How many parents would turn down a free scholarship to a well regarded private school because they honestly believe their kid can get a better education in public school? With a voucher system, the school that a child attends would be based on ability, interest, and parental values instead of what the family can afford.
I envision a school system in which each school is accountable for the end result, measured by standardized national test scores, but is free to implement whatever curriculum best achieves that result for its own particular student population. This would enable parents to have more say in what their children are taught. If parents feel that religion is an important part of their children’s education, they can send them to schools that incorporate religious discipline. If they want their kids to get the best preparation for college, they’d better make sure their kids can pass the competitive entrance requirements for the better college preparatory schools.
After elementary school, students would be assigned to classes based on their current skill level, rather than their grade level, with the flexibility to move into higher or lower level courses as necessary to maximize their own learning potential. No student should ever be impeded in his quest for education to accommodate the “least common denominator.”
This is my proposal for education reform:
Continue to provide public elementary schools, but ensure that every child learns reading, writing, and arithmetic before graduating. Incorporate elementary logic into the curriculum to teach critical thinking from an early age. Formal logic should be reinforced in the teaching of all subjects. Basic economic principles should be introduced in first grade, with more advanced concepts being introduced at every grade level to prepare kids to function in the world beyond elementary school. No student should ever be promoted who has not mastered the basics at his grade level.
Middle schools would be privately run, but would be required to accept all students within their district. All students would get vouchers to attend the middle school of their choice. Middle schools would continue to cover math and language skills, history, science, etc, but would be free to come up with their own curricula to keep their students engaged. For example, some schools could focus on hard-core math and science approaches for the kids who are truly excited about those areas, while other schools might focus on teaching through building things, taking things apart, and solving problems in a hands-on environment. Other schools might leverage art, music, theater, etc. in their approach to teaching the required disciplines, while yet others might emphasize community involvement.
High schools would be privately operated. They could be preparatory, vocational, or specialized. High school would be optional and students would have to qualify to enter the high school of their choice, based on their performance in middle school, extracurricular activities, or other criteria that demonstrates their aptitude and motivation to succeed in that particular program. Any student accepted into a qualified a high school would get a voucher. (Schools would qualify to be eligible for vouchers based on average student performance on standardized national tests.)
It may be that fewer teenagers would attend high school than do today, but whose who do would actually be there to get an education. Vocational schools would be a very viable option for students who aren’t academically inclined but want to prepare themselves for a better paying job than they could get otherwise.
Today, most parents can’t afford to send their kids to private schools, so they don’t have these options available to them. With a voucher system, they could send their kid to any school for which the kid can qualify. Kids themselves would have more freedom and more responsibility with respect to their own education, and would be more invested in their own success.