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News from EPI Corporate Takeover of Milwaukee Schools Would Do Nothing to Help Students

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Wisconsin policymakers and advocates are debating proposals to close low-performing public schools, largely in Milwaukee, and replace them with privately run charter schools. In a new report, Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Economic Policy Institute research associate Gordon Lafer argues that these proposals will enrich private charter schools’ corporate backers while doing little or nothing to help Milwaukee students.

Lafer argues that, because national research shows that charter schools don’t perform better than public schools, there is no reason to replace traditional public schools in Milwaukee with private charters. These proposals will simply divert money from Milwaukee students to corporations and their investors. Especially troubling is the Rocketship chain of schools—promoted by Milwaukee’s business community—which uses a particular blended learning model that allows students to spend a quarter of the day on computers with no certified teacher to monitor their activities and, in the remaining classroom time, relies heavily on test preparation taught by inexperienced educators. This model is not shaped by what’s best for students, but in large part by what will generate profits for investors and fuel the company’s ambitious growth plans.

“To really improve education in Milwaukee, we need to broaden the curriculum to focus on creativity and critical thinking, not just test prep,” said Lafer. “Poor children are no less deserving of a quality education than rich children, and the schools that privileged suburban parents demand for their children should be the yardstick we use to measure the adequacy of education in the city.”

The most ambitious proposals for corporate-backed school reform are skewed against poor cities, while letting corporate-backed charter schools fail for years before facing any consequences. Such legislation would lead to the closing of a growing number of public schools and concentrate the city’s neediest students in a public system without the resources to serve them—possibly bankrupting the public school district.

For more from EPI, see 2007’s Vouchers and Public School Performance: A Case Study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, by Martin Carnoy, Amita Chudgar, and Frank Adamson.