Twin Editorials on Milwaukee Vouchers

Weasley Twins

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This morning the Wall Street Journal and National Review Online both take on the covert effort to destroy Milwaukee vouchers by political subterfuge.

From the Journal:

Because the 20-year-old program polls above 60% with voters, and even higher among minorities, killing it outright would be unpopular. Instead, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle wants to reduce funding and pass “reforms” designed to regulate the program to death. The goal is to discourage private schools from enrolling voucher students and thus force kids to return to unionized public schools.

From NRO:

Last week, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved a series of auditing, accrediting, and instructional requirements that will force successful voucher schools to shift resources away from classrooms and into administration. Several schools will have to comply with new bilingual-education mandates, even though many immigrant parents choose those schools precisely because they emphasize the rapid acquisition of English instead of native-language maintenance.

Both editorials also mention looming cuts in funding for vouchers, even though the program saves huge taxpayer dollars and the bloated government schools are getting increases in funding. Both editorials cite Robert Costrell’s calculation that the difference between private school efficiency and public school bloat has saved taxpayers $180 million – though only NRO mentions Costrell by name.

And NRO also gets a gold star for this:

Researchers say that the program is beginning to show systemic effects. In other words, it doesn’t merely help its participants. It also gives a lift to non-voucher students because the pressure of competition has forced public schools to improve.

C’mon, Wall Street Journal, get on the ball!

6 Responses to Twin Editorials on Milwaukee Vouchers

  1. Dennis Fermoyle says:

    A few years ago, Sol Stern wrote BREAKING FREE, and talked a lot about the Milwaukee voucher program. He argued that vouchers would make public schools better, but even he has now come to the conclusion that that isn’t going to happen. I haven’t seen the “research” referred to in this piece, but my guess is that any improvements have resulted in a lousy school district becoming still lousy but not quite as lousy as it was before. You can certainly argue that students leaving a poor school system can benefit from vouchers–and I think a school systems like Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. should have them, but vouchers are not going to help public schools in any meaningful way, and they can probably hurt good school districts.

    Just once I would like to hear someone who advocates public schools having to compete with private schools suggest that public schools be given the same power to deal with unruly and apathetic students that private schools have. That would be real competition. I would be more than happy to see you get your vouchers everywhere if you would give us the power to compete on a level playing field.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    my guess is that any improvements have resulted in a lousy school district becoming still lousy but not quite as lousy as it was before.

    That’s right! Why do you reject that as not “meaningful”? I’d say anything that makes schools less lousy for these kids is a win!

    Here is the study referred to in the editorial. And here is a brief overview of the other evidence showing vouchers improve public schools.

    And here are some words to the wise about trusting Sol Stern when it comes to getting the facts right on this issue.

    Just once I would like to hear someone who advocates public schools having to compete with private schools suggest that public schools be given the same power to deal with unruly and apathetic students that private schools have.

    I think public schools should be given the same power to deal with unruly and apathetic students that private schools have.

    And I don’t think I’m the only school choice supporter who feels that way.

  3. Dennis Fermoyle says:

    Greg, I don’t think an improvement that just makes a school a little less lousy is meaningful. I’m sure you agree that our goal should be to provide good schools for everyone. The major benefit of vouchers is that they allow parents in bad school districts the opportunity to get their kids out of situations where it is very difficult for anyone to learn. I can’t argue with doing that. But what bothers me more than anything else about “choice” is the assumption that lies behind it: Since those of us who work public schools don’t have to compete for students, we don’t try very hard. I can’t deny that there are teachers who fall into that category, and we should deal with that by getting rid of our tenure and seniority systems. But lack of effort by teachers, administrators, etc. is not nearly as large a part of “the” problem as choice proponents believe. That’s why although vouchers might bring about some improvement in schools that aren’t very good in the short-term, they will never bring about the type of improvement that we really want.

    Poor behavior and attitudes by a relatively small number of students combined with public schools’ lack of power to deal with that is the major problem in American education today. You say that you think public schools should be given the same power to deal with unruly and apathetic schools that private schools have. Thank you! You might be right about other choice supporters feeling that way, but I can honestly say that you are the first one I’ve seen who has actually come out and stated that. This would be the most effective way to improve education for all kids, and as I said in my earlier comment, if we had that, I’d be fine with a full-fledged voucher system. Nevertheless, I think Albert Shanker hit the nail on the head when he said this: “We are about to create a system of choice and vouchers, so that ninety-eight percent of the kids who behave can go someplace and be safe. And we’re going to leave the two percent who are violent and disruptive to take over the schools. Now, isn’t it ridiculous to move ninety-eight percent of the kids, when all you have to do is move two or three percent of them and the other ninety-eight percent would be absolutely fine?”

    • Greg Forster says:

      I agreed that vouchers made Milwaukee schools “still lousy, but less lousy.” In other words, Milwaukee schools were still lousy even after they’d been improved.

      I did not agree that Milwaukee vouchers “just” make schools “a little” less lousy.

      Big, big difference between those two statements.

      As for the rest, how many other school choice supporters have you directly asked about giving public schools more power to deal with problem students?

  4. Dennis Fermoyle says:

    Let me put it this way. I’ve read editorials and books by people promoting choice including Jay Greene’s EDUCATION MYTHS and, of course, Sol Stern’s BREAKING FREE. Although they all talk about how wonderful competition is, I have never gotten indication from any of them that they believe public schools should have the same power to deal with unruly and apathetic students that private schools have. I have also gone back and forth with several people on blogs during the last three years, and the most I can say is that when I’ve argued that public schools need that power, some haven’t argued against that. Once again, the overriding impression I get from voucher supporters is that they believe the major problem in American education is that people working in public schools aren’t trying very hard and/or aren’t very competent. That belief is wrong.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Once again, the overriding impression I get from voucher supporters is that they believe the major problem in American education is that people working in public schools aren’t trying very hard and/or aren’t very competent.

      Well, we worked hard in Education Myths to explain that we don’t think that, and our arguments don’t imply it. I think a lot of people read that message into whatever reformers say because they’re predisposed to believe that that’s what we think.

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