The latest version of a school accountability plan proposed to close poorly performing public schools and reopen them as privately-managed charter schools has been wiped off the table by the chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
As charter schools continue to pop up around the state and nation, the ideological debate over charter schools continues in Wisconsin. Proponents of charter schools believe granting schools more flexibility in return for greater accountability will improve results. Opponents believe the development of charter schools is a roundabout way of privatizing public education.
“Right now we don’t have the votes and that’s all right. Our goal is to continue to work on something,” Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said, after learning the bill would not be voted on, according to an article by Anchorage Daily News. “If we get something done, we get something done.”
Currently, Wisconsin is home to 238 charter schools, some of which are under the control of public school boards and others that are managed by private management organizations, Christina Brey, Wisconsin Education Association Council spokesperson, said.
Under the latest proposals for the school accountability proposal drafted by Olsen, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction would be required to label at least 5 percent of the state’s public schools as “failed schools,” according to Olsen’s bill. This means that of the 2,285 public schools in Wisconsin, at least 115 schools would either have been closed or turned into charter schools.
“We want high standards for schools,” Brey said. “But what we want to see are community-based approaches to improving low-performing schools.”
Brey said issues such as poverty, unemployment and language barriers contribute to under-performing schools and that these things need to be addressed on the local level.
Although many different versions of this bill have been presented in the past, Olsen’s most recent proposal called for a major change in the criteria by which a school’s performance was graded. According to the bill, any Wisconsin school that received public funding would be graded on an A to F scale based on the school’s state achievement tests, progress on closing the racial achievement gap and graduation and attendance rates, among other metrics.
“It was another very unfair so-called accountability measure,” Brey said. “There are better ways to turn around performance than simply selling out our public schools.”
Professor Julie Mead, chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin, said charter schools are a policy tool and can be used for good and bad purposes, like any other tool.
Mead added while she believes chartering schools can bring great improvements to a public school, she does not believe in “chartering for chartering’s sake.”
“There is nothing that says that simply converting a school to a charter school is going to make that school perform any better,” Mead said.