Archives for category: Milwaukee

Tom Ultican reviews here how school choice has devastated (DeVos-tated?) the public schools of Milwaukee.

Milwaukee is the city with public schools, charter schools, and voucher schools. It is also one of the lowest performing urban districts tested by NAEP.

He begins:

This past school year, Wisconsin taxpayers sent $250,000,000 to religious schools. Catholics received the largest slice, but protestants, evangelicals and Jews got their cuts. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) reveals that private Islamic schools took in $6,350,000. Of the 212 schools collecting voucher money, 197 were religious schools.

The Wisconsin voucher program was expanded before the 2014-2015 school year. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “Seventy-five percent of eligible students who applied for taxpayer-funded subsidies to attend private and religious schools this fall in the statewide voucher program already attend private schools, ….”

Money taken from the public schools attended by the vast majority of Milwaukee’s students is sent to private religious schools. Public schools must adjust for stranded costs while paying to serve a higher percentage of special education students because private schools won’t take them. Forcing public schools to increase class sizes, reduce offerings such as music and lay off staff.

The public schools have a disproportionate number of students with disabilities, because the charter schools and voucher schools don’t want them.

Ultican recounts the history of charters and vouchers in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. He reminds us that charter schools are NOT public schools. They are privately managed organizations draining money from public schools.

And he concludes:

In the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris case, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that vouchers to religious school did not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. This decision re-wrote more than a century worth of precedence and further eroded the separation of church and state. No matter how this case was decided, it is patently un-American to force citizens to send money to religious organizations that they do not support.

Privatizing public education is a horrible idea. Public-schools are the bedrock upon which America’s democracy is built. Now strange conservatives and their fellow traveler in the Democratic party, the neoliberals, are claiming that democratically elected school boards are an anachronism. Know this; if someone is opposing democratic governance, they are proposing totalitarian rule by the wealthy.

Jennifer Berkshire writes here of the encouraging signs of a strong grassroots movement to save public schools in Wisconsin, despite the best efforts of Governor Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature to crush the teachers’ union and to offer school choice, both charters and vouchers.

She begins:

“It would be easy to write the story of Wisconsin’s current union landscape as a tragedy. In this version of events, the bomb that Governor Scott Walker and his allies dropped on the state’s public sector unions has worked just as intended: The ranks of the unions have thinned; their coffers are depleted; their influence over the state and its legislative priorities has been reduced to where, in 2017, the state teachers’ union no longer employed a lobbyist at the statehouse.

“All of this is true.

“But there is another, more hopeful story to be told about Wisconsin, seven years after Walker officially kicked off his war on labor. It involves parents and teachers and local grassroots activists coming together to fight for the public schools in their communities. While Walker and the Republicans who control Wisconsin’s legislature got their way in 2011, there is a robust ongoing debate, throughout the state, about the role of public education and who should pay for it.

“Just as in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado, states roiled by teacher and parent uprisings this spring, school funding has emerged as a flashpoint in Wisconsin. In the place where the modern era of scorched-earth-style state politics began, local activism around public education may just transform Wisconsin’s political culture.”

She identifies groups that are working in a nonpartisan way to increase school funding, to offset the dramatic tax cuts that ravaged their public schools.

State leadership has a simple ethos: “Privatize everything.”

By contrast, parents and teachers are mobilizing to keep their schools funded.

“Today, the Wisconsin Public Education Network is at the forefront of a statewide effort to support Wisconsin’s public schools and the 860,000 students who attend them. DuBois Bourenane and a small army of parents, teachers, school officials, and ordinary citizens are shining a relentless spotlight on the $2 billion in cuts made to the schools here by Walker and the GOP-led legislature, and demanding a fix to Wisconsin’s deeply inequitable school funding system.”

She identifies other groups that have formed to defend students and public schools.

One of the biggest drains on the state education budget is vouchers. Advocates have pushed the idea of breaking out the costs of vouchers so taxpayers can see clearly what vouchers cost them. In Milwaukee alone, where 32,000 students use vouchers, the cost was $269 Million in the last year alone. (Voucher students do not get better results than those in public schools).

Ironically, Gov. Walker is running again as “the education governor,” despite the fact that school funding is less now than a decade ago.


When she delivered her keynote remarks to the National PTA, Betsy DeVos took potshots at 60 Minutes, claiming the show edited her remarks. She apparently did not explain in what way she was misquoted.

