Trump Administration Advances School Vouchers Despite Scant Evidence

Jul 28, 2017

By Peg Tyre

In a 1955 essay, free market visionary Milton Friedman proposed a revolutionary model of education. Rather than seeing public schools as a rich local resource and driver of social mobility, he suggested they were a reflection of government overreach. Because a stable and democratic society depends on an educated electorate, he reasoned, the government should pay for children to go to school. But that did not mean the government should run schools. Instead, Friedman said, it ought to require a minimum level of education. And to finance that education, it should give parents “vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services.” Breaking the government monopoly on education, he argued, would allow “consumers” (parents) to support the best “product”—that is, to enroll their kids in the most effective and highest-performing institutions. Mediocre public schools, subjected to market forces, would improve or perish.

The idea captured the imagination of elected officials and policy makers all over the world. Now President Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is preparing to give the scheme its first national rollout in the U.S. She has made voucher programs the centerpiece of her efforts to enhance educational outcomes for students, saying they offer parents freedom to select institutions outside their designated school zone. “The secretary believes that when we put the focus on students, and not buildings or artificially constructed boundaries, we will be on the right path to ensuring every child has access to the education that fits their unique needs,” says U.S. Department of Education spokesperson Elizabeth Hill.

Because the Trump administration has championed vouchers as an innovative way to improve education in the U.S., Scientific American examined the scientific research on voucher programs to find out what the evidence says about Friedman’s idea. To be sure, educational outcomes are a devilishly difficult thing to measure with rigor. But by and large, studies have found that vouchers have mixed to negative academic outcomes and, when adopted widely, can exacerbate income inequity. On the positive side, there is some evidence that students who use vouchers are more likely to graduate high school and to perceive their schools as safe.

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16 comments on “Trump Administration Advances School Vouchers Despite Scant Evidence

  • I’ve heard that it’s a brilliant scam – you take the money, run for a bit without delivering anything but the basics, don’t pay the rent or the HP on the equipment you have bought, then scarper with the money collected (including “voluntary” contributions from nutty parents), and, of course, the teachers’ wages. Any takers? Sincerely Eejit, PhD (Oxon), FRS, VC, KG.

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    (June 01, 2013)

    Chomsky: […] I give a lot of talks in communities and places where people are concerned about education and I’ve had teachers come up to me and say afterwards, you know, I teach sixth grade. A little girl came up after class and said she was interested in something that came up in class, and wanted to know how to look into it. And I tell her, you can’t do it; you got to study for the test. Your future depends on it; my salary depends on it. And that’s happening all over. And it has the obvious technique of dumbing down the population, and also controlling them. […] Also, an effort to kill the schools – the charter school movement vouchers, all this kind of stuff is nothing but an effort to destroy the public education system. It claims that it gives the parents choices, but that’s ridiculous. […]

    For most people, they can’t make the choices; there are not any. It’s like saying everyone has a choice to become a millionaire. You do, in a way: there’s no law against it. […]

    Falcone: Do we as a nation have a reason to fear an assault on public education and the complete privatization of education?

    Chomsky: It’s part of the way of controlling and dumbing down the population, and that’s important. Much has to do with the catastrophe that’s looming, mainly environmental catastrophe. It’s very serious. It’s not generations from now; it’s your children and your grandchildren. And the public is pretty close to the scientific consensus. If you look at polls, it will say it’s a serious problem; we’ve got to do something about it. Government doesn’t want to, and the corporate sector not only doesn’t want to, it’s strongly opposed to it. So now, take for example ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. It’s corporate funded, the Koch brothers and those guys. It’s an organization which designs legislation for states, for state legislators. And they’ve got plenty of clout, so they can get a lot of it through. Now they have a new program, which sounds very pretty on the surface. It’s designed to increase “critical thinking.” And the way you increase critical thinking is by having “balanced education.” “Balanced education” means that if you teach kids something about the climate, you also have to teach them climate change denial. It’s like teaching evolution science, but also creation science, so that you have “critical thinking.” […]

    All of this is a way of turning the population into a bunch of imbeciles. That’s really serious. I mean, it’s life and death at this point, not just making society worse.

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  • I have never been a conspiracy theorist, but that doesn’t mean that conspiracies don’t exist. Everything indicates that a vast conspiracy, a racist, economic classist, nationalist conspiracy, designed to weaken the government and fundamentally transform our culture, is now being conducted by the ultra (and alt) right, who are now finally in the seat of power. Liberal democracy is to these nefarious monsters a multi headed hydra. They are going after the very life blood of a healthy democracy and a functioning social state: education, elections (with voter suppression), the press, health care, “entitlements”, spending. They do not want social mobility or greater wealth and income inequality. They want profit, private profit, and they don’t play by the rules.

    (Bannon, a dark figure now in American life, an agent of destruction by his own admission, is a major player. This is a man who is, quite possibly, a fascist sympathizer.* He is definitely a dangerous political operative as well as a tricky ideologue, a twisted, verbose pseudo intellectual – with a certain flair and a dominating personality. He literally glorifies capitalism and “the Judeo-Christian West”, hates secularism: “I certainly think secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals, right?”) (Remark delivered by Skype to a conference held inside the Vatican in the summer of 2014.)


    a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful
    a conspiracy to destroy the government
    synonym: plot, scheme, plan, machination, ploy, trick, ruse, subterfuge; informal racket
    a conspiracy to manipulate the results

    *“But for all the examination of those remarks, a passing reference by Mr. Bannon to an esoteric Italian philosopher has gone little noticed, except perhaps by scholars and followers of the deeply taboo, Nazi-affiliated thinker, Julius Evola. ‘The fact that Bannon even knows Evola is significant,’ said Mark Sedgwick, a leading scholar of Traditionalists at Aarhus University in Denmark.” (NY Times Feb. 10, 2017)

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  • Dan,

    Yep. Exactly my contentions.

