There is an obvious logic to Farrow’s proposal. All three agencies are in the business of educating Wisconsin citizens and it makes sense to have them all working towards a common goal of an educated workforce that is an asset to Wisconsin’s economy. A streamlined education agency, if well run, certainly would be well positioned to run Wisconsin’s education system with a focus on the state’s economic future.
However, there are a few important questions to consider when evaluating this proposal. First, to what extent are the missions of the three agencies different? While all three agencies are responsible for educating Wisconsin citizens, ensuring students graduate from high school proficient in math and reading is far different than teaching a trade skill or providing a liberal arts education. No doubt all three agencies play a major role in the state’s economic health, but their core missions are different.
Second, who would lead the agency? DPI is headed by an elected state Superintendent. The University of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Technical College system are governed by separate appointed boards. Presumably, the governance structures of all three agencies would need to be combined, which would also presumably require a constitutional change given the State Superintendent is a constitutional office. Not an easy task.
Third, is it wise to put 36% of the state budget in the hands of one agency? Providing a free and appropriate education to its populace is the most important thing state government does, making the expenditure of substantial resources in this area understandable and necessary. However, budgeting such a large share of funds for one agency makes it even more important that the governance structure of the new agency is effective and representative. Also no easy task.
Two of the most consistent trends in higher education are the explosion in its cost and the increasingly corporate mentality that dominates university governance. Witness the recent incident at the University of Virginia where the Board of Trustees’ ousted a highly respected president only to reinstate her after public outrage, or the University of Missouri’s battle against the highly subsidized university press. The expansion of online education represents yet another development spurred on in part by the corporate mentality running most American universities. A fledgling company called Coursera, for instance, just announced that a dozen of the nation’s best universities agreed to join their venture, allowing video access to classrooms where lectures will stream around the world through variegated online platforms. Some of the most esteemed universities in this newfangled partnership include Duke University, California Institute of Technology, Rice University, Johns Hopkins, the University of Virginia, and Stanford University, inter alia. At this juncture, universities will offer the courses free of charge, albeit with an option for students to earn credit provided they pay extra fees and pass additional assignments.
We ought not to ignore the few upsides of online education. Expanding access and erasing prohibitive costs are both positive developments. The ability to spark an interest in learning and higher education with a peak inside some of America’s most dynamic classrooms provides students otherwise predisposed against higher education with an opportunity to rethink the possibilities. It also provides prospective students an important look inside a university classroom, allowing them to gauge the quality of instruction, greatly improving their college decision, instead of making the plunge blindly. Moreover, the flexibility of the online platform may suit some individuals better than the traditional classroom model, particularly those with busy schedules or those who desire employment in industries where certificates or associate degrees suffice. Yet, we cannot ignore the paradoxical fact that online education may also expand the possibility for students to learn even less, while the credentials they earn may also lose or lack the value promised.
No matter how sophisticated the online platform utilized, this development represents a radical shift in the traditional university paradigm. Traditional university education consists of a student-professor relationship in physical space. At its best, this relationship has a highly personal quality to it. Online education may sever this important relationship in deleterious ways. It often views knowledge as the type of thing that is merely “passed on,” without any active participation by either professor or student. Too often, however, material goes from the mouth of the professor, through the ears of both, but through the minds of neither.
While students and professors engage in discussion through online forums, the inevitable temporal gap between responses means it lacks the atmosphere of challenge and riposte or Socratic discussion of a physical classroom (failing to improve the student’s rhetorical and linguistic skills). Online education risks being a one-size-fits-all monologue from the professor, rather than a productive dialogue where students learn from professors and professors learn from students. It may disincentivize professors from learning from their students, which is especially important in emphasizing the collaborative nature of the learning process. “The Internet teacher, even one who responds to students via e-mail, can never have the immediacy of contact that the teacher on the scene can, with his sensitivity to unspoken moods and enthusiasms. This is particularly true of online courses for which the lectures are already filmed and in the can. It doesn’t matter who is sitting out there on the Internet watching; the course is what it is,” says UVA professor Mark Edmundson. In other words, online education may have an incredibly anonymous and abstract feel to it, rather than the personal quality provided by many of the best educators.
