High-water mark for school accountability is right now
The high water mark for school accountability is to have all publicly funded students—no matter what type of school they are in—taking the same test, under the same conditions, at roughly the same time. That is actually the current standard in Wisconsin. It was passed by the Legislature and signed into law just in early April last year. Despite reality, legislators in some corners of The Capitol are trying to muddy the waters by limiting transparency and comparability around what is being done with taxpayer dollars. They want to allow schools that receive publicly funded vouchers to take any number of different tests. It’s one thing to reinvent the wheel, but it’s a bit silly to reinvent it after only eight months. Many would even call it downright crazy if that new wheel would move you backward instead of forward.
Soon, because of the common sense bill passed into law last session, all schools that receive publicly funded students will have a common report card. For the first time, parents, taxpayers, and the public will have an apples-to-apples comparison to judge school performance. This was no nonsense, fundamental, good work for which legislators should be applauded.
Why undo it, then?
The sad reality is it took years for this to happen. In Milwaukee it took over two decades before the performance of all publicly funded students could be compared from school to school. Legislators and policy makers were in effect driving blind because they repeatedly failed to put into place a very basic system that would have allowed taxpayers to get a clear view of what was going on in schools.
So, why, after legislators finally got it right, do some want to put the blindfolds back on?
Those who support the expansion of voucher schools used to simply say that voucher schools were better than public schools even though they had no solid evidence to back such claims.
Now that voucher students have to take a common test and performance is less than what was advertised, those same proponents have changed their tune and argue that being better isn’t the issue. It’s good enough to simply be different, they claim with a straight face.
It’s hard to understand why those who support the free market ideology behind voucher schools would want to move backward to an era where it was more difficult to learn about educational performance. School choices should be based upon the best information available. The bottom line is that parents should have access to comparable report cards and test scores so that they can make educated decisions. The state already has an accountability system in place, one where, in essence, all schools have to lay their cards on the table at the same time.
Moving away from that to something that is less transparent, makes you to think that somebody, somewhere wants to stack the deck.