Monday, December 3, 2012

Voucher schools- another fail WisGOP continues to cling to

Another day, another example of the Wisconsin GOP continuing to double down on failed, self-absorbed policies.

There was a long Sunday article from the Journal-Sentinel's Alan Borsuk where he called for more accountability of Milwaukee voucher schools, and admitted that they don't do a better job of educating students. Borsuk quotes the Travis and Atlas Schools in Milwaukee, who have proficiency levels between 2 and 5.5% when it comes to reading and math, despite each school getting tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers over the last 15 years. When you realize Borsuk was the long-time education writer for the Journal-Sentinel, and continually backed the pro-voucher Bradley Foundation's meme of how Milwaukee Public Schools were failures in need of massive overhaul, you understand just how bad things must be at voucher schools for him to make the following statement.
There are some excellent schools in the voucher program. But, overall, results have fallen short of what was envisioned when the groundbreaking program was launched two decade ago. Results on the state tests show about the same results for Milwaukee Public Schools kids and voucher kids - and neither is close to good enough.

MPS schools have elaborate accountability systems and tons of information is available about each school. The accountability systems haven't been so effective historically, but there are signs of improvement as more low-performing schools are closed. That said, there are still plenty of MPS schools that get results that are not much different from those of Travis and Atlas (and at much higher cost per student).

Milwaukee charter schools also are required to report quite a bit of information publicly and, in many cases, the charter authorizer (at MPS, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or City Hall) has been pretty effective in holding schools to performance standards, closing quite a few. That said, there are still low-performing charters...

Voucher schools, however, report to pretty much no one. They are accredited by organizations, but accreditation is kind of a big-picture look at whether a place fits the definition of a school. It is not really an accountability system. In practical terms, it's really hard for anyone to tell a voucher school to shape up or lose your money, if the school meets a variety of regulations. A very limited amount of information on voucher schools is public record.
Another study quoted in an October Urban Milwaukee article found little to no difference in test scores between voucher schools and MPS schools, despite voucher schools having a lower percentage of their students being tested, and author Dave Steele goes on to say
There is evidence that tighter accountability standards, including requiring that schools receiving vouchers be accredited and take state standardized tests, has led to better results and fewer bad schools being allowed to participate.
This is remarkable to me, because parents who send their kids to voucher schools (believing that it's a better sitaution vs. MPS) would seem more likely to take an interest in their kids' educations. And as a former teacher myself, I can tell you that having a parent who cares greatly increases a child's chance for success, regardless of where that kid lives or what school he and she attends. So if voucher schools perform no better (and often worse) than MPS, despite MPS having a higher percentage of special-needs students and seeing to be more likely to have parents who don't care about their kids' educations, doesn't that tell you voucher schools are FAILING TO DO AS GOOD OF A JOB AS PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

Heck, even GOP legislators admit poverty and parental involvement are the most likely factors in kids doing well in school. Remember when Mike Ellis, Robin Vos and company were hanging out at Inn on the Park?

That discussion was centered on coming up with other ways to expand the Wisconsin voucher program after allowing it go to Vos's home area of Racine in the state budget. (notice Vos talking about some entrepreneur ponying up $200 million? I'm sure he doesn't stand to make anything out of this deal, it's just a coincidence.) But the bill was written in such a way that vouchers could have been expanded to other areas of the state, and it was only under public pressure that the Legislature decided to close the loophole for the time being in March.

 But if you think the WisGOPs have seen the light and are going to end their backing of the failing, money-sucking voucher program, think again my friend. Gov. Walker annoucned last month that he plans to ask for an expansion of vouchers in the next state budget, while holding public schools to higher accountability standards.  Naturally, Walker did this on the oligarch rubber-chicken circuit in California instead of in Wisconsin (priorities, you know), and on its face, it seems ridiculous for an alleged "fiscal conservative" to just give away free money to unaccountable voucher schools while having big government limits on local public schools.

Then you remember that the voucher hustlers include two former corrupt Assembly Speakers in John Gard and convicted criminal Scott Jensen, who along with others on the voucher lobby gave input on the GOP's illegal redistricting maps. Now these guys are planning to cash in on that gerymandering by having their puppets defund public schools for the lower-performing vouchers, and you can bet there are serious donations in store from the voucher lobby if the Legislature is able to expand this failed policy. And why not, because it's a helluva payoff for those voucher folks to get tax dollars funneled their way, without anywhere near the accountability that public schools get.

What's also not surprising is that the voucher movement in Fitzwalkerstan has nothing to do with results, but everything to do with funneling money to the well-connected. Just like with Logisticare and WEDC, these guys are going to continue to cycle our money in a small circle amongst themselves and their contributors, and leave the vast majority of Wisconsinites out in the cold, with a lower level of performance.

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