Giving someone already prone to procrastination the opportunity to complete assignments on the computer, without supervision, feedback, and motivation, may further their academic decline and reinforce a lack of academic rigor. We must also fear for-profit institutions that offer low-quality content, completed easily, in exchange for basic credentials. These credentials may sound enticing upon starting a program, but may not get the graduate much upon completion—except for accumulated debt and lost opportunities in the meantime. This concerns me especially with first-generation college students, often from immigrant backgrounds, or students attending high schools that lack adequate staff and resources in guidance offices charged with handling the college application process for students. It should make us all uneasy when something sold under the banner of expanding educational access is—oh, by the way!—also a potential “cash cow” for universities. If an individual seeks merely a credential or a certificate, perhaps an online program is best for them, rather than doling out thousands for a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree. As soon as employers begin accepting widely certificates and credentials as sufficient, however, the American obsession with credentialism—already at dangerous levels—may explode further.
My hope is that online education prompts university administrators and presidents to have a real conversation about their value-added, asking themselves what is lost when students stay within the lonely and solipsistic confines of their rooms to “learn” digitally, rather than occupying the dynamic space that is most college classrooms and campuses. Until studies indicate that learning over the Internet is better, or at least on par, with traditional forms of learning—there are no extant studies showing this to be the case—we ought to view the expansion of online education, and its replacement of the traditional paradigm, with some skepticism.
Specifically, a group in Louisiana called the Public Affairs Research Council wrote a letter to Louisiana State Superintendent John White urging him to be more specific about how the Louisiana Department of Education will regulate schools accepting vouchers, and work to “phase [schools] out of the voucher program if they cannot improve.”
The debate in Louisiana brings to mind two questions relevant to Wisconsin’s ongoing discussion on the role of school choice programs in statewide education reform:
First, what is the desired balance between accountability and autonomy in education reform?
One of my first experiences in public policy was hearing a member of the Joint Committee on Finance passionately state her position on school choice accountability, “it is simple” she said, “it is the same standards.” I thought then and I think now that it is far from that simple. Students learn differently, teachers teach differently, and parents and students want and need different things out of K-12 education. Serving Wisconsin’s diverse student body by definition requires diverse approaches and a degree of school level autonomy.
But standards still must exist. The initial regulatory structure in Louisiana is dependent on what I deem “the great man theory of education reform.” Louisiana offered broad criteria and then left it up to the state superintendent to come up with the specifics. The regulation of the Milwaukee and Racine school voucher programs is quite different. Though the Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction does have discretion to shut down schools that pose a threat to the safety of pupils, most of Wisconsin’s voucher regulation is specific and relatively explicit in state statute.
John White may have all the answers, but like Milwaukee learned with Howard Fuller, and like D.C. learned with Michelle Rhee, lasting improvement to an education system requires much more than a brilliant energetic leader. Leaders come and go, systems, and the cultures of those systems, persist. Which leads directly to the second question:
Is school choice about parental freedom, or is it a governance reform?
The market-based education reform Milton Friedman advocated has never come close to existence. In Milwaukee for example, the school voucher program remains limited to a (growing) subset of eligible parents and schools. Whether the failure of the Milwaukee voucher program to bring wholesale improvement to the Milwaukee Public Schools is a result of an imperfect program or an imperfect concept is largely irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is that school choice programs (vouchers and charters) in their current or likely future form should not be expected to bring large substantive improvements to traditional public school systems.
Also relevant is the inherent value of giving parents freedom to choose the school they want for their child. Certainly this is one reason parents in Milwaukee, despite the city’s overall low level of achievement, have comparably high levels of satisfaction with their schools. However, a view implicit in the charter school model and also gaining traction in the voucher and public sector is that low-performing schools should be shut down regardless of what parents think. Take a look at Wisconsin’s new accountability system; high enrollment numbers will not stop state intervention in a low-performing school.
Current choice policies in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) are based in part on parent freedom, but have evolved into something much closer to a governance reform. Independent charters and private schools vouchers are systems of independent schools that by definition practice school based management in curriculum, instruction, and personnel decisions. These schools are also not burdened by the legacy costs, excess facilities, and other non-classroom pressures driving decision-making in large school districts.
