While it’s part of the mantra of voucher opponents to claim vouchers harm public schools and do nothing for the children “left behind,” a new survey of more than 750 randomly selected Florida public school teachers refutes that claim.
Two out of three teachers surveyed acknowledged that the threat of vouchers helped cause a dramatic improvement in last year’s test scores at some of Florida’s worst schools.
“The Florida results, according to public teachers, seem to show that the mere possibility of choice helps public schools,” commented Gregory Fossedal, chairman of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, which sponsored the survey. The survey was conducted by Teacher Choice, a group of educators working to expand choices for teachers and parents across the country.
Florida’s A+ Plan for Education, which took effect at the end of the 1998-99 school year, provides private school vouchers to parents whose children are enrolled in districts where the public schools are classified as persistent failures. Children at more than 100 schools had been expected to qualify for vouchers at the start of the current school year.
But all of the schools upgraded their performance and are no longer determined to be persistent failures. As a result, no additional children qualified for vouchers at the start of the current school year.
“I believe the policy played a role in the schools putting extra effort into remediating the students through the use of various strategies,” said a second-grade teacher from Palm Beach County.
How did they do it? With a concerted effort to improve school performance. Almost 93 percent of the teachers said they were aware of special efforts at their schools or neighboring ones to upgrade scores.
Getting improved results for students does not necessarily translate into teacher support for vouchers as a public policy option. Almost three-quarters of the teachers surveyed (71 percent) said they oppose voucher plans. Chris Prawdzik, an analyst with the de Tocqueville Institution, attributes this to a misunderstanding of the mission of the A+ program.
“Many teachers are convinced that choice is designed to destroy the schools,” noted Prawdzik. “But in reality–as is proven in Florida–the mission of the A+ program is to improve education for all students.”
That’s music to the ears of Governor Jeb Bush, who says the scholarship program and the A+ Plan “have clearly promoted” rising student achievement.