kitchen table math, the sequel: Senate Votes Down More Federal Funds for School Vouchers

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Senate Votes Down More Federal Funds for School Vouchers

from the ACLU:
March 10, 2009

CONTACT: Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312;

WASHINGTON – An amendment that would continue an expiring program to provide federal funds for private and religious school vouchers in the District of Columbia was defeated today in the Senate. The amendment would have extended the federally-funded District of Columbia school voucher program, the nation’s first and only federally-funded private and religious school program of its kind. Federal funding for private and religious school vouchers are currently set to expire at the end of the next school year. The amendment, number 615, was proposed to H.R. 1105, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 by Senator John Ensign (R-NV), but was defeated by a vote of 58-39.

The American Civil Liberties Union has strong objections to the voucher program based on First Amendment principles that bar funding for religious education.

“The Senate’s rejection of continuing to provide federal funds for private religious education is welcome,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “The government cannot and should not be directly – or indirectly – funding the religious education of our children. Private religious schools have a clear and undisputed right to include religious content in their school curriculum when those schools are privately funded, but not when they are taxpayer funded. Vouchers are a problematic because once government dollars enter the equation it becomes impossible for the government to avoid funding religious activity or favoring one religious or non-religious program over another.”

The voucher program allows schools to take federal funds while infusing their curriculum with specific religious content without being subject to many civil rights statutes that protect students from discrimination. Students that participate [in what?] are exempt from compliance of laws like the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Since the principal recipients of these federal voucher funds are private religious schools, every American’s tax dollars are going toward schools that bring specific religious content into their curriculum. Moreover, congressionally-mandated evaluations by the federal government itself have shown that students receiving vouchers have shown no improvement in academic achievement when compared to similar students in public schools.

“Federal funds should mean adherence to federal law and that is simply not the case with voucher programs,” continued Anders. “Students of these programs are not guaranteed the same protections of civil rights statutes as their public school counterparts. How can we say we’re helping our nations’ students when we’re not properly safeguarding them? There must be a better way for our taxpayer dollars to serve all students in Washington, D.C.”

Where is President Bartlett when we need him?

West Wing & the Jesuits


forty-two said...

I used to be pro-voucher, but watching the effects of FL's statewide voucher program for 4yo preschool has changed my mind.

VPK - voluntary pre-kindergarten - lets any private preschool, religious or secular, that meets certain baseline criteria (that at the moment mostly has to do with their graduates meeting some basic benchmarks) enroll in the VPK program. Parents can send their child to any VPK school for "free" and the schools get a set amount per VPK student.

Our church has a well-regarded preschool for ages 2-4. They initially did not enroll in the VPK program b/c of concerns about gov't regulation down the road. They believed that with their reputation, affordable price (tuition was about $1,000 less than the VPK reimbursement), and loyal parents, they would be fine. Boy, were they wrong.

The first year of VPK, their 4yo enrollment dropped by 50%, while their 2yo and 3yo classes (not covered by VPK) were full. They went from being self sufficient to having to borrow $40K from the church just to make ends meet. They had to enroll in VPK the next year just to survive. If the gov't adds any new regs, they will have to comply or go out of business.

I used to be pro-voucher, but after watching how the VPK program, despite being "voluntary", has effectively made all but the most elite preschools dependent on the gov't for survival, I've changed my mind. Widespread vouchers will kill the whole concept of private school. And no matter how benign the initial regulations might be, I am certain they will become more and more intrusive over time, till private schools are just as messed up as the public ones are. He who pays the piper picks the tune, and the gov't just can't help itself when it comes to meddling.

Allison said...

Actually, Forty-Two, I agree with you. I do not yet know if all possible implementations of vouchers inevitably lead to more govt control, but as practiced, they are just another way to insert a crow bar to private education.

Govt money corrupts everything sooner or later. Vouchers will be used as a way for the govt to buy the education they think you should have.

The problem is that instead of vouchers returning OUR tax money to us, vouchers will instead be seen as the GOVT giving THEIR money to the schools, which they then get to regulate.

