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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.

Excerpts below:

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.

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.

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.
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.

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.

What's frustrating is that we know what works. Smaller class sizes, increased 1:1 teacher time, in-classroom support.
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.

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.

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?

Originally posted to logancircle on Mon May 12, 2014 at 05:03 AM PDT.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The Rich and Upper End Burbs Have Always Known (20+ / 0-)

    that only one thing works in eductation, the one thing they invariably do for their own kids:

    throw money at it.

    LOTS of money.

    My prep High school is in the athletic league with Mitt Romney's Cranbrook in Michigan. We advertise class sizes in the low teens. During the 2012 campaign I posted a link to their lower school advertisement of low class size. I had individual classes every year with under 10 and never one with as many as 20, except for lectures.

    Oh and it cost a new car per year to attend.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon May 12, 2014 at 05:17:02 AM PDT

    •  If they have "known" that - they're largely (4+ / 0-)


      While it is true that educational achievement is closely correlated with the affluence (and education) level of parents, the outcomes do not track all that well with them "Throwing Money" at the problem.

    •  I was never in a class smaller than 25 (0+ / 0-)

      Costs a new car per year to attend?  That is a completely unsustainable cost for everyone not a vulture capitalist.  Why would you advocate for a standard that 99% of the country can't afford?

      Sorry but no.  Class sizes don't need to be 10-15 students for students to learn.  That may be true for lazy rich parents who refuse to spend time with their children, who think that teaching their children is a job for the "help".

      But I went to very average, very working class public schools.  Class size was low 30s, and we learned just fine.  Parents spent time with their kids doing homework.  Teachers were respected, homework was respected - not whined about like it is today.

      The few dipshit kids who refused to study and refused to learn were allowed to fail.  Let them be ditch diggers or roofers, that's their problem.  We certainly didn't blame teachers, class sizes or the entire education system because a few kids refused their opportunity to learn - AND their parents didn't care.

      The more we blame the school system and teachers, the more we say we have to "keep throwing money at it", the more the education system in this country will collapse.

      If schools say they can only succeed by charging the cost of  a new car per year, people can't afford that and will refuse to pay it.  School funding will be slashed dramatically as people refuse to throw good money after bad.  There will be tax revolts, the Tea Party will win in town after town and eventually the only schools left with any funding at all will be the schools of the top 1%.

      There is an affordable, sane level of funding that can be sustained.  Keep funding there and put the responsibility to learn where it belongs - on the student.

      •  Hooray for you. (7+ / 0-)

        The problem isn't "dipshit kids" vs "lazy rich parents."

        It is a nice idea to put the responsibility for learning on the children and parents. But a lot of those people aren't able to be responsible for their learning. Help with homework? Mom works 2 or 3 jobs. Kids who are hungry and stressed can't learn. Poverty rewires a child's brain.

        So if a kid is already starting out with serious deficits, that bootstrappy folksy advice isn't going to do much to help them succeed.

        •  Let's talk about poverty for a minute (8+ / 0-)

          I would be careful not to form an opinion on this based on your own personal experience. I, too, went to public schools in working class neighborhoods (this was in the 1980s and 90s). And if I'm remembering correctly, I think I had class sizes of around 30 kids.

          But I recall that most of my classmates came to school well rested. They weren't struggling with hunger, either. Most of the kids had access to a doctor if they got sick. Most didn't have to worry about where they would sleep that night, because their parents' living situation was unstable. Yes, there was some alcoholism in our community but I don't remember rampant drug use among parents and family members.

          Poverty has continued to deepen in America, as it's ravaging our communities. Nearly a quarter of all children in America live below the poverty line. We can't expect kids to realize their full potential until we address the poverty crisis in this country.

          •  Precisely (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            As I said, blaming schools and teachers for poor hungry and stressed kids not learning doesn't fix anything.  Instead it just puts the blame in the wrong place and plays into the GOP attack that public schools SHOULD be able to somehow magically fix poverty if they and teachers just didn't "suck so damn much".

            But you know, according to Gooserock, all those poor kids would be doing just fine if their parents would just spend the price of a new car each year on their schools.  Complete utter bullshit.

          •  One of the highest non-economic (0+ / 0-)

            correlates with educational success is parents who read at home and have books in the house. It matters more than whether they read kids' books to the kids. Creating a learning-positive environment not only pays off for those in school, it's making seed corn for the future.

        •  Better than blaming schools and teachers (0+ / 0-)

          Tell me, has attacking teachers, demanding standardized testing and teaching to the test helped any of those poor hungry and stressed kids to learn?  Has agreeing with the GOP that public schools are horrible helped poor kids?

