Charter Schools Milwaukee Scott Testing Unions Vouchers Walker

My Report from Milwaukee: Ground Zero of School Reform

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I spoke last night to educators, parents, and some school board members in Milwaukee. I was sponsored by the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. I am in awe of their courage. They keep on going despite the attacks by Governor Scott Walker, who boasted recently that if he could beat the unions, he could beat ISIS. I looked around for kindergarten teachers with Uzis or librarians with bazookas, but I didn’t see any.

This week Governor Walker plans to sign right-to-work legislation, the Golden Fleece of the far right. Can’t allow workers to have a voice in working conditions or collectively bargaining for higher wages, can we?

His budget is also a subject of heated discussion. He wants to cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system, one of the narion’s finest higher education systems. He wants to cut public education by $127 million, of which $12 million will come from Milwaukee’s beleaguered public schools.

According to this article, some campuses are planning to lay off 1/4 of their staff, and others will close entire departments, if the cuts are enacted.

Walker wants more vouchers, even though the last independent evaluation showed that voucher schools do not get better results than public schools, and many are abysmal failures. Walker wants more charters, even though the charters do not surpass public schools in test scores, and many are failing.

The reformers promised that choice and competition would save Milwaukee’s children, especially its African American children, from “failing public schools.” They said that competition would improve the public schools, because they would be compelled to compete for students.

After 25 years as the Petri dish of school choice, we now know that those promises were hollow. Milwaukee started participating in the urban district portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)–the federal testing program–in 2009. It is one of the lowest performing of the 21 districts tested, slightly ahead of Cleveland and Detroit. (Cleveland also has vouchers and charters, and Detroit has been the setting for an endless parade of failed reforms.) today, the black children of Milwaukee perform on the federal tests about the same as black children in the poorest states of the Deep South. Choice and competition splintered community support and divided the schools into three sectors, none of which succeeded.

So who will save the children now trapped in failing voucher schools and failing charter schools?

Walker wants to adopt Jeb Bush’s A-F school grading program, which sets schools up for closure. He wants to make it easier for the state to takeover public schools and privatize them.

He wants alternate licensure to allow anyone with a bachelor’s degree and “life experience” who can pass a test to be eligible to teach grades 6-12.

Teachers, parents, and the community are organizing to push back against Walker’s assault on public education and the teaching profession. There is a silver lining: his budget cuts will affect all parents and families in Wisconsin, including those who voted for him. He may discover that families–Republicans, Democrats, and independents–would rather have a good neighborhood school and a great and affordable university system than property tax relief.

We now know that “reform” is empty and deceptive rhetoric, an excuse for ignoring poverty and segregation, a distraction from the growing income inequality and wealth inequality in our society.

There must be many legislators on both sides of the aisle who graduated from Wisconsin’s public schools and its renowned state university. Will they let Walker cripple the state’s education system?

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