By Dave Begel Published May 14, 2015 OnMilwaukee
Way back in the last century when an avalanche of Tommy Thompson and a black state senator named Polly Williams brought school vouchers to Milwaukee, there were two main selling points.
The second was that private schools could educate children better than public schools.
But the biggest selling point was that competition from private schools would force the Milwaukee Public Schools to do better.
At that time, I wrote something that called this the car dealership philosophy. Competition among car dealers is healthy for the consumer. The problem is revealed when smart people realize that public schools are not car dealerships. Rather than having mass produced cars to sell, public schools have children who are different from each other. Each one is an individual. One size does not fit all.
The argument in favor of vouchers – both of them, in fact – have since proved to be deeply flawed and we were sold a bag full of empty promises and claims.
The results of that plan obviously doesn’t make any difference to the people who live in the crazy world of right-wing politics – State Sen. Alberta Darling and State Rep. Dale Kooyenga being the latest example of people who don’t know anything, are trying to pretend they have some kind of thought-out answer to the problems plaguing public education.
The two, apparently shaken from their slumber, have announced a plan to turn over some MPS schools to a czar appointed by the Milwaukee County Executive, currently Chris Abele.
Predictably, MPS officials weren’t too joyful about this ridiculous idea.
“This plan removes decision-making from the democratically elected school board and newly appointed MPS superintendent, Dr. Darienne Driver,” said MPS board President Michael Bonds. “This comes at a time when MPS is making significant progress in the areas of financial stability, academics and community outreach.”
“This plan seems to focus more on closing public schools and reopening them as private or charter schools instead of focusing on improving achievement and the challenges our students face,” said Driver.
I admire their restraint. I can only imagine the raucous laughter coming from them when they first heard about this idea. Now, I’m not a huge fan of school boards, but compared to this plan the board seems like the House of Lords or something.
Let me see if I can be as clear as day here.
I have worked to reform schools in a number of urban school districts, including Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Newark and San Diego, and I’ve learned some things.
School reform is a complicated business but there are two things that are abundantly clear barriers to meaningful reform.
One is that the arguments over which adults get to control which amounts of money is incredibly counter-productive. Giving someone like the county executive power to run public schools is just about giving him the money. If the plan runs to its logical conclusion, eventually we may have no public school system and then it’s up the creek without the paddle.
And the second is that taking resources out of public schools and turning the funding over to voucher or charter schools is incredibly damaging to the public schools. The cuts that have to be made are devastating to the efforts to educate all children.
I have this deep hope that somewhere along the line the world will realize that the only hope for our city is to make sure that the nearly 80,000 kids in Milwaukee Public Schools get a good education. And that the only hope for that is to make sure the kinds of education offered to city kids – music, art, gym, foreign languages, rigorous science and math programs – are as good as suburban schools.
Until then, let’s all hope that Darling and Kooyenga retreat back into their cave of ignorance where they can pat each other on the back.