Planned or not, a plausible case can be made that choice and charter programs are becoming a public education governance reform that is, in places like Milwaukee, steadily enrolling a larger and larger percentage of publicly funded pupils. Acceptance of school choice as governance reform means coming to terms with, as they are trying to do in Louisiana, the need for ensuring (and the appropriate role of the state in ensuring) that failing schools are not permitted to fail indefinitely.
Again, I think the value Milwaukee brings to Wisconsin as the state’s lone major urban area is obvious. Consider, a Wisconsin without Milwaukee would be a Wisconsin without:
A major public urban university;
Summerfest and the other ethnic festivals;
The Art Museum, Symphony Orchestra, Marcus Amphitheater and other top-line cultural attractions;
Port of Milwaukee;
Professional baseball and basketball;
A major urban daily newspaper;
The ethnic and racial diversity of a city that is 55% non-white; and
Johnson Controls, Manpower, Rockwell Automation, Northwestern Mutual, Harley-Davidson, and the many other corporate citizens big and small.
All of things on this list contribute to the quality-of-life in this state, and all exist because of a unique confluence of size, density, and diversity in southeast Wisconsin. The state has other great places, but none offer the urban amenities of Milwaukee.
Madison, for example, is a growing and intrinsically interesting place due to the presence of state government and a world-class research university. It however, cannot supplant Milwaukee.
Take the issue of diversity. Milwaukee is 55% non-white, Madison is 21% non-white. 15% of Madison residents are foreign language speakers compared to 19% in Milwaukee. Only 5.3% of Madison businesses are Black or Hispanic owned. In Milwaukee that number is 26.3%. Milwaukee also has a higher percentage of female owned businesses, and wider income distribution than Madison, especially at the high-end.
The type of diversity present in Milwaukee is essential for a thriving urban area. It is the extremes and contradictions of great cities that yield energy, creativity, and productivity. The rich and poor, foreign and native, and young and old are all universally attracted to the economic opportunities, social mobility, and amenities present in dense urban places like Milwaukee (Milwaukee has over twice as many residents per square mile as Madison or Green Bay).
None of this is a knock against Madison – it too is an irreplaceable asset to Wisconsin for an entirely different set of reasons. It is however, a reminder that despite Milwaukee’s problems it is far from a drag on the rest of the state. The city is already a dynamic place and has much potential that remains untapped. It is reassuring to see, via the Franklin poll, that the majority of Wisconsin residents recognize the importance of their largest city.
The traditional conception of democratic citizenship roots itself in a specific polity, and will for the foreseeable future. Disparate political communities, each with their own form of governance and view of the human good, do not serve as a deterrent to virtuous citizenship, but in some cases serves as a boon for good citizenship. Most people believe in national identity and attachment to it as both inevitable and desirable. Few and far between are cosmopolitans—at least outside of the halls of liberal academia—who bemoan particularistic and provincial attachment to nation, state, or local space. “For the vast majority of human beings,” Leon Kass writes, “life…is lived parochially and locally, embedded in a web of human relations, institutions, culture, and mores that define us and—whether we know it or not—give shape, character, and meaning to our lives.” This idea of citizenship and its connection to community is alive and well.
Yet, Jonathan Last writes in this week’s Weekly Standard that community and geography will sever, eventually, at least in one important respect, by the business practice known as “microtasking”—i.e., the use of Internet platforms that operate like job fairs, where willing participants sign up to perform tasks for business involving the Internet and paid upon completion of the task (provided the company is a legitimate, tax-paying and law-abiding one). In Last’s case, he utilized Amazon.com to land a gig entering search terms into Google, clicking on the first result generated by the search term, and copying the URL into a work page. He earned a paltry $0.16 for his labor, but worked less than two minutes. But beyond his meager salary as a “Mechanical Turk,” Last’s participation in microtasking seems innocuous enough, yet highlights a problem with what any future economy may look like—completely remote participation in the workplace.