“So, now that I have the opportunity to speak unedited, I’m not afraid to call out folks who defend stagnation for what it really is: failure,” she said, criticizing those who are against school choice given that U.S. students are ranked 40th in math, 23rd in reading and 25th in science compared to other countries.

“The Education secretary is a proponent of school choice, which encompasses policies such as letting students attend religious or charter schools with public funding.”

DeVos did not acknowledge that the US placed dead last in the first international assessment in 1964.

She did not acknowledge that the US was never a high scoring nation and typically scores around the median.

She did not acknowledge that test scores are the result of child poverty and that any effort to raise test scores must address as child poverty.

She did not acknowledge that the US is #1 in child poverty among the OECD nations.

She refuses to acknowledge that school choice does not produce higher test scores. On the whole, school choice lowers test scores. The prime example of the effects of school choice is Michigan, where NAEP scores have fallen since Betsy DeVos’s choice policies were imposed. The other examples are Milwaukee and Detroit, which demonstrate the null impact of choice. Milwaukee has charters, vouchers, and public schools that must take the kids the choice schools don’t want. Detroit has loads of charters. Both are among the lowest scoring urban districts tested by NAEP.

She has an agenda, but it has already failed. She is an ideologue and zealot, who pays no attention to evidence, not even in her own state.

She would destroy public education if it were in her power. But we will stop her. She is already an object of ridicule. It won’t get better.

For many years, the Wall Street Journal has been a champion for vouchers in its editorial columns. Its news columns, however, are written by reporters who (usually) don’t have a rightwing agenda to sell. The WSJ posted an  article about vouchers in Milwaukee, the nation’s longest running voucher program.

The bottom line is that they don’t make a difference. Voucher students do no better than students in public schools.

But there is an exception, as voucher advocate Patrick Wolf of the Walton-funded University of Arkansas Department of Educational Reform explains. When high-end voucher schools limit the number of voucher students they take and are willing to subsidize the large difference between their tuition and the state payment, the students benefit. How many private and religious schools are willing to do that? As the article says, the vast majority of voucher schools have large numbers of voucher students and rely on low tuition to survive, and they fill their poorly resourced schools with voucher students.

Read the article here.

Steve Singer calls out the Destroy-Public-Education campaign for their attacks on Randi Weingarten.

It’s not because he is a fan of Randi’s, but because he doesn’t like hypocrisy.

Charter schools are more segregated than public schools, even in districts that have high levels of racial segregation. Charters don’t mind being 100% black or Hispanic. It’s not a bug to their promoters. It’s a feature. In some states, charters are all black and have become White Flight z

Vouchers cause racial and religious segregation. Period.

Meanwhile, the Destroy Public Education crowd is acting shocked, shocked, shocked that Randi dared to connect their activities to the racist Southern governors and Senators who championed school choice as their response to the Brown decision.

I saw an email blast a few days ago from Jeanne Allen, the CEO of the pro-privatization Center for Education Reform, who wrapped herself in the mantel of the late Wisconsin legislator Polly Williams, an African American woman who supported vouchers, hoping they would help poor black children. She neglected to acknowledge that Williams was appalled when vouchers became the favorite idea of Scott Walker, who raised the income limits. Poor black children were left behind. Before her death, Williams admitted her error. Poor black children were cynically used by the hard-right Bradley Foundation, the Koch brothers, Scott Walker, and a bunch of white reactionaries who didn’t give a hoot about black children. To think that these people have the nerve to chastise anyone who calls out their racist heritage!

Jeanne Allen called on Randi to resign for daring to connect charters and vouchers with their historical antecedents. Sorry, Jeanne, Randi was right. You are carrying forward the twisted ideals of George Wallace. For doing so, you should resign.

Betsy DeVos appeared at her second Congressional hearing to defend the Department’s budget priorities. At her first hearing, she said that schools might need guns to protect against grizzlies.

What she demonstrated was her masterful ability to evade and obfuscate questions, never giving a direct answer to inconvenient questions.

Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin tried to get her to respond to the failure of vouchers in Milwaukee, and DeVos ducked and bobbed skillfully.

“Pocan, from Wisconsin, said that the state’s pioneering work on taxpayer-funded private school vouchers was a “failed experiment” that resulted in lackluster test scores, unaccountability and the ability for private schools to exclude kids with disabilities.

“Pointing to a lawsuit by parents of kids at Right Step Inc., a Milwaukee voucher school, because only 7 percent of students were proficient in English and none were proficient in math, he asked DeVos, “Would you send you kid to a school where 93 percent of the students aren’t English proficient and 0 percent are math proficient?”

