Boiler Plate Response by Walker about Vouchers should tell you something, John Peterson, 4/10/12

posted Apr 11, 2012, 4:30 AM by Bill Duncan


The Walker administration’s response the WEAU story below kind of lets the cat out of the bag when it comes to school vouchers; they play on the parents fears that they don’t have control, which is just not true for public schools, and appeal to their insecurities. Try talking to a private administrator at some distant voucher school that would be unaffected by your dissatisfaction or complaints.
Governor Walker's press office released this statement saying, 

"Governor Walker supports empowering parents by providing them with additional options to choose from … This will ultimately improve education for all children by encouraging competition … if parents feel that their children will get a better education at a public school than at a choice school, they have the freedom to enroll their children in the public school system.”

Because research has already discounted the claim competition improves the quality, someone forgot to drop the old talking point. Emotional words like “empowering,” “feel,” “choice,” and “freedom” are focus group tested to engage parents without actual data.

It’s an encouraging sign to see a Superintendent who questions the voucher propaganda:
WEAU: Superintendent of Eleva-Strum schools Craig Semingson says he's not sure why there's been a nationwide shift towards voucher programs: 

“The voucher program I believe would hurt smaller public schools. He says he is philosophically opposed to the nature of voucher programs, and adds research doesn't back up supporting the program on academic grounds. “I believe it's a political agenda, because I don't know of any research out there that shows that the public school/private school voucher program increases student achievement.” Semingson says according to a Department of Public Instruction report, students in the voucher program did worse or at best the very same as their counterparts across the state. “Which makes me question what the motive is for continuing the voucher program or even wanting to expand the voucher program,” Semingson says.

Posted by John Peterson, Democurmudgeon at 4/10/2012 04:57:00 PM

Voucher school students scored below Unified peers on state standardized exam, The Journal Times, 3/29/12

posted Mar 29, 2012, 4:29 AM by Bill Duncan


RACINE COUNTY — Students who attended private schools on vouchers, instead of Racine Unified schools, on average performed more poorly than their district peers on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Tuesday released a comparison of private school choice students and public school students on the WKCE. The test was given to grades three through eight and 10 last fall.

For Racine Unified, 60 of the 62 private school choice students in those grades were tested, DPI stated. They averaged 50.8 percent proficient or advanced on the WKCE math tests, while Unified students averaged 61.5 percent.

Those private school choice students also scored well below the state average math proficiency of 78.0 and the statewide average for economically disadvantaged students, 64.7 percent, DPI said.

In reading, the private school choice students from Unified averaged 55.7 percent proficient or advanced, compared with the district average of 69.2 percent.

The statewide average was 81.9 percent proficiency in reading and 70.5 percent for economically disadvantaged students.

This is the first year of the voucher program for Racine Unified School District.

About the results, Unified Superintendent Ann Laing responded, “Basically, the scores speak for themselves.”

“And I think when schools take public money, they have to understand there’s some public accountability,” Laing continued. “I think we all have to be held accountable at the same level, with the same tests.”

Told of the results, school vouchers champion state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said, “I would say that is exactly why we started school choice in Racine. What these test results prove is that Unified failed them.”

Those students now have a better chance at a good education, he said.

Asked how long it might be before results show that kind of improvement over public school students, Vos replied, “I think it will be five to 10 years before we can consistently say a child who goes to a choice school has a better chance for success.”

State tax dollars fund both the Milwaukee and Racine voucher programs which allow students who meet income guidelines to attend private schools. Laing noted the family household income limit to be in the program is $67,000, which she said is considerably greater than the city of Racine family median income.

The DPI said Unified’s new private school voucher program is receiving $1.5 million in state tax dollars while Unified is receiving $16.4 million less in state and categorical aid this school year, a 10.3 percent reduction.

