Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Virtual Vouchers -- Howard Stephenson and PCE put lipstick on the "innovative" future pig

I don't have time to go into this as much as it deserves. Howard Stephenson is convinced computers are they magic key to cheap education. Along with most bills, the text is not yet available 5 days before the start of the session. Looking at the pending bills dealing with education, I am assuming that the specific bill is the one titled "Online High School Program." He basically wants to run a free market voucher plan -- institutions "compete" for students and then receive the public funds...including private companies in year 2 of the plan. Here's the Trib article with comments from Stephenson, including:

“We ought to be willing to have our institutions, our schools, compete along with everybody else for students interest in obtaining high school credit,” Stephenson said. “Online has the capacity to individualize instruction in ways that a traditional classroom does not. We can see that many students who are currently falling between the cracks and failing in school actually thrive in an online environment.”

Diverting public funds to private institutions under the myth that they will virtuously provide better education IS vouchers. But not using the term and initially limiting it to online education avoids the public outcry. Within 3 years, Stephenson would laud the success of the voucher program nobody knew we had and uses it as "evidence" that a comprehensive voucher program should be passed as well.

There are a lot of good things about online education to fill niches and supplement instruction. There is no evidence it can replace large amounts of classroom education for children. The unique benefits of working with other students and insights gained through discussion of different viewpoints cannot be replicated online and the medium best lends itself to concrete, sequential courses such as math and science.

Claiming we can declare the online software sufficient with a couple of tests is uninformed. Ask any teacher of any subject about how much depth and breadth of their curriculum is captured by any standardized test. Declaring a student "educated" after some online assessments falls far beneath most people's conceptions of education that are not based on how much of a tax cut Howard Stephenson can achieve for his anonymous, big business clients.

Plus, we have multiple and recent examples of Senator Stephenson directing public technology funds to useless technology gimmicks and campaign donors, along with changing existing laws to literally allow conflicts of interest in public charter schools.

In that last link about charter school conflicts, I wrote on March 14, 2010:
Who thinks Senator Stephenson knows at least one person by name who just happens to be a legislator or GOP donor and will immediately profit from this bill? Maybe even someone who contributes secretly to the Utah Taxpayer's Association?

I don't know how this was not talked about more, but my suspicion was confirmed within 8 months. This Tribune article on Nov. 12, 2010 details how Howard Headlee, the powerful lobbyist president of the Utah Banker's Association and also the Board Chair for two schools under American Preparatory Academy, pays almost $1000 per student of public funds to his sister's charter management company.

Hiding vouchers under a different name and allowing conflicts of interest with public funds...once again, Howard Stephenson makes non-subtle efforts to show his disdain for public education.

The populace of Utah has already made it clear that they do not support routing public school funds to private companies. I do not trust Senator Stephenson and other legislators to best direct those funds for student benefit if the bill were to pass. Contact your legislator and ask them to vote against the virtual vouchers proposal.


1 comment:

Cherilyn said...

Two years later but more relevant now - I just came upon this post. I do not support using public funds for private education. Nor do I support private funds for public education. The combination is lethal. In the first instance, the public funding removes independence from the private receiver and compels it to comply with public policy. In the second instance, the private funding dilutes and often overrules the taxpayer who ought to have the full say in public policy. We do have voucher receiving schools getting private funding. They are called charter schools. They are killing choices because private schools cannot compete with them. Why Republicans and Howard Stephenson support them is a mystery.