    The USA is rapidly running out of road as its parasitisation goes to completion. The parasites, having good enough control of the levers of anxiety and ignorance, along with seeding the daydream of a purely personal wealth, achieves a maximally biddable populace.

    This doesn’t need an actual conspiracy to work. Any clever enough, psychopathic /sociopathic/callous individual can see for themselves the opportunity of the luscious feeding grounds, created by generations of their predecessors.

    They have, though, for generations, been covering over the disaster of the New Deal. This terrible period when compassion was actually built into the entire state rather than commodified in religion, nearly blew the gaff on the power of working for each other. Industry and the populace thrived by the fifties. The GINI coefficient fell to its lowest levels. But in their new found ease, people were starting to think about others rather than themselves. The Rights Revolution very nearly rewrote the state as a democratically biddable moral actor. A democracy of equals nearly happened….

    Now, Americans besotted by an illusory freedom they can’t actually use, through intellectual incapacity and an inculcated mutual mistrust, have become the pre-eminent wage slaves of the developed world. They work 8 hours a week more than Germans for the same standard of living. And they think themselves the freer.

    Nothing will happen until Americans wake up angry about all this every day.

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  • Phil

    I am glad you share my contentions.

    I was startled by your reference to Roosevelt’s New Deal as a disaster. Were you joking? Social Security and his public works program a disaster? (I just can’t figure you out sometimes, and I know that that difficulty is a mutually and reciprocally shared one.) FDR saved the country. And to his many critics he said, in 1934:

    “[Some] will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it ‘Fascism’, sometimes ‘Communism’, sometimes ‘Regimentation’, sometimes ‘Socialism’. But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical…. Plausible self-seekers and theoretical die-hards will tell you of the loss of individual liberty. Answer this question out of the facts of your own life. Have you lost any of your rights or liberty or constitutional freedom of action and choice?”

    You man Bernie and mine is an FDR (New Deal) Democrat, by the way.

    And he was just getting started, but didn’t live long enough to see his Second Bill of Rights materialize.

    Roosevelt’s argument was that the “political rights” guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” His remedy was to declare an “economic bill of rights” to guarantee these specific rights:

    1. Employment
    2. Food, clothing, and leisure with enough income to support them
    3. Farmers’ rights to a fair income
    4. Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
    5. Housing
    6. Medical care
    7. Social security
    8. Education

    Roosevelt stated that having such rights would guarantee American security, and that the US’s place in the world depended upon how far the rights had been carried into practice.

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  • A “disaster” in the eyes of the selfish and exploitative, you mean? I cannot always perceive sarcasm when it appears in the form of a posted comment on a computer screen. Please explain.

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  • The answer is in the paragraph. You know my views on these matters. We have often talked of the New Deal Look at all the outcomes that are “disastrous”.

    Look at the subjects whose view is expressed in paragraph two. Look at the intro to paragraph three

    They have, though, for generations, been covering over the disaster of the New Deal

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  • Sorry, I just don’t get it. How could something good be a disaster? The disaster was the collapse of the New Deal, not the New Deal. Why did it collapse? when? how? “Terrible period”? That’s unclear. You aren’t expressing yourself clearly.

    Resnick: You refer to the impact of the GI Bill of Rights and how in 1950, higher education was largely free and was seen much more as a public good. The period during the 1980s threatened the foundations of these integral institutions that had been established through the New Deal. How and why did these institutions come under attack?

    Chomsky: The 1950-1960s had very high growth rates, no financial crises because of New Deal regulations that were still in place, and relatively egalitarian growth so every quintile grew roughly at the same level. That is what is called the golden age. It ended with the collapse of the post-War Bretton Woods system when the United States under Nixon blocked the convertibility of the dollar to gold which collapsed the international financial system which had all kinds of consequences. […]

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  • Dan,

    We’ve discussed this often. What did I claim about the New Deal in the past?

    Edit…Ah! You never do perspective taking. That makes sense of much of our repeated misunderstandings…

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  • Phil,

    I was thinking, could my occasional inability to understand your sentences and my apparent obtuseness at times be a symptom of mild Asperger’s syndrome?

    You like the New Deal, right? The disaster is what befell it. And then that was in turn exploited. Is that it?

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  • Jul 11, 2017 – phil rimmer #47 Jul 13, 2017 at 7:20 pm



    The only other hope is a major crash like the one that gave you the New Deal, which ushered in decades of economic growth and the lowest levels of inequality….ever in the USA. Clearly 2008 didn’t hurt enough.

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  • Any clever enough, psychopathic /sociopathic/callous individual can see for themselves the opportunity of the luscious feeding grounds, created by generations of their predecessors.

    They have, though, for generations, been covering over the disaster of the New Deal.

    For the psychopath parasites the New Deal was a catastrophe. (Then a list of its spectacular successes to underline the catastrophe.)

    My “revelation” is that maybe you don’t like to inhabit other people’s minds and look out through their eyes. At least I can recall no instance of it. Perhaps that’s why you actively dislike folk like Haidt and maybe Pinker who try to understand how the right, for instance, think?


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  • @OP – On the positive side, there is some evidence that students who use vouchers are more likely to graduate high school
    and to perceive their schools as safe.

    However, Trump’s endorsement of the gun lobby and the “right of the mentally unstable to buy guns”, should soon “fix that problem”!

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