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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Frederick M.
Hess

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