Tutorial Vouchers

I really like the idea of a voucher based funded school system. I think that long term it offers the best chance of providing high quality education to an increasingly diverse population.

However, transitioning from the current governmental management to private management is a major hurdle. Voucher schools must be able to offer all the same opportunities as the currently established schools immediately even though they are new and untried institutions. This vastly increases the upfront cost and risk of financing such schools.

We need a transitional form of voucher schools that can function as an auxiliary to government schools, while they build themselves up into full-fledged institutions.

The Japanese have an extensive system of private after-hour tutoring schools called juku (for younger students) and yobiko (for high school students). These tutoring schools, often called “Cram Schools” in English, exist to prepare students for Japan’s rigorous entrance exams for high school and college.

Perhaps we could create a similar system here, using vouchers to provide extra instruction after hours. We could start by targeting at-risk students in poor schools and then expand. Such a program would direct resources to motivated students who could really benefit from additional instruction. It could provide another source of income to teachers. The tutoring schools could start out small, perhaps with just one student, and could use private homes, churches, public meeting places or after-hour school buildings. If successful, the tutoring schools could evolve over time into full-fledged, stand-alone educational institutions.

Politically, tutoring schools would be an easier sell. It would be easier to convince parents, teachers and education unions to support a minor change to the system, which would cause more money to flow to students’ education than a major structural change in the entire system.

10 thoughts on “Tutorial Vouchers”

  1. Shannon,

    I’ve looked into this idea with friends for years. The reason being, I grew up in India, which has a very sophisticated infrastructure of private tutoring, extending from middle school through college. As you can imagine, the private tutoring is where the ‘real’ studying is done, compared to the actual schools.

    However, the reason they work in Asia and not necessarily in the US is because they have a very specific goal: to prepare students for their very competitive entrance exams for college, as well as the public exams during college itself.

    In the US, however, the closest any student comes to public exams are the standardised tests (SAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT etc) and you will notice that there is an extensive infrastructure to take care of those too (Kaplan, Princeton Review etc).

    In India, though, similar private tutoring is also available to train computer programmers etc and some of those tutoring companies have actually grown very large (e.g. NIIT). However, in the US, for ‘professional/technical’ training, we already have a decent infratructure in the form of private ‘distance-learning’ colleges (e.g. University of Phoenix, Devry, etc.). BTW, note that education stocks have been booming over the last couple years.

    But in summary, I agree that basic education (elementary/middle/high school) is still a real problem in the US. However, what incentive would parents/students have to attend private tutoring, when it wont directly help with getting into college?

  2. Rahul,

    “However, what incentive would parents/students have to attend private tutoring, when it wont directly help with getting into college”

    This maybe my regional culture talking but I think many Americans focus on acquiring the actual skills rather than in acquiring some emblem of those skills such as passing a test or getting into a particular school. One certainly sees this in the hordes of self-educated computer professionals.

    I think many parents would love to get some extra tutoring in order to build skills they know the students will eventually need whether those skills prove of benefit in testing, admissions or in the workplace.

    The real goal here is less to provide tutoring, although that would be of immediate benefit to all, than to start weaning everyone off direct government management of basic education.

  3. No way, it’ll just evolve into more pork and more taxes. Once you give the government something, you’ll never get it back. The whole point of voucher, for me anyways, is to take money out of the hands of incompetence and let the free market decide. If we add another layer of spending, especially under the guise of transition, it’s just more fodder for the lazy bums to play with.

  4. Having heard constant complaints in our state about “teaching to the test”, I suspect the arguments against having some natiional standards that could be reached in a variety of ways would die. That, of course, is the ideal. As a parent, I would like such a check on our system. As a teacher, I would welcome such tests of my students (and if the answer was that I wasn’t teaching them in a way that meets national standards then all the better – I’d know what I needed to do). Yes, transparency, is the great good and, as usual, requires public “rules” – standards we recognize. Our schools are remarkably opaque – we have few standards of comparison.

    One thing I noticed when I was an undergraduate and as a teacher have found confirmed from the other side was that a disproportionate number of students in teacher’s college were likely to ask exactly how many pages and how big tbe margins needed to be on the assignments. They would ask questions purely about the grading structure and not about what I’d always assumed the purpose of the course was – the content. It is not surprising that they approach teaching the same way. They think testing means they must “teach to the test” and so they fight any discipline wide, city wide, state wide, and certainly national testing. They argue that teaching to the test limits them; they don’t see that base as one on which they can build. (My daughters’ really wonderful American history teacher did see it that way; he taught his way, then before they took the AP tests, he discussed the facts they’d used but warned them of the likely bias of graders. The result were students with flexible minds filled with facts and a passion for history – students who did remarkably well for a public school, as student after student got 5’s on the national test.

