Are Market Forces Good For Schools - We Are About To Find Out

by Dr. Joseph D. Hollowell, 2 yrs ago

A seminal moment in the reform of the American education system occurred with the publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. 

With its famously dramatic phrasing, the report noted “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” Since this call to action, the citizens of this country have been gradually awakened to the growing crisis of the academic performance of its schools and students relative to previous generations of Americans and relative to international benchmarks. Education historian Diane Ravitch deemed the report as "the most important education reform document for the 20th century.” 

A Nation at Risk served as the catalyst for the launch of an education reform movement that is now 30 years old and seems to be growing in intensity, at least in Indiana. Over the past five years, the contraction of the U.S. economy has caused individual states to reflect even more intently on the role that quality schools play in developing a competitive and well-educated workforce that can attract businesses who must compete in a global marketplace. The increased emphasis on student performance in high stakes testing, the move for adoption of a rigorous set of national standards and the growing openness to alternative models for effective ways of preparing students to function well in a knowledge-based economy – charter schools, online schools, homeschools, schools formed by organized parental takeovers, for-profit corporations formed to run schools - all symbolize a national search for solutions to problems articulated and crystallized in this one report. 

Since A Nation at Risk was published, one of the predominant ideas that emerged from the strategic thinking and practices that state and local government leaders have employed has been the introduction of “market forces” to the educational arena along with the competition that those forces bring. This competition has been introduced through two basic
methods: 1) the establishment of publicly funded charter schools and 2) the adoption of programs that distribute public funds to parents through school vouchers. These two solutions both offer new competition for traditional public schools but otherwise differ substantially. Charter schools are still public schools funded by public monies but they generally receive their charter as a result of defining a philosophy or mission around which the school will operate. The voucher solution differs from charter schools in that the money is given to parents who can use it at the school of their choice including private schools whose missions are based in religious beliefs, practices and traditions. 

We are about to see these theories played out on a grand scale throughout Indiana. This past spring, the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld a decision by a lower court that ruled the voucher program that was passed in the 2011 Indiana legislature was constitutional. Shortly after that ruling in the spring, the 2013 session of the state legislature passed a bill that vastly expanded opportunities for all families who are seeking a private education for their child.

The resulting details of this legislation are explained on page 17 of this Update. The new laws offer quicker opportunities for families to become eligible for the voucher program. I hope you will take the time to become familiar with this new opportunity. While it will not impact every family at Roncalli, we are expecting the number of families who will qualify for assistance with their tuition from the voucher program to easily double or triple over the next two years. We are working hard to identify current families who could benefit from this program, but we do not always know all of the details in every family situation. All families need to take ownership in understanding whether or not their sons and daughters can qualify for this assistance. We hope the information provided in this Update helps you in this way.

We are excited about the expanded opportunities offered to our families by the new legislation. We believe giving people more choices in the education of their children will have a positive effect on our state and that the anticipated improvement in all of our schools will be the resulting fruit.

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