Alan Borsuk is a knowledgeable journalist who has covered education in Milwaukee for many years. He is now professing at Marquette, but still keeps a close watch on what is happening to education in Milwaukee.
In this article, Borsuk says that a new vision is needed to get beyond the stale and failed answers of the past. He is right.
Milwaukee has had vouchers since 1990. longer than any school district in the nation. The students in the voucher schools perform no better than those in the public schools.
Milwaukee has had charter schools for about 20 years. The students in the charter schools do no better than those in the public schools.
As the other sectors have grown, the Milwaukee public schools have experienced sharply declining enrollment. At the same time, the number of students with disabilities is far greater in the public schools than in either the voucher or charter schools. The latter are unable or unwilling to take the children who are most challenging and most expensive to educate. Thus, Milwaukee public schools are “competing” with two sectors who skim off the ablest students and reject the ones they don’t want. Most people would say this is not a level playing field.
Governor Scott Walker’s answer to the Milwaukee problem is to call for more vouchers and charters, and for virtual charters. But if the students in those schools are not outperforming the ones in the public schools after twenty years, why should those sectors grow? And we know from multiple studies that students in virtual schools do worse than those in brick-and-mortar schools.
More of the same is no answer. Doubling down on failure is a bad bet.
Yes, Milwaukee needs a bold vision.
It needs a reset.
It needs one public education sector, not three competing sectors. The time for dual- and triple-systems should have ended in 1954, with the Brown decision.
Milwaukee needs one public school system that receives public dollars, public support, community engagement, and parental involvement.
Vouchers and charters had their chance. They failed.
Now it is time to build a great public school system that meets the needs of the children of Milwaukee.
The children of Milwaukee need universal pre-kindergarten so that they arrive in school ready to learn. The children with high needs require small classes and extra attention. The public schools should provide a superb program in the arts for all children in every grade. They should have a rich curriculum–history, literature, foreign languages, the sciences, mathematics, and civics–for all children. Every student should have daily physical education. The schools should have the nurses, guidance counselors, social workers and librarians they need. Children should have after-school programs where they can learn new skills, strengthen their bodies, and get extra tutoring.
It is impossible to achieve these goals in a city with three competing school systems. It is entirely possible to achieve when there is one school system that becomes the focus of the energies of parents, civic leaders, and the business community.
Many children, one Milwaukee.