But this is because all roads lead to the same place: the education establishment is too big to be bullied, and every possible innovation that interacts with it gets clobbered by it, if they wish.

SteveH said...

"And no matter how benign the initial regulations might be, I am certain they will become more and more intrusive over time, till private schools are just as messed up as the public ones are."

That's a very pessimistic view. It indicates that there is no hope for anyone who relies on government funded schools. It assumes that choice won't provide better choices. That isn't the case for many kids. There's no way to keep the government out for most families, so giving parents some control is better than giving them no control.

Allison said...

Well, seeing as how we've become France without the wine, I'm pretty much pessimistic about the future of federalism here. We're a social democracy now, and public schools will successfully co opt the private one way or another.

Here in St. Paul, MN, they've succeeded. The school districut here has over 2 dozen "district-wide" schools, which are all different flavors of magnet school for just about every niche you could dream of. The museum school, the aero-engineering school, the peace and justice school, the Core Curriculum School, the IB school, the french immersion school, the arts school, the GATE school, etc. etc. etc. All the school choice you could ever want! Who needs privates when you could have any of the above? Oh, and curriculum? They all use Everyday Math and Reader's Workshop.

Choice hasn't provided better choices. Look at all of those schools NCLB scores, and the same truth holds: the white middle class and up kids are above AYP, and the others are not. Doesn't matter what choice you made.

Mia Zagora said...

“Students of these programs are not guaranteed the same protections of civil rights statutes as their public school counterparts."

What "protections" are being referred to here? I don't understand. Protection from religious instruction? I can't think of anything else that a child is protected from in a public school. It certainly isn't protection from failure or mediocrity.

I'm usually not for vouchers. I agree with a pp that said every school that involves the government is corrupted by the government. I'm sorry if that seems to be a "pessimistic" view to some. It's true. Public schools that excel in spite of government intervention have become the exception instead of the norm.

The only exception to my anti-voucher attitude is in the cases of cities such as Washington DC, Los Angeles and other places where the schools can be downright dangerous.

SteveH said...

"Doesn't matter what choice you made."

Tell that to the kids in DC.

I can be as pessimistic as anyone else, but what are we doing here at KTM, just commiserating or venting? I could argue that our criticisms of Everyday Math have absolutely no effect. Are we fooling ourselves and wasting our time?

It would be hard to argue that no choice is better than choice. You can argue that it's not much of a choice, but that's not always the case. I don't ever think that allowing choice will automatically create good choices, but what do we have now? What are the possibilities with choice? Without choice?

I don't think I'm wasting my time here. We help parents and, hopefully, we are slowly moving the needle so that choice will matter more in the future. In our state, there are few charter schools and they all have funny charters, but they do force our public schools to pay attention and try to do more. Now, all we have to do is keep the state public school hierarchy out of the charter school approval process. That's the reason why all of the charters are so strange.

If I only cared about my own son, I would keep quiet, do something better with my time, and laugh all the way to the SAT bank.

Doug Sundseth said...

As a parent who moved his son out of private school into a charter school primarily for cost reasons, I understand the concern. Charters absolutely compete directly with private schools. But they also compete directly with more-traditional public schools, to the advantage of both (IME).

My local district schools are each advertising their supposed advantages to the parents in the district, so I know they're both feeling the crunch and trying to compete. So far, that competition has been weak enough that the adequate charter school my son is in has continued to be a better choice, but that could change at any time. And the charter knows that.

So, it's Saxon and Core Knowledge in one and Everyday Math (and whatever) in the others, and I get to choose. I'm very much in favor of that.

Give me vouchers, so I can reasonably choose even more freely, and I would be happier still (even considering the problems of government capture of private schools).

Perhaps it will help to remember that most private schools (and preschools) aren't $1000 per year and that for some families, including the families generally believed to be at greatest risk, even $1000 per year is a significant hardship. Do not make "perfect" the enemy of "better".

Anonymous said...

I was against vouchers when I first came here for the very same reasons that people named. But having heard all of the stories over the years, I realize that things will not change without competition, period. It may be messy, but it appears to be the only way from what I can see.