To be sure, Amazon’s platform—and others like it—represents a novel contribution, matching worker’s skills with jobs, or rather tasks, businesses need fulfilled on a part-time or one-off basis. It does not make sense for companies to hire for such tasks, nor to allocate them to current employees, so the Internet affords them an outlet for such task completion. Last notes that free-market advocates ought to like these types of platforms, where work is unforced, the labor and tasks defined transparently, employment discrimination nearly impossible, and the human factors such as résumé review and interview performance reduced. The biggest and most profound shift engendered by these platforms, however, is the severing of community and geography—and without any pretense of replacing it in new ways.
The work-commute paradigm, where work centers around particular spaces of productivity such as offices, remains a particularly ossified concept, even in the digital era. At their best, offices are places of dynamism, productivity, idea-swapping, and friendship. Even if they are, in some senses, economically inefficient, we confirm them despite this inefficiency for the aforementioned reasons. Microtasking destroys this nexus, however. US business may contract with citizens of Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, or Mexico. All that matters is that the task goes fulfilled, not the communal atmosphere of the office, the common devotion to the company and its product(s), or the vested interest of the workers in the long-term future and ethical behavior of the business. Microtasking encourages fleeting relationships of utility centered on task completion for small monetary remuneration.
The implications, I believe, are straightforward. Microtasking decreases the likelihood that businesses will view their relationship with the community in which they locate—or eventually, even the nation in which they place their headquarters—as vital to their future. It decreases the likelihood that business will maintain a vested interest in that community—in its work force, its institutions, its sound government, its education system. Tout court, it decreases the likelihood of business participation in all that makes a community healthy and vibrant. The only way microtasking will not lead to the erosion of the nexus between community and geography is if any increased efficiency therein lands within the community or the American economy itself, which, for the nonce, is highly unlikely. The change that microtasking brings to the American business experience and its historical linkage to communities is something unprecedented and overall, deleterious to the nexus we hold dear.
Thirty percent of the expected 2013 $3.56 million overall tax increase in RUSD is attributable to the private school choice program. That amount, $1.12 million, represents a 1.37% property tax increase for Racine. In other words, taxes levied on Racine property owners will increase 1.37% in 2013 to pay for part of the Racine choice program, not 15%.
Several factors account for the difference between the warned and actual tax increase:
The Racine choice program was capped at 250 pupils in 2012 and will be capped at 500 pupils in 2013.
Prior eligibility requirements. The Racine choice program is targeted to new students (i.e. kindergartners) and transfers from RUSD. Like the cap in 2012 and 2013, these requirements will limit program, and tax levy growth.
Walker’s budget. The 2011-13 budget reduced revenue limits by 5.5% in year one, and increased them by $50 in year two. Limiting the total amount districts can raise in state aid and property tax all but ensures tax increases will be minimal.
A lesson from the Racine choice expansion is that the infrastructure of choice takes time to develop. Historic growth in choice programs is slow and fairly predictable – a fact that will prevent sudden large increases in property taxes.
As choice expands in Racine the cost to local taxpayers to pay for the program will necessarily grow. However, taxpayers should not forget that the school choice tax pays for the education of Racine students that would most likely otherwise be in RUSD, where they would also require local tax revenue.
Since the US Supreme Court afforded states the right to forgo Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, without losing all of its federal funding, many Republican governors have exercised their right—at least rhetorically—to opt out of such expansion. While the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (hereinafter the ACA) allowed the federal government to place strings on money it gives to states as part of Congress’ spending power, affirming precedent from South Dakota v. Dole, inter alia, the Court ruled that the federal government cannot tie existing funds to Medicaid expansion. Only additional Medicaid fundingincurred by expansion under the ACA can be subject to revocation, since past attachments were “relatively mild encouragements” consonant with the judicial test of coercion. In other words, the Federal government maintained its carrot to coerce, but lost its stick. “So although the Obama Administration lost on this issue, it’s probably a loss that it is willing to live with for now, as few states (if any) are ultimately expected to turn down the new Medicaid money, even with the strings,” writes Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog.com. The prevailing thought was that only insensate ideological zeal would move a governor to turn down such an offer. However, as we move past the Court’s decision and thus gain critical distance from it, is this really the case?
