One of the disturbing aspects of the current political discussions in Wisconsin is the blatant disregard for both factual data and a level playing field for all recipients of public money. Not only are some data applied to some schools but not others, but special rules are being carved out for those schools which fit an ideological goal in direct contrast to the rules being mandated for everyone else.
I was at a meeting of superintendents and state legislators recently when the topic turned to the proposal to expand the school voucher program to nine additional school districts—including nearby Fond du Lac. That’s when a legislator who is a critic of public schools and an advocate of voucher schools said, “Parents need choices to failing public schools. Voucher schools provide an option that is better than public schools. I know because I’ve been in some voucher schools, and those test results (referring to the state standardized WKCE test scores which show voucher schools were no better than public schools) don’t matter because you can’t measure quality on a single test.”
When it was pointed out that public schools are being measured (and criticized) by the results of this same single test, he brushed that aside as irrelevant. When it was pointed out that the nine districts targeted for voucher expansion were selected based on the results of the single standardized test, he said that wasn’t the point. In other words, don’t confuse him with the facts. He knows what he wants, and if the facts don’t support his viewpoint, then he will simply ignore them while making such outrageous statements at the same time. In sum, he ignores poor test results for voucher schools but uses poor test results for public schools as the reason to bring in voucher schools (which then get no better results).
Then the discussion turned to the requirements of voucher schools versus public schools. Both are supported by state tax dollars flowing out of the public treasury, but only the public schools have to follow the state statutes regarding education. There are pages and pages and pages of laws in small print which public schools are required to follow…but the voucher schools are free to ignore these same laws even though they are funded with public money. When it was pointed out that voucher schools have the ability to do some things that public schools can’t because of these laws, and that public schools could also do better if given the same flexibility, the legislator nodded his approval of the status quo and reminded us that public schools have to follow the laws for public schools.
So here’s the game. State legislators have been micromanaging our public schools by loading up the statute books with countless laws instead of letting locally elected school boards do their jobs. Then, the same legislators complain that the public schools which are following the legislators' micromanaging laws aren’t performing well enough—without acknowledging that some of the mandates actually waste time and money which makes them obstacles to good performance. The solution of these ideological legislators is to send public money to voucher schools but not require the voucher schools to follow any of the micromanaging mandates. As crazy as it sounds, these legislators then compare the performance of the voucher schools to the public schools—and continue to complain about the public schools even though the public schools are doing exactly what the legislators demanded they do.
In other words, it’s not a level playing field. And these legislators know it and want to keep it that way. The public schools want the same flexibility that the voucher schools receive, but these legislators won’t allow it. Why not? Because the public schools are doing as well as the voucher schools even though the public schools are playing with one hand tied behind their backs by following the state laws which the voucher schools don’t have to follow. Imagine how much better the public schools could do if they had the same flexibility to ignore the micromanaging state laws that the voucher schools have. (It really makes you wonder why the voucher schools don't do better if they get the money and the flexibility.)
These voucher advocate legislators are afraid of a level playing field for one obvious reason--because the public schools would significantly outperform the voucher schools if the rules were the same for everyone.
The only way the voucher advocates can win their debate is to tell folks to ignore the test scores as not being a good measure of quality and to let the voucher schools play by their own set of rules while forcing the public schools to abide by rules laden with inefficiencies and ineffective requirements.
If this happened on the playground at recess, we’d say that one team was obviously cheating. Perhaps we'd look into bullying since there is a power imbalance being used for personal gain. And we'd definitely be concerned about unethical behavior in which one side is victimizing the other side. Like I said, we wouldn't tolerate this type of behavior on our playground--but we have to accept if from some of our state legislature.
Isn’t it sad when some of our state legislators can’t measure up to the standards we teach our third graders?