Milwaukee, in the strongly revised opinion of Diane Ravitch, is almost a textbook example for showing that the prediction that the tide of school choice will lift all educational boats is wrong.
"One might wonder about how much (Milwaukee Public Schools) is coming apart at the seams because of the competition," Ravitch said in a telephone conversation. "The competition was supposed to make things better."
She says … it is time for emphasizing the needs of the mainstream of public school students. "…the consensus says, what is needed is testing and accountability and charter schools." That was the philosophy under … Bush, and Obama is adhering to the same principles. My book says no," she said. She criticizes charter schools for contributing to making things worse for the larger majority of children attending conventional schools … by the mid-2000s, "I didn't see any evidence that the voucher schools and the charter schools were making public schools better."
"What about the 80,000 kids in Milwaukee public schools? What are we doing for them? What is the strategic plan, just to 'voucherize' and 'charterize' the entire city?"
Ravitch's sharp criticism brought a strong response from John Gee, executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association … "the core of criticism coming from people like Diane Ravitch is disingenuous and uninformed."
In the book, she writes: "I concluded that curriculum and instruction were far more important than choice and accountability."
In an e-mail, I described to her some of the rapid change on the charter school scene in Milwaukee, with some schools closing, new ones trying to open, and others trying to switch which of several public bodies are giving them the OK to operate.
She wrote back, "As a parent and grandparent, I say that kids need stability. So do teachers. The free market doesn't work as the basic mechanism for providing education. Schools are not like shoe stores, opened and closed in response to consumer demand. Or should not be. I'd like to have a full, rich curriculum," Ravitch said. "If I were the new superintendent, I would immediately bring in the Core Knowledge curriculum for (kindergarten through eighth grade)."
Here's a comment that followed the above article, which pretty much reflects my own perspective on the whole charter/choice argument:
The problem became the school choice proponents were insincere in their contention they wanted to help poor students … Choice proponents did not want the DPI to have any say in curriculum standards, teacher certification, attendance, and so on. In other words they wanted the money but didn't want to be held accountable for how that money was spent. Sorry, but it doesn't work that way, when you stick your hand out for public funds it is only right the public has a vested interest in how those funds are spent and how the beneficiaries of those funds conduct their 'business'. Choice proponents also used helping 'poor' students as a cover to seek public funds for private schools in the hopes of lowering the tuition expenses for current and future students. For years these parents have complained they paid tuition and still had to pay taxes to public schools at the same time, that was the real goal of Choice, to help the poor was just a PR tactic.