It also places the true power where it belongs--with the parents.


VickyS said...

We've had this discussion before and I'm still very interested in it. The problem as I see it is that schools will be beholden to someone/something, no matter what, because schooling is too expensive (on a per pupil basis) for most families to finance themselves. That's why we tax everyone, including people without kids in school, to pay for them.

Let's say a nonprofit ran some schools (the Gates Foundation comes to mind). Well then the schools are beholden to the foundation, and we have seen where that will take you.

Let's say a church runs the schools. Same thing.

Only a private nonparochial school comes close to being truly independent but you have to have tons of money to go there (without a redistribution of education money as through vouchers).

So, what alternative is there other than working for more choice within the existing system? Vouchers, charters, magnets, they all help.

I hear what your saying, Allison, being a St. Paul resident myself. All the district schools that purport to offer choice (language immersions, math/science focus, A+ etc.) offer false choices...they all use Everyday Math and Writer's Workshop, to be sure (and you can bet I've pointed this out at community meetings and letters to our dear departing superindendent as well). But, the charters really do offer a different choice. And the private school and religious schools really do offer a different choice. I can choose a private religous school (if I can afford it) and keep my kids away from sex ed. I can choose an international school that really is international. I can choose a Native American or Hmong school. I can choose an online school. I can choose a year round school. These schools have different curricula, different values, different student bodies, different calendars...these are real, not false choices. Steve and others would probably give their right arms for choices like this in their states.

If you see the charter movement or the use of vouchers as inevitably causing the alternative schools to be subsumed into the public education monster (which I doubt will happen, but let's just say it does) then what is the alternative mechanism for choice?

I understood you once to be anti-choice as a general principal but then the question remains...what school could you or anyone devise that would be "the" school and wouldn't that end up being a state school by default anyway?

Allison said...

I wasn't venting, I was arguing that our glorious hopes and dreams for vouchers and other educational innovations are still missing the boat.

DC is of course sui generis, as it's run by Congress. Congress should give them vouchers, and they should do it because DC doesn't really exist as a normal state anyway. but of cousre, what they should do is fix the school district in the first place.

But the notion that vouchers solve our problems is worth poking at. "any choice is better than no choice" isn't true. If that "choice" wipes out the market for PRIVATE SCHOOLS, then that "choice" will have decreased all of our choices overall.

Will parents have "power"? When you get a govt check, do you get a lot of power? Economics and political science and pretty defintively shown that when people become dependent on govt checks, the govt is in power, not the people. Parents won't have power. They will have a new dependency. The parents will simply end up in hyper-mega-school-districts, where the privates in their area are now inside a new bureaucracy similar to what the old districts offer. St. Paul has that: parents have "the power" to choose any school, as long as it has Reader's Workshop and Everyday Math. But in this brave new future, the schools won't have the power either. The fed govt will. That, to me, is even worse than what we've got now--and if you don't think the curriculum will be determined by the ed-school deans in that view, you aren't thinking clearly.

It's clear to me by looking at Title IX money in colleges exactly how bad it will be to create a Pell/federal grant equivalent at the K-12 level. They will insist all all sorts of interventions to provide "justice" or "equality". Hillsdale College is what--the ONLY university in the country that doesn't take federal money? They actually teach the liberal arts! Does anyone else? But there's is a lonely road, and no one else is going on it. Everyone else is too far down their own road, too dependent on federal funds.

I would rather we worked on keeping private schools alive so that we had an alternative. From where I stand, Obama will be considered the greatest education president ever if he were to shrewdly enact a federal voucher program with strings attached that demanded unionized teachers, or ethnic and class based balance, or curriculum in non-religion to match what his buddy Ayers wants, etc. It would essentially create "choice" inside hyper-districts, but those vouchers would have strings that limited the behaviors of those schools. And it would sink the private schools that didn't comply over night.

I think we should be very skeptical that a check from the govt to a school gives power to parents. It gives power to the govt.