Read more

Test scores improve for Milwaukee voucher schools, AP, 3/27/12

posted Mar 28, 2012, 4:23 AM by Bill Duncan


MILWAUKEE (AP) — Students who received vouchers to attend private or religious schools in Milwaukee improved their performance in mathematics and reading last year but still lagged behind public school students, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction found that in the second year of testing last fall, about 40 percent of Milwaukee voucher students showed they were proficient or advanced in math, up nearly 6 percent from last year. Nearly 49 percent of local public school students and 78 percent of public school students statewide reached that mark.

On reading scores, about 56 percent of voucher students were advanced or proficient —an increase of about 1 percent from last year — compared with about 58 percent of Milwaukee public school students and nearly 82 percent of public school students in Wisconsin.

...........go to link for the rest

Federal Grand Jury Indicts Former Voucher School Head for Theft and Fraud, WUWM, 2/29/12

posted Mar 1, 2012, 4:44 AM by Bill Duncan


By Ann-Elise Henzl
February 29, 2012 | WUWM | Milwaukee, WI

United States Attorney James L. Santelle announced Wednesday that Gregory L. Goner has been indicted by a grand jury of theft and fraud counts.

Goner, who lives in Franklin, is 40 years old. He’s a pastor at Spirit Governed Baptist Church in Milwaukee, and he operated the Milwaukee choice school Excel Academy from 2004-2010.

According to Santelle, Excel operated in part with government funds, including more than $100,000 per year from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Goner has been indicted on five counts, alleging that he used Excel’s funds for purposes not related to the schools’ educational mission.

Among other things, Goner is accused of using the school’s funds to buy two apartment buildings and to pay a deacon at his church.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Education participated in the investigation.

If convicted, Goner is subject to a fine of up to $250,000 on each of the five counts. Four of the counts could result in up to 10 years imprisonment if convicted. The fifth could result in up to 20 years imprisonment.

The news release says the public is cautioned that the indictment is only an accusation, and that Goner is presumed innocent until or unless he is proven guilty.

Voucher students improve on reading, study finds, 2/26/12

posted Feb 27, 2012, 3:51 AM by Bill Duncan


Public, private school progress about same overall
By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel

Feb. 26, 2012 |(5) Comments

A sample of students in Milwaukee's private voucher schools made gains in reading in 2010-'11 that were significantly higher than those of a matched sample of peers in Milwaukee Public Schools, but math achievement remained the same last school year, according to the results of a multiyear study tracking students in both sectors.

The results of the study are being released Monday in Milwaukee as the final installment of an examination of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, or voucher program.

The longitudinal study - meaning it tracked the same set of students over the testing period - was conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project, a nonpartisan research center at the University of Arkansas. The group was selected by the state to conduct a long-term study of the voucher program and its impact on Milwaukee.

Rather than looking at scores of all students, the study matched a sample of 2,727 voucher students in third through ninth grades in 2006 with an equal number of similar MPS students. The study used a complex statistical methodology based on growth models.

The study matched the random sample of students and found their achievement growth on the state's annual standardized test to be about the same in math over the next four years, and about the same in reading for three of those four years.

The latest year of data shows the reading bump for the voucher students and represents the first time an achievement growth advantage has been observed for either the public school sample or the voucher school sample over the four-year period, according to the study. That finding casts the program in a slightly more favorable light than when the state released the fall 2010 results of the standardized test, known as Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination, for all students, which showed voucher students scored worse than or about the same as MPS students in math and reading on the point-in-time test.The study suggests exposure to voucher schools marginally increases the likelihood that students graduate from high school, especially on time, as well as enroll in college.

The latest study also researches special education and estimates that between 7.5% and 14.6% of voucher students have disabilities. That's lower than MPS' 19% but higher than the 1.6% disability rate the state had previously reported for the voucher schools, based on information from the private schools.

The findings this year prompted optimism among voucher school advocates who were given advance access to the report's findings. But Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, said the report had inconsistencies and lacked transparency. He also said he was "flabbergasted" the researchers hadn't given an advance copy of the report to the state Department of Public Instruction, which oversees the voucher program, so officials could respond to the findings.

