A Calhoun College junior, two Yale professors and a former New Haven public education official inaugurated a debate series on education Tuesday with a discussion about school vouchers.
The debate, the first in a series called the Education Exchange drew about 30 people to the Calhoun Common Room. The four participants discussed school vouchers, each arguing for a different system.
Under school voucher programs, families in districts with sub-par schools receive public money to help them send their children to private or parochial schools. Proponents often say vouchers increase schools’ accountability by forcing them to compete with each other, but opponents say vouchers drain resources from already-troubled schools.
Political Science and African American Studies professor Ange-Marie Hancock said her argument against vouchers is actually in favor of public schools. A product of public schools herself, Hancock asked all the students in the audience who had never gone to a public school to raise their hands. Only a few indicated that they fell into this category.
“Most of you are here because of that ‘failing’ school system that supposedly isn’t working anymore,” Hancock said.
But Aaron Tang ’05, who argued for voucher systems, cited statistics that he said proved vouchers benefit both students and public schools. Vicki McDonald, former Executive Director of the New Haven Public Education Fund, a group that advocates community involvement education, argued for New Haven’s “open choice” program. The system allows public school students to attend public schools that are not zoned for them but that have open spots.
Jack Gillette, director of Yale’s Teacher Preparation Program, argued for “controlled choice,” praising school systems with open enrollment for students inside and outside their cities. But he said American school systems have problems that run much deeper than the debate on school vouchers.
“Urban districts often have a whole series of structural problems,” Gillette said.
Christopher Jordan ’04 said he found the arguments on several sides of the issue instructive.
“I thought it was very informative,” Jordan said. “I think I left being more convinced against vouchers than when I came.”
Tang, the Executive Director of “Our Education,” a student magazine about current issues in education out of which the Education Exchange grew, said the group hopes to hold further debates this semester. He said racial integration and rural education are possible future topics.
The Education Exchange says its ultimate goal is to increase the depth of campus discussion about education. Weiss said in later debates she will seek to involve other campus groups.
Professor Cynthia Farrar, the director of Yale’s Urban Academic Initiatives, said in an e-mail that she thought extra student involvement in the debate on education was positive — to a point.
“I think it’s excellent to include young citizens in this conversation — by and large, young people are not involved in policy discussions,” Farrar said. “Though I’m not sure that we should expect their opinions to be distinctively different from those of older adults, except that their memories of being in school, public or otherwise, are likely still to be vivid.”