Saturday, September 26, 2009

Racine has Wisconsin's BEST Schools!

OK no they don't actually. But in 5 years they COULD. Free Racine this morning has some great commentary about what schools can/ or should teach. Free Racine

I responded:
In an ideal situation the Govt. would provide a voucher for each U.S. student to be used for educational purposes. The parents of the children could direct those funds towards the education they believe is the best for each child. It could be an all philosophy school, and all arts academy, and athletics, or even military focused academy; or a plethera of options in between. Different sized communities would offer greater assortments. People with similar needs may decide to relocate in certain areas that offer a specific experience.

Racine is actually the perfect size city to experiment with. We have lot's of school buildings many are empty. and we could offer REAL school choice right here in Racine, Caledonia, Mt. Pleasant.
It is true that initially the religious schools would attract students and would likely double or triple enrollments within the first 2-3 years of the program. but soon you will see experimental start-ups throughout our community. Capitalism and quality will determine which schools succeed or fail.

It's too late for my children to benefit, but it's not too late for the next generation of children in our city.

If we want to draw people, business and opportunity to our city we must create something better, and different. Racine's biggest challenge is our public schools reputation, Imagine a few years from now the perception of is Racine is how fantastic the educational opportunities are.
We can do this WITHOUT increasing taxes on citizens or businesses."

Now I realize this will not fix broken families or other endemic problems, that NO GOVT. program can fix. But we are always told to not be so narrow minded, I submit to you that this 21st century approach to education will save money and resources for all of us. But most importantly will raise the quality of education of our children.


  1. I didn't respond to you directly on Denis' site, as I thought it didn't directly address his question, however I thought about your post quite a bit, and it raises a couple questions.

    You said:
    "Capitalism and quality will determine which schools succeed or fail."

    Does this suggest these would be entrepreneurial based privately funded schools? Start-ups would be financed via...? Help me with that one...

    Also, IF a school were to fail, is there protection for the students? (Very hypothetical, I realize)

    Secondly, the logistics of such an operation would need to be part of the private business plan (thinking busing, etc)? If free choice of school is the goal, we would need to get those kids to those schools no matter where they lived, yes?

    Thirdly, at what point do individuals get to decide which path they lead, and is there a "general education" that should be consistent across the genres of schools you propose to prevent a student who changes their mind from being behind? I understand at the high school level, there's a degree of autonomy with regard to personal educational goals that may be followed, but in Middle School and Elementary School, are kids ready to make a life-direction based decision with regards to their educational tract? Or, perhaps worse, could parents (think "stage mom/dad") make that choice for their kids, risking actually finding that child's true potential?

    And finally - would you foresee a public education institution actually phase out over time? Because if not, you may be right that taxes wouldn't "have to" go up to institute a alternative option you propose, but I don't necessarily see them going down either (historically speaking, I can't recall the last time my tax levy for public schools was reduced ;). That having been said, are we not then saddling parents with the taxes they'd have to pay anyways PLUS the cost of the alternative, private school. This would drive the overall cost burden up, and perhaps the parents or kids who were able to afford this option would be considered "elitist" and ostracized (though I would hope not...).

    I understand the proposal, but help me understand how it might work.

  2. THX BK, Sorry I didn't get a chance to meet u last eve. U ask some great ??s..many of which U may already know the answers to; for the sake of the argument I'll give a reply to each of them.
    1st: some of the schools would be religious, some would be start-ups and the founders of those schools would be responsible for creating and funding of those schools.

    There is protection for the students if the school fails, the students and parents could select an alternate school. Which would be happy to have the students and the money that follows, whether public or private.

    Secondly: transportation is already in place and more parents are choosing to drive their kids anyway. Many parents will choose schools close to home for that very reason. It's another private parental decision factored into which school to attend.

    3rdly: Minimal requirements for K-8th should be similar to what we currently mandate..and schools that underperform will be the schools most likely to suffer loses in student population: The market at work. What happened when Circuit City went under? People found, (or will find) alternate jobs, alternate careers, etc.
    Paths can be adjusted at any time by the parents and the students. In fact I would propose structuring the Vouchers to be paid bi-monthly, or 1/4erly at the direction of the parents.. that way the school wouldn't get all the $ in August and not have to be responsible for providing good educ. the rest of the yr. The stud/parents could opt to switch schools at any time. Thus the additional incentive for each school to succeed with each child. Your other ref. to "Stage Mom/Dad" is a good one..but we already have that in our Public system, (F. Arts Academy, Walden, etc.) as well as in Home School choices.

    Finally. I don't forsee the fully public school disappearing, in fact I see it becoming better and stronger, it would have to compete to save it's student base, and thus it's $ flow. It would also streamline the need for layers of management, and thus lots of excessive benefits, salaries, etc. and probably a reduction in the number of school buildings and classrooms and of course Unionized teachers.