Allison said...

re: charters: the jury's out on charters. Here in MN, we've got charters that are sharia schools, and the lawsuit is pending to determine if it's illegal, but the state hasn't closed them down yet. So charters may be even worse--an educational innovation where "choice" means tax dollars can teach anything, including how to destroy the republic we live in.

I have no problem with parochial schools being parochial. I have no problem with private schools being beholden to institutions--as long as they don't take tax dollars. My interest is in keeping private schools in existence. My claim is that we need to maintain alternatives that aren't private-public partnerships, because everywhere we look, those partnerships have corrupted the private part, and the public part has been a disaster as hte incentives are all wrong for those of us who aren't govt cronies.

But what if private schools aren't a choice for the poor? the stuck? what can we do? work to find cheaper private alternatives, and work on the tea party model: it ain't their money to spend.

I know Catherine thinks otherwise, but I believe we need to work hard to inform parents how little education their children are receiving. They need to want to revolt.

Allison said...

Sorry, I'm tired, i meant: I know Catherine thinks parents want solid educations for their kids, and she thinks they have some idea what that means, but they feel hamstrung in getting it. I actually disagree. I don't think parents really have any tools to define or evaluate a solid education anymore, let alone apply that to what their kids are getting. They need education on that very subject. Parents need to be taught what's wrong with 21st. c skills, with current curricula, with character ed, etc. Then they need to be taught what's right about teacher led instruction, direct instruction, phonics, math fact to mastery, etc. Start there, and then work for the revolt.

SteveH said...

"If that "choice" wipes out the market for PRIVATE SCHOOLS, then that "choice" will have decreased all of our choices overall."

I think we're kind of back to where we left off on this topic before. It seems like you're looking for two different solutions; choice for those who have money to spend on private schools and something else for those who don't.

Vouchers should help good private schools, but charters are more of a threat. I would support full vouchers, but I think (politically) that charters are more likely to happen. This could hurt some private schools, but there are a lot of private schools that don't add a lot of value.

The private school that our son used to go to didn't add a lot of value. The feedback from other parents who sent their kids off to the fancy private schools upstate are not positive. They all use Everyday Math. They all have fuzzy 21st century learning issues.

There may be some very good private schools, but the one my son went to is now hurting even though our state hardly has any choices. They've changed their focus from academics to image and being known as a pipeline to the fancy high school academies. Parents are finally stopping to think when they write out the tuition checks. It seems that private schools fall victim to their own image and are pulled up by very supportive, high SES parents.

"They need to want to revolt."

A revolution for what; one type of education that everyone can agree upon? It won't happen. Some parents love(!) the warm and fuzzy full inclusion we have in our K-8 schools. It's not just how and what is taught, but the level of expectations. You will never get an agreement on this.

"I don't think parents really have any tools to define or evaluate a solid education anymore, let alone apply that to what their kids are getting."

If you are affluent enough, then you have enough knowledge of what constitutes a proper education? Actually, I think all parents can do just fine with choice. Some will prefer the warm and fuzzy, some will prefer the unschooling approach (which could be quite effective for some kids), and some will want a Core Knowledge approach.

"Start there, and then work for the revolt."

I'm still not sure what kind of revolution you can have inside of a monopoly. What is the scenario?

I would prefer that our public schools come to their senses and offer better education or more choices within the schools. I really don't wan't a choice that requires my son to spend a hour a day traveling to another town, no matter how good the education. I've seen both sides of public and private schools, and I have tried very hard to talk to other parents. I've offered my after-school help to the schools and tried to get them to change thier curricula. Very little changes.

What is the scenario without choice?

VickyS said...

Allison, your points about vouchers, public money and government intervention are well taken.

Just look at what the federal bailout money is doing for the banks. The feds give them money (in some cases, strong-armed them into taking it), and now the rules/regulations/limitations are being piled on. Something in the legislation allows the federal government to continue to add restrictions, even after the fact. It's become so onerous that several of them want to give it back.

This could conceivably happen with the voucher system. Private schools accept vouchers and become dependent on public money to maintain their enrollment. Soon rules & requirements are imposed and the private schools have little choice but to comply. Options are eventually elminated as the privates look more and more like the publics.

