Monday, January 28, 2013

Privatizers copy failure, instead of Wisconsin's school success

   I noticed that Scott Walker decided to give a shout-out this week to one of his biggest benefactors, the school voucher lobby, signing an executive proclamation declaring this week to be "School Choice Week" in Wisconsin. And the Astroturf groups the voucher lobby represents are going to use this week to try to pour in their propaganda, including an event in Milwaukee this Wedensday. Check out some of the sponsors of that event- the Walker-donating Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, "Democrats" for Education Reform (many of whom were replaced by real Dems in the Legislature in 2012), and the Association of American Educators ("The Non-Union Choice for Educators.")

  Well, going with the "vouchers will save failing schools" argument doesn't really fly in this state. Milwaukee's voucher program hasnot improved outcomes in Milwaukee (in fact, Diane Ravitch points out that voucher students did worse than MPS students when it came to proficiency on the most recent standardized test) and the new Racine voucher schools underperformed Racine public schools in the WKCE standardized test. It's also a dumb idea because Wisconsin's schools were exceptional standouts before this pro-voucher governor took over. Instead of being something that should be changed to resemble a system in low-performing red states, the results from the pre-Walker Wisconsin schools indicate that it should be the model that other places shoot for.

   Wisconsin's strong educational base was once again illustrated with the release of a report last week showing the Wisconsin high school class of 2010 had the 2nd-highest graduation rate in the U.S. at 91.1%. This improved on the 2009 figure of 90.7% when Wisconsin was Number 1 in the nation for best graduation, and Wisconsin's graduation rate improved from 83.3% in 2001 to that 90.7% in a span of 8 years - the 11th largest increase in the nation.

  And it wasn't like Wisconsin was just pushing kids through the system, as Wisconsin high schoolers have consistently scored well above the national averages on the ACT test,  despite the state potentially watering down the scores by encouraging more Wisconsin students to take the test in recent years.

  But that's not good enough for the people who stand to make big bucks by selling their influence and the public schools off to their well-connected buddies. Which is why Michelle Rhee's Privatization Students First organization said Wisconsin schools got a D+ for its teacher evaluation methods, and recommended that the Milwaukee School Choice model be expanded throughout the state.  You know who got the 2 highest grades? Florida and Louisiana, because Rhee and her acolytes liked that they evaluated teachers almost entirely on student performance.

   Well let's look at these 2 states' performance and compare them to Wisconsin as well as the U.S. as a whole.

   2009 HS graduation rates and 2012 ACT college readiness in all 4 main subjects 

   La.  67.3% graduation rate, 17% college readiness
   Fla. 68.9% graduation rate, 18% college readiness
   U.S. 75.5% graduation rate,  25% college readiness
   Wis. 90.7% graduation rate, 31% college readiness

   Looks like Wisconsin's teachers should be getting all the accolades, if we're grading on performance. But instead, it's the Confederate states that Rhee's organization likes, despite the much lower performance, because they say the right things and go out of their way to promote privatization and bust teachers unions. Talk about grading on a curve!

   Of course, all of the difference in test scores doesn't just come from the teachers. Some of it can be explained through poverty rates (much higher in the low-service, low-education Confederacy) and on parental involvement (which makes the Milwaukee voucher schools underperforming all the more damning, since parents who'll try something like voucher schools are usually doing it because they think it gives their kids a better education, meaning they're involved). This is the ridiculous part about Rhee, Walker and other privatizers- their argument with school choice and union-busting is that it "frees up" kids to achieve, and that these outside influences like poverty and parental involvement don't matter. But these "performance first" types don't look at the obvious correlations between these factors and school/test performance, and Walker in particular seems to want to turn Wisconsin into a Confederate-like state with higher poverty and higher inequality, which then results in worse test scores and lower performance.

   Then again, making Wisconsin's previously strong schools mediocre gives all the more reason to say "See, public schools don't work," and then use that as an excuse to funnel taxpayer dollars to your buddies in the voucher lobby. And that's a lobby that hires up in these parts, as they now have the last 3 former GOP Assembly Speakers working for them at the Capitol in Madison.

   And like most Walker/WisGOP privatization schemes, selling off Wisconsin's schools isn't about improving performance or cost-effectiveness of education in Wisconsin. If that were the case, they wouldn't mess with what was working so well when the Age of Fitzwalkerstan began in 2011. Instead, it's nothing more than a giant grift, designed to throw money to the voucher lobby, who in turn contribute to puppet politicians who try to throw even more taxpayer dollars to the voucher lobby. And if done right, it even gives the grifters the bonus of not having to have their funding tied to test scores like the public schools might under Walker's plans.

   Also like most privatization schemes, it's a pretty good deal if you're in the small, well-connected crowd getting the cash. But it sure sucks if you're in the 98% that are outside of that, and that's why we need to expose this voucher school grift, and work to get it out of our state before one of Wisconsin's great economic advantages is taken away for good.


  1. More about that Wisconsin School Choice Week proclamation over at blue cheddar -- it actually turns out to be kind of a strange story.

    Great post, by the way.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, JoyMama. I'll also throw in an excellent breakdown from Political Heat, which also shows that voucher schools come up short in Milwaukee.

    So if our guv wants to put in "pay for performance," doesn't that mean our public schools deserve more money, not less? Somehow I don't think it'll work out that way when the budget comes out in 3 weeks.

  3. Media advisory: Stop Special Needs Vouchers is holding a press event at the Capitol in Madison on Monday Feb. 18.