Sunday, December 2, 2012

Parental Choice best for Public Education? Are you Kidding?

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Alan J. Borsuk is senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School, wrote this about vouchers schools that should call into question Scott Walker's plan to expand the program...of course it won't since vouchers are a politically driven issue.
Ceria M. Travis Academy, private school, 486 kindergarten through 12th-grade in 2 buildings. Its partner school, Travis Technology had 214 students.

Atlas Preparatory Academy, private school, 979 kindergarten through 12th-grade in 3 locations.

Few students … did well on Wisconsin's standardized tests in 2011 … five out of six at both Travis schools either were rated "minimal" in reading and math, the lowest category … in unusually large numbers didn't take the tests at all. Atlas took the tests, but more than 70% were minimal in reading and more than 60% minimal in math. How many were rated proficient or better? At the Travis schools, it was under 2% in reading, just over 2% in math. At Atlas, it was 4.2% in reading, 5.5% in math.

Both of these private school operations take part in Wisconsin's school voucher program.

Neither of these schools has been successful in academic terms. At both, student turnover has been high. Staff turnover has been high … overall, results have fallen short. Results on the state tests … 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.

Voucher schools, however, report to pretty much no one. They are accredited by organizations … (based on) whether a place fits the definition of a school … 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.

Taxpayers are major investors in Travis and Atlas. Are we getting our money's worth? More important, are kids being well served?

One of the core principles of the voucher movement was that parental choice would provide accountability because parents would choose only good schools. Frankly, that hasn't played out well at quite a few specific schools.

The curriculum director, James Johnson, a former MPS teacher, said the schools do not have specific curriculum or textbook series, but he works with teachers to see that they provide lessons aligned with Wisconsin's standards. That said, the two school operators have been among the highest-paid kindergarten through 12th-grade educators in the Milwaukee area, below Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton, and I don't know who, if anyone, else.

But the big picture must carry the day: We need much wider academic success … As efforts to put our collective feet down on weak schools in MPS and among charters proceed, it seems amazing to continue to give millions of dollars almost blithely to schools with records of poor results. Effective oversight of quality and consequences for failure are needed. 

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