"I think this is a very positive precursor to what's coming," said Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin, a group that advocates for school vouchers. He indicated that the study has provided a solid analysis, and that it's now time to research what's working well in individual schools that could be replicated.

The conclusion of the group's exhaustive study of the nation's oldest and largest urban school voucher program comes at a pivotal time. The program offers qualifying students the opportunity to use a taxpayer-funded subsidy worth up to $6,442 per year to attend one of a selection of private, mostly religious schools, but it looks much different this year than it did last year.

That's because the Republican-controlled Legislature raised income eligibility limits for participants, lifted the cap on enrollment, allowed private schools outside of Milwaukee to participate in the program and launched a new voucher program in Racine.

Wisconsin wasn't alone in changing the private school voucher landscape dramatically in the past year: seven new school voucher programs were enacted across the country in 2011 and 11 existing programs (including Wisconsin's) were expanded.

Milwaukee's program enrolls more than 23,000 students to attend one of 106 private schools on a voucher, and the new voucher program in Racine has enrolled 228 students in its inaugural year, according to a summary from the report.
No conclusive winner

Patrick J. Wolf, the study's lead author and a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, said there was no clear overall "winner" between the voucher program and MPS.

But he said that for low-income families in Milwaukee, the voucher program has had a positive effect on students on some measures and no difference on other measures from what students would have experienced in the public schools.

The study started with data from the 2006-'07 year from a sample of students in the voucher schools, and for a similar sample of students in MPS. They were required to take the state standardized achievement test so those results could be compared to the public school students' test results in reading and math.

The study did not reveal the names of the schools participating in the study, but by fall 2010, all the voucher schools were required by state law to administer the state's standardized achievement test.

The DPI released the scores of the voucher schools, broken down by school, in spring 2011, the same time they released the scores of the state's public-school students. That comparison of scores of all schools indicated that MPS students scored better than students in the voucher program in math and about the same in reading.

But within the smaller sample of low-income students in the study, voucher students pulled ahead of the public-school students in reading growth last year.

Peterson questioned one of the study's main conclusions, that enrolling in a private voucher high school increased the likelihood of a student graduating from high school and enrolling in a four-year college by four to seven percentage points. That's because the report also notes that about three out of four students enrolled in voucher schools in ninth grade were no longer enrolled in a voucher school by the time they reached 12th grade, and it says there's evidence that the students who leave voucher schools for public schools are among the lowest-performing private-school students.

Peterson said although the information was buried in the stack of reports, it shows that students who leave voucher schools are those who are the most difficult to educate, while those who remain started out as higher achievers.

"If we believe in educating all children, that shouldn't be a source of pride," he said. "Given such internal inconsistencies in the report, it's difficult to have confidence in the report's conclusions."

Find this article at:

Wis. Republicans and ALEC Push Vouchers on Disabled Kids, The Progressive, 2/20/12

posted Feb 22, 2012, 11:04 AM by Bill Duncan


A particularly noxious piece of “school reform” legislation, drafted by ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) and pushed by Republicans in statehouses around the country, would get unsophisticated parents to swap their kids’ federally protected right to a free, appropriate public education for school vouchers of highly dubious value to the kids.

How dubious? An expose in the Miami New Times tracked the fly-by-night academies housed in strip malls where special ed kids with vouchers wasted hours crammed into makeshift classrooms with bored, untrained, and sometimes abusive teachers.

....go to the Link

Editorial: Don’t abandon accountability of vouchers, The Journal Times, 2/20/12

posted Feb 22, 2012, 10:03 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 22, 2012, 10:04 AM ]

"Something happened to accountability for private schools receiving public money. It went away while education legislation was being drafted in Madison, and the result appears to be that private schools receiving school voucher money won’t have to meet the same standards applied to public schools. That is not right."

