This guest post is written by our ICPE-MCSCI co-founder and retired educator, Mike Walsh:
Before the Legislature jumps headlong in support of our governor’s proposal for more vouchers and charter schools, would it be prudent to ask them to examine some history?
Let’s take Milwaukee, which has offered vouchers since 1990. Seventy-five percent of students who started in a voucher school left before graduating. The annual attrition rate is 33 percent. Wouldn’t our solons wonder why? In 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress ranked Milwaukee at the bottom of the five lowest-performing districts nationally.
The preponderance of credible research finds virtually no impact for vouchers in raising achievement above public school levels. So why are our legislators and governor forging ahead to expand vouchers when they currently take more than $15 million from public school funds and 95 percent of them go to sectarian schools?
I contend that it is primarily the ongoing effort to privatize as much of public education as can be gotten away with. Vouchers, along with private for-profit charter school groups now have access to public tax dollars. No less a person than Rupert Murdock has referred to education as “a 500 billion dollar sector.” Any wonder that the corporate world has leapt into the “reform” movement? Any doubt that the primary function of voucher expansion is political?
As for charter schools, begin with the encouragement of private for-profit organizations by the governor with the blessing of the legislature to take over “failing” schools. Imagine an outside group being hired to “turn around” Fairview School.
There is little or no transparency in charter school operations. Local control is lost because taxpayers do not elect charter school board members; they are appointed. Nor is there local control over management, including what they are paid or the percentage of profit. The public has no input on how charters are staffed, run, administered or evaluated. Open meetings or public reporting of academic achievement are at the discretion of the charter school.
In 2010, a U.S. Department of Education study showed charter schools underperformed compared with public schools with the same demographic. Without that inclusion they performed about the same. What we have is an expanding, unneeded, multitiered education system: public, charter, voucher — all pulling from the same pot of funds.
Our governor is committed to expanding vouchers, which reduce public school funds which push communities of organize and fund referenda to make up for the critical loss of public school dollars, and by doing so, gives the legislature a convenient excuse to avoid the challenges facing public schools by not themselves raising taxes.
It is very difficult in this era of a supermajority with all save one state office controlled by one party to watch what seems to be a continuous attack on our public schools, but one would hope that people understand that privatizing our public education system is a terrible move and that they express this to their representatives, the governor, and the IDOE board. Unless they perceive a growing concern for their actions, the assault will continue.