Selected readings on US charter schools
But what if . . .
. . . what if Mayor Tom Barrett called all the key education players together. In my hallucination, it’s Barrett because, dammit, he’s the mayor. One huge problem we have is that there is no one person who is responsible for the whole enterprise of education in Milwaukee. Instead, we’ve had a generation of schisms and division over MPS, voucher schools and charter schools when unity could help bring quality. So who could be the convener for a summit meeting, the agent to push unity? Scott Walker? No one thinks “convener” when they think of him. Barrett has never had much of an education role or platform, so at least he’s kind of neutral. And, dammit, he’s the mayor. Oh, I said that already.
. . . what if Barrett told everyone: Make yourself comfortable. He has an unlimited budget to order in pizza. (One person I mentioned this to asked for a low-carb option. Granted.) He’ll even bring in pillows and blankets, if needed. But no one is leaving the room until everyone agrees on an outline for a new way to run the school scene in Milwaukee.
. . . what if everyone agreed (maybe with help from the bold, visionary, and even intimidating work of the mayor) on a few basic points: (1) Schools need to be fairly and adequately funded. All schools. (2) The fighting between the streams of schools has to stop because, dammit, it’s been so counterproductive and this is reality – the voucher and charter schools are here to stay, whatever you think of them philosophically. (3) Most important, quality is what it’s all going to focus on as we go forward. We’re going to create systems in which schools that get good results flourish and increase and schools that don’t get good results have to improve their ways or leave the scene.
. . . what if everyone realized that, because it was necessary and good for the children and future of the city, it was time to give up some things they’ve held dear. Voucher folks would agree to stop being so namby-pamby about badly run schools in their midst and to be open to public view in more meaningful ways. Charter school folks would agree they needed to do more about schools in their midst with long running records of weak results. And MPS folks agreed (actually, this debate is already going on within MPS leadership) they needed to stop fighting vouchers and charters at every turn because it was just a losing strategy.
. . . what if everyone realized they had something to gain from this kind of change. MPS could get a chance to have a stable future and halt the continuing slide in enrollment (my guess is it would gain enrollment in an environment in which bad schools were put out of business because total voucher enrollment would go down). Charter and voucher folks would gain more stability, better funding, and a better shot at quality (you can’t actually do too much on $6,442 per student, the current voucher payment). And kids and the community would gain from a healthier environment focused on good education.
. . . what if some kind of super-board was created to oversee the whole scene to assure that quality was at the top of everyone’s agenda and to enforce that priority, as needed. The MPS school board could stay in place, running MPS. Current chartering authorities might stay in place. Some kind of authorization board would have power over voucher schools. Who would be the wise, fair, and effective members of the super-board? Tough question, but I’d rather tackle that than stay with the way things are now. Besides, I’m only hallucinating, right?
. . . what if it was agreed to create some kind of authority to take over the MPS “legacy costs,” the huge obligations (beyond pensions) to retirees and current employees after their retirement? Those costs are a big drag on the system, even as the current administration has taken steps to reduce future obligations. All commitments would be honored. No additional costs would be incurred. But debate about school spending could take place with a focus on what it actually costs in the present and future tenses to give a child an adequate education, with the burdens of the past handled separately.
. . . what if everyone emerged from the summit meeting with the outlines of an agreement and a lot of goodwill, and with Barrett and Walker, legislators of both parties, private sector leaders, unions, and many others joining in because of the potential to unleash positive energy instead of everyone moldering along like they are now? In my hallucination, this would be electrifying to the city and the state, a public image coup nationally, and a point of fresh attraction for Milwaukee.
It turns out Mike Ford, research director for the conservative (and choice supporter) Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, has a vision for what he calls “an outcome based Milwaukee school system” that has similarities to this. I would differ with some specifics he has in mind. He would differ with me.
Privately, other people have other ideas. A lot of folks would refuse to talk about ideas (like Ford’s or mine) because they don’t like who it came from. Let’s get past that. Who knows what might emerge if people open-mindedly considered wild and crazy ideas (helped along, perhaps, by the headbanging the mayor would be willing to contribute)?
But we all know that bold, far-reaching, equitable, ambitious ideas for change aren’t going to fly. This is Milwaukee. And I’m just hallucinating.
Source: Journal Sentinel Online – by Alan J. Borsuk (Senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School)