Milwaukee’s voucher program, started in 1990, is the granddaddy of voucher programs. And they’ve had charter schools for 20 years too. So Milwaukee’s experience might forecast the future of other school systems that set up a competition among voucher, charter and traditional public schools in a large scale way. New Hampshire could go down that road if vouchers survive the current legislative and court challenges.
The result seems to be scattered and ineffective educational efforts rather than a dynamic educational marketplace. Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp seemed to call Milwaukee’s schools a disaster (quoted here). And, from the other end of the spectrum of the education debate, Diane Ravitch reaches the same conclusion. Ravitch has done a useful post that brings together assertions from all sides. If you read Dianne’s post and follow all the links, you’ll end up with an efficient summary of many sides of the debate. Here’s the beginning:
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 students.
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-Sentineland 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.