What Can Voucher Fans Learn from the Space X Mission?

As a science teacher, I've spent the better part of the past week pretty darn geeked about the launch of Space X's Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule — as well as its subsequent docking with the International Space Station. 

It's a historic week, marking the first time that a private company has launched a vehicle that has successfully docked with the ISS. 

I imagine Elon Musk — the billionaire entrepreneur behind Space X is JUST as geeked.  After all, with their success, Space X has triggered a $1.6 BILLION dollar contract with NASA to shuttle supplies — and eventually astronauts — into space 12 more times in the next few years.

In many ways, American taxpayers should be pretty geeked too

After all, by privatizing space travel, NASA is creating competition — there are no fewer than 5 other companies working on vehicles that can replace the recently retired Space Shuttles — and saving heaping mounds of cash. 

Need proof?

Each Space Shuttle launch used to cost the American taxpayer $450 million dollars.  Each of the next 12 Space X launches will cost the American taxpayer $133 million dollars.

#groupon

Need MORE proof?

Russia — the only country with the ability to launch humans into space — is currently charging America $60 million dollars PER ASTRONAUT for rides to the International Space Station.  When Space X finalizes its own people-craft — which should happen around the year 2015 — they plan to charge America $20 million dollars per astronaut for rides to the ISS.

This should all be GREAT news, shouldn't it? 

How could ANYONE find fault in a story about a public-private partnership that saves taxpayers a heaping cheese-ton of cold hard cabbage?

More importantly, given the success of the Space X program, how could ANYONE be opposed to our government pushing EVEN MORE public-private partnerships in order to save money?  If public-private partnerships can save our space program, couldn't they also save our post offices, our police stations and our National Parks?

Couldn't public-private partnerships save our schools? 

Wouldn't private companies find ways to do education cheaper if they had a paying audience — and couldn't we create that paying audience by giving taxpayers vouchers that they could spend anywhere that they wanted?  

The answer is a resounding hell no and here's why:  Just like Elon Musk and Space X targeted their efforts towards supporting the space program of one of the richest countries on earth, voucher-inspired corporate "educators" would likely target their efforts towards serving the richest parents and communities.

They'll set tuition at $2,000 -$3,000 beyond whatever local vouchers are providing — which is an easy reach for middle and upper class parents looking for a private school education but an impossible dream for poor families living from pay check to pay check. 

Intentionally pricing out the poorest students means, for the most part, avoiding many of the expensive challenges that come along with fighting against the crippling effects of poverty

And for the savvy businessmen behind voucher-driven schools, avoiding the effects of poverty is a bottom-line issue.  When the students you serve come from stable families who have the means to provide enrichment and support beyond school, you are less likely to need subsidized lunch programs, social workers and extensive slates of expensive remedial classes.

What's more, intentionally targeting the richest communities creates a greater growth trajectory for a business-driven school.  Selling extras like piano lessons, tutoring programs or spring break trips to Europe is a whole lot easier when your building serves middle and upper class kids.

Billionaire entreprenuers aren't stupid, y'all.  They recognize a money-making opportunity when they see it — and just like Musk spent little time supporting the space programs of poor countries, corporate education reformers will spend little time supporting schools in our poorest communities. 

#notworthit

That means if we believe that successfully educating EVERY child is a public interest worth pursuing, vouchers are a crappy alternative for education simply because they create little real incentive for businesses to work in the poorest communities. 

Any of this make sense?

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Related Radical Reads:

Boortz on School Choice

More on School Choice

Is it Time for A La Carte Education?

 

3 comments

  1. Sherman Dorn

    There is and historically has been the same type of contracting in education (NOT vouchers) as SpaceX — remember that SpaceX has received money from NASA for development and operations, and their business model requires contracts with government.
    The real comparison is not with vouchers but with school construction, with textbook approval processes, and other large contracting arrangements.

  2. Marsha

    I agree with your analysis….but is there a place for private innovation in the education marketplace beyond what we see today?
    Specifically I’m thinking about online education. Unfortunately I see that most of us (meaning us teacher types) don’t know or aren’t talking about the huge influx of $$$ into the online education world. Beyond acknowledging something like Khan Academy.
    Our own educational innovation isn’t functioning here….we are just blithely going along like we’ll be delivering education in this fashion forever. Gosh I think there is a huge Pearl Harbor awaiting us (hopefully not on 6/6/12) in this area.
    I hope they are bringing the best of what we can offer….much the way it looks like Space X took much of the know-how that NASA created to make this new ship. But should we continue to keep our heads-in-the-sand and discount the future trends?
    I see Space X as a void filler…just the same way I see all these commerical online education vendors filling the gap we are leaving.
    What do you think?