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This is an important debate. Should parents get the cash to decide where to send their kids? Thoughts?

Ben Goldhirsh

I think their is logic in the voucher system. I love the idea of every kid being born with assets put behind their potential. I think this is on that plane. I think we don't have an effective market though to solve for it as it's a product that can't be purchased in one-off fashion, but rather needs to batch funds. How this plays out is going to be critical.

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  • Chris Thinnes

    There is logic to the system but, respectfully, it is the logic of the 'free market.' The flaw in the logic is that education is not a marketplace, schools are not competitive firms, and children aren't products or prototypes. Nor should they be.

    Furthermore, given that the conceit (as represented in the NYTimes piece) is that families might "take their children out of failing public schools and enroll them in private schools" confirms that the legislation isn't inspired by, and doesn't embrace, the lovely idea, as you frame it, "of every kid being born with assets behind their potential." It perpetuates the aging, tired, and somehow still dominant mythology of public schools as failed institutions, when what we are living in is a time of failed policy and a failing economy.

    The original idea of public education _was_ grounded in "the idea of every kid being born with assets put behind their potential." Voucher legislation will -- in effect and, many would argue, by design -- eviscerate the promise of the public education system -- which was inspired (and, in many corners, remains inspired) by the promises of equity, opportunity, access, and excellence that the 'choice' movement, and voucher legislation, has appropriated.

    • Ben Goldhirsh

      thanks for this response, Chris. Was just talking about this with Liz. I do think a good question revolves around who is the client that we're trying to serve. Is it the kids, is it society, is it a blend?

      • Chris Thinnes

        Thanks Ben . . . Honestly I can't help but think it's the extended metaphor (in this case w/the word 'client' -- not as an assumption re your intent, but as a thought about its impact) that limits my/our thought about it. I just don't think we can use a term like 'client' without leveraging/invoking assumptions about the purpose of education in terms of market appeal, 'customer service,' etc. Decisions in and about schools cannot be made on the bases of market appeal, market trends, customer satisfaction, or other market drivers . . .

        Perhaps this isn't a particularly helpful analogy... but I think we've watched not just 'discourse' but practice in health care changed fundamentally for the worse as a result of thinking of medical services as market-driven commodities, patients as 'clients,' etc. When you're sick, you don't 'opt in' to the medical system and actually make informed, authentically free choices as an empowered agent in a 'free market.' Roughly similarly, children (or, for that matter, their parents, or 'the society') aren't making market-driven decisions either. At some juncture, in any case, the market model for education breaks down, as do its attendant metaphors, roles, etc.

        It feels like the 'choice' movement restricts our thought about the possibilities and the value of education to the degree that it imposes the market model, and its language system, on the discourse and our decisions; to identify a 'client' is to accept that model and that language system. I don't think it's a 'client' but a 'purpose' that education serves -- whether that's to develop an informed and active citizenry; to prepare children for college, careers, and their futures; to create a context in which children can learn to interact, to think, to creates; and so on ... that seems to be what's framed the evolution of the institution's goals and systems in its best expressions, in the spirit of a social compact more so than a corporate contract.