“DeVos thanked Pocan for the question, then launched into a history of vouchers in Wisconsin, dropping the name of Annette Polly Williams, the late Democratic state lawmaker from Milwaukee who was an early voucher advocate.

“Who now says it’s not lived up to its promise,” interjected Pocan, leaving him open to a technicality.

“And who’s no longer living,” DeVos pointed out.

“Williams, for the record, ended up disowning the choice program and accusing its supporters of exploiting black children.

“The pointed but unproductive questioning continued with DeVos pointing out at least three times that Milwaukee has 28,000 kids in voucher programs.

“For his part, Pocan pointed out that the last expansion of the choice program resulted in three-fourths of the public money going to parents whose kids were already enrolled in the private schools they were getting vouchers for, and two-thirds went to families making over $100,000 a year.

“Do you think your federal program will support this sort of thing, so it’s not to encourage new outlets in education, simply to give money to people who already attend those schools?” he asked.

“Well, I really applaud Milwaukee for empowering parents to make the decisions that they think are right for their students and children,” DeVos answered.”

Pecan must have forgotten that DeVos is not a numbers person. Also not a facts person or a research person.

We can always count on researchers at the National Education Policy Center to review reports issued by think tanks and advocacy groups, some of which are the same.

This review analyzes claims about Milwaukee’s voucher schools. It is funny to describe them as successful, since Milwaukee is really the poster city for the failure of school choice. It has had vouchers and charters since 1990 and is near the very bottom of the NAEP tests for urban districts, barely ahead of sad Detroit, another city afflicted by charters. Both cities demonstrate that school choice does not fix the problems of urban education or urban students and families.

Find Documents:

Press Release:
NEPC Review:
Report Reviewed:

William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058,
Benjamin Shear: (303) 492-8583,

Learn More:

NEPC Resources on Accountability and Testing
NEPC Resources on Charter Schools
NEPC Resources on School Choice
NEPC Resources on Vouchers

BOULDER, CO (April 25, 2017) – A recent report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty attempts to compare student test score performance for the 2015-16 school year across Wisconsin’s public schools, charter schools, and private schools participating in one of the state’s voucher programs. Though it highlights important patterns in student test score performance, the report’s limited analyses fail to provide answers as to the relative effectiveness of school choice policies.

Apples to Apples: The Definitive Look at School Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin was reviewed by Benjamin Shear of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Comparing a single year’s test scores across school sectors that serve different student populations is inherently problematic. One fundamental problem of isolating variations in scores that might be attributed to school differences is that the analyses must adequately control for dissimilar student characteristics among those enrolled in the different schools. The report uses linear regression models that use school-level characteristics to attempt to adjust for these differences and make what the authors claim are “apples to apples” comparisons. Based on these analyses, the report concludes that choice and charter schools in Wisconsin are more effective than traditional public schools.

Unfortunately, the limited nature of available data undermines any such causal conclusions. The inadequate and small number of school-level variables included in the regression models are not able to control for important confounding variables, most notably prior student achievement. Further, the use of aggregate percent-proficient metrics masks variation in performance across grade levels and makes the results sensitive to the (arbitrary) location of the proficiency cut scores. The report’s description of methods and results also includes some troubling inconsistencies. For example the report attempts to use a methodology known as “fixed effects” to analyze test score data in districts outside Milwaukee, but such a methodology is not possible with the data described in the report.

Thus, concludes Professor Shear, while the report does present important descriptive statistics about test score performance in Wisconsin, it wrongly claims to provide answers for those interested in determining which schools or school choice policies in Wisconsin are most effective.

Find the review by Benjamin Shear at:

Find Apples to Apples: The Definitive Look at School Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, by Will Flanders, published by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, at:

This is one of the very first reactions to the Trump-DeVos (and Scott Walker) agenda to destroy public education.

RESISTANCE! It works, especially at the ballot box.

CONTACT: Marina Dimitrijevic


Milwaukee board tilts to public education majority opposing corporate operators; profiteering

MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Board of School Directors now has a pro-public education majority with tonight’s election of all Wisconsin Working Families Party-endorsed candidates. Tony Baez, who is the new District Six representative on the board, along with incumbents Larry Miller and Annie Woodward, can now begin to eradicate the corporate profiteering that is draining resources from our schools while failing to deliver quality education for our children. Together with other advocates on the board, they have the ability to transform how education is delivered in Milwaukee. Working Families Party also supported Tony Evers in his successful run for a third term as the state’s superintendent of public instruction.