If a goal of the education establishment is to eliminate alternatives to district public education, then one could argue that charter schools further this goal in that they certainly do draw from private schools. One could argue that charters thus actually reduce choice (eventually) by crippling the truly independent parochial schools.

So if private schools are the only truly independent schools, the only schools that are immune from federal social engineering, and if one wants to keep them strong, one should oppose or at a minimum be very suspicious of all publicly funded alternatives including charters, vouchers, online schools, etc. Interesting.

Let's say we agree on that. Then the big question is: how to keep private education options free from governmental interference but accessible to all? That's the big question. Ideas?

Moreover, how can we be sure that private schools are safe even if they don't take public money? The state still calls the shots for private school certification (as well as writes the homeschooling laws). Education is still compulsory. There is no option for opting out as there is, say, for vaccines. Regardless of financing, why couldn't legislative bodies simply add more requirements to whatever hoops private schools have to jump through to be recognized as schools?

As for educating parents, that is a very important piece. Don't discount how important sites like ktm are in this effort! Hopefully parents with younger kids and access to the internet will be jumpstarted into this conversation. For me, it was years before I started understanding something was seriously wrong with our schools. And now with kids in high school, I am nearing the end of the involved parent portion of my life. The system benefits from the natural attrition or obsolescence of activist parents.

As for resistance vs. revolution, I tend to agree with you there in principle. Maybe fighting only makes them stronger. Maybe they keep setting up these windmills so that we will stay busy jousting at them.

Most of us have no idea how to start this revolution or what shape it would take. Given compulsory education laws, my guess is that it would have to involve civil disobedience to have the necessary shake up effect. I think we're a long way from this. So, what does a parent do in the meantime? Try to create the best school environment currently possible within the system for our own as well as other children, I guess, which means...charters, vouchers, going to school board meetings, exposing bad curricula, etc. When we take this approach, now and then we can win a battle. Are fighting these battles setting us up to lose the war?

palisadesk said...

"When we take this approach, now and then we can win a battle. Are fighting these battles setting us up to lose the war?

The school system is laughing up its sleeve all the while you do these things -- it's well aware of the ticking clock. Activist parents who will fight to change the system have a "life expectancy" of 10-20 years, usually less. They fight for the programs or schools or instructional resources that they want for their children, the schools respond with various dilatory tactics, toss some mini-carrots here and there, bring in "studies" and "surveys" while delaying any meaningful change, shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic, re-brand some old failed initiative as the New Thing -- and outlast the parents who want change. This is why educating parents is unlikely to be a sufficiently effective impetus for change -- it takes too long to do, and then the active life of those educated parents is very short. The system can take to heart the aphorism Lincoln shared when asked if there was any statement that was universally true: "This, too, shall pass away."

Eventually, parents opt out, move away, settle for whatever they can find in the system that best suits them, and run out of steam. They start out with hopes of change and gradually become disillusioned, somewhat cynical (I'd say, realistic) and slowly disengage over time. Rarely do their efforts result in any lasting changes. The system is like a giant amoeba -- it gives a little here, and bulges out a little there. It may look different from an individual vantage point, but an aerial view would show the same organism merely morphing shape temporarily.

Public education is a mammoth entity, with tentacles reaching far into every sector of the economy and accounting directly or indirectly (according to one source I read -- sorry I can't footnote it) for nearly 10% of jobs. It has no motive to change, and every motive to extend its reach and maintain its status quo. Every organism seeks to maintain homeostasis and resist real change -- public education is like a living organism in this respect.

Having been there, done that in a number of reform venues, I am now of the opinion that
the "system" cannot be reformed. It can be worked around in small ways, rather as the Resistance in WWII subverted the Nazis, but it has become a self-perpetuating entity that exists for its own benefit, not to serve the citizenry or produce an educated populace. Literacy rates were arguably higher before universal schooling, though exact data is hard to come by

Allison said...

