Supporters of voucher programs claim that giving parents a choice that includes private and charter schools is the magic wand that will lead to major improvements in American education.

The competition that comes with these “free market” principles will force the public system to improve itself.

Well, maybe not.

A new study released this week looks at the results of the school choice “laboratory” in Milwaukee Public Schools that has been in place for more than a decade. And they are not impressed.

“We had expected to find a wellspring of hope that increased parental involvement in the Milwaukee Public Schools would be the key ingredient in improving student performance,” Lightbourn wrote. But “there are realistic limits on the degree to which parental involvement can drive market-based reform in Milwaukee.”

Even some of the most ardent supporters of school choice in Milwaukee have seen that the purest version of the idea – in which there is little government oversight of schools, and parental decisions in a free market dictate which schools thrive – does not square with the reality of what happened in Milwaukee when something close to such a system existed.

That reality can be summed up in two phrases: “bad schools” and “little change.”

That’s nice, but considering reports from other voucher programs, there’s nothing new here. Except for one big surprise that comes with this study.

The group publishing this report is the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank that has been one of the biggest boosters of the voucher concept for almost twenty years.

Howard Fuller, the most prominent supporter of voucher and charter schools in Milwaukee, has changed his position toward agreeing that government oversight of voucher schools is needed. In a recent interview for a workshop of the national Education Writers Association, Fuller said empowering parents to make good choices, improving student performance and creating good schools were proving to be much harder achievements than many once thought.

Asked whether the voucher program was leading to improvements in the achievement of MPS students, as was once expected, Fuller said: “I’m one of those people who believes that we may have oversold that point. . . . I think that any honest assessment would have to say that there hasn’t been the deep, wholesale improvement in MPS that we would have thought.”

Amazing! Adults who can actually learn from their mistakes.

Vouchers are really nothing more than a way to shuffle kids from one traditional classroom to another, and shift public money into private schools.

Maybe it’s time to look at the system itself and make some major changes to an education system which has changed little in the past fifty years – while the rest of the world looks a whole lot different.

voucher, milwaukee, education