An op-ed titled "Rocketship program is a model for inequality in education opportunity" ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this past weekend. It was written by Gordon Lafer of the Economic Policy Institute. The article explains how the historic Brown vs. the Board ruling --which has its 60th anniversary this week -- is increasingly relevant as charter chains and voucher schools spread in low income areas.
Sixty years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. The ruling rejected the concept of separate schools for students of different races and demanded true equal opportunity in education for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity or income....
Since then, Milwaukee and many other cities have searched for ways to achieve that goal. Along the way, we have learned a few things about what works and what doesn't.The voucher program in Milwaukee has repeatedly failed kids, like the time voucher hucksters closed their school and fled to Florida in the middle of the night.
Twenty-five years ago, for example, Milwaukee was told that education vouchers — public funds that could be used for students to attend private schools — would close the gaps in education achievement. Last year, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a corporate-funded think tank that had promoted vouchers, issued a report admitting that they didn't work. Then the report insisted that we should trust the newest idea on the corporate agenda: privately run charter schools that replace teachers with computers.
This model is embodied in Milwaukee by the Rocketship chain of schools, and it is part of a corporate education agenda that is being pushed across the country. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is promoting Rocketship schools here, and MMAC President Tim Sheehy sits on the Rocketship board of directors.What's frustrating is that we know what works. Smaller class sizes, increased 1:1 teacher time, in-classroom support.
Rocketship relies on inexperienced teachers, almost one-third of whom quit last year. It saves money by having students as young as kindergarten spend one-quarter of their day in front of a computer screen with no licensed teacher present. It offers no library or librarians, no music classes, no guidance counselors and no foreign languages.
In short, it's a model that no suburban parents would accept for their own children — and indeed Rocketship is only being promoted as an option for children who live in poor cities. Hardly what the Supreme Court had in mind.
Parents know that smaller classes mean more individual attention for every student, which is why Wisconsin created the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program in 1995. SAGE provides funding for low-income schools to limit class sizes in the early grades, but the funding hasn't kept pace with inflation or need. Instead of looking to replace teachers with computers, lawmakers should adjust SAGE funding so every eligible school could limit class sizes.Lafer goes on to say, "Milwaukee parents don't just deserve a choice; they deserve high-quality choices." If privileged parents in the suburbs wouldn't tolerate this educational model, why are we so comfortable with it in cities like Milwaukee?
Students need more personal attention from experienced teachers. They also need the kind of opportunities that are found at Wisconsin's 10 highest-rated elementary schools: a broad curriculum including music classes, libraries and librarians, foreign languages, experienced teaching staff, small student-teacher ratios and support services such as guidance counselors or school psychologists. Good luck finding these things at a Rocketship school.