Milwaukee and Cleveland are the only two cities in the country with publicly funded school voucher programs. Recently I visited four schools in these cities. I can see why the education establishment is frightened.
What I saw was exhilarating. No one who has spent any time at these schools could fail to be impressed by their orderly, energetic atmosphere and solid academic achievementall the more impressive when compared with the violent, dysfunctional inner-city public schools that were the alternative for these children.
Moreover, the schools I saw couldn't have been more different from one another: They ran the gamut from the all-black Believers in Christ, an evangelical Christian academy, and Messmer High, an independent Catholic school, to Bruce-Guadalupe secular elementary school with a Hispanic cultural theme, and Hope Central Academy, a secular school with a strong focus on computer technology.
What these inspiring schools had in common was that, at their creation, their founders and many of their staff did not qualify as professional educators. They did not have degrees from the education monopoly's prescribed ed schools. Credentials didn't come from government education boards.
The schools succeed because they are accountable to parents and dedicated to making sure every child learns the fundamentals of civility, hard work and basic education.
Take just one example. Believers in Christ Christian Academy in Milwaukee.
Cheryl Brown's school is the teachers unions' worst nightmare. According to the union-led anti-school-choice coalition, the problem with vouchers is that they are likely to skim off the best and brightest kids presently attending inner-city public schools, leaving only the most disadvantaged and academically unprepared children.
Yet almost in the same breath, voucher foes contend that those "cream of the crop" children and their parents are too stupid to avoid being victimized by educational charlatans. Dire warnings about "witchcraft" schools, "Farrakhan" schools and "creationist" schools greedily waiting to get their hands on voucher money have been stock features in the teachers union propaganda.
Well, Believers in Christ is a "creationist" school. The people running it believe in the literalness of the Scriptures, and they don't separate their faith from their role as educators. Bedecking the hallways and every classroom are posters that proclaim such inspirational messages as "I can do all things through Christ" and "God gave me a brain."
Cheryl Brown, a former director of nursing at Milwaukee County Hospital, teaches biology. She offers her students a perfectly mainstream scientific account of DNA and RNA, while also telling them: "God created everythingit all began with him. Science can't contradict that. Science can explain how everything works physically in relation to everything else."
All the classes I visited kept a sharp focus on a traditional, skills-based curriculum. The fifth-grade class I watched was typical. The children were working over a map of the United States with the place names removed. They eagerly showed off their knowledge of the states and their principal cities. Each of the 20-odd children was engaged, polite, enthusiastic and informed.
Unremarkable, you might say; isn't this what schoolrooms are supposed to look like? But anyone who has been in an inner-city school in the past generation knows how exceptional, and precious such a scene really is.
The teachers unions believe that giving poor kids tax money to go to Brown's school is a stain on the republic. Never mind that her kids are learning something, that they might actually stay in school.
Never mind too that nothing in the school's curriculum has been imposed on the parentsunlike the public school parents who have had graphic and inappropriate sex education lessons or texts such as "Heather Has Two Mommies" inflicted on their children against their will.
Four of the first five graduates of Believers in Christ have already gone on to college. Considering the staggering 80% dropout rate among black males in the Milwaukee public schools, who can say that these parents made anything but an excellent choice for their children?
Voucher schools aren't