Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Agreement on School Vouchers Expected Tomorrow

The Journal-Sentinel has the story. An official announcement is expected tomorrow.

What's speculated to be in the agreement:
  • Increase the enrollment cap to 22.5% (or 22,500 students)
  • Increase SAGE funding "substantially"
  • Impose accreditation rules on voucher schools
It appears the funding flaw that forces Milwaukee residents to pay $1000 more for a voucher student than they do for a MPS student won't be corrected until the next budget cycle.

There's no mention of classroom accountability in the JS article. I can see the point made by public school advocates that standardized testing should be required in voucher schools like it is in public schools. But, as I've said before, I think state-sponsored, mandatory standardized tests hurt the learning environment in the classroom--particularly when they're tied to school funding or teacher salaries. The "we need to do it so they should, too" argument just doesn't wash with me. I don't want to oversimplify the position of those who advocate for the inclusion of state-mandated standardized testing in the voucher schools, but that's what it can sound like sometimes.

What needs to happen now is the Republican arguments for keeping testing out of the voucher schools should be turned around and used to demand that state-sponsored, mandatory standardized testing is removed--or at least limited--in the public schools. Granted, I understand standardized testing in the public schools is a national issue since the mandates passed in the No Child Left Behind legislation, but I'm hoping we can now at least count on support from those conservatives who argued to keep testing out of voucher schools that the same should be done in the public schools. Is that being naive? (That's more a question for the conservatives out there than the liberals...I know how the liberals would likely respond.)


Blogger Jay Bullock said...

22,500 kids will be a cap of 25%--a 10% increase.

This is a bad deal if it does not include anything on funding or accountability. Milwaukee gets nothing (most of the SAGE benefit will be out-state) out of this deal--not our taxpayers, not our parents.

February 15, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Thanks for the comment, Jay.

I was getting my 22.5% number from the assumption that MPS had roughly 100,000 students. I figured Doyle and Gard just split the difference between 5% and 10% to come up with a 7.5% increase.

I was disappointed to see funding would not be addressed directly in the agreement. Doyle definitely caved on that point. He didn't even need to stick to his original plan to phase out most of the cost to Milwaukee taxpayers--he could've shifted over to Barrett's proposal, or better yet a version of Barrett's that included consideration for the 14,571 current voucher students, too. Instead, we're stuck hoping that it gets resolved during the always-heated budget process.

February 15, 2006  
Blogger Jay Bullock said...

Since the cap is based on a percentage of MPS students not counting those in the MPCP . . . so, ironically, as more kids join the MPCP, the practical cap decreases. Figuring 111k students (the ~96k in MPS and the ~15k in MPCP), ~22.5k in MPCP is 25% of the 88.5k left in MPS.

Accountability to me is the greater omission.

February 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Accountability isn't so much which test is given, or even whether a test is given, but whether a parent/taxpayer can determine the performance of the students. In Milwaukee standardized testing doesn't make much sense when we have public Montessori and Waldorf schools as well as all the private schools. A standardized test won't capture all that's going on in the school.

What should be required is for all taxpayer-supported schools to have some measure of student progress (tests, portfolios, peer evaluations, etc.) that can be reported to parents and the public at large. Public schools already fit the bill, by way of standardized testing. Voucher schools don't have to share any student performance data with anyone (other than PAVE or any other private funder they've got their hand out to). So they don't take the same tests as MPS, at least we'd be able to say SOMETHING about the quality of the individual school.

Standardized tests are great for researchers, but not the best tool for parents faced with over 300 very different schools to choose among.

February 16, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I see your point, anonymous, about the need for some measure for parents to assess the quality of a school.

My real concern with standardized testing is not that it's done or even that it's reported to parents and the public--it's that the success of that testing is tied to school funding and, in some cases, teacher salaries. That high-stakes scenario is the reality of standardized testing in our public schools, and that's where I have a problem.

In my view, standardized testing should be developed as locally as possible--and the state is not local enough. Within a region or even a school district--with input from the community--is most desirable because it would provide the flexibility necessary to account for the intellectual emphasis of different areas. And the results of these tests cannot be tied to funding or salaries because it will severely limit the academic freedom of the classroom.

And as far as I could tell, the standardized testing suggested for the voucher schools would be state-mandated and tied to funding, which is exactly the type of testing I oppose.

February 16, 2006  

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