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Social Stratification in Urban America

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  • 1. Elyssa D. Durant Social Stratification Final Exam: Spring 2000 Professor Peter Cookson Social Stratification Spring 2000Running Head: CHRONIC ILLNESS
  • 2. Elyssa D. Durant Guiding Questions1. How can school vouchers reach a balance between serving the public interest and preserving. individual freedoms and rights?2. What additional arguments can be presented for against the use of school vouchers for parochial schools?3. How is the issue of school vouchers for sectarian institutions different or similar from issues surrounding prayer in school?4. What are the common issues relevant to both Charter schools and voucher programs? Page 2 of 8
  • 3. Elyssa D. Durant Professor Peter Cookson Social Stratification Spring 2000 Since I have serious concerns regarding the long term outcomes of school choice andvoucher programs, exacerbate the inequality between the rich and the poor. Since I believe thathealthcare and education are both social goods, I have serious concerns about letting the free-market run amok during such a critical point in history. I do not feel it is wise to allow for-profitmarket forces to dictate the any public good when natural rights are at stake. The shortcomingsof the Medicaid managed care programs, Medicare supplemental insurance policies, anddemonstration projects such as the privatization of prisons provide sufficient evidence of thedangers of profit driven corporations in American culture. Corporate scandals with food andother suppliers contracted by the Board of Education in New York City provides an excellentexample of how easy it is to manipulate funds away from the target recipients. For example, private managed care companies offered gifts to boost enrollment byenticing desperate Medicaid recipients to join their plans. I find this marketing strategyoffensive when we are dealing with a social good albeit healthcare or education. Vulnerablepopulations are frequently exploited through corporate contracts, and there is little reason tobelieve that for-profit conglomerates would treat public schools or economically disadvantagedstudents and families otherwise. Arguments on both sides of the school voucher issue are very similar to those presentedfor and against Charter Schools and free-market school choice. Smrekar (1998) presents fourkey issues that have been at the center of the school choice debate: (1) economic, (2) political;(3) social justice; and (4) pedagogical. The economic argument in favor of school choice points out that our current publiceducation system resembles a monopoly. Proponents argue that the introduction of choice intothe educational marketplace will promote competition and force schools with poor performancerecords to improve or close (Friedman, 1968). The political argument is centered on the democratic ideal that the freedom to choosewhere your child attends school is a fundamental right. The political argument also triggersstrong feelings about the role of education in a democratic society. There are those who feel thatthe public school is intended, at least in part, to create a common set of core values that is bestserved by the public sector. At the core of the political school choice argument is a debateregarding the benefits of providing a common set of experiences in a democracy versuspromoting individual choice and liberty (Smrekar, 1998). This issue, while not dead, waschallenged in 1925 when the Supreme Court ruled in Pierce v. Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510(1925)) in favor of parents who sent their children to private school. This argument continuestoday and is at the center of both school choice and curriculum debates. The social justice argument is a bit more complicated and there is little agreement on anyfront. Proponents argue that school choice empowers the poor to participate in the education of Page 3 of 8
  • 4. Elyssa D. Duranttheir children by giving them the same options available to wealthier families in the UnitedStates. According to a 1997 poll in USA Today, 47% of parents would send their children toprivate schools if they had the financial resources (Doyle, 1997). Information is an essential component to any school choice program. In order to ensuresocial equity in school choice programs we need to be sure that the poor are fully informed oftheir choices and are not taken advantage of in the open market. It is believed that the act ofchoosing has positive effects on the school environment and promotes parental involvement intheir children’s education (Doyle, 1997). Additional components of the social justice argumenthave focused on the nuts and bolts of choice programs, and point out how there are severaldifferent ways that choice programs may (wittingly or unwittingly) promote social inequity(Cookson, 1995). Such arguments focus on transportation problems, admissions policies, theavailability of information, and how we define “choice” and implement policies