When I came to Milwaukee two years ago I had to adjust to the school landscape of public, charter, private, and all of the subgroups of the three. Of course, coming from a suburban background, I only had concrete knowledge of public and private schools. Generally, in the suburbs, those are your two options. I never heard talk of speciality public schools or charter schools or voucher vs. non-voucher private schools. I’d wager to say that’s because suburban districts are much smaller than their urban counterparts.
But the times they are a-changin.
When I went online this weekend I saw the headline “Wauwatosa school officials protest budget measure on charter schools,” run across my screen. I thought this was odd because I assumed that Wauwatosa already had charter schools and access to vouchers for some private schools. I assumed this because while Wauwatosa is a suburban district, it’s still in Milwaukee County. Also, the two counties south of Milwaukee have access to charter schools and vouchers for private schools. Alas, I learned that I was wrong to assume my suburban counterparts faced the same landscape as me and my students.
Now, I am not one-hundred percent against charter schools. I like the idea behind them. I like the idea that new schools held to similar standards but free to change the curriculum can push our public schools to change what they’re doing, and push for more systemic change. Unfortunately, in places like Michigan, the limit on the number of charter schools has been eliminated. Rather than push for change, these schools are by and large luring students away from district schools (sometimes with monetary incentives). I believe this makes it nearly impossible for public districts to adjust for the future.
What I find ironic about this article on the Journal Sentinel website is that this school fits my vision for a charter school. The school, a sixth through twelfth grade science and technology school, would also serve as a training lab for education students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. I think that’s a cool partnership. I think it could get students really excited about both science and pursuing a college degree. But, because we’re talking about Wauwatosa, a district where they have not approved any charter schools, there’s some outrage.
If, as estimated in the article, 300 students leave the Wauwatosa School District, that’s a major blow to their budget. Think about it, 300 students is nearly as large as my high school graduating class in Grosse Pointe. I can’t imagine losing that many students. Granted, they could allow students from other districts to attend this charter school, but, long-term, how is Wauwatosa supposed to adjust and offer something similar to this science and technology school if they will no longer have the funding resources to do it. It will be too little too late.
That’s what’s happening in our urban districts across the country. There are a lot of great ideas. But, when you’re losing kids left and right to schools making pie in the sky promises, there is little room and fewer funds to implement systemic change.