Monday, June 01, 2015

Why takeovers happen

My colleague CJ Szafir has an op-ed in Saturday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the proposed Opportunity Schools Partnership Program. The OSPP would, among other things, allow the Milwaukee County Executive to appoint a Commissioner who could run selected failing public schools in the City of Milwaukee. It is comparable to "opportunity" or "recovery" school districts that have been established around the country with some success.

Of course, as CJ points out, the proposal has been attacked as "racist" because … well, just because. It is apparently an act of bigotry to care about poor black kids attending failing schools.  The OSPP might not work, but MPS has had twenty five years of increased funding and has failed to turn these schools around. Trying something new can't hurt.

Against this, opponents of the proposal argue that it takes away "the democratic rights" of citizens of Milwaukee. They would still vote for the Milwaukee School Board. But a limited number of schools within Milwaukee would, at least for a time, no longer be run by the School Board. City voters also vote for the County Executive - so there would still be political accountability for operation of the OSPP. The County Executive is "local" but less "local" than a school board elected by only city voters.

That is a cost. But removing those schools from the control of the Board is not a bug in the proposal; it's a feature. School board elections tend to be dominated by persons with a special financial stake in the schools, most notably the teachers' unions. This is particularly so in Milwaukee where, until recently, all teachers were required to live in the city. This has a tendency to privilege the status quo and the parochial interests of those who work in the schools rather than those who learn in them. One of the ideas behind the OSPP is to move around this roadblock to reform.

Local control of schools is traditional and valuable, although over the years it has steadily eroded, often at the behest of the "progressives" who now lament its qualification by the proposed OSPP. But if it's broke, you've got to fix it.

Cross posted at Purple Wisconsin

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