Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Study That Should Make Milwaukee Famous

Remember that much praised Milwaukee school system voucher program that got so many ed deformers salivating? (Check out this Rethinking Schools article from 2006 for background.)

The NY Times article today on a report on the closing of the white/black achievement gap includes this nugget:

By 2007, the state with the widest black-white gap in the nation on the fourth-grade math test (not counting the District of Columbia) was not in the deep South, but in the Midwest — Wisconsin. White students there scored 250, slightly above the national average, but blacks scored 212, producing a 38-point achievement gap. That average score for black students in Wisconsin was lower than for blacks in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi or any other Southern state, and 10 points below the national average for black students, the study indicated.

Wisconsin was the only state in which the black-white achievement gap in 2007 was larger than the national average in the tests for fourth and eighth grades in both math and reading, according to the study.

Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit group in Washington that works to close achievement gaps, said principals in Wisconsin were “stunned” when shown the results.

“Black kids in Wisconsin do worse than in all these Southern states,” and the reason, Ms. Haycock said, was that Wisconsin educators “haven’t been focusing on doing what’s necessary to close these gaps.”

Patrick Gasper, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Education, said, “We know that we have a pronounced achievement gap and that we have to continue focusing our efforts on eliminating it.”

The public schools in Milwaukee, the city with Wisconsin’s largest African-American population, have missed federal achievement targets for five years straight, Mr. Gasper said. Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s new education superintendent, delivered his inaugural speech on July 6 in Milwaukee instead of the state capital, Madison, to emphasize the urgency of new approaches, Mr. Gasper said.

Gee, the article didn't even mention the voucher program or any links to the results. Sort of like talking about the results of a ball game without mentioning the teams. Poor ed deformer Ed Trust head Kati Haycock. The schools haven't been focusing on doing what's necessary to close the gap - you know, lots of test prep, cheating, credit recovery, massaging stats. We know the drill, Kati.

Check out this 2006 CSM article on the voucher program. Suddenly, parental choice is not the panacea.

Advocates are getting past the ideological posturing, saying 'choice will fix everything.' Parental choice is a precondition for a quality education, not a panacea."

Choice is something lower-income Milwaukee parents definitely have. Families who make below a set income can get a voucher (worth up to $6,500 in the coming school year) to send their school-age children to a private school, including a religiously affiliated school. In addition to some 125 schools that participate in Milwaukee's program, there are numerous charter schools in the city, and an open-enrollment program through which a few thousand students attend suburban schools.

And check out these choices parents had:

The voucher program has given new life to venerable Catholic and Lutheran schools in the city, and has spurred the creation of dozens of new schools - many of them religious - that rely solely on voucher students. All told, about 70 percent of the voucher schools are religious. Some of those schools, like Hope, show signs of excellence, but not all.

In one of the worst instances, a convicted rapist opened a school, which has since shut down. Reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tried to visit all 115 schools then in the program last year, and found a mixed bag. Nine schools refused to let reporters in, and the paper cited "10 to 15 others where ... the overall operation appeared alarming when it came to the basic matter of educating children."

One school was opened by a woman who said she had a vision from God to start a school, and whose only educational background was as a teacher's aide. Others had few books or signs of a coherent curriculum. Yet they've been able to enroll students.

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