“The fact that what’s considered the gold standard for poor students in Milwaukee is considered unacceptable for kids in the suburbs is just wrong.” – Gordon Lafer
A new report by Gordon Lafer, a political economist and University of Oregon professor reveals harsh inequalities at schools in Milwaukee. Ruth Conniff wrote about Lafer’s report for The Progressive on April 24th. Excerpts follow:
Lafer’s report, “Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids? Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” released today by the Economic Policy Institute, documents the effects of both for-profit and non-profit charter schools that are taking over struggling public schools in Milwaukee.
“I hope people connect the dots,” Lafer said by phone from the Milwaukee airport.
Lafer’s research, commissioned by the Economic Policy Institute to evaluate the school-privatization push in Milwaukee, is a sweeping indictment of the growing private charter school industry — and other schemes backed by rightwing groups and big business — that siphon public funds out of public schools and enrich corporate investors at the expense of quality education for poor children.
A popular chain of charter schools called Rocketship, which originated in California and has spread to Wisconsin, with the enthusiastic support of state legislators and the local chamber of commerce in Milwaukee, is “a low-budget operation that relies on young and inexperienced teachers rather than more veteran and expensive faculty, that reduces curriculum to a near-exclusive focus on reading and math, and that replaces teachers with online learning and digital applications for a significant portion of the day,” Lafer writes.
Rocketship is a pioneer of the “blended learning” model of schools that rely heavily on computers to cut staff costs. The fastest growing, and most profitable, sector of the charter school industry is online or virtual schools, with the “blended learning” model, which combines online learning with a reduced and low-paid staff, a close second.
With no gym, art class, librarians, or significant science or social studies, Rocketship provides a stripped-down program of study with a heavy focus on standardized tests.
“The education model of the Rocketship chain of schools, a company central to the education reform push in Milwaukee, is particularly ill suited to providing the city’s children with a high-quality education,” Lafer found.
Because of its extraordinarily high teacher turnover (the chain relies heavily on Teach for America volunteers), its large classes, and reductive curriculum, Rocketship subjects kids most in need of consistent, nurturing, adult attention to low-quality instruction and neglect.