Filed Under:  Education

Bringing voucher schools into the light

13th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Dr. Andre M. Perry
Contributing Columnist

Louisiana didn’t become 41st in the nation on average ACT score because of public school performance alone. Public schools can’t take all the blame for why Louisiana keeps looking up at its peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Parti­cularly in New Orleans, where 30 percent of the students attend private and/or parochial schools, the quality of this sector is critical to our city’s vitality

However, the scrutiny around public education has by default inflated the perception of private schools. Sending your child to a private school shouldn’t just sound like you’re doing more. Other than reputation, how do you know if you should be satisfied with your child’s school?

The thought that your tuition may not yield a significant difference from the public sector is terrifying, but it’s a fear we must face.

As an educational researcher, I encourage opportunities to learn more about private and faith-based school performance. As a taxpayer, I want to see all schools improve. Louisiana’s voucher program provides the overall public an opportunity to understand what taxpayers and tuition payers are getting in return. But instead, the Depart­ment of Education’s actions shroud the information that is requisite for parental choice.

The State’s long awaited accountability provisions for the voucher program proved to be a set of undefendable political compromises. Voucher schools will not receive similar consequences for underperformance particularly if they have fewer than 40 students (We assume 40 to be some magic number). If participating schools miseducate 40 or more, they can keep the students and the money. The failing schools just can’t enroll more students. Meanwhile, public schools are shuttered for such performances.

Jarvis DeBerry of the Times-Picayune characterized it best within the title of an article on the subject, “A low bar is better than none.” However, the national group, Interfaith Alliance would not like the uneven bars set in religious institutions. Its president the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy said in a letter sent to the governor, “Your school voucher scheme is bad for religious freedom and bad for public education as well as a blatant attack on the religious freedom clauses in the United States Constitution.”

Pastor Gaddy is correct, but based on what’s coming out about some the voucher recipients; we may need some public sunlight placed upon these schools. Sadly, the Department’s shrinking away from true accountability limits Louisi-ana’s chances for advancement.

While the state demands rigor with end-of-course examinations in assumed secular subjects such as biology, algebra and American history for its public schools, the Department of Education is accepting schools that advance creationism. How are state universities going to evaluate these subjects? Shouldn’t there be a reasonable amount of curricular consistency between the faith-based schools that the state accepts in its voucher program and the public schools that are purported as improving rapidly?

More importantly, do parents know the fullness of having their child attend the Light City Christian Academy whose students will “yield to the tutelage of Apostle Leonard Lucas Jr.” – a self-described prophet. A transparent application process for faith-based institutions would provide the information needed to promote the ideal of choice.

Again, Louisiana’s rank can’t fall solely on the shoulders of public schools. Bringing voucher schools to the light will make clear what is real; bad public schools aren’t the only educational institutions that need to close.

This article was originally published in the August 13, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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