“This election is part of the resistance to the dangerous troika of Donald Trump, Scott Walker, and Betsy DeVos. If Wisconsin Working Families and our partners, including the teacher’s union, had not been involved, corporate interests and privatizers could have succeeded in tipping the balance of the school board, carrying out the Trump agenda and destroying our public schools,” said Marina Dimitrijevic, executive director of Wisconsin Working Families Party. “While the anti-public school forces recruited and funded candidates, they lost because voters want quality public schools for all students. We are building a template and record of taking on corporate operators and winning.”

Wisconsin Working Families Party worked for months to elect a slate of public school champions who will advocate for more resources for our school system, fight off unaccountable voucher expansion, and put forth an aggressive policy agenda that trusts teachers, invests in our student’s success, and adds to the quality of life for working families in Milwaukee.

“The Wisconsin Working Families Party saw that a District Six victory could be key to creating a pro-public school majority on the school board as well as having a dedicated voice for Latino students. They recruited me to run, supporting me throughout the election progress. I’m proud to work with Working Families because we share a vision and a drive to support and deliver a quality education to all of the students in our diverse city,” said Dr. Tony Baez, the newly elected District Six member of the board. “Thanks to Working Families’ campaign support and community organizing, we’ve turned the tide in Milwaukee against privatization and charter schools.”

Beyond assisting the candidates, Wisconsin Working Families Party mobilized volunteers and members using grassroots people power to help our endorsed candidates win. More than 60 people volunteered for several Saturday canvasses, contacting more than 2,000 voters through canvassing or phone calls. The organization also sent mailers to educate voters about the candidates and the issues in the campaign.

“Wisconsin Working Families Party recognized that this election posed a unique opportunity for change on the school board, held onto that vision, and ran until we won,” said Kim Schroeder, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. “This election is a clear repudiation of the vouchers and corporatization that have drained out schools and failed our students. We have a template of how to organize and win.”

This election marks the second successful Wisconsin Working Families Party campaign to elect a pro-public education majority to school boards. In April, 2016, Wisconsin WFP worked with the Racine Education Association to elect eight of nine candidates to the Racine United School Board after Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans forced through a restructure of Racine’s school district governance.

Costly experiments with vouchers and charter schools have not yielded promised results. A study by the Public Policy Forum found that Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination test scores for voucher students lag behind those of MPS students, particularly for voucher students who attend predominantly voucher-funded schools. And schools with high concentrations of voucher students have lower WKCE test scores than their public school counterparts.


The Working Families Party is a grassroots political organization. With chapters in Wisconsin and a dozen other states, as well as a membership that spans the nation, the Working Families Party works to advance public policies that make a difference in the lives of working people, like raising the minimum wage, stopping bad trade deals, taking on Wall Street, tackling climate change, and combating racial injustice. Working Families brings these issues to the ballot box and the halls of government at the federal, state and local levels.

Martin Carnoy is a professor at Stanford University who has studied education systems around the world.

Carnoy wrote a report for the Economic Policy Institute about the efficacy of vouchers, or their lack thereof. The report is titled “School Vouchers Are Not a Proven Strategy for Improving Student Achievement.” Carnoy reviews the longest-running voucher programs in the U.S. and other countries and finds little evidence that they improve student achievement.

Here is his summary:

“This report seeks to inform that debate by summarizing the evidence base on vouchers. Studies of voucher programs in several U.S. cities, the states of Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, and in Chile and India, find limited improvements at best in student achievement and school district performance from even large-scale programs. In the few cases in which test scores increased, other factors, namely increased public accountability, not private school competition, seem to be more likely drivers. And high rates of attrition from private schools among voucher users in several studies raises concerns. The second largest and longest-standing U.S. voucher program, in Milwaukee, offers no solid evidence of student gains in either private or public schools.

“In the only area in which there is evidence of small improvements in voucher schools—in high school graduation and college enrollment rates—there are no data to show whether the gains are the result of schools shedding lower-performing students or engaging in positive practices. Also, high school graduation rates have risen sharply in public schools across the board in the last 10 years, with those increases much larger than the small effect estimated on graduation rates from attending a voucher school.