          So if the kids and parents aren't responsible for doing homework to get the kids out of poverty, who is?  The teachers?  It's the underpaid teacher's job to go home with all her students and stand over them and make sure they do homework?

          And if the poor kids are hungry and stressed, there's even less rationale for standardized testing, that common core bullshit and teaching to the test so that public schools can be attacked even more.

          If a kid can't or won't do his homework, there's little else that a school can do to help that kid succeed.  It's not an education problem or a school problem.  It's a poverty problem and "throwing money at the school" doesn't fix that.

          •  Some problems can be addressed with resources. (0+ / 0-)

            Small class size can help a LOT with students who have learning disabilities or are disruptive or are bullied or whatever. If you have enough people who can teach special education and get the disruptive kids out of a classroom where the rest of the kids can get by, it makes everyone's experience more productive.

            Having access to a nurse or a counselor or a librarian can help fill in some of the gaps that a student might have. Counseling would help a lot! Speech therapy can help some kids. Special education instructors can help some kids.

            Actually having art and music and actual physical education can help a lot. Kids need to blow off steam and make noise and create stuff.

            Kids would benefit from project-based work. This is more easily achievable in a situation with low student:teacher ratios.

            So resources ARE a help.

            And homework? There is a lot of research out there that homework isn't really important to students' overall learning. That isn't to say that what goes on in the home isn't important, because we know it is. But actually doing homework isn't what makes or breaks learning.

            I'm not saying these things fix poverty because they don't. But they can help break the cycle of poverty.

            •  Standardized testing addresses any of that how? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              How does agreeing that public schools all suck get schools more resources?
              How does punishing schools for poor standardized test scores get that school more special education teachers?  How does spending time and money on testing - demanding that schools improve or else - get more funding for art and music?

              I never said that schools don't need more resources and don't benefit from them.  But you don't improve schools and improve learning by blaming schools and teachers and sending the resources to private schools.  There was no reason to EVER blame schools for a lack of resources when that was beyond their control.  Blaming schools is the GOP playbook.

              But if you're going to be one of those types that thinks homework doesn't do anything, you're wrong.  Can't learn calculus or physics by inspection.  Can't just sit in lecture, read some crap on Google and say "Okay, got it, let's move on".  No!  We learn by doing.  Listening to a lecture on integrals and actually doing integration problems are NOT the same thing.

              Now that may not hold true for every subject.  I learned anthropology just fine by listening to lectures and reading the text book.  But calculus?  There is no way in hell I would have ever passed the AP calculus test if I hadn't spent time every night doing homework.

              I will not be a part of this anti-homework movement that is only going to cause kids to fall even further behind.

  •  you know the answer to your question. (27+ / 0-)

    It is because MPS is (increasingly) filled with poor students, mostly poor students of color.

    And under Scott Walker, even "better" suburban school districts are feeling the pinch. He's taken away public school funding and has PROHIBITED municipalities from raising taxes, even if the voters want it, to make up the difference.

    The people in power in Wisconsin want to KILL PUBLIC EDUCATION. They want to funnel all that money into the pockets of education "entrepreneurs." They don't give a rat's ass what kind of education those kids get because their kids go to private school, or finished up school before the cuts took place (I'm looking at YOU Mr. Walker - your kids went to my kids' public schools, but they've since graduated and are not subject to the quality diminishment that your cuts precipitously engendered).

    Public schools are where the kids who are failed by their charter school or their voucher school go to languish. I know many MPS teachers and they all tell the same story. Throughout the year they get kids who have been expelled from their voucher schools because those kids don't "fit the culture" of the voucher school or whose charter school has packed up in the night and closed, taking all the state taxpayer money with them.

    All those kids who learned nothing in their voucher/charter school and who have huge emotional, economic and educational needs are put in an already overcrowded, underfunded school and the money that the voucher/charter school took stays in private hands. The money doesn't follow that student. There is only so much that a public school system can do when its student body is increasingly a concentration of poor students with huge deficits that impact their ability to be successful in the current test-heavy public school environment.

    Can you tell I'm angry? It doesn't matter how many studies prove that voucher and charter schools fail students, even if those studies come from conservative think-tanks. That is because the decisions are made for ideological reasons. Facts have no place in them.

    •  Let's get rid of the test-heavy environment (7+ / 0-)

      It was much easier for public schools to just teach students and let students learn before Dems accepted that public schools were horrible failures and demanded all this standardized testing.  Now schools have to teach to the test, because if any students don't do good on the tests, the entire school is blamed.

