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An Educator's View: Vouchers Would Help

October 30, 2000|PAUL D. WHITE | Paul D. White is a teacher at West Valley Community Education Center in Van Nuys

I love public education and am a public school teacher and administrator with more than 20 years in this business. I support Proposition 38, California's school voucher initiative, because ruinous public school leadership has made this proposal the only chance we now have to improve the sorry state of public schooling in this state.

People who worry about the details of Proposition 38 miss the point. Proposition 38's potential value to Californians far outweighs its risks because it will force honest competition upon a public monopoly that has been arrogantly unresponsive to the public's rightful demand for clean, effective, accountable, fully functional schools.

Any discussion of Proposition 38 has to start with what I have observed of my colleagues over the years, i.e., that a surprisingly large number of them send their own children to private schools. Who knows what goes on in public schools better than the teachers and administrators who work there? If our schools are so great, why don't they allow their own children to attend? If public schools can't or won't improve their product, then shouldn't low-income families also be given the opportunity to have their children escape inferior schools?

Proposition 38 opponents talk endlessly about the money that vouchers would take from public schools. Whatever this amount turned out to be, it would never equal the billions of dollars that superintendents and administrators have wasted for decades on bloated administrative and "specialist" positions, wasteful purchases and ill-conceived projects like the recent $60-million high school debacle in downtown Los Angeles.

School administrators and teachers unions are being irresponsible in their near-hysterical claims that Proposition 38 would unleash a flood of uncredentialed teachers upon our children, which would result in great abuses. First of all, our public schools are currently loaded with "uncredentialed" teachers, many thousands of them in the Los Angeles Unified School District. No reasonable person denies the need for professional teacher training, but if a credential is the most important criteria for great teaching, why did testing conducted by a nationally recognized company find that home-schoolers (taught by "uncredentialed" parents) scored almost 50% higher than their peers?

Proposition 38 opponents express their concern that "voucher schools" could be created that would teach highly objectionable values to their students, presumably in contrast to our chaste public schools.

After two decades as an educator in eight school districts, I can hardly think of any immoral, disgusting or objectionable value that I haven't seen taught and/or condoned by the public school employees I've worked with. If you will recall, when charter schools started a few years ago, this same argument was brought forward. The fears were unfounded--then and now.

Proposition 38 really would do nothing that any reasonable person would disagree with. It would give parents the right to choose where their child goes to school. By introducing honest competition, it would force school districts to select leaders who can deliver safer, cleaner schools and a higher-quality academic program.

It also would force district administrators to give teachers the autonomy, support and respect they need if they are to be held responsible for the academic results the students achieve.

The question implied in Proposition 38 is: Should parents have a right to opt out--unpenalized--of an education system that has become more focused on employing adults than on educating children? Certainly. And if educators spent as much time improving our own product as we spend trying to prevent honest competition, our schools would be full of "customers" interested in the high-quality education program we all know we're capable of producing.

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