"So, all of this talk about how a market for schools is better gets me thinking about a class I had at BYU called "The Economics of Education" where we basically applied economic principles to the problem of optimal education. In essence, you view the school as a business whose product is the students, and you study which inputs into the school make the most difference. In most of the papers that I read, an improvement of the "product" was one of the following three things: 1) higher standardized test score, 2) Smaller dropout rates, or 3) higher salary once the kids left school (and college, if they go to college). To cut to the chase, the ONLY thing that can be shown to improve these student outcomes is teacher quality. Smaller class sizes don't statistically improve any of those 3 outcomes. Better technology in a school doesn't do that either. But if you put a high quality teacher in the classroom, those students will do better than the same students who had a worse teacher. So, in my opinion, the biggest need is higher quality teachers. Think about good old LHS--we had a few good teachers, but then we also had Mr. Spencer. That's the real problem, I think.
"So, when you're thinking about how to vote on this voucher system, the question I would ask is: Where is this extra money going to go? If it's going to Fios internet in all schools or something like that, I wouldn't vote for it. But, what if we took all of that money and put it straight into teacher salaries? It wouldn't be long until there were more people who wanted to become teachers, and more competition for teaching spots will result in higher quality teachers. Used that way, vouchers can be great, I think. Also, increased competition among schools (for students) should result in better teachers as well. But if the money is used in a dumb way, I would be cautious.
"I have one other reservation about voucher systems. Do you want to hear it? I thought so. :) Again, relating a school to a business, the best businesses are specialists in certain products. If a pure market system were used in the school system, I think the same thing would happen with schools. You'd get certain schools that are really good at physics, but poor at theatre, etc. So if a parent and child are trying to decide which school to go to, they might have to start choosing career paths in 8th or 9th grade! In my opinion, that's a shame because no kid knows at that age what they really want to be. In the same way, with a voucher system you're going to end up with the same kinds of kids going to the same schools because people naturally stick to what they're familiar with. If you take an extreme case, 15 years down the road there might be a nice school for rich kids that want to be doctors, and a poor school for Hispanic kids that is a lot more like a vocational school. I kind of like the heterogeneity in the public school system where they just take in a big geographic area and everyone gets thrown together for a while. And they all get essentially the same education as well.
"Anyway, those are just some things I was thinking of. You probably didn't want a response this long, but too bad! Overall, I think that vouchers can be a good thing, but they need to be set up in a way that (a) improves teacher quality and (b) forces all schools to maintain a high standard in all subjects. If they work out that way, then they're definitely better than the current system."
My only response is that I believe that vouchers will allow parents to search out the best teachers. Therefore, if the parents believe that higher quality teachers can be found in a private or charter school, they might actually be financially able to act upon those beliefs. Does anybody else have any thoughts?