After Milwaukee

Article Highlights

  • The most heralded experiment in education markets teaches us valuable lessons.

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  • Supporters hoped the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program would lead the way in transforming schools.

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  • The record of markets in advancing prosperity, opportunity, and innovation is compelling.

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Nearly two decades have passed since the enactment of the landmark Milwaukee Parental Choice Program by the Wisconsin legislature. The program and its many supporters had hoped this experiment in school choice would lead the way in transforming American schools. But it is by now clear that aggressive reforms to bring market principles to American education have failed to live up to their billing. It is time to find out two things: What happened? And what comes next?

Milwaukee’s voucher program initially allowed a few hundred students to attend local private schools with public scholarships. When it was launched, advocates voiced expansive claims on behalf of “choice.” In 1990, scholars John Chubb and Terry Moe argued in their seminal volume Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, “Without being too literal about it, we think reformers would do well to entertain the notion that choice is a panacea....It has the capacity all by itself to bring about the kind of transformation that, for years, reformers have been seeking to engineer in myriad other ways.”

The record of markets in advancing prosperity, opportunity, and innovation is compelling. It seemed almost axiomatic that market reforms would deliver similar results in schooling, spurring the emergence of good schools and pushing traditional districts to improve.

Read the full text of this article in The American.

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About the Author

 

Frederick M.
Hess
  • An educator, political scientist and author, Frederick M. Hess studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include "Cage-Busting Leadership," "Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age," "The Same Thing Over and Over," "Education Unbound," "Common Sense School Reform," "Revolution at the Margins," and "Spinning Wheels." He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog, "Rick Hess Straight Up." Hess's work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, National Affairs, the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and National Review. He has edited widely cited volumes on the Common Core, the role of for-profits in education, education philanthropy, school costs and productivity, the impact of education research, and No Child Left Behind.  Hess serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, and on the review boards for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. He also serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and 4.0 SCHOOLS. A former high school social studies teacher, he teaches or has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University and Harvard University. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Government, as well as an M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum, from Harvard University.


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