Providing Medicaid coverage for virtually all poor and middle-income Americans—up to 133% of the federal poverty line—under the age of sixty-five is a significant expansion from what the federal government requires currently. Under Medicaid, states design their own programs within bounds established by federal regulations, with the federal government paying for a large share of the expenses. Although the formula is complicated, the more a state spends, generally, the more the federal government contributes—with diminishing returns to prevent abuse. Thus, with the goal of providing near-universal healthcare coverage under the Medicaid formula utilized currently, politically conservative states stand squarely in the center of Congress’ approach, since they can expand for cheaper at the margins than a generous, liberal state (which covers more of its citizens). Congress’ approach “was essentially to make Red America an offer it couldn’t refuse.” That offer was an agreement by the federal government to front 90% of the expenses under the new scheme.
But in recent days, Democratic governors have joined the Republican chorus by expressing misgivings about Medicaid expansion vis-à-vis their state budget projections (though of course the former have done so less vociferously). Governor Dave Heineman of Nebraska said pointedly that his cash-strapped state had no room for such expansion—it was a stark choice between funding the state’s flagship higher education institution, the University of Nebraska, or Medicaid expansion, and he preferred unequivocally the former. Many governors think it prudent to wait until after the election in November 2012 to render a decision on Medicaid expansion, given Mitt Romney’s commitment to repealing and replacing the ACA. Yet, how do we explain the concurrence of recent Democratic suspicion regarding Medicaid expansion? It is difficult to tell whether this is simply another consequence of election year politics and the unwillingness to be linked with an unpopular sitting President. The fact that Democratic governors have bemoaned Medicaid expansion quietly, however, appears to indicate something else is at work.
The answer, I believe, is no secret: governors understand the unknowable factor in this situation is the rising rate in healthcare costs, expected to continue to rise through the decade (with the ACA doing little to curb cost and possibly contributing to rising costs). Thus, the federal government’s promise to pay 90% of the bill may seem tepid and unpersuasive in the face of rising costs. What is more, it may seem ineffectual to use Medicaid as a means of achieving universal coverage, given its reputation for stingy reimbursements to providers may result in a lack of coverage or poor coverage for those utilizing it. There are also further logistical questions impeding a governor’s decision on Medicaid expansion: does a state that opts in have the option to opt out later, should its budget swell? Do states that chose to opt-in late still receive the 90% guarantee from the federal government? May a state chose to participate partially, for instance, by cutting the qualifications for subsidization somewhere lower than 133% of the federal poverty line? These questions will dominate the meeting of the National Governors Association, commencing this weekend in Williamsburg, VA. For now, the great irony is that the reason Democrats in the House and Senate chose Medicaid as the vehicle of healthcare expansion—the issue of cost, specifically, to earn a lower cost analysis for the ACA from the Congressional Budget Office—may drive governors of both political parties to forgo Medicaid expansion and instead invent new ways of expanding coverage through existing state programs.
I am often among the cynical when it comes to reforming the school aid formula. I find the phrase “broken funding formula” often translates to “my district needs more state aid.” Why mess with the state equalization aid formula when it does what it is designed to do?
First, it determines the total revenue districts can receive based on their enrollment and prior year revenue. Second, it uses district property wealth to determine how much allowable revenue comes in the form of state aid, and how much comes in the form of local property tax. Poorer districts receive more state aid and have a correspondingly lower property tax levy. Richer districts receive less state aid and have a correspondingly higher property tax levy.
However, being conceptually sound does not mean the formula is the perfect way to distribute school aids in Wisconsin. During the last budget cycle the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) introduced the “Fair Funding for our Future” plan as a way to improve Wisconsin’s system of school funding. The plan did not go anywhere. However, comments from State Superintendent Tony Evers suggest DPI will again proposal this plan, making it worthwhile to take a closer look.
On whole, “Fair Funding for our Future” is a solid path towards sustainable school funding. Though I believe one large component is missing, there is a heck of a lot to like about it. The plan:
Creates a base level of state funding of $3,000 per-child
As DPI points out in their original proposal, 54 Wisconsin school districts currently receive little or no state aid. This makes little sense considering that state education aid comes out of the state general fund, a huge part of which comes from personal income tax. Residents across the state pay into education aid, it is logical that all should get something in return.
