Recently I wrote a post maintaining that choice had failed in Milwaukee, and that the city would be better off if it had a single public school system, doors open to all, receiving public support and public funding and civic energy. Uniting behind public education makes more sense than supporting three separate systems, none of which do well for studnts.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published my post as an opinion piece. So far, my views have been critiqued by two other opinion pieces. One is by the research director of a free-market organization that advocates for vouchers, who says (ironically) that my call for unity around public schooling is “divisive.” This article gave me a hearty laugh.
The other article, by Patrick Wolf and John Witte also took exception to my blog post. They responded in an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and maintained that choice was a great success in Milwaukee and far better than public schooling.
This is my response to Wolf and Witte.
Milwaukee’s choice program is a failure. There are now three
separate systems—the public schools, with about 80,000 students; the
voucher schools, with about 23,000 students, and the charter schools,
with about 20,000 students.
There is very little difference among the three sectors in
terms of student achievement.
Patrick Wolf and John Witte do not agree. They think the
voucher and charter programs have been successful. They say that the
voucher schools have higher graduation rates, but critics who reviewed
their study say that about 75 percent of the original 9th graders were
not still enrolled in a voucher high school by the end of senior year.
With such high attrition from voucher schools, the graduation rates
When the voucher and charter movements were first launched in the
early 1990s, advocates insisted that competition would cause the
public schools to improve. Governor Scott Walker still says so.
Advocates also said they wanted public funds to flow
to private and religious schools, because it would help minority
But this has not happened. On the latest federal tests of math and reading, Milwaukee was one of the nation’s lowest performing urban school districts. Its performance was similar to the very lowest performing districts: Cleveland, D.C., and Detroit.
After twenty years of choice, the test scores of black
students in Milwaukee are similar to those of black students in
District of Columbia, Cleveland, Mississippi and Alabama.
Wolf and Witte claim that the choice schools do not skim the easiest
to educate students. When choice schools skim, it leaves the public schools worse off, with the most expensive students to educate
Wolf earlier admitted that 19% of the students in the Milwaukee
public schools have disabilities, compared to somewhere between 7 and
14.5 percent in the voucher schools. As Wolf told Education Week,
voucher schools typically accept students with mild to moderate
disabilities, which leaves the most severely disabled to the public
It is inefficient to run three separate school systems. Not only does
it triplicate costs, but it divides civic energy. All the people of
Milwaukee should work together to build a school system that meets the
needs of all the children.
Twenty years of experience with choice in Milwaukee demonstrates that
it is not effective or efficient to run three school systems. It does not meet the needs of children.
We should have learned that in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared
a dual school system to be unconstitutional.