s Day Off— that was me.

In my Junior year Algebra class, our teacher would leave the room during important examinations, where our tests would become a free-for-all.

Kids yelling “What did you get for number 4?”

“You say 26?”

“Who else got 26?”

“I have 26 going once, going twice ..sold.. the answer for number four is 26.”

Our teacher wouldn’t suspect a thing when the entire class got number four wrong answering 26.

In a year of French I learned almost nothing. I could say “je ne sais pas” (I don’t know) with a beautiful French accent. My teacher loved my accent, I managed As and Bs in French. The last two weeks of school we “learned French” from the Mannon of the Spring film series. The teacher often left the room while we watched, when Mannon washed under a flowing waterfall naked, we amused ourselves by playing back the scene in slow-motion. I thought it was great being the class-clown type; there are so many success stories of class-clowns but I found in the real world an education is of real value not so much clowning ability. I know am partly to blame for my poor high school education because I never attempted any A.P courses. I was enrolled in A.P History, however I dropped it because I didn’t have any friends in the class, and I didn’t really see a point in working harder just to say I have A.P. credit. However, despite taking the average courses in high school I was almost never challenged; in many cases the teachers I had were so uninspiring that when I would consider yet another hour listening to my chemistry teacher, I felt that I was watching the reaction of my brain in a chemical bath, with my will to live slowly diffusing.

A Revelation: “I’m actually a dummy”

It was my first Algebra class at the Salt Lake Community College when I realized what a poor education I had received in high school and that I was acutely a dummy. I thought because I always had Bs in math that I must be prepared, at least for Community College. I was built up and overconfident. What I believed to be a solid educational foundation was in fact a very thin crust that easily crumbled under pressure. I also found I didn’t really know the English language (grammar, spelling, rules). I found I was let loose in a vast open desert and my mind was a small dry well. It was a painful awakening. Despite my shortcomings, I discovered a richness in world of knowledge that I never knew existed. I never had a clue that after a small spark was ignited by good teachers, subjects I previously labeled as boring: Algebra, Geology and English could alter my way of thinking and provide a vast understanding of the world (beyond Nintendo and T.V). The classes at SLCC made me interested in my subjects, learning didn’t have to be full of pain, classes became fun. Reading and homework became interesting.

A European Comparison

Compare my high school education to my wife’s, who grew up in Bosnia. When I first heard about her high school education compared to mine. I no longer felt like a dummy just by Utah standards, I was even more of a dummy by international standards, “complete moron” would be a better description. My wife had been rigorously examined, trained and tutored in a high school that demanded the very most out of students. In former Yugoslavia all students picked a “major” in their Freshman year, (I’m talking about high school). They would be then spend most of their time learning their major, which my wife would later find is considered college-level material in the U.S. Students learned not just to succeed in academics but they also learned to understand the competitive nature of success the world. Because they always competed.

Learning Early the Competitive Nature of Success

In Bosnia they compete in subjects ranging from math, physics analytics and writing. The brightest and smartest students are recognized with the greatest honors, and they are the school heroes, the smart kids are the cool kids. Jocks still receive attention in soccer teams but In their high school there is nothing nerdy about being smart; there isn’t such a word. In Bosnia there are no football programs that the school centers their “spirit” around; there isn’t, such a thing called “team spirit” meaning that in order to feel a part of the school you are required to go and cheer for a bunch of meat-heads who pick on the smart, often weaker kids. Why the so called “spirit” of the school is based on athletics rather than academics in the United States, and especially at Skyline High, I’ll never understand. (I was school spirit deficient)

From this comparison it is truly a wonder that America is leading the world in so many areas. So what does all this have to do with tuition vouchers? The anti-learning academic culture of high schools stems from the monopoly maintained by school boards who resist all change that might affect their supreme authority. In more simple terms we are maintaining a far outdated system because our school boards monopolize innovation, and innovation rarely happens in a board room.

Why Has America Failed to Innovate?

It is interesting how the very people who have corrupted our public education system the most are also those who are most vehemently opposed to tuition vouchers. The Utah Board of Education The U.E.A (Utah Education Association) & P.T.A (Parent Teacher Association)and A.E.A (American Education Association) These organizations are filled at the top levels by bureaucrats who feel truly threatened by kids ability to learn under rules different from what they mandate. The rules they set limit teachers ability be creative, to inspire students; or permit students to take a topics of interest and run with them. Their rules are supposedly in place so that students can pass competency tests. Tests that prove rote memorization and basic skills, demonstrable through multiple choice exams. Skill competency is important and ACT and S.A.T scores do prove a students success in college, however most students need inspiration in order to learn and memorize.

School Boards Believe They are above the Law

National and state-wide administrative agents determine rules and policy without debate and without checks and balances. As demonstrated in the passage of the tuition voucher bill, these administrators believe they are even above Utah law. click here for the full article Our elected leaders passed legislation to enact vouchers; the Board decided they could decide with their own vote. By a 10 to 4 margin they said, “no” we don’t recognize your silly law. “You will need a court order to make us recognize your law.” Can you imagine any other state agency with the audacity to do this? Imagine if our officers decided they didn’t like the speeding law so they decided they would conduct their own vote and found 60-10 that they didn’t like the speeding law. Its amazing they would rather maintain a sickness than try and find a cure. Now with the decision to enact vouchers being sent the the Utah Supreme Court, there will be a very costly statewide vote on whether or not vouchers will indeed be enacted. An additional 4.5 million dollars of your money being spent because they only want to work under their own rules.