Read more: http://www.journaltimes.com/news/local/editorial-don-t-abandon-accountability-of-vouchers/article_9c45a026-5c4f-11e1-958c-001871e3ce6c.html#ixzz1n8QYPotk

Choice schools not outperforming MPS, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/29/11

posted Feb 22, 2012, 1:48 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated Feb 22, 2012, 9:58 AM ]


DNHPE Comment: This report shows the importance of accountability in school choice programs.  The Milwaukee, Wisconsin voucher program is 20 years old, much studied and held up as a model.  It was established using ALEC model legislation by ALEC proponent Governor Tommy Thompson.

Last year was the first year that schools receiving vouchers were required to participate in state-wide assessment tests and the results show the that voucher schools under-performed the troubled Milwaukee public school system.

This report demonstrates the risks of a school voucher program - the risk of not instituting an assessment program, the risk that the voucher program will not achieve its promise in educational improvement and the risk that access to easy government money will lead to exploitation such as that highlighted under "Low Performing Schools," below.

The two charts at the end tell the whole story.

(emphasis added) 

Choice schools not outperforming MPS
Latest tests show voucher scores about same or worse in math and reading
By Erin Richards and Amy Hetzner of the Journal Sentinel
March 29, 2011 |(302) COMMENTS

Students in Milwaukee's school choice program performed worse than or about the same as students in Milwaukee Public Schools in math and reading on the latest statewide test, according to results released Tuesday that provided the first apples-to-apples achievement comparison between public and individual voucher schools.

The scores released by the state Department of Public Instruction cast a shadow on the overall quality of the 21-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which was intended to improve results for poor city children in failing public schools by allowing them to attend higher-performing private schools with publicly funded vouchers. The scores also raise concerns about Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to roll back the mandate that voucher schools participate in the current state test.

Voucher-school advocates counter that legislation that required administration of the state test should have been applied only once the new version of the test that's in the works was rolled out. They also say that the latest test scores are an incomplete measure of voucher-school performance because they don't show the progress those schools are making with a difficult population of students over time.

Statewide, results from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam show that scores didn't vary much from last year. The percentage of students who scored proficient or better was higher in reading, science and social studies but lower in mathematics and language arts from the year before.

Officials with the DPI also pointed out that, overall, proficiency rates have steadily risen over the last six years for every racial group. That has meant a slight narrowing of the achievement gap, although white students in the state still outperform every other racial group, particularly black students.

The big news for those plugged into the education world, however, was the choice vs. public school results in Milwaukee. MPS results overall showed 59% of students scoring proficient or better in reading, while 47.8% of students scored proficient or better in math.

In the voucher program, 55.2% of students scored proficient or better in reading while 34.4% of students scored proficient or better in math.

The percentage of low-income students in MPS proficient or better in reading - 55.3% - was about the same as the voucher program, which currently serves only low-income students.

"These results reinforce the need to continue using the same test for all students," state Superintendent Tony Evers said in a news release.

Howard Fuller, former MPS superintendent and a voucher-school supporter, echoed the need to keep using the state exam.

The latest test was administered in fall 2010 to more than 430,000 public-school students in third through eighth grades and 10th grade, and about 10,600 voucher students in the same tested grades.

"I think it's unfortunate that the governor's budget (proposes going) back to the old system, because I was hoping that this year would be a baseline," Fuller said. "I don't think the WKCE or single tests will tell you everything you need to know about a school. But I do think it's important that we have a common measurement."

Fuller also said that the free-market ideas upon which the voucher program was founded - that academically superior schools will thrive because parents will choose them over lousy schools - has not been borne out over the past two decades, and is not evident in the results of the state test.

Low-performing schools

The results show some private schools with less than 20% of their voucher students scoring proficient or better in math or reading.

Some of them are institutions that probably would not exist if not for the support of public tax dollars. For example, at Ceria M. Travis Academy - a K-12 school with three campuses and 248 students who took the state test - 19% of the students scored proficient or better in reading, while 81% scored basic or below. In math overall, 6% of students tested proficient.

Dorothy Travis Moore, founder and CEO of the school and a former MPS administrator, said she deals with an at-risk population of students, some of whom haven't been to school in two years by the time they enroll in her school. She figures if she can save even a few of them, the service she provides is a benefit.

