Sunday, June 17, 2012

Vouchers for Teachers

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal lamented that Pennsylvania Governor Corbett, along with leader legislators, have been dragging their feet on pushing voucher legislation, They, like other critics of public education, believe that giving kids the opportunity to not be “captive to their zip codes” will not only allow individual families to seek out better schools for their children, but will put competitive pressure on public schools to improve performance. And while I believe the “competition” argument is nothing but ideological claptrap, I am sympathetic to families and to some degree agree with providing them with vouchers. However, I think that everyone in the reform movement is missing what might be a much more appropriate use of vouchers and a possible solution, at least in part, to the problems ailing inner city schools.

What I propose is making vouchers available to teachers as an inducement to working in inner city schools. That, combined with an agreement that their tenure will move with them to an inner city school, may provide an important incentive to exemplary teachers interested in helping to reshape the culture of learning in urban schools. These vouchers could be provided to the teacher with the option of taking the full amount all at once or spread out over several years, secured by agreement that the teacher will agree to “x” number of years working at a particular school.

There have been proposals to improve the pay scale, or to offer loan forbearance, as a way to encourage new teachers in particular to choose work  in urban districts, but until a system of performance pay is in place the idea of a higher pay scale will serve to reward undeserving teachers as well as the exemplary ones. A voucher program, however, won’t suffer from that defect. As long as the district does their due diligence in hiring these “voucher teachers,” the program could have a dramatic effect on urban schools, where sometimes it takes nothing more than the leadership and guidance of a few exemplary teachers to help transform the culture of learning at a school.

Vouchers for teachers are an idea that I believe holds great promise. I hope that our legislators and other reformers will take it under consideration.

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