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Arguments for School Voucher Initiative Based on Inaccuracies

July 18, 1993

* In the interest of fairness and objectivity, I feel I must respond to Barry Brett's letter (July 11), in which he maligns all public schools after having visited "several" in a number of local cities. Finding the public schools wanting, he then visited a number of private schools, which were satisfactory. Unfortunately, the lack of a state-subsidized voucher kept his son out of a private school. Although Mr. Brett is to be commended for taking the time to actively investigate schools in his area, both public and private, he makes a common but serious error in comparing the two.

Private schools pick and choose among applicants, which produces a student body likely to be non-representative of the whole society. Public schools, on the other hand, are charged with educating all students living in a particular attendance area, irrespective of their academic ability, English-language competence, motivation or behavior. Students who are behavior problems in private schools are dropped and then attend public schools, which, by law, are required to accept them.

In addition, public schools are required to offer a panoply of additional programs and services that private schools may or may not offer. Extracurricular sports, clubs, bands, drill teams, dances and special class activities are among these. There is simply no valid direct comparison between public schools and private schools.

Mr. Brett's conclusion that the passage of the voucher initiative in November will benefit the children of this state is a cruel hoax. The effect of passage will be to siphon billions of taxpayer dollars from public education and spread them over a constellation of private schools which will be largely unregulated in terms of safety, equal access and curriculum.

Mr. Brett claims that "no public school in California is teaching to world-class standards, and it is against the world that we as Californians are competing." It is interesting to note that in all other industrialized countries, there is nothing even resembling education by voucher.

DAN SHEPARD

Huntington Beach

* I am a high school teacher in the public schools and have children in the public schools but am also a product of private school education. Therefore, I feel I speak with some authority on various education systems. I wish to point out the fallacies of Barry Brett's arguments against the public school system.

First, he requested samples of work from "average students" in the public schools. An average student does not learn all that is taught; this doesn't mean that good teaching is not going on in the classroom. Mr. Brett didn't mention observing classes in session. Real learning is not necessarily measured by work sheets but by how children perform on "hands-on" problem-solving tasks and in discussions in the classroom. In fact, authentic situational evaluation is considered superior to the work-sheet approach. Those private school kids must be doing a lot of work sheets to be so tidy and neat!

Second, Mr. Brett attempted to compare students of private schools, whose paying parents intrinsically have a more vested interest in their children's progress, with average students in public schools, whose parents may not have the same interest and/or financial means to focus on education as a priority.

Third, he did not mention looking at test scores, although he expressed a concern about being competitive in the global marketplace. If he had asked to see the test scores of the top 20% of public school classes (which would have more accurately reflected what is actually taught) and compared them to the top 20% of the classes in Japan (for example), he would have found that our California students equal or exceed their standards in math, reading, etc. The Japanese and Koreans envy our American education system in the manner in which we foster high levels of creativity and problem-solving among our students; we do not produce "fact- learning automatons," as they do. So it all depends upon what kind of "world-class standards" you are looking for: level of trivia memorization or level of thinking and problem-solving skills.

Mr. Brett suggests, based upon his fallacious conclusions, that one should be allowed to take money away from our already financially strapped public school system, which is actually doing a rather remarkable job, everything considered. My suggestion to him is this: The public schools belong to all of us. If you're not happy, then get involved. Find out what's happening in education. One person can make a difference. I speak from experience. Teach your son by example to be part of the solution, not just a complainer!

CHRISTINE TAXIER

Cypress

* In his letter to The Times, Barry Brett, like many proponents of the "Parental Choice Initiative," is missing the point. This initiative should not be a debate on the quality of public education versus private education. That reduces the complexities of our diverse society and educating our youth to exceedingly simplistic terms.

The point is that public schools are the basis of our democracy. A poorly crafted piece of legislation such as this initiative will only serve to financially devastate the California public school system, therefore undermining the American way of life, of which we are so proud.

Rather than take more away from public schools, let's support our youth with more parental involvement, with adequate funding and by rejecting the ill-named "Parental Choice Initiative."

KATIE BAKER

Mission Viejo

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