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Journalist Rips Present Voucher Accountability
Borsuk opens up at Fourth Street Forum.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Alan Borsuk always tried to give the impression of objectivity. Strong supporters of public education often found his articles bending over backwards to say good things about the school voucher program. Every once in a while, Borsuk would go after the fly-by-night voucher operators. Recently, however, Alan Borsuk took the gloves off at a panel discussion on choice and charter schools hosted by the “Fourth Street Forum.”(Program #1110, March 29, 2013)

“I have run out of patience…” said Borsuk commenting on the voucher program. "We need to eliminate the bad schools in the voucher program, and that is not happening"

The state requires voucher schools first get certification from a sanctioning agency, but Borsuk pointed out that, once they have received that certification, they are not required to keep it. Many of these voucher schools are substandard.

Even if we require that schools maintain certification, that does not mean schools will maintain quality. Having certified staff, core curriculum and proper record-keeping practices does not mean children are learning. The state should also look at student achievement, says Borsuk. “Accreditation is not the same as accountability.”

Originally, voucher proponents thought that the free market would weed out poor schools. Borsuk outlined the free market educational philosophy advocated by economist Milton Friedman. Parents would naturally choose quality schools and substandard schools would go out of existence. But that hasn’t happened. “The thing we have proved in Milwaukee,” says Borsuk, “is that parental choice is popular, parental choice is here to stay, parental choice is not enough to drive quality across the board.” Concludes Borsuk, vouchers are not the “panacea” many thought it would be.

Some parents seem to go out of their way to choose poor quality schools, says Borsuk, choosing schools base upon a slick brochure they picked up at the food store, pressure from their minister to attend the church school, or a cousin who works at one of the voucher schools.

Borsuk often goes into these private schools and asks: “How do you go about teaching kids to read?”

Too often they answer, “We don’t really have a program. We let the teachers work it out themselves.” For Borsuk, that means reading skills are likely to be poorly developed.

Sure, there are poor quality schools in every system, and, while Milwaukee Public Schools has its shining star schools, we have far too many schools that are substandard. But Borsuk sees that the bad schools in the voucher program are “especially bad,” much worse than anything in MPS.

While MPS is slowly improving student achievement, the latest Public Policy Forum study shows that Milwaukee Public School students are achieving at a higher rate than voucher students in nearly every category.

Every year, we have children that show up at our public school doors wishing to transfer into our schools from these private, voucher schools. Too often, the students show up without transcripts because the voucher schools really didn’t keep any records.

For every St. Marcus Lutheran School that is highlighted as a quality school within the voucher programs, there are two or three voucher schools that are truly awful and should be shut down. Now the state legislature is considering extending this system statewide without requiring any additional accountability measures. We can’t afford to let these children down again.

Homepage photo from Shutterstock by Lissandra Melo.

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