Opposition to innovation

For years our public education system has worked under the Board’s power and authority over what can be taught, how to teach it and want must be covered. It is under this system that students suffer and feel the torture of a truly outdated system under teachers who feel handcuffed. In response to the outdated nature of public schools in 1998 the State Legislature passed a law allowing for charter schools to open that could offer a greater variety of specialized curriculum than what public schools offer. Since 2001, charter school enrollment has nearly doubled every year since their inception. (click here to see more on charter schools) Charter schools are a great success mainly because they don’t have to answer to the State Board of Education, they are free to innovate and educate in models that would never work under public schools bureaucratic structure. Students in charter schools are still required to pass competency tests; however teachers in charter schools are not required to teach according to Board rules. So how is it that every national state funded bureaucratic agency ends up causing more harm than good? Its in their so called “great ideas” and rules and laws. The only great ideas are those that pass from the teachers mouth to the students brain.

The real factor in producing smarter graduates

Students are inspired by teachers. Teachers are not all alike their passions and interests, students are smart enough to understand this. A teacher’s classroom, presentation and material should be a representation of the teacher’s interests as long as they cover the necessities of competency. To ignite a fire their must first be a spark, and the Board or a parent cannot dictate which spark a teacher must use. The effectiveness of teacher and their spark should be allowed to be unique and the effectiveness needs to be measured pragmatically.

The measure by which a teacher should be compensated should be based upon two criteria: First student performance, and second how the student evaluates the teacher in terms of inspiration, clarity and preparedness. Why should student evaluation be left only for Colleges and Universities? Because the State Board says so.

The sate-wide and national rules limit both teachers ability to inspire and administrators ability to discipline. In public schools many students sluff class and are disruptive with little or no consequence. Private schools and charter schools work under the model of good business practices. They either flourish with plenty of students and satisfied customers who wish to attend their school; or fail from under enrollment. To achieve high enrollment numbers private school teachers must be able to demonstrate success. Therefore discipline is a top priority. Students who are under-performing, late or cutting class are all dealt with using real disciplinary methods where the student must shape up or ship out. Producing a successful learning environment determines private school teacher’s job security and their livelihood depends on on their student’s success, just as it should be. This is far from the case of public schools, where serious disruptions, fights, truancy and tardiness are tolerated and normal. All bad behavior could end with serious discipline.

Why aren’t teachers paid based on student success?

While there are outstanding teachers in public schools; teachers who inspire and dedicate their lives to their profession; there are also many who are disastrous representations of the profession. Vouchers and school choice would be a great wake-up call for our public schools bringing the simple rules of the free-market to play in a government institution that is clearly failing. The message would be loud and clear, either reform or go out of business.(click here to read more on this from Nationally syndicated columnist Walter Williams.) The organization mentioned above are strongly opposed to meriting teacher salaries on student performance. They are against serious reform that might jeopardize their ultimate power. The power shift would be from the state-wide, national institutions and unions to students, parents and teachers who could decide what is best for them. Vouchers and school choice would give parents the power to fail a school that isn’t performing for their child. In the minds of State Board of Education their is no such thing as a failing school, or a failing teacher. Its nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher under the current system.

“Give us more more money” (studies prove it doesn’t help)

Only students are allowed to fail and it is this status-quo they are fighting with vigor to maintain. (To see an excellent 20/20 documentary called Stupid in America click here). The State Board of Education and Utah Education Association and Parent Teacher Association all cry foul in all of the same areas they always have. “Give us more money and we will shape up…its all your fault because we are under funded.” (to paraphrase) That debate is old and tired, its is clear that their is no link in funding and performance. A better way would be to link education funding to student achievement (see that proposal here at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

Opponents of vouchers also claim that this bill would only help the wealthy students who could be accepted and afford the additional payment for a private school however Milwaukee has the nation’s oldest voucher program, with 15,000 low-income students attending private schools. (click here for source). Opponents also claim that the dollars needed to fund vouchers will take money away from the already under funded public schools. This argument is deceptive at best. Anyone who has studied the bill knows that money to cover vouchers will come from the general fund not the public education fund. And in 2004 Utah State University conducted a study on the economic and tax impact on vouchers and they found they would save the state millions of dollars between 343 million – $1.9 billion. (click here to see more on this study)

Vouchers may be the answer to open up a new era of free-market education where parents can choose schools based on their children’s interests and needs. Vouchers ultimately allow the money that parents pay in taxes to be under more of their own control. Isn’t democracy about giving people power and freedom over how their tax dollars are spent? The main point of this argument is that in order for America to stay competitive in the world, change must happen. It would be an honor for Utah to lead this charge, showing the nation that we care about quality education for our children and we are willing to work to find the best solution for doing this. Its clear that the free-market nature of charter schools has worked, a further step in that direction is worth a shot.

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