regulatingrecruitment, enrollment and performance of participating schools, (Cookson, 1995; 1997). The pedagogical argument points out that school choice programs are better suited for theindividual needs inherent to a pluralistic society. Although some feel there is value in providingcore curriculum and a common set of basic skills, there is a current trend towards specialtyschools that focus on the arts and sciences, technology, vocational training, etc. Educators looktowards successful magnet schools as examples of the pedagogical success that demonstrated theimportance of school choice and parental involvement as indicators of educational outcomes.Some educators fear that the introduction of school choice and voucher plans would prompt thebest students to leave public schools and that this would have a negative effect on the overallclimate of public classrooms. There are several different types of voucher programs, but the one which raises the mostquestions are voucher programs that give qualified individuals the choice to attend parochialschools. Traditional arguments against this type of school voucher program have focused on theConstitutionality of using state funds for sectarian institutions. Historically, the church had a key role in the education of children in America. Duringthe National Period (1780-1830), churches were used to educate children, and the King JamesBible was used as a reader in these classrooms (Smrekar, 1998). Derek Neal (1997) points outthat much of the current sentiment against Catholic schools is not a reflection of their excellentperformance record, but rather an indication of the anti-Catholic sentiment which swept thecountry during the late part of the 19th Century (Neal, 1997). Neal argues that until that point,there was no contest to religious education as long as it was Protestant. Catholic schools have traditionally served the children of the working class. They were amajor socializing force earlier in the century and continue to succeed with children who mightotherwise fall through the cracks in public schools. Despite tapering enrollment, Catholicschools remain a viable force in the private sector providing a reasonably priced privateeducation to American children. Neal conducted a study that looked at the graduation rates ofminority children attending Catholic schools compared with children attending public schools inthe inner cities. Controlling for demographic variables, (parent’s education, parent’s occupation,family structure, and reading materials at home) closer analysis revealed graduation rates for Page 4 of 8
  • 5. Elyssa D. Duranturban minorities are 26% higher in Catholic schools compared with public schools in the samecommunities. Although Neal found similar benefits for whites and in suburban communities,this effect was most profound for urban minorities. Other studies have focused on identifying the qualities that make Catholic schoolssuccessful. A number of factors have been identified by Bryk and Lee, including active parentalparticipation and the benefits of school choice in creating an inclusive community which fostersa common set of values and ideals (Bryk & Lee, 1995). Interestingly, the very same variablesfound to enhance the performance of Catholic school students are remarkably similar to thereported benefits of magnet schools and choice programs. Despite the excellent performancerecords of Catholic schools, there are currently no voucher programs that allow parochial schoolsto participate in state funded voucher programs. The reason for this is quite simple, but not necessarily correct or in the best interest of ourchildren. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitutionprohibits the use of public funds in religious institutions. However, it can also be argued that it isunconstitutional to exclude parochial schools from voucher systems because it violates thestudent’s free expression of religion. In addition, voucher programs require a conscious decisionon the part of the student and the parent. The state does not enforce a blanket endorsement ofany one religion. I use Catholic schools as an example because they represent the majority ofparochial schools in urban America. Voucher programs typically undergo strict scrutiny for all four reasons mentioned above,but this issue is especially true of any choice or voucher program that channels funds intoParochial schools. For this reason, Catholic schools and other schools with religious affiliationshave been excluded from voucher plans up until this point. It is not politically viable to institutea choice or voucher program at any level (at the district, state or national level) since similarplans have historically presented long-standing, hard-fought, legal challenges to theEstablishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Since the Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue, most challenges up until this pointhave taken place in state courts1. These state decisions have been split, and while there are a fewvoucher programs operating in Wisconsin and Ohio, neither permits sectarian schools toparticipate in their programs. Milwaukee designed a voucher system that included parochialschools in 1995 but later revised their proposal after the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued atemporary injunction against expansion into religious schools (Kremerer & King, 1995).1 Including a decision that was handed down this week regarding a choice plan in Ohio. (12/18/2000) Page 5 of 8
