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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Showing posts with label Mikel Holt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mikel Holt. Show all posts

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Your Choice of Choice Opinions

In addition to McIlheran's claptrap, there is plenty of other ink in this morning's paper given over to opinion pieces on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. By far the most ink (well over 2000 words!) goes to the pro-voucher Mikel Holt, whom many of you may remember as a key part of the team that, using WTMJ radio production facilities and employees, produced the ad explicitly comparing Governor Jim Doyle to segregationist southern governors Orville Faubus and George Wallace. Holt doesn't bother to check his hyperbole in this column, either:
School choice--in its most basal form--is a civil rights issue. [. . .] Some suggest the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is a sledgehammer used to tear down the walls of educational apartheid. [. . .]

Those who naively believed that at some point opponents of choice--the teachers union, the Democratic Party and missionary organizations--would put aside their biases and illogical opposition and join us on this freedom train were living a pipe dream. [. . .] I have no illusions about my ability in a commentary to persuade opponents to alter their course, to climb aboard our freedom train.
Again, Holt is implicitly--if not explicitly--linking those who believe in supporting the public schools before supporting private and religious schools to those who support segregation and apartheid; he is calling those of us who demand genuine accountability and more than minimal standards for the MPCP racist--there's just no way around it. As someone who has dedicated his professional life to urban education, to helping the same children that Holt claims to want to help, this is deeply offensive. I realize that Holt is not trying to win my friendship and influence me; rather, he is stirring up the African American community to vote against Jim Doyle this November. Because, you know, those Republicans have such a long history of supporting Milwaukee's black community . . .

But Holt doesn't stop at the name-calling:
Because we have reached the statutory cap on enrollment in the program, the state Department of Public Instruction has engineered a rationing program that will be implemented this fall. It will essentially put a limit on the number of seats participating schools can provide.

That process, DPI officials admit, will mean a minimum of 4,000 students will be thrown out of the schools of their choice next fall. That means schools like Messmer Catholic Schools (which has 400 families on a waiting list), St. Joan Antida and St. Marcus Lutheran, each of which have excellent records of achievement, will be forced to dismiss half their students.

But the losses and personal disruption to human lives doesn't end there. It is estimated that 20 to 30 schools would close as a direct result of the rationing plan, meaning that hundreds of teachers, cooks, janitors, bus drivers, security guards, secretaries and cleaning personnel will lose their jobs.
Here Holt is misplacing the blame, directing his anger at the wrong people. He needs to get on the phone to the GeorgeandSusanMitchells of the world, the Howard Fullers of the world, as ask them why--as voucher supporters--they opposed DPI's initial plans that would have protected all of the schools Holt names and the students attending them. Holt needs to call his allies in the state legislature, the John Gards and Alberta Darlings, and ask why they allowed the lobbying against DPI's initial plans to pursuade them to reject them. It is voucher supporters--most emphatically not the DPI--that deserves the blame should Messmer or Harambee or Urban Day School or any of the other schools whose quality is readily apparent be closed. Period. End of sentence.

Holt decries the additional spending that would come with accepting the governor's compromise plan for raising the cap--money for SAGE programs statewide, and money to offset the losses incurred by Milwaukee taxpayers because of the program. But Holt neglects to tell his audience, those African Americans he's hoping to persuade to vote out Doyle in the fall, that lifting the cap comes with its own price to them as property taxpayers. As we learned this week, Milwaukee taxpayers pay $1000 more per voucher student than we do per MPS student. And in exchange for that $1000 extra investment in students the public schools don't teach, we get no information on how the private schools gladly taking our money are performing. That's a raw deal, in my view.

It is these matters of taxes and of accountability that get the editorial board's ink this morning. They agree with Mayor Tom Barrett's assertion that the state must chip in to make up some of the loss to Milwaukee taxpayers for any increase in the voucher plan. But then in a piece entitled "A study to fill in the blanks on vouchers," the board lauds the Georgetown study I wrote about this week that, in my view, would only fill in one blank, and that one, partially. The board acknowledges that any voucher school that wants to will be able to opt out, and they also acknowledge that the inclusion of Jay Greene on the research team was likely a mistake. But they err in way major way--saying that through this study, "anecdotes may give way to hard facts." This is simply not true.

The one blank that the Georgetown study may fill in is how well the MPCP is doing as a whole compared to MPS. And I say may, because even though statistical sampling will help to create comparable groups of students in both halves of the study, there is no way to correct for the voluntary exclusion of voucher schools. If I were Deb Lindsey, head of research for MPS, I would "exclude" all of the worst schools in MPS when picking students for the MPS sample, just to prove the point. And even so, even if magically no voucher schools opt out and we get a full answer for that one blank, the study still does not provide for parents what may be the most important answer: How well is their school of choice doing? By sampling, instead of requiring full participation of all schools and voucher students, the study will only be able to provide the big picture, rather than the detailed images available for every single MPS school.

The last two opinion pieces on choice in the paper this morning come from Barbara Miner and the Milwaukee Legislative Caucus. Both take the more reasoned side of things. Miner:
The consternation over the voucher enrollment cap is a manufactured crisis.

The true crisis facing the voucher program is the lack of accountability that has allowed crooks, con artists and the well-meaning but educationally incapable to bilk taxpayers out of millions of dollars and to shortchange the educational hopes of hundreds of children.
The Caucus:
Anyone who knows the governor and his family knows that his first priority is education. He wants the doors of education to be open to all, and he wants to ensure that the education our kids receive is the finest in America. [. . .]

As he first did two years ago, Doyle has again proposed a plan to lift the cap on the number of low-income students able to participate in the voucher program and eliminate prior-year enrollment requirements that limit eligibility.

The governor has clearly and repeatedly stated that he supports lifting the cap as part of a reform package that strengthens the program and expands educational opportunities for all Milwaukee students--whether they attend public or voucher schools.
Both pieces--very short, especially compared to Holt's, which is longer than these two combined--are worth the full read.

As an addendum, there is this story, which didn't make the on-line edition of today's paper (though it may be in the paper version):
A large-scale government-financed study has concluded that when it comes to math, students in regular public schools do as well as or significantly better than comparable students in private schools.

The study, by Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, compared fourth- and eighth-grade math scores of more than 340,000 students in 13,000 regular public, charter and private schools on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The 2003 test was given to 10 times more students than any previous test, giving researchers a trove of new data.

Though private school students have long scored higher on the national assessment, commonly referred to as "the nation's report card," the new study used advanced statistical techniques to adjust for the effects of income, school and home circumstances. The researchers said they compared math scores, not reading ones, because math was considered a clearer measure of a school's overall effectiveness.
This study was very, very limited, and did not consider Milwaukee in particular. But I'm throwing it out there as food for thought. Kevin Drum has more.