    So at the end of the day will our tax burden decrease? I would say yes it would. If this system was already in place the avg. cost of educ. per student would be around 6-7K instead of 10K per student, (US avg. is currently 12K).


  3. As the years roll forward it would decrease as a percentage of your prop. taxes, etc. eventually the Union might be broken and true fair market value of teachers would be realized in the cost of educ., even at the public schools. U might see all of the pro-Union folks keeping their kids in the Union system..again that'd be the "market" at work. Ultimately; could we possibly do worse than what we are currently offering our kids in this system?? People are choosing private schools, and some are choosing not to move into our community because of our school system.

    If I didn't make the Voucher thing clear..we decide how much per student.. (I would suggest 3-4k for primary school kids and 5-7K per HS stud. Now the alternative schools would not be required to offer an education at that price, although most would be close I am sure....the parents could make up the difference if they chose to charge more. (But competition for students would drive the prices somewhat). The pub. schools would probably lose students at first, but may be able to retain them thru re-invention and cost controls.

    You did make the classic argument against vouchers is that the Public system would lose $ or would still need to be fully funded at current levels. If the Pub. system loses 10-30% of it's student it will need to be right-sized to adjust for the new number of students. Job and benefit cuts perhaps? Certainly less class rooms would be needed, perhaps we could eliminate a few schools completely. (Thus less cost to maintain), The right-sizing would need to be radical at first in order for the public school to compete in the future..otherwise it will simply be the place all the "losers" attend.

    I may sound cold and uncaring but my goal is to provide the BEST urban education system in Wisconsin, or even the US within 5 years.. what we're doing now is NOT working. You can't turn the Titanic on a dime...But I think we could do it on a quarter. Better schools and less costs. Isn't that what GM was told to do by the President?

  4. DB,

    No accusations from me on 'cold and uncaring' - that's not where my questions stemmed. I think you pretty well explained one of the paths to the new system, and that's cool. I think you pretty much nailed it when you said (in summary), it may hurt a bit during the change, and there IS a risk to the students at that time, but the ends justify the means to you.

    And you're right, I would agree that the way it works now simply doesn't work. Now personally, I'm a product of the public educational system, but from Kenosha. I don't know if they have the same or similar struggles as RUSD does, but K-12 and UW-Parkside, all being public schools, spewed out "me" - and I feel like I had a high quality education. If things have changed drastically since then, well... wow! I know also I had quality interest from my parents during my k-12 years, and my college years were self-funded, so I had a lot of impetus to apply myself there. I took pride in good grades as a youth, and maybe that makes me part of the minority.

    You honestly answered my questions, and it makes for an interesting proposal. I don't necessarily seeing it being popular given the brief(ish) increase to the tax / cost burden on the public in a down economy, but I would also assume there will rarely be a time when the public at large would readily accept a cost-hike in the short term to reach a long(er) term goal. Mostly, the public isn't conditioned to do that.

    Thanks for the follow-up. I appreciate it. Hopefully we can meet up sometime!


  5. Just to clarify.. there would not be any need for an increase in taxes even temporarily. the cost per pupil would DROP. In fact over time the cost would LESS, not more. We are using the current revenue and allowing the funds to follow the students. And the amount per student is LESS than we are currently spending, per student.

  6. I'm not sure I understand that bit... If the gov't is providing vouchers, in the short term, that would have to be paid somehow prior to public systems "right-sizing"... right?

    Maybe not the tax burden, but the overall cost burden would necessarily increase in the short term, right?

  7. No Brad, the money gets doled out from the City, State and Fed budget. Of course it's not going to begin tomorrow, In a perfect world it'd begin next September 1st. But the parents and students would be making their school choices around May or June of 2010. Thus all of the schools would have ample time to adjust classes, course studies, etc. perhaps the PS would need to lay-off 10-20% of the teachers, admin. etc. based on the updated demand. Maybe that's slightly too optimistic. and we would need to begin small the first year, expanding in subsequent years. But money's per student follow registration and attendance.

  8. I see, so the money spent on vouchers by the gov't comes out of the existing DOE budget(s). Therefore those cuts are then made on the PS side to account for the "less students" thereby right-sizing on the fly.

    I don't mean to be picky, I just want to make sure I understand your proposal correctly.

  9. Follow up question...

    Currently we have a (admittedly over-politicized) school board whose intention was to keep parents or at least locals in the business of setting curriculum.

    Where does this responsibility fall in your model and how is it held up in terms of measuring effectiveness?

  10. You must be still be on your first beer. You have it right on! Not bad for 2 guys who went to public schools, huh? the Avg per student now is over 10K, I propose we allow 3-4K for elementary and 6-8 for HS. In the beginning it would actually leave a surplus of funds in the PS system. So it would give them time to adjust curriculum. I also don't think the initial exodus would be quite what the Public system fears. as there would be limited availability the first season. The second and third year more schools would be opened and more seats in existing private schools would become available, and adjustments would ongoing for several years.

