|Diane Ravitch, Education Historian|
If you are concerned about the future of public education in Wisconsin, vote to recall Governor Scott Walker. Since his election in 2010, he has proven himself to be a steadfast enemy of the public schools.
In the world according to Governor Walker, the best way to reform public education is to demoralize its teachers, attack the teachers’ union and hand over more taxpayer dollars to privately managed charters and voucher schools.
He is wrong on every count. In his role as governor, he has a constitutional duty to preserve, protect and strengthen the state’s democratic institutions. He has violated that trust by his ongoing efforts to undermine public education, which is a cornerstone of our democracy.
As a conservative, he should have done his best to strengthen the public schools, not tear them down. Conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions. His approach is radical, not conservative.
As the state’s leader, he should have set a good example and thanked the teachers who do the public’s work every day. Regardless of what the contract says, the typical teacher works 11-12 hours every day, preparing the next generation to take their place as citizens and workers. But instead of acting as a leader, Governor Walker spent the past two years as the state’s bully-in-chief, showering the state’s teachers with disrespect and blaming them for the ills of an unequal and unjust society.
Governor Walker thinks that he will improve education by getting rid of the union, which is the collective voice of the state’s teachers.The nation’s highest performing states—Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut—have strong unions, while the lowest performing states—in the Deep South—have weak unions or none at all. Very likely, what Walker really wants is to remove the teachers’ voice when legislators are cutting the schools’ budget. The best way to silence the strongest voice for public education in Madison is to weaken the teachers’ union.
Governor Walker has cut the budget, thus requiring public schools to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, close libraries, and reduce essential services on which needy children depend. Lest we forget, the victims of these budget cuts are children, the very children who will determine the future of the state in years to come.
Governor Walker has expanded the voucher program, so that more children can use taxpayer dollars to enroll in religious schools. But he fails to mention that the Milwaukee voucher program has had unimpressive results. Twenty-two years later, the children in voucher schools get no better scores on the Wisconsin tests than children in Milwaukee’s public schools.
Governor Walker claims that competition among vouchers, charters, and public schools will lead to big improvements, but Milwaukee has had exactly that competition for the past two decades. According to the federal assessments, Milwaukee’s public schools are one of the lowest performing in the nation. Competition did not make them improve, and the children in the alternative systems are doing no better. Black children in Milwaukee were supposed to be the beneficiaries of school choice, but the federal tests show that black students in Milwaukee have scores no better than black children in the Deep South.
Governor Walker is determined to dismantle the public education system and to replace it with a choice system. But that won’t be good for Wisconsin and it won’t be good for children. No high-performing nation in the world demoralizes its teachers and creates alternatives to public education.
The best performing nations in the world have built a strong public education system. They respect their teachers. They do not judge them by student test scores. They do not launch public campaigns against their unions (in high-performing Finland, all the teachers and principals belong to the same union). The most successful nations recognize the importance of having teachers and principals who are dedicated professionals, not a revolving door of young college graduates. They understand that successful schools establish a culture of collaboration, not a culture of competition.It’s time for a change in Wisconsin. End the attacks on public education. End the attacks on teachers. It’s time for leadership that seeks to build a better school system. It’s time for a leader with a positive vision, a leader who puts the needs of children and communities first.