Uses poverty as 20% of the formula for calculating property wealth
As I wrote, the state aid received and allowable tax levy in Wisconsin school districts are a function of property wealth. As DPI writes in their proposal, property wealth is not a perfect way to measure the socioeconomic demographics of a school district. In Wisconsin’s large cities, for example, there are often large pockets of poverty, but also large amounts of commercial property wealth. Specifically, DPI will count low-income pupils as 1.2 children when computing property wealth, driving more state aid (and lowering the tax levy) to districts with large percentages of low-income children. This is a logical way to better meet the goal of the state’s equalization aid formula.
Shifts the school levy and first dollar tax credits back into general school aids
This is the most controversial part of the plan. DPI proposes eliminating the school levy and first dollar tax credits and putting that money into school aids. The action would increase school aids by $897.4 million dollars. It is controversial because it means eliminating a huge property tax credit. Right now, this money is sent directly to municipalities to offset a portion of the school tax levy. While the optics are bad (it looks like the elimination of property tax relief), it is important to remember that putting this money into school aids accomplishes the same goal.
How? DPI’s plan maintains revenue limits, meaning the total amount of revenue a district can raise for education is still limited. More state aid simply means a corresponding levy decrease in a school district. Putting these credits into school aids can accomplish the goals of the school levy tax credit in a simplified manner.
Reforms categorical aids
Categorical aids are program specific state funds that districts receive outside of revenue limits. Categorical aids include SAGE, special education, and poverty aid. DPI’s plan consolidates categorical aids and attempts to direct them towards districts that most need to boost achievement. This reform too is logical; program specific funding should also be goal specific.
Provides MPCP property tax relief
Perhaps a small point, but the plan does call for increasing the state share of the cost of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) to 70%. The percentage would mirror state support of the Milwaukee Public Schools, give some property tax relief to Milwaukee, and end the current shell game where the poverty aid categorical to MPS is actually state support of the MPCP.
Some things are missing. More equitable funding of choice and charter, particularly at the high school level, is important for the long-term health of Milwaukee’s diverse education system.
Perhaps the biggest thing missing is a connection between funding and performance. Districts with high achievement, and more importantly, high academic growth, deserve to be rewarded with additional state aid. Improvement in Wisconsin’s state assessment system and increases in the availability of value-added performance data makes this technically possible. Providing rewards for performing districts does not mean decreasing support for low-performing districts, it simply means heeding the lesson of Race to the Top and using resources as a carrot in Wisconsin’s new accountability framework.
If the “Fair Funding for our Future” goes nowhere again, it will be unfortunate. It is a serious proposal that, with a few tweaks, could improve the way Wisconsin pays for K-12 education.
A ways back I compared public support for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Though not the perfect (and unattainable) “apples-to-apples” comparison, I came up with something reasonably logical. What follows is an updated comparison that includes independent charter schools in Milwaukee, as well as MPS and the MPCP.
First, MPS. According to the district’s 2013 proposed budget the final adopted total district budget in 2012 (excluding carryover funds) was $1,188,160,523. Within that number:
$17,952,177 goes to non-public schools.
$20,868,734 (excluding carryover funds) goes to the extension fund. The extension fund is for public recreation and facilities that serve the broader community.
$7,060,441 comes from private grants.
Subtracting the non-public schools allocation, the extension fund, and private grants from the MPS budget brings the relevant 2012 MPS budget number to $1,142,279,171. Dividing that number by the number of MPS pupils, 86,089, (MPS grand total excluding students leaving MPS via the chapter 220 program) puts the 2012 comparative per-pupil public support of MPS at $13,269.
What about independent charters? Under state statute, independent charter schools in Milwaukee (those authorized by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the City of Milwaukee) receive $7,775 from an equal percentage aid reduction to every school district in the state. In practice, this means Milwaukee’s independent charter schools receive $6,663 per-pupil from property taxpayers outside Milwaukee, and $1,112 per-pupil from Milwaukee property taxpayers.
Milwaukee’s independent charter schools also received $5,401,783 in federal funds in 2012. Though the actual per-pupil number varies by school, the average per-pupil federal funding of independent charter pupils last year was $838. This puts the comparative per-pupil public support of independent charter schools at $8,613.