  • 6. Elyssa D. Durant School choice programs that involve vouchers have not been tested in the Supreme Court,but there is a long history of court cases that challenge the flow of money from the public sectorinto private, sectarian institutions. The recent pattern of Supreme Court rulings has lead somelegal scholars (Kemerer & King, 1995) to conclude that school vouchers would passconstitutional muster under the following circumstances: 1. Provides payments in the form of scholarships to parents of school age children 2. Allows parents to choose among a variety of public and private sectarian and nonsectarian schools for their children 3. Gives no preference to sectarian private institutions Voucher programs up until this point have encountered substantial resistance from thelegal community and a number of civil rights and political organizations. This becomes morepronounced when the voucher model includes sectarian institutions in the model plan and statecourt rulings have been inconsistent in decisions surrounding the constitutionality of voucherprograms. The definitive case regarding school voucher programs is Lemon v. Kurtzman (403 U.S.602 (1971)). The Court’s ruling in Lemon was based on three components that came to beknown as the “Lemon Test”. The Lemon Test applies the following to any Constitutionalchallenge of the Establishment Clause: 1. The government action must have a secular purpose 2. The primary effect must neither advance, nor inhibit religion 3. It must not result in excessive governmental entanglement with religion Since voucher programs do not generally provide support directly to the institution,individual freedom and choice remain intact. Individual families are empowered by educationalvouchers since they choose the school and religion appropriate for them. Qualified schools arenot determined by religious affiliation and all schools are required to adhere to state and federalregulations which increases accountability. Similar issues came before the courts in Pierce v.Society of Sisters (268 U.S. 510 (1925)) as well, however Lemon v. Kurtzman (403 U.S. 602(1971)) is considered to be both the landmark and test case currently before the courts. The reason for this is quite simple, but not necessarily correct or in the best interest of ourchildren. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitutionprohibits the use of public funds in religious institutions. However, it could also be argued that itis unconstitutional to exclude parochial schools from voucher systems because it violates the freeexpression of religion. In addition, voucher programs require a conscious decision on the part ofthe student and the parent. The state does not enforce a blanket endorsement of any one religion.I use Catholic schools as an example because they represent the majority of parochial schools inurban America. Page 6 of 8
  • 7. Elyssa D. Durant Teacher’s unions are resistant to bring in a new system that has the potential to upset theirjob status and security. It will likely be a number of years before we truly understand the effectsof magnet schools and can evaluate the implementation of school choice programs that arealready in place. Because we are dealing with such an essential human, social good, it is myrecommendation that we do not implement a large scale voucher program until issues of accessand equity are resolved on other public fronts. We must ensure real choices for the students andfamilies who are not information savvy and may be limited in their ability to recognize the realvalue of their options. We must find a way to ensure the equitable distribution of resources sothat education truly does will empower the poor. Is the time right to apply the Lemon Test to school vouchers? You decide. Page 7 of 8
  • 8. Elyssa D. Durant References Cookson, P.W., Jr. (1994). School choice: The struggle for the soul of Americaneducation. New Haven: Yale University Press. Cookson, P.W., Jr. (1995). ERIC Digests: School Choice. Doyle, D.P. (1997). Vouchers for religious schools. Public Interest, 127, 88-95. Haynes, C.C. (1993). Beyond the culture wars. Educational Leadership, 51(4), 30-34. Houston, P.D. (1993). School vouchers: The latest California joke. Phi Delta Kappan,75(4), 61-64. Kremerer, F.R. & King, K.L. (1995). Are school vouchers Constitutional? Phi DeltaKappan, 77(1), 307-311. Kremerer, F.R. (1995). The Constitutionality of school vouchers. West’s Education LawReporter, 101 Ed. Law Rep. 17. Kremerer, F.R. (1997). State Constitutions and school vouchers. West’s Education LawReporter, 120 Ed. Law Rep. 1. Neal, D. (1997). Measuring Catholic school performance. Public Interest, 127, 81-87. Page 8 of 8