Here is a letter printed in the March 24, 2000, issue of the Montgomery (AL) Advertiser:
  Now let's analyze each of the statements in this letter.

1. I think school vouchers are a good idea.

COMMENT: The writer begins by giving her opinion.  The words "I think" tell us that her only claim here is about what she thinks, and she knows best.  Who is anyone else to tell her what she thinks?  We have no reason not to accept this statement as true.
    However, the writer may intend to make the valuative claim that school vouchers are good.  In that case, we have to decide if the evidence she provides supports the value standard of good education.  We must withhold judgment until considering her arguments.

2. They would give children attending an alert-status school an opportunity to go to another school that would provide them with the education and benefits of learning experience they need.

COMMENT:  There are two claims here.  The first is that vouchers would give children attending an alert-status school an opportunity to go to another school.  This is an analytical claim because it interprets the language of a proposed law.  "Vouchers" are like checks for tuition that a student can carry to any eligible school.  An "alert-status school" is a public school where most students are achieving poorly (as defined by standardized achievement tests).  Such schools are given a deadline to improve achievement or risk a takeover by the state.  Because the proposed law would allow students in alert schools to attend another school, this claim is true.
    The second claim here is that attending another school would provide students with the education and benefits of learning experience they need.  This is an empirical claim.  The writer is saying that the alternative schools selected by students from a poor school would fulfill their educational needs.  We don't know which schools such students would choose, and so we can't evaluate this claim with certainty.  The most likely situation is that some students would attend better schools and learn more, and that others would attend worse schools and learn even less.  The idea that all the students using vouchers would meet their learning needs seems far-fetched, and so this claim is likely false.

3. Sometimes children need to be placed in another environment in order to get all the education that is offered to them.

COMMENT: This is an empirical claim, and quite a cautious one.  Sometimes--we might imagine some of Harry Potter's classes at Hogwarts--the teaching is so ineffective that students need a better chance to learn much of anything. If any children ever need a better school to receive a good education--something no one would dispute--this claim is true.

4. In an alert-status, schools may sometimes disregard the responsibility that is necessary to improve that school.

COMMENT: The writer concludes with another cautious empirical claim:  That some poor schools (presumably the writer means the principal and faculty of such schools) may not take responsibility for school improvement.  If at any time the leaders of ineffective schools fail to take responsibility to make things better--a situation easy to imagine--this claim is true.

    Are school vouchers good for education?  Though some students would likely benefit from attending a better school, and some schools are probably run by people who won't take responsibility for improvement, we don't know if school vouchers are clearly the answer.  For example, it might be that a state takeover would bring educational leaders who could correct the problems.  Not enough evidence has been provided to show that school vouchers would lead to better education.  On the other hand, the writer has shown that vouchers would benefit some children in some situations.

Now it's your turn.  Below is a letter on the issue of whether children should be legally required to address their teachers as sir or ma'am.  Try your hand at evaluating each of the claims.

Stripping away the sarcasm and rhetoric, here are the claims.  Evaluate each claim, and then decide if the argument is supported by the evidence.

1. Alabama's senators want children to address their teachers as ma'am or sir.

2. This proposal is not wise.

3. It will not improve their learning or help students communicate.

4. The First Amendment forbids laws that infringe on free speech.

5. The Constitution forbids titles of nobility.

6. Courtesy is a matter for parents and teachers to decide.

7. The senators are trying to fix something that isn't broken.

Click here to compare your analysis with mine.

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