Some voucher schools showed impressive results with students. St. Marcus Lutheran School, with 89% of its students on vouchers, saw 86% of them score proficient or advanced in reading and 78% score proficient or advanced in math. Both of those percentages are above the state average.

Mike Ford, spokesman for School Choice Wisconsin, an organization that supports the voucher program, said that the latest test scores are a snapshot that confirms what everyone already knows: Choice school students enter these voucher schools below grade level.

Ford argues that the test scores, however low they may look for many voucher schools, do not show student achievement over time and should not be used to draw conclusions between schools.

"If you're a parent looking in Consumer Reports to find the achievement level at this school, then (looking at) these results makes sense," Ford said. "But if I'm a parent of a lower-achieving student and I want to find a school that's going to move my student up to grade level, then that's a whole different ball game."

From Madison, a spokesman for Walker said it was not likely the governor would reconsider his push to expand the choice program based on the results of the state test scores.

"Empowering parents by providing them with additional options will ultimately improve education for all children by encouraging competition," spokesman Cullen Werwie said in an e-mail. "Under Governor Walker's proposal if parents feel that their children will get a better education at an MPS school than at a choice school, they have the freedom to enroll their children in the public school system."

The WKCE scores show that an achievement gap is still evident in comparing state results to those for Milwaukee schools - both private schools in the choice program and MPS.

In 10th grade, the difference in proficiency levels between the state and MPS was 36 percentage points in reading and 40 in math for the 2010-'11 school year.

MPS officials, however, pointed to gains individual schools have made in reading proficiency, a result they believe is due in part to implementing the comprehensive literacy plan. According to MPS data, 24 schools had double-digit percentage-point increases in the percentage of students scoring proficient or better in reading.

"I think we've raised expectations for children and for staff and done a great job of monitoring the fidelity of the information," MPS Superintendent Greg Thornton said. "What we've been able to do is create an instructional design that has shaped where we need to go."

Thornton praised the efforts of teachers to streamline literacy instruction, and said that if efforts are continued, results could be significantly better in reading by this time next year.

Thornton said he was concerned about the math scores. Those took a slight dip this year, but Thornton said they could worsen next year if the governor's budget proposal - which cuts about $10 million worth of math teacher leader money in MPS - moves forward. That could hamper efforts the district is making to streamline math instruction in the way that it's focused reading instruction, he said.

Results of statewide exams show choice students scored lower overall in math than low-income MPS students.


Percent proficient or better in math


State low-income


MPS low-income


Choice (all low-income)

Source: Department of Public Instruction

Full results online See data for all state school districts at data.dpi.state.wi.us/data/

Look particularly at the state-wide comparisons at the bottom of the chart.

Wisconsin's application for an NCLB waiver, 2/18/12

posted Feb 19, 2012, 7:38 AM by Bill Duncan


Alan J. Borsuk | On Education

Round 2 of improving education coming amid less fanfare

Feb. 18, 2012 |(11) COMMENTS

So what will the quiet earthquake bring?

Last February, we were at the start of a tumultuous political earthquake that reshaped the educational landscape of Wisconsin.

Huge crowds at the Capitol in Madison day after day. Big national news. Things couldn't have taken a higher profile. Every school in the state will be feeling the effects of what happened for years to come.

Think of that as Round One: "Cutting Money and Union Influence."

This February, we are into a much lower profile set of events aimed at changing the education landscape in much different ways. Call this Round Two: "Taking on Quality."

This year's event has been an insider's game so far. If you're not into education policy, it's very unlikely you've tuned in.

It's hard to stir people up around the provisions of Wisconsin's request to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from the No Child Left Behind system.

But the waiver request, which is scheduled to be submitted by the middle of this week, calls for major steps. And there is likely to be significant action soon in the Legislature on subjects including reading education and training teachers. And maybe, just maybe, accountability for voucher schools.

But if the processes of change are pretty grinding and boring, the substance of what likely lies ahead is pretty eye-catching.

