Voucher plan a bad fit for Pa. public education

Voucher plan a bad fit for Pa. public education

In her Op-Ed article of May 5, Abby Wisse Schachter supports the Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s voucher plan. To many people, this is a veiled attack on the public school system and the public service teachers. It also includes suppositions that American students cannot learn well and make progress in one of the most successful democratic and diverse countries in the world.
Our education system has and continues to produce excellent citizens and human beings from every race, ethnic group and religion who have given service and aid to all “others” more often than in most countries of the world.
The writer has also stated that we middle class Jewish people, and the poorer “disadvantaged black” children, need the voucher plan.
Just as the Pennsylvania legislators who are balking at Gov. Corbett’s plan, I am sure that there exist poorer white children in the rural areas who will not get nearly as much money as Philadelphia will. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 8, A8).
Gov. Corbett and his supporters of the voucher plan are diligent in using this class warfare method that Republicans accuse Democrats of using. Ms. Schachter, too, uses the urban Washington, D.C., African-American school district as an example of where the voucher plan fits. It is ironic that Republicans have suddenly decided that vouchers are necessary in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other states, or in one African-American populated district. Of course, in some states, they would furlough many very capable and competent public school teachers. Suddenly, Republicans are choosing particular states and communities, telling each community and each state what its educational philosophy should be.
This rubs against the grain of the states’ rights and each community’s independently determining its own philosophy of the Republican Party.
Ms. Schachter mentions charter schools as a model. We all know that many public school systems are highly successful in our area and some charter schools in western Pennsylvania are also educationally successful. However, many charter schools have never displayed any student improvement in our state, nor in many other states have they been noted to improve students’ scores.
On a local level, the Pittsburgh Public Schools students’ state scores have improved recently at the elementary and middle school levels. In addition, programs such as the Pittsburgh Promise are motivating high school students to be eligible for college tuition, and already making progress (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 18, A1). Advocates for Head Start also has reliable statistics, which convince us that we need to continue to promote early childhood education to improve the lives of all our children.
Finally, we have seen and have already heard from both Republicans and Democrats that many areas in which the poorer populations live will not receive enough money to choose good private schools; and it would be difficult even for our “middle class” Jewish population to find enough tuition money to use for the more expensive day schools.
From my personal experience teaching in a variety of educational settings and countries, I have learned that there are never elite students from any one group. There are some from each group of students who learn and achieve life skills sooner and in a relatively easy fashion, and some who need more time to mature, using their resiliency to attain those necessary life skills. In every school system, there is also a gamut of capable teachers. At the same time in all of them, there are teachers who have a positive impact on their students’ lives no matter in which community or state they reside, nor necessarily at what level the academic skills of that teacher is on the rating chart.
Just as our first generation American Jewish boys and girls learned in the diverse public elementary and high schools in the East End or in Squirrel Hill and lived socially and economically decent American integrated lives, our children and grandchildren, in addition to those of other ethnic groups, are doing the same. One of my students at Taylor Allderdice recently said to me: “After growing up in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, I realize how much it has prepared me for the real world. Every day I have the ability to meet people who are ethnically different from me.” During the same week, an Orthodox Jewish adult told me that he wanted his children to be in school with youth from many different backgrounds, and a high school student from China related that he would rather go to Allderdice than Winchester Thurston even if his parents had the money for the latter.
“Why,” I asked?
“Because Allderdice is more interesting,” the student said.
These conversations conjured up an image of Rabbi Avraham Joshua Heschel who attended the Gymnasia in Europe (he was a descendent of Baal Shem Tov) walking in a civil rights march in Birmingham in the front line with Martin Luther King Jr.
I hope that we all consider our educational attitudes, our own experiences, and our interests in American diversity before we buy into voucher plans.
(Ivan Frank, who taught multicultural education courses at Duquesne and Chatham universities, and is a retired teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, lives in Squirrel Hill.)