« The Bader Blog

"The Best"

by Jerry Bader

Green Bay Schools Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld continues her anti-voucher crusade today in a opinion piece in the Green Bay Press Gazette. She harps on two familiar themes: quality and accountability. Let's start with quality; note she says Wisconsin schools are recognized as among the best in the country. She doesn't mention her own district in making the quality argument. In fact she never uses her own district in her argument. 

While Wisconsin may be among the best in the nation, school reform is an idea whose time has come because, as a nation, America has slipped badly in global rankings of education. Langenfeld is proud to be the tip of the Titantic still above the water line? Okay. And again, she can't even brag on her own district in defending how great public schools are. I realize she's arguing against a statewide voucher program, but wouldn't you use your own house to sell how great the neighborhood is?

Then there's the accountability canard. Here are some of the requirements for choice schools. The list is not exhaustive:


“Choice schools must administer the 4th, 8th, and 10th grade knowledge and concepts examination (WKCE) adopted or approved by the State Superintendent to all pupils in those grades attending the school through the choice program” (p. 8).


“Choice schools are also required to administer the 3rd grade standardized reading test developed by DPI to all choice pupils in that grade” (p. 8).




“Choice schools must also administer all tests in reading, mathematics, and science that are required for public school pupils under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) to all choice pupils in the relevant grades. NCLB currently requires that all students be tested in reading and math each year in 3rd through 8th grades and once in high school, and in science once each in elementary, middle, and high school” (p. 8).




“A choice school may reject an applicant only if it has reached its maximum general capacity or seating capacity” (p. 3).




“The participating schools must meet all state health and safety laws or codes applicable to public schools and a number of federal laws and regulations which apply to both public and private schools” (p. 4).


“…schools participating in the choice program are required to develop and implement a plan for maintaining environmental quality in the school” (p. 13).


Teacher Requirements


“With certain exceptions, all teachers and administrators in a school participating in the choice program are required to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education” (p. 6).


Achievement Requirements


“Each private school is required to meet at least one of the following standards in order to continue to be eligible to participate in the program in the following school year:


1.  At least 70% of the pupils in the program advance one grade level each year.

2. The school's average attendance rate for pupils in the program is at least 90%.

3. At least 80% of the pupils in the program demonstrate significant academic progress.

4. At least 70% of the families of pupils in the program meet parent involvement criteria established by the school” (p. 5).


Financial Reporting


“Each private school is subject to uniform accounting standards established by DPI.”


ü Certificate of occupancy

ü Evidence of financial viability

ü Annual independent financial audit

ü Evidence of sound fiscal and internal control practices (p. 5-6)



“A choice school must achieve accreditation by December 31 of the third school year following the first school year in which it participates in the choice program” (p. 7).


“A private school that is a first-time participant in the choice program and that is not accredited must obtain preaccreditation by August 1 before the first school term of participation in the program, or by May 1 if the school begins participating in the program during summer school” (p. 7).


“By law, the fact that a school has obtained preaccreditation does not require an accreditation organization to accredit the private school” (p. 8).




There are too many infractions that a private choice school could commit leading to their removal from the program to list (p. 11-12).  Indeed, we join our friends at School Choice Wisconsin inhailing two key accountability laws that have prevented schools from entering the program or leading to their removal:


The first, 2003 Act 155 created significant barriers to entry that have kept over 100 schools from joining the MPCP. The legislation also empowered the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to remove schools from the program that lack fiscal viability and/or present a threat to the health or safety of pupils.  Act 155 has been used to shut down thirty low-performing schools since 2004.

The second, 2005 Act 125 mandated that all schools in the MPCP obtain accreditation from an agency named in the statutes.  Act 125 also introduced a standardized testing requirement, and began a five-year longitudinal study of the program by the School Choice Demonstration Project. In addition to compelling schools to improve their academic programs via accreditation, Act 125 has removed eleven low-performing schools from the MPCP.”




“Choice schools must adopt pupil academic standards in mathematics, science, reading and writing, geography, and history” (p. 8).


Required Meetings


“Choice schools are required to annually schedule two meetings at which members of the governing body of the school will be present and at which pupils and the parents or guardians of pupils applying to attend the school or attending the school may meet and communicate with the members of the governing body” (p. 9).


Langenfeld's mantra of "let's keep public schools the best." Yes, the best, until you compare them with something else. And that appears to be her greatest fear.