Selected readings on US charter schools
State district suggested for troubled schools
Milwaukee Public Schools should increase its number of non-union charter schools and Wisconsin should explore creating a special school district to take over and turn around failing schools, experts said in a new report that public-school advocates immediately dismissed as partisan.
The report issued this week features experts from a variety of backgrounds, conservative and also academic and from the fields of research or teaching, who weigh in on how to reform education in the state and its most challenged city.
But the fact that the report was produced jointly by two think tanks that embrace conservative and free-market ideas — one local and one national — mean the suggestions are unlikely to gain traction with union advocates and supporters of traditional public schools.
Many of the ideas would also take legislative action to pursue, and are coming at a time when most major changes to the state’s school landscape over the next two years are close to a done deal.
The groups behind the report, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., endorse and support voucher programs, “and this report clearly reflects that viewpoint,” said MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia.
But WPRI President George Lightbourn said that his group tried to take an agnostic view of education. All sectors of education serving kids with taxpayer dollars need improvement, he said, including traditional public, public charter schools, and private voucher schools.
He said that as nonprofit research centers, they do not need to be on a time frame and can release policy recommendations at any time.
Lightbourn said there’s nothing in the report that says school voucher programs or charter schools should be expanded.
But the report calls for MPS to bring more charter school networks under its umbrella. And the Recovery School District in Louisiana has become well-known for bringing charter-school networks to New Orleans to revive the city’s long-struggling schools after Hurricane Katrina.
Lightbourn said the report is not meant to be an anti-union. The problem, he said, is that the current environment — the status quo of stagnant student achievement and uninspiring overall outcomes for kids — is not working.
“We went out and found people with expertise in different areas,” Lightbourn said. “There’s nothing in here about governance or money, and that’s on purpose. We tried to find common interests.”
The report, Pathway to Success, is part of an overall roadmap for education reform made up of Milwaukee-specific papers written by people such as Doug Lemov, notable teacher and founder of the Uncommon Schools charter school network; Mike Petrilli, author and vice president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; and Jon Fullerton, director of Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research.
Some of the ideas suggest:
•MPS should ensure the current cap on allowing only 8% of its enrollment to attend non-union charter schools disappears once the teachers’ contract expires on June 30.
•The Legislature should follow the example of Florida and Utah by sending full state funding to online learning providers only after they show students successfully completed courses.
•The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, MPS and charter-school management organizations should intervene more quickly when schools show signs of failure.
•Supporters of creating a recovery school district for the state should explore the idea at the city and state level and visit other states that have implemented such districts.
•City and state officials should create a shared data pool among MPS traditional schools, voucher schools and charter schools — both in MPS and ones that operate outside the purview of the district — to help inform ways to improve student achievement and professional development.
•The DPI should develop a state-run system for teacher examination, selection and evaluation before candidates even begin the teacher-training program, to make the field more selective, something that has paid dividends for countries like Finland and Singapore.
•MPS, charter and voucher schools should consider salary bonuses based on performance to attract and retain teachers.
•With tight budgets and limited resources, state and district leaders should lift class-size mandates to allow for alternative class groupings such as by pooling elementary classes across special subjects.
•The DPI should develop and maintain longitudinal data on all schools serving students in the state, including independent schools, to allow fair comparisons on measures such as achievement and growth, program offerings and school-level approaches to education.
Some of the ideas are already in the works. DPI, for example, has been working on developing a longitudinal data system, and its school report cards intend to rank each school based on their achievement and growth, but voucher schools are not required by law to be ranked.
Other ideas, such as sharing data across public, charter and voucher schools in Milwaukee, are difficult to imagine given the hard distinctions and intense competition for students between those sectors.
Lemov suggests having MPS leadership give high-performing teachers more release time or additional pay to work in teams to develop videos of teaching or model lesson plans for other employees.
But any teacher-friendly nuggets were not enough to sway Milwaukee Teachers Education Association President Bob Peterson. He said the out-of-town researchers failed to offer a critique of “the largest and most expensive ‘reform’ to date: the private school voucher program.”
“It is inexplicable why the authors of this report have failed to learn any lessons from the failed voucher program, and instead are calling for further privatization and commercialization of public education.”
Tagliavia, from MPS, said the district has already embraced reforms to improve student achievement and stabilize the district financially, such as working through partnerships with the Milwaukee Partnership Academy, the GE Foundation and Milwaukee Succeeds.
He said some of the reforms include plans to improve the teaching of literacy, math and science; replicating and expanding successful traditional schools and charter schools; helping teachers improve; and reducing benefit costs.
Source: The Journal Sentinel – by Erin Richards