Students using the MPCP, or choice, receive the lesser of $6,442 or a school’s actual audited per-pupil cost. About two-thirds of that payment comes from the state in the form of General Purpose Revenue and state aids. The rest comes from a reduction in state aid to MPS, which is offset dollar-for-dollar by local property taxes. Students using the MPCP also receive federal funding that averages out to $603 per-pupil. This puts the comparative per-pupil public support of MPCP students at $7,045.
Below is a breakdown of per-pupil public support for different types of Milwaukee schools by source.
MPS – $8,319
Charter – $6,663
Choice - $4,226
MPS – $2,605
Charter – $1,112
Choice – $2,216
MPS – $2,345
Charter – $838
Choice – $603
Total (excluding private fundraising)
MPS – $13,269
Charter – $8,613
Choice – $7,045
Though these numbers are important in establishing where public education money is going in Milwaukee, they should be taken with a grain of salt. In eight years of tracking MPS budgets I have never found convincing evidence that MPS’ support number is inflated by irresponsible spending. I have found convincing evidence that MPS, charters, and private schools in the MPCP all face unique compliance, legacy, human capital, and facility costs. These unique costs are what determine the resources a school actually has to spend on pupils, which, is a far more important number.
David Brooks writes of a new cultural ideal rewarded and encouraged in the American education system: i.e., that of the ambitious, disciplined, neat, studious, collaborative, and mature student who forms the cultural ideal, while his/her peers who do not conform to this cultural cohesion fail. More often than not, one sex fails to conform to the new educational image—males. The American school system, too often, fails rambunctious boys who are not yet mature enough to write and read at high levels, express themselves in socially sophisticated ways, or maintain the requisite motivation to direct their own studies. Although there are, of course, problems with our educational standards, this is not one of them per se; it is a problem with our educational model, and it is even more striking given that in today’s society, people of all types seem to succeed. Yet, in the classroom, only one type of person appears to succeed, and in an advanced economy increasingly dependent upon college graduates, succeeding in the classroom becomes tantamount to achieving economic mobility. The stakes are high, indeed.
Some statistics may highlight the problem: Girls have eviscerated the gap in math and science that boys enjoyed formerly; most 11th-grade boys write at the level of 8th-grade girls; and reading test scores for boys are well below those for girls, to illustrate a few national trends. In Wisconsin during 2010-2011, girls graduate high school at a rate of nearly 90%, while boys at about 85%; urban centers like Milwaukee and Madison exacerbate this disparity, with girls outpacing boys in graduation rates by nearly 12% in Milwaukee and nearly 9% in Madison. The Schott Foundation named Milwaukee one of the top ten worst performing large school districts for black males, with a 42% disparity between white and black male graduation rates. This well exceeds the national disparity between white and black male graduation rates.
These K-12 trends have clear “snowball effects” in higher education and the potential to succeed once there. Boys account for just 40% of college graduates, despite making up nearly 50% of the population. Two million fewer men graduated from college over the past decade than women, and the chasm only grows for graduate school. Pew Research Center’s data show that women value higher education more than men, too, believing by a fourteen-point margin that college was “very useful” to them, affording them intellectual growth and maturation. Pew’s data also show that the American public is more likely to say that a woman needs a college degree to succeed in life than a man.
Although Wisconsin received recently an exemption from No Child Left Behind, doubtless a positive development for education policy, the question of educational ideal remains relevant. Wisconsin may now shape its own education policy and goals, free from the massive federal meddling of NCLB, but the issue of educational model is a difficult one to capture in statistics alone. Many of the aforementioned rambunctious, rebellious, or disengaged males may graduate from high school or even higher education, yet perform well below their potential. To be sure, although this post discussed the problem as one exclusive to young males, we know that females who do not conform to the ideal image are not insolated from the affects.
As we move forward as a state and as a nation, education policy must address the type of person it rewards and idealizes, and how this fits—or more likely, does not fit—with the idiosyncratic challenge each child presents to the educator. Schools must find a way to engage children as they are rather than hoisting upon students a singular model of success, especially when that newfangled, ideal image of success promoted by our education system is yet largely untested by society.