    While I think it is bad that some aren’t teaching our children enough, it bothers me even more that so many of them model behavior that implies mastering the subject is more appearance than reality, that these are subjects to be gotten through to get a degree rather than disciplines that are exciting and worth studying for the rest of their lives. Too many have little intellectual curiosity and don’t recognize it, let alone respect it, in the students in front of them.

  5. Ginny,

    “…so many of them model behavior that implies mastering the subject is more appearance than reality…”

    I think this is largely symptomatic of the generalized Leftist mindset. For the Leftist, politics is everything. Every accomplishment is actually a political act to a large extent. Education isn’t about acquiring skills, it’s about acquiring social rank and status.

    The modern educational establishment really reflects this idea at all levels. They advance students who have not mastered the materials, graduate students who can’t read and then want to jigger the admission and graduation standards of colleges to ensure that they get the “right” mix of people who eventually receive degrees. At no point is the emphasis placed on the actually skills their student acquire. All they care about is the social recognition conferred by the diploma.

    It really shocking to see the differences in educational theory and practice between technical fields with a lot of math, which can’t be faked, and those in the liberal arts, which can be faked. Technical fields place the emphisis on skills and nothing but skills. Grades and diploma’s are just vague markers for a person’s possible skill. Nobody graduates engineers who don’t have the skills because if they do people die.

  6. Yes, Shannon and that is why as a teacher I’m not crazy about the emphasis upon the bigger salaries going to degreed people. I don’t think college should be seen as an amorphous entry-level game.

    I don’t take that all that seriously; my brother, who dropped out of college after his first year is probably making ten times what my husband, I, my sister, and my brother-in-law are – with an assortment of Ph.D’s and master’s among us, as well as books and articles and government grants. And I don’t begrudge him the money – I like what I’m doing so I don’t envy him and I recognize in the long run he’s probably helped more people get jobs and maintain their families well. On the other hand, I’ve helped more people like literature and that is sufficiently rewarded by my joy in that and my more flexible schedule.

    It seems to me that teachers used to be like that in high school – they loved the order and harmony of math, they loved the rich music of poetry. Now, they seem to be most concerned with their salaries.

  7. I did some research into the Japanese education system back in college for a Japanese culture class. The goal of the paper was to compare and contrast an aspect of Japanese society versus that aspect in American society, and how do these systems compare, especially with regards to Japan’s more collective oriented vs the states individual oriented culture.

    The interesting conclusion I came to, and one that the professor didn’t care for, was that Japan’s education system is a lot more indivudal oriented in many ways- parents pay for much of the tuition out of pocket, while only some of it is subsidized by the government, and they have a choice of where there kids go, and their kids have to compete to get into the good schools. I made the argument that their system was better because of this, and that the US system was more of a failure because of it’s collectivist organization.

  8. Shannon, in your response to my comment, I think you are misunderstanding my POV. Education at the elementary/middle/high school level is quite different from college education. Going to school is compulsory in most parts of the world, while college is voluntary.

    The fact remains, most kids, anywhere in the world, are not too excited about spending most of their day at school. In India, they don’t enjoy going to private tutorials IN ADDITION. But they are very motivated to go anyway because of the entrance exams they have to eventually face, for which the private tuition system is necessary.

    Creating private tutorial systems for their own sake does not accomplish much. They have to have a very tangible benefit. If you are 12 years old, and have to go regular public school AND go to tutorials afterwards, you are not going to enjoy it, especially if you don’t see any clear reason to do so. Indian kids spend a hell of a lot more time on schoolwork than American kids because of this dual-attendance issue (i.e. public school + private school), because they have to. The fact that American kids don’t have to spend more time on schoolwork is not necessarily a bad thing. There are both costs AND benefits involved.

    If private tutorials SUBSTITUTE public school time, they would surely be popular in the US already. Unfortunately, school attendance is usually mandatory and any private arrangement has to be in addition. The fact that your private tutorials don’t exist is a testament to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for them (Except, again, for obvious markets – e.g. Kumon for mathematics or Kaplan for SAT prep. Note that in most places Kumon caters almost exclusively to Asian/Indian kids who are forced there by their parents.).

    As for your self educated computer professionals, note that in the US, the self-motivated learning market is mainly confined to people in higher education, just as it is in India. And those people already have many different options (Devry, U of Phoenix, books, online courses etc), but honestly, not as many as in India, where IT is still the most reliable ticket to a good life. Here it is about choice, there it is about survival.

    But in the end, “We are not so different, you and I”. :) People are driven by incentives everywhere, I’m afraid your concept of cultural differences is just an illusion created by circumstances (and more often, laws).

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