      We need to repeal No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, standardized testing, teaching to the test, blaming schools for shit that isn't their fault, and all the time and money wasted on that bullshit.

      Yes, the ideology is that public schools are bad, and all the standardized test scores in the world won't change that.  So why do we play the GOP's games?

    •  The whole Lafer report... (9+ / 0-)

      is full of those damning facts that nobody will listen to because facts aren't what's it's about:

      Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      There was a whole lot that he couldn't put into the op-ed.  For example, check out this paragraph from the report, re how charter schools have been choosing against students with disabilities (emphasis mine):

      "Within Milwaukee public schools, 21 percent of students are in need of some type of special education; by comparison, only 9.6 percent of students in Milwaukee charter schools have special needs, and in the Rocketship network of schools the figure drops to 5.5 percent (State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction 2014a; Rocketship Education 2014a). But in addition to these differences in overall populations of special education students, the public school system has greater concentrations of students with the most serious, most expensive, and hardest-to-serve disabilities. For instance, the share of all special education students who struggle with autism is one-and-one-half times higher in public schools than in Milwaukee charters, as is the share with emotional and behavioral disabilities; the share of special education students who are cognitively disabled is five times as great in public schools as in privately run charters (State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction 2014a)."
      Rocketship is clearly among the most egregious offenders when it comes to choosing against students like my daughter.  I wonder what the Rocketship-specific numbers would be when it comes to cognitively-disabled students?

      Of course, when it comes to the voucher schools, we don't have reliable disability-numbers at all, because we don't require them to report.  And DPI has wrung its hands and said so sorry, we have no power here, even when the Feds pretty much ORDERED them to to collect disability information from the voucher schools.

      I'm angry too, badscience.  I'm angry too.  More of us should be angry!

      (Will you be at the Fulfilling the Promise event next Saturday?  My girls and I will be marching with a group of green-t-shirted activists...)

      If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. - Bishop Desmond Tutu

      by AnnieJo on Mon May 12, 2014 at 07:55:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  But what I can't figure out for the life of me is (4+ / 0-)

      how the people of WI have not figured this out.  I mean put Act 10 aside; this public funding for private profit has got to be a thorn in any taxpayers side, teabaggers included.

  •  And I'll add to that comment above (22+ / 0-)

    to say that having a school system with a bad reputation makes it easier to demonize Milwaukee as a failed city.

    That is also the aim of the people running our state. Milwaukee is literally the whipping boy of right wing radio and conservative politicians. You heard Paul Ryan say what everyone else says in this state quite openly. This is how elections are won. Milwaukee is code for black and lawless. What has been done deliberately to its schools adds to the impression that we're another Detroit.

  •  Tipped, recced and republished to (8+ / 0-)

    I started with nothing and still have most of it left. - Seasick Steve

    by ruleoflaw on Mon May 12, 2014 at 05:47:35 AM PDT

  •  You hit the nail on the head, badscience (16+ / 0-)

    That analysis is 100% correct.  We need to shout this from the rooftops and start to aggressively educate every voter regarding walkers educational policies.  The GOP is actively--and effectively--destroying the public schools in Wisconsin, and it appears that nothing will stop them.  As a teacher who retired after Act 10, this is breaking my heart.

    Wisconsin: It's war, you know. We didn't start it, but we'll keep fighting in it until we win

    by isewquilts2 on Mon May 12, 2014 at 05:52:32 AM PDT

    •  Schools were fine till "excellence" was demanded (4+ / 0-)

      Schools were just fine in the 80's.  There was nothing wrong, nothing.  All the whining about schools, all the whining about teachers and quality and class size were all GOP tricks to attack the public school system.  They were all tricks to get people to agree that the schools were bad when they weren't and that teachers were the problem when they weren't.

      And Dems, so eager to defend public schools started tripping over themselves to also attack schools and teachers, with a slightly different tact.

      GOP said schools are horrible, shut them down.
      Dems said schools are horrible, give us tons of money to throw at them and "fix them".

      Once Dems accepted the premise that public schools were horrible and needed to be fixed, the GOP won the war.  It's now just been a matter of the GOP directing all that extra funding to the private schools, to make more CEO's rich and divert even more tax dollars to the 1%.

      There never would have been charter schools and vouchers in Milwaukee if Dems had just stood strong and refused to accept the lie that public schools needed to be "fixed".