So let's briefly address the substance of a few of the issues:

Schools: States such as Florida have been using systems of giving every school a grade, A to F.

Gov. Scott Walker and others like that system, but a state task force favored - and the waiver request proposes - a system in which all schools will be rated on a scale of 1 to 100, based on such things as student scores and educational growth and progress in closing gaps between student groups.

Parents will know how their kid's school rates - with the idea that they will make decisions based on putting their children in high-rated schools. The schools themselves can be rewarded or forced to make major changes based on their ratings.

Consider this system likely to happen.

Principals and teachers: For the first time, if the waiver request is approved, there will be a statewide system for rating principals and teachers - and half of the rating will be based on student performance, including (but not limited to) test scores.

In other words, they will be rated in large part on whether their students are learning. A lot of this remains to be worked out.

Individual ratings will not be made public, but, without the union protections that died in last year's earthquake, the ratings could be used in decisions on pay, assignments, promotions or firings.

Consider this likely to happen.

Students: If the Legislature agrees, graduation requirements will be increased, particularly in math and science.

New state tests are scheduled to be in use by 2014-'15. Starting next year, the standard for being rated as proficient or advanced on state tests will rise sharply, which is all but certain to drive down the percentage of kids statewide who look good in state tests.

Private schools: Just about everyone, including Walker, has taken to talking about including all "publicly funded" students in the state accountability system.

Private schools that enroll students from Milwaukee and Racine under the state's voucher program have been exempt from many of the rules public schools have to follow.

The waiver request from the Department of Public Instruction would put those schools under a system much like the public schools.

Voucher advocates are fighting that, although they say they also want to do something about weak private schools. This could lapse back into heated politics just when it looked like agreements were close.

Or, if some people did what it appeared they said they were going to do, big change could be coming.

Reading: Despite some differences among players on the field - in part, echoes of the phonics vs. whole language wars - it appears the state is close to agreeing that all teachers who teach reading will have to first pass a test.

Also, all 5-year-old kindergartners statewide will be tested to spot those likely to have problems learning to read, with an unspecific requirement to intervene to help them.

College teacher-training programs: The Legislature is likely to agree to require all institutions that train teachers to submit information on their graduates, with the goal of creating a system in which the record of success in the classroom for graduates from each program would be reported publicly.

Milwaukee Public Schools: The main elephant in the policy room in Madison is MPS.

MPS faces a pretty ugly situation for next year when it comes to staffing levels in schools.

At what point do some schools (or the system) break down? At what point does the health of the state's largest and most troubled school district command new attention in Madison?

Overall, the current proposals are the most comprehensive effort to drive up the quality of teaching and student performance in Wisconsin in at least a decade.

Until a set of disputes broke out recently, they appeared to be picking up support across the spectrum. Keeping this a generally unified effort is a major issue. You can change funding systems and such by order from Madison.

But to change what goes on in classrooms in more than 1,000 schools across the state requires buy-in, commitment and understanding at all levels.

Which brings us back to the small crowd that has been involved in all this.

Starting at the top, will they show the leadership needed for concerted action focused on children's success?

I bet in 10 years people will remember last year's earthquake, for better or worse.

Round Two will only be remembered if it works.

Alan J. Borsuk is senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School. Reach him atalan.borsuk@marquette.edu.

Voucher program could expand if Legislature doesn't act, Wisconsin State Journal, 2/17/12

posted Feb 18, 2012, 3:29 AM by Bill Duncan


MATTHEW DeFOUR | Wisconsin State Journal | mdefour@madison.com | 608-252-6144 | Posted: Friday, February 17, 2012 5:18 pm

Time is running out for the Legislature to limit the expansion of Wisconsin's private school voucher program.

Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers have said they would change state law to prevent the program from expanding beyond Milwaukee and Racine, but on Thursday the Assembly passed up another opportunity to take up a bill to limit the program.

During the floor session, Democrats tried to bring the bill up for a vote, but Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald told them they were "jumping the gun" and that there was still time before the session ends in mid-March.

"We'll see what happens," he said.


--The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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