Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who's manufacturing the crisis?

Barbara Miner goes after the choice program in today's MJS, calling the choice controversy, a "manufactured crisis." Not impressive. First, she implies that Doyle will "lift the cap" if the Republicans will only agree to some "modest accountability" measures. She says that "[i]f and when conservatives come to their senses and agree to increased accountability for voucher schools, the manufactured crisis over the enrollment cap will fade away."

I'm not going to accuse her of lying. She might just be completely clueless. Doyle wants greater "accountability" (whether its "modest" or not is another matter), but he also wants more money for some of his pet programs and, essentially, wants to eliminate the local component of choice funding - something he knows that the out-state legislators will never support. There may be justification for a modest change in school choice funding, but the reasonable proposal has been made by Mayor Barrett, not Doyle.

And even with this poison pill, Doyle has offered only a modest cap increase. If the only issue here was accountability, an agreement would have been reached long ago.

Miner regales us with some examples of choice schools that were closed or choice school officials that were caught engaging in financial defalcations. Closed and caught; it sounds like there must be some accountability going on. (Mikel Holt elaborates on the other side of the page.) Beyond that, its not clear that the "modest" measures she supports would have much to do with many of the "horribles" that she puts on parade. Standardized testing will not prevent financial misconduct.

Miner argues that the MJS did find that 10% of choice schools seem to be really, really bad, apparently "lacking the ability, resources, knowledge or will to offer children even a mediocre education." That's a problem, although, again, it is far from clear that such schools will survive the accountability measures in place today. But I wonder what a thoroughgoing survey of MPS might show? We certainly know that whatever "ability, resources, knowledge or will" they might have, the results don't reflect much.

But, in fairness, I do agree that this is an area where some "modest" reform might be in order. Virtually all choice schools use standardized tests, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to require them to disclose the scores or to inform potential enrollees that they do not administer them. As for requiring them to use the "same" tests that the public schools use, one of the ideas of "choice" is to permit greater flexibility.

As for accreditation, I have an open mind, but suspect that this would essentially eliminate start-up schools and favor the long-existing (primarily Catholic and Lutheran) parochial schools. That might not be an altogether bad thing in that there certainly have been a few fly-by-night choice schools, but requiring every school to meet every standard set forth by an accreditation agency might unduly restrict the options available for choice students. Perhaps a reasonable compromise would require choice schools to work toward independent accreditation or to inform enrollees that they are unaccredited.

But I don't suspect that these types of compromise, even if combined with the Barrett proposal, would satisfy the teachers union and the inaptly named Rethinking Schools bunch.

Although they might be enough to allow a Governor under siege to save face.

30 comments:

Jay Bullock said...

I was waiting for you to answer the question in your post's title, but since you didn't get to it, I'll try.

In 2004 and again in 2005, Wisconsin's DPI proposed a rationing plan that could be enacted if the cap was hit. This plan would have protected existing schools and current students (and their siblings). The plan, both times, was criticized by groups like School Choice Wisconsin and rejected by legislative Republicans.

Jim Doyle began two years ago to approach Republicans to offer compromise, offers rejected out-of-hand by legislative Republicans who favor partisan all-or-nothingship over bipartisan cooperation.

Tom Barrett and Doyle both reiterated offers to raise the cap in 2005. In early 2006, DPI put out the acceptable version of a rationing plan that would displace perhaps 4000 students and close schools. This plan has been subsequently criticized and exploited by legislative Republicans and School Choice Wisconsin, the same groups who would not permit the previous plan to be enacted.

The answer to your question is not, I believe, DPI or Jim Doyle.

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