  •  Arizona continues to "throw money" at schools. (8+ / 0-)

    Now it's "empowerment scholarships," which gives tax money, meant for public schools, to students to use for tuition in private schools. The amount is greater than the support given to public school students.  Our Supt  of Public Schools, says that the public is everyone, no matter where they attend school. Can't have crazy without R-AZ.

    It is ridiculous to pretend that firing teachers based on student test scores, starting charter schools, giving out vouchers or implementing merit pay will overcome the challenges facing a child living in poverty. -Jersey Jazzman

    by Desert Rose on Mon May 12, 2014 at 06:17:24 AM PDT

    •  So much for the claim that (8+ / 0-)

           the private sector can do it cheaper.

      The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

      by Azazello on Mon May 12, 2014 at 07:47:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The private sector is FOR PROFIT (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OhioNatureMom, Azazello, qofdisks

        by default, they have to take in more money than they pay out in salaries, materials, and facilities. So, of course, the music program goes first (all those instruments and band uniforms are expensive), the arts second (canvas, paints, etc get used up and have to be replaced every school year), and special needs programs third. Public schools have to take everyone, but all they have to do is meet budget. So, institute high-visibility testing to take the place of the profit motive, and every school is stressed, just the way the Right-Wing wants them to be.

        Now, private schools can be a blessing for kids who need that kind of structured environment, but, I had an exceptionally-good educational experience at the public schools I attended back in the '60's and '70's, in Florida, nonetheless. How good? Without AP classes, just taking regular honors classes, I did well enough on the AP tests in Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, and English to earn AP credits for most of my freshman year at Virginia Tech. We should take care that public schools are well-provided for (money spent correctly in them, not simply thrown at them), and they will take care of the students. But, that's not what the Right-Wing wants, especially as "those people's children" may be getting real educations.

        Radarlady, one of "those people" who got up and out with a good education...

  •  I'll be flatly honest... (8+ / 0-)

    ...about why school vouchers were enacted in the first place...they're supported by white conservative parents who can't stand the idea of sending their children to public schools where they might attend class with ethnic minorities, so they want the taxpayers to pay for their bigotry.

    Also, "failed schools" is racist code for "school districts with significant Black and/or Hispanic population".

    •  Not true in the case of Milwaukee (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dragonlady, AnnieJo, spacecadet1, WisJohn

      In Milwaukee, black state legislators (Polly Williams was the driving force) pushed for school vouchers and charter schools with the support of conservative Republican power brokers (including Tommy Thompson). By the time that movement got going, Milwaukee schools were already 80%-90% non-white (black and a large Hispanic component on the South Side of town) and whites with children had either fled to the suburbs or enrolled their kids in parochial schools. And the voucher program was known to be an educational  failure and somewhat corrupt within a few years of it's inception - probably something like 20 years ago.

      Much of that was consequence of mandated school busing and a breakdown in classroom control and safety (created by students of all races) that attended it. Whites revolted against busing by moving, blacks (leadership, at least) through vouchers and charters.

      No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up - Lily Tomlin

      by badger on Mon May 12, 2014 at 09:27:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good diary, but this is really pushing fair use nt (0+ / 0-)
  •  Not failed. Not an experiment. (10+ / 0-)

    Privatization hasn't failed.  Not for the corporations and their proponents.  And it's not an experiment.  It's a campaign that's been going on for decades, and won't end until public education is no more - or until the corporate oligarchy is defeated.

    (Of course, privatization is clearly a failure for the students, and for society as a whole).

    I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

    by tle on Mon May 12, 2014 at 09:11:49 AM PDT

  •  Depends on what you mean by "Failed" (7+ / 0-)

    The judgement depends on what your goal is. From a report on Lafer's report in Madison's Isthmus by Ruth Conniff:

    While Rocketship is a nonprofit, its business model enriches its directors through a deal with a licensed software company called DreamBox, supplied by for-profit vendors, who happen to also sit on Rocketship's board.

    "The more Rocketship expands, the greater DreamBox's profits," Lafer writes.

    In his report, Lafer outlines how the corporate lobbyists and their allies pushing school privatization are manufacturing failure for poor communities in a broad, coordinated way


    "The idea that what chamber of commerce lobbyists lie awake at night thinking about is what will help poor kids.... I mean, we're adults, right?" Lafer commented when I interviewed him by phone.

  •  Same thing going on in Florida (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    spacecadet1, logancircle

    Charter schools being built in low-income neighborhoods. These parents feel powerless and intimidated by the 'system'; they are less likely to protest what is going on in their schools.  

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