Btw, I supported vouchers until a few months ago. Vicky, your comment about the bailout debacle is right on. I finally saw the danger of the govt giving vouchers before the bailout, but after the GSEs failed because of massive market distortion. It has been increasingly clear to me that private-public partnerships corrupt the private institutions, and the public ones are all rent-seeking in the first place.

re: PalisadesK's comments about how it can't be reformed:

Imagine an incredibly shrewd Obama administration advocating a new stimulus with federal vouchers for schools that do X,Y,and Z. He can throw in "merit pay" the same way they do it here in MN: 97% of everyone gets it. He doesn't even have to undermine the religious ed directly. And imagine the unions and the ed schools write the X,Y, and Z: maybe X is all private schools accepting federal vouchers need to offer unionization of teachers; maybe Y is a set of national standards that are constructivist; maybe Z is an actual "core curriculum" of Reader's Workshop and Everyday Math. What the heck are we gonna do then? All the schools can still have "choice!" in arts focus or sports focus or immersion languages in K or whatever, but we're done at that point in fixing the education.

So public education will have co-opted the "innovations" in a finger snap.

Steve, I am not claiming that the affluent are the ones who recognize a good education for their children. I am claiming that virtually no one does, at private or public school, and that's because they lack any real evidence on which to make such an assessment. So instead they make decisions based on the things they CAN assess: the quality of sports teams, the age/aesthetics of the classroom, the kindness/enthusiasm of teachers or admin or students. These are the signaling mechanisms they've got. But the ed system has messed up those signals to such a degree that those things don't signify if your child is being taught to read or not.

You say without "choice" we have a monopoly. I submit that "Choice" can be gamed as easily as merit pay was, and that the monopoly holds. The revolt IS in the expectations: you show time after time that your school works hard to lower the parental expectations. The revolution would be to raise them again, and then demand the same from the schools.

SteveH said...

"The school system is laughing up its sleeve all the while you do these things ..."

I've mostly seen schools and teachers who care a lot about education and helping all kids. However, they see it as their own turf, and mostly see their role as leading the horse to water. If kids don't get a good education, as they point to others who have, then it's their own fault.

I would say that it's nearly impossible to get schools to give up some control over their turf (offer two math tracks, for example), and to accept responsibility for learning without some outside force. But even if our school committee hired a new superintendent and pushed for control of the curriculum, the school would fight back every way it could. It's their turf. I don't think you can fight this from the inside.

I don't see them as laughing, but they do feel very strongly about what they're doing and their authority to do it. In some cases, it's quite extreme and irrational. Even though they see their role only as facilitators, and even though they say that kids have to take control over their own learning, they demand total control over the process and don't allow any parental input. It's really an intellectual house of cards. Perhaps that's why they're so defensive.

SteveH said...

"You say without 'choice' we have a monopoly. I submit that 'Choice' can be gamed as easily as merit pay was, and that the monopoly holds."

You have to make a better case for this. The gaming in our state has to do with preventing real choice.

"The revolution would be to raise them again, and then demand the same from the schools."

This sounds like new, improved NCLB. I would say that this could more easily be gamed.

I could be persuaded that there is no hope, but I'm an optimist.

Allison said...

----"The revolution would be to raise them again, and then demand the same from the schools."

--This sounds like new, improved NCLB. I would say that this could more easily be gamed.

No, nothing I'm saying should be construed as happening through legislation. I'm saying we, we, us parents and folks who care, need to socialize other parents to raise the expectations locally and nationally. but anything that involves legislation is game over for us.

VickyS said...

...[people] lack any real evidence on which to make such an assessment [of schools]. So instead they make decisions based on the things they CAN assess: the quality of sports teams, the age/aesthetics of the classroom, the kindness/enthusiasm of teachers or admin or students.

I think it's worse than that. I think parents and other project onto schools what they *think* is happening inside those walls. And what they *think* is happening is masterfully controlled by the education establishment in the first place.

Case in point: the regular letters to the editor from well meaning individuals criticizing the current school system for drill and kill, teaching mindless and irrelevant facts, or having no connection with the real world. The solution then becomes--once again--a new program to introduce inquiry-based learning, critical thinking, etc. Recently they've even given it a new name (21st Century skills) so it *really* seems new!

