Progress is occurrin…
Progress is occurring in the Milwaukee Public School System.

Milwaukee schools are still struggling, but progress is obvious. Students have improved their performance on 13 out of 15 standardized tests. The annual dropout rate has fallen to 10% from 16% since the choice program started. Far from draining resources from public schools, spending has gone up in real terms by 27% since choice began as taxpayers and legislators encouraged by better results pony up more money.

How did they do this? School vouchers. Choice. Making the monopoly compete. The results have impressed even the MPS superintendent.

“No longer is MPS a monopoly,” says Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent William Andrekopoulos. “That competitive nature has raised the bar for educators in Milwaukee to provide a good product or they know that parents will walk.” The city’s public schools have made dramatic changes that educators elsewhere can only dream of. Public schools now share many buildings with their private counterparts, which helps alleviate the shortage of classrooms. Teachers, once assigned strictly by seniority, are now often hired by school selection committees. And 95% of district operating funds now go directly to schools, instead of being parceled out by a central office. That puts power in the hands of teachers who work directly with students.

Mr. Andrekopoulos loves it. The parents love it. The teacher’s unions…well, they’re predictable.

Far from questioning the public-school monopoly, teacher unions are digging in. They have an ally in Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat elected in 2002 with 45% of the vote (a Libertarian candidate got 10%). Running scared in this election year, he claims he wants to raise the cap on Milwaukee’s choice program. But he insists on including side issues in any deal with the Legislature. For instance, he demands choice students take standardized tests and have the results made public. But in 2003 he vetoed a bill that would have done just that because the teachers union wanted to block an objective study of choice.

Teacher unions have their own answer to the collapse of public education in the inner cities: ship truckloads of money to poorer districts in the name of “social justice.” But many Milwaukee parents aren’t buying that. They have painfully learned that more money spent on a failed system does not produce better education. They want to make their own decisions about their children’s future.

Instead of letting more kids take advantage of these better results, the cap on the number of eligible students is going to be interpreted in such a way that it may throw the program into disarray and close some of the schools. The unions would rather hold on to their power and influence rather than give the kids a shot at a better education. “Fix it, don’t kill it” is a common phrase heard by folks trying to preserve this monopoly, but the parents know that they don’t have that sort of time, and they know that the school system doesn’t have that sort of inclination. It’s only in competition that things will get better. It works amazingly well in our colleges and universities,which are among the best in the world. It would work for K-12, too, if it were to be given a chance.

(Cross-posted at Stones Cry Out and Blogger News Network. Comments welcome.)

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