Voucher systems that provide parents and students with school choice will do one thing:

They will drastically improve education by rewarding institutions that perform well and incentivizing poorly performing schools to improve, and it will be super fantastic.

Oh. Or they will cause bureaucratic confusion and unnecessary shifts in the school system, and basically destroy public education as we know it.

Yeah…it's definitely one or the other.

Vouching for Couchers

According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the U.S. needs a school voucher system in order to "drag education out of the 19th century […] and into the 21st century, by introducing competition on a broad scale."

That sounds kind of nice.

But how, exactly, would vouchers accomplish this task?

In a series of posts on the Friedman Foundation site, economist John Merrifield states that one of the major problems in education is the fact of poor incentives for parental involvement. As Merrifield explains it, parents find themselves essentially powerless to affect change in their children's education.

And that (he argues) is due to a number of factors: lack of information about their children's progress, inability to assess the efficacy of the education their children are receiving, and—if they are unhappy with their children's schooling—no due process by which to remedy the situation. Unless parents are wealthy enough to handpick a private school for their child, they are pretty much stuck with whatever schools and teachers their districts provide. And, as Merrifield states, "Powerlessness discourages involvement."

Merrifield further argues that one of the biggest problems public school systems face is that, even though they serve a diverse population, they are expected, in the words of education reform scholar Dr. Herbert Walberg, "to provide a uniform education that is satisfying to all families. How difficult would it be for automobile manufacturers, restaurants, hairdressers, and barbers to satisfy the majority, let alone all, of their clients with a single, uniform product or service?."

Nice metaphor, Mr. Merrifield. So there we have the idea that vouchers should help make schools more versatile. Meaning that voucher systems allowing parents and students educational choice would, in Merrifield's opinion, solve a range of problems—addressing diversity and involvement, for starters. Parents, with school choice, would find themselves with power, and that power would increase parental involvement in their children's education.

Additionally, according to advocates of these voucher systems, they would "force all schools to abandon counter-productive practices and ultimately create a better learning environment for students and a better teaching environment for educators…or face replacement by options that do."

At least, that's the idea the yea-sayers are promoting.

It's The End of the World (of Public Education) As We Know It

The NEA and the AFT are both staunch critics of voucher systems and school choice, with the AFT even coming right out and referring to voucher systems as an attack on public education.

According to the NEA, far from representing equal choice (and therefore, equity) in educational resources for all, instead, voucher systems would "only encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in our society."

The whole point of public education, these groups say, is to provide every student with access to a good school in his or her own neighborhood. To that end, the NEA says that it supports the effort to improve struggling schools, while voucher systems, by encouraging students and families to simply abandon schools that need improvement, could leave many such institutions in a bad place. Without adequate funding—which would surely be lost with the exodus of voucher kids—they would thereby be forced to close their doors for good. And this would ultimately limit the choices that students without access to private funds or transportation have in terms of making decisions about their education.

Quite the line of argument.

And in case that wasn't enough for you, another argument both the AFT and the NEA make against vouchers is that such a system could wind up giving public money to a religious institution, thereby blurring the lines between church and state.

Yep, it just keeps getting more complicated.

So those are the main points in favor and against. And as for the populace at large?

Survey Says…

Really, what does the survey say?

Well, as it turns out, not a lot at this point.

While studies of school voucher programs have suggested that some minority students "may receive a modest achievement benefit after one or two years in the programs," they also state that the exact reasons for this benefit are unknown. And overall, based on information from The Rand Corporation, The Center on Education Policy, and The NEA, students in voucher programs have generally performed at the same level as their public school peers on math and reading assessments.

And in terms of creating problems in terms of segregation, the Rand Corporation reports that "studies of existing U.S. voucher and charter programs (which are usually regulated rather than unregulated) have lacked sufficient data to provide definitive answers about the effects of the programs on integration." Very definitive. Wherever you fall on this one, it's worth being aware of those potential issues—even if they are just potential.

Want More?

Obviously, this hot button issue is bound to evolve, but if you want more information now, check out:

For the time being, the only thing we can vouch for is that the debate is bound to go on.