“The lack of evidence that vouchers significantly improve student achievement (test scores), coupled with the evidence of a modest, at best, impact on educational attainment (graduation rates), suggests that an ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability is what is driving the push to expand voucher programs. Ideology is not a compelling enough reason to switch to vouchers, given the risks. These risks include increased school segregation; the loss of a common, secular educational experience; and the possibility that the flow of inexperienced young teachers filling the lower-paying jobs in private schools will dry up once the security and benefits offered to more experienced teachers in public schools disappear.

“The report suggests that giving every parent and student a great “choice” of educational offerings is better accomplished by supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools with a menu of proven policies, from early childhood education to after-school and summer programs to improved teacher pre-service training to improved student health and nutrition programs. All of these yield much higher returns than the minor, if any, gains that have been estimated for voucher students.”

Carnoy published a shorter version of the report for a popular audience. He wrote an article for the New York Daily News explaining why Trump and DeVos are wrong about school choice, specifically vouchers.

He reviews recent research in plain language. Kids don’t benefit. In some places, they actually lose ground.

As I have often written in this space, if vouchers, charters, and school choice were the solution to the problems of urban education, Milwaukee would be the model district of the nation, as it has had choice since 1990. That’s two full generations of students.

He writes:

If the President and his new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, were right about choice, Milwaukee would be among the highest-scoring urban school districts in the nation. Milwaukee’s private students would be outscoring those in public schools, and students in public schools would have made large gains because of the intense competition from private and charter schools.

None of that is the case. Research over a four-year period that compared the gains of voucher and public school students in Milwaukee showed that the voucher students did no better. And it’s African Americans, who make up roughly two-thirds of Milwaukee’s student body, who are the main recipients of vouchers and also most likely to attend charter schools.

When we compare the National Assessment of Educational Progress scores — that’s the gold standard of achievement tests — of black students in eighth-grade math and reading in 13 urban U.S. school districts, black students in Milwaukee have lower eighth-grade math scores than students in every city but Detroit — notably, another urban district with a high level of school choice.

In reading, Milwaukee’s black eighth-graders do even more poorly. They score lower than black eighth-graders in all other 12 city school districts.

How many billions will we waste on this failed free-market ideology? As Carnoy points out, investing in proven strategies in public schools with credentialed teachers would have long-term benefits.

Milwaukee has had vouchers since 1990. The program was expanded to include religious schools in 1998. Voucher advocates, led by former superintendent Howard Fuller, insisted that school choice was the best way to raise the woeful academic performance of black students. Fuller, a social worker and one-time advocate for black nationalism, is now head of the pro-choice Black Alliance for Educational Options. Fuller, the one-time radical, has long been subsidized by rightwing foundations, including the Bradley Foundation and the Walton Foundation (and the Gates Foundation). None of the whites who run these foundations have any credibility in black communities, but Fuller is an effective salesman for their segregationist ideas.

In the early days of vouchers and charters, advocates promised that school choice would cause schools to get better by competing for students. School choice would bring about a rising tide that would lift all boats. Public schools would improve, they said, adopting new programs and higher standards to retain their students and beat the competition. John Chubb and Terry Moe published a seminal work in 1990 called “Politics, Markets, and Schools” in which they argued that all reforms of the existing system were doomed to fail because of its democratic governance and the power of the unions; they boldly claimed that school choice is a “panacea.”

That was the same year that Milwaukee first offered vouchers.

For several years, the Milwaukee voucher program was evaluated by opposing groups. Some said it helped students, others said it didn’t. Over time, critics and supporters reached a consensus view. The voucher program overall had no impact on student performance but parents were happier. Although students were not better prepared academically, they had a higher graduation rate, but they had such high attrition rates that the students least likely to graduate had already dropped out or returned to public schools.

Meanwhile, the public schools enrolled far higher proportions of students with disabilities because the voucher schools and charter schools said they could not meet their needs. The choice schools were also able to eliminate students who were disciplinary problems or academically unable and send them back to public schools.

This article portrays the situation in Milwaukee to mark the 25th anniversary of vouchers, in 2014. Nothing has changed since then. The evaluation industry has moved on. The consensus holds: students in voucher schools do not make greater test score gains than those in public schools. Public schools do not improve as a result of competition. Public schools lose funding to voucher schools and charter schools, which makes them less able to compete. Public schools get the students that the private voucher schools don’t want.

Pro-choice evaluators have reached the same conclusions in D.C. and Cleveland. No rising tide.

And this is the failed program that Betsy DeVos wants to spread across the nation. We now know that vouchers do not save poor kids from failing schools. Vouchers have no purpose other than to undermine public schools.