Does the title to this post make me sound ridiculous? Does it appear that I am taking an indefensible position? Well, yes. And that is exactly what the school choice opponents pushing an ordinance mandating a specific amount of playground space for all new city schools intended.
The ordinance, which passed the Milwaukee common council earlier this week, requires that all new city schools have a playground space meeting certain specifications, or provide access off-site to sufficient playground space. The passed ordinance is an improvement over an earlier draft that did not provide the option for an off-site playground, but a distraction nonetheless. All of the time and energy spent discussing this issue was time and energy not spent discussing ways to improve education in Milwaukee.
Of course everyone supports playgrounds for children. To quote a school janitor I worked with one summer in college: “We can all agree that good things are good.” However, the city’s racial achievement gaps, middling ACT scores, and the continuing inability of public and private schools alike to adequately prepare enough of our city’s children for college success are infinitely more important issues than playgrounds.
Therein lies the problem. Worthy efforts by the Milwaukee Public Schools, private school choice supporters, and independent charter school advocates to recruit quality schools to Milwaukee are made more difficult by this ordinance. As Erin Richards points out in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, longstanding quality schools operating in Milwaukee would have been in violation of this ordinance at their founding. Why would we as a city want to make it harder for new quality schools to serve Milwaukee students?
Perhaps I am wrong and the longstanding choice and charter school opponents that pushed this ordinance will now fully embrace Milwaukee’s school choice programs. I am not holding my breath. I have seen this movie before. For almost a decade I have heard from countless politicians and advocates that would be fine with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program if only choice students took the same standardized tests as MPS, cost the Milwaukee taxpayers less per-pupil than MPS, etc.
Aside from isolated cases these folks have failed to embrace school choice even after their pet issues were addressed. Instead opponents find even more pained and obscure reasons to justify their opposition to programs that are popular with Milwaukee parents.
Now that the great new school playground crisis in Milwaukee has been addressed, can we talk about student outcomes? Please.