  11. I presume it would be impossible to eliminate the School board. Perhaps it could be re-jiggered to accommodate representation from the "Choice" schools based on Student representation. Or perhaps it could be focused entirely on the Public system as it is now. Each "Choice" school could have it's own PTA/ Board and would be responsible to the students it enrolls. This latter choice would be my desire. If it remained the representation of the PS I would continue to expect all citizens be involved in the elections of those members, as it would still be in the best interest of PS children to get the very best education per dollar spent and all of the citizen's would be contributing to all of the education costs, of all of the children. PS I would include home and on-line schools in this group of "Choices."

    Going even further I might seriously explore removing the Sports and Arts program from the schools and allow parks and recreation to host those programs regionally rather than by school. Even though they could consider using regional schools for those activities.

  12. Ah dear friend, it has been years - nay - decades since I was on my first beer!! :-)

    I need to get back to you on your latest posts most likely tomorrow as I need to work the tech booth shortly here at the 6th St. Theatre (shameless plug - come see Rabbit Hole before it closes Sunday!).

    Talk soon...

  13. DB -

    I'm keeping up with you so far on your proposal, but what I still am missing is the accountability of a curriculum or "private board" (whether per school or for all the private schools) to ensure that in fact, a quality education is being delivered.

    Personally, I'm not a fan of standardized testing because it's very clear that not every student demonstrates learned knowledge the best by filling in ovals with a #2 pencil. But, it's what we have right now. Admittedly, I'm also not a fan of OBE (Outcome Based Education) because I think there is a specific level of knowledge and skill necessary to pass to the next grade, not simply the amount of improvement per student. I'm reminded of a scene from the 80's movie "Summer School" where the students who attended the summer class were perceived as successful because, in the case of 1 trouble-student, he improved his test score by 1% (the rest of the students didn't pass the test either, but they showed "improvement").

    So I think there needs to be govornance and accountability for the system somewhere. I'm now curious to see your thoughts on where that would lie.

  14. Thanks again Brad. The only option is Standardize test..Like NCLB has given us..but the way to hold schools accountable would be to publish those results so all the parents can see those results. I really don't think we should impose minimum results. As long as parents can make informed decisions. No parent with any real interest in their childrens' education is going to pick the school with the lowest success rate on purpose. If we start using a Govt. board we will simply end up with the same thing we have now. They will be relatively unaccountable, They will be beholden to the Unions and public school bias..Like they are now.

    I had an interesting discussion about this yesterday with some smart people I asked them how much money we currently spend per student for education. I rec'd guesses from $600.00 to $6,000.00 per student spending in our fair city. When I told them we spend over $10,K they were shocked, and when I told them THE State of WI and the US average was over $12,K they were dumbfounded.

    Imagine if we had not had the Govt. picking the winners and losers in the Sub-prime business. Finally please tell me why we need a FEDERAL education department? Every community in every state has a school system..and the parents in each of those communities can do a better job of determining what is best for their children than some bureaucrat in Washington D.C.

  15. I get the impression you and Patrick Henry would have had fun writing the "Anti-Federalist Papers" :)

    I think it's in the National interest, not just the State's interest to provide a common baseline for educational requirements.

    Government funding / budgeting is a tricky business, of course, but I think a National DOE is still a basic necessity in terms of state by state consistency in educational benchmarks. Otherwise you could hypothetically get "Racine - Best Schools in Wisconsin" which, although cool, is really only relative to different systems in Wisconsin. It could pale in comparison to "Baltimore - Best Schools in Maryland" without that more overarching umbrella of requirements. Now - the scope of responsibility for the Federal Gov't DOE I would question - because like most Dept's in the Federal Side, it's probably extended it's reach further than it's reasonable efficacy.

    Still hate the standardized testing for the reasons I described above...

    Any ideas on an alternative? My wife is an educator in Milwaukee and she often has interesting thoughts on that topic, but they're so hard to sustain...

  16. I believe the Federal Dept of Education was created during Carters Administration. (At least that was when the DEA rec'd Cabinet level position. The Federal spending level is only about 9% and yet it comes with lots of strings, like 3 and 4 year old K'garten..Breakfast programs, and even Title 9 for m/f sports balance. Based on that info. can you really say schools are better today than in 1976? I see no evidence of that. I have heard the "teaching to the test" argument and I won't deny it happens. But I see no other way to fairly measure school performance. (As long as the "Test" is actually real educational mater and not PC Global warming BS). I would also like to see merit pay..which of course would occur in a competitive/ open choice school program. Most of the new schools wouldn't be unionized either.

  17. WHAAAAT??? That's crazy talk!!! Asking people to perform well to receive merit increases!

    You are clearly racist. Or something like that.

    Oh wait... that's how my job works...