Report Calls on Milwaukee to Embrace Union-Free Charters

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute together with the American Enterprise Institute has released a report that calls for more non-union public charter schools in Milwaukee along with a creation of a state recovery school district that could take over and turn around failing public schools.

According to Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the report is already being criticized as "partisan" by those who oppose its conclusion, and Tony Tagliavia, the spokesperson of Milwaukee Public Schools, has said that it strongly reflects the ideological views of both groups responsible.

Tagliavia noted that the report's conclusions reflected the fact that both groups – one working on the national and one working on the local level – embrace conservative education ideas like school vouchers. Richards reports that the groups' pedigree means that findings of the report are unlikely to be accepted by opponents of school reform, namely teachers unions and other supporters of the traditional public school model.

Although WPRI President George Lightbourn said that the timing of the release isn't significant, Wisconsin is on the brink of adopting major changes to its public school system over the next two years.

Lightbourn said nothing in the report says school voucher programs or charter schools should be expanded. But the report calls for MPS to bring more charter-school networks under its umbrella. And the Recovery School District in Louisiana has become well-known for bringing charter-school networks to New Orleans to revive the city's long-struggling schools after Hurricane Katrina. Lightbourn said the report is not meant to be anti-union. The problem, he said, is that the current environment — the status quo of stagnant student achievement and uninspiring overall outcomes for kids — is not working.

Suggestions made in the report include ending an 8% enrollment cap on non-union charters in Milwaukee once the current contract with the teachers union, which mandates the cap, expires at the end of this month.

The report also calls on the Legislature to toughen funding rules for online education providers by only fully committing to funding virtual schools after they prove that students have completed their courses successfully.

• Supporters of creating a recovery school district for the state should explore the idea at the city and state level and visit other states that have implemented such districts.
• City and state officials should create a shared data pool among MPS traditional schools, voucher schools and charter schools — both in MPS and ones that operate outside the purview of the district — to help inform ways to improve student achievement and professional development.
•The DPI should develop a state-run system for teacher examination, selection and evaluation before candidates even begin the teacher-training program, to make the field more selective, something that has paid dividends for countries such as Finland and Singapore.
• MPS, charter and voucher schools should consider salary bonuses based on performance to attract and retain teachers.

The report also calls for lifting maximum class size restrictions on schools around the city to relieve some of the budgetary pressure on Milwaukee Public Schools.

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