Yet these supposedly new reforms been in place for the last 10-15 years, maybe longer.

Year after year, every letter identifies the same problems (which don't exist), and each time the solution is to promote or implement new methods that, in reality, have been in the classroom for a decade or more.

It's like Groundhog Day.

By the way, palisadesk, what a thought provoking comment on this post.

VickyS said...

...anything that involves legislation is game over for us.

But how do we get around the fact that education, because it is compulsory, is by definition the object of legislation? Don't the laws define who's a school, who's in compliance, who is not, etc.? The laws circumscribe homeschooling, online learning, calendar days, etc. How can we be free, how can we opt out and work truly outside the system, when education is compulsory, and when compliance is a matter of law?

I've gnawed on this question for a long time without making any progress.

SteveH said...

"I'm saying we, we, us parents and folks who care, need to socialize other parents to raise the expectations locally and nationally."

Assuming that we know how to do this and could even agree on what this is, what's next? What can't be manipulated or gamed at some level? How can this be done without national legislation? Or, how can this be done locally, through school committees? I don't think any agreement is possible.

What if everyone had enough money to send their kids to any school they wanted. We could eliminate public education and just use private schools. Would there be no regulations or testing? Would the government allow parents to make any decision they wanted?

You can't get away from government involvement. The least influence is when everyone has enough money to go to private schools. That can't happen, so the next best thing is full vouchers with minimal strings attached. That's unlikely to happen, so what's next?

In reality, I don't expect anything nearly so perfect. I don't really want the choice to send my son to another town for his education. I want our schools to accept the fact that their assumptions may be wrong. I want them to work with parents to meet their needs, not educational ideologies. I want to see them willing to offer both Investigations and Singapore Math. I want to see a realistic process for at least some level of change. Choice is the best way I see this happening.

By the way, our paper had an article about the school's thematic "Race Week" about the Volvo 70 sailboat race around the world; "Learning at the Extreme". Many kids and parents loved it. I can't imagine ever coming to a consensus on what constitutes a good education, but that's OK. I'd be happy with more choices, preferably within the school.

Anonymous said...

"Don't the laws define who's a school, who's in compliance, who is not, etc.? The laws circumscribe homeschooling, online learning, calendar days, etc."

This depends on the state. Some are a lot more hands-off than others.

As an example, I'll use California.

California, interestingly, has no homeschool laws :-) Which was part of what led to the great excitement about a year ago when lots of people though that the 2nd District Court of Appeals had mostly outlawed it.

What California *does* have is a streamlined way to register as a *very* small private school. If one does this (10 minutes on-line, tops!), then one plays by the rules for private schools, which are pretty loose:
    *) Instruction must be *offered* in English (so no instruction in a foreign language unless the parents are okay with it).
    *) You must cover the 'branches of study' required to be taught in the public schools. But how much of each and what specifically you teach in each is up to you. 200 minutes of PE every 10 school days is the only quantitative requirement. School must be in session for 180 days per year.
    *) You must keep attendance records.
    *) You must keep records of student immunizations (or a piece of paper from yourself saying you object to immunization)
    *) You must keep a copy of your private school registration.
    *) As a private school, there are no state mandated tests the students must take [this frequently surprises/appalls people].

That's pretty much it.

Some people get upset because they consider this too much government intrusion. My view is that as a practical matter, this is about as hands-off as we are going to get! Most people who I explain this to are more horrified at the *lack* of government oversight (what if the children aren't learning??) than they are concerned that it is too much.

But ... again, from a practical standpoint, the local public schools have much better things to do with their time (and money!) than to harass the homeschoolers.

So, to answer your question, "How can we be free, how can we opt out and work truly outside the system, when education is compulsory, and when compliance is a matter of law?"

I suppose it depends on how happy you can be with a 95-98% solution. The one I have in California is quite acceptable to me, even though it doesn't meet my ideological litmus test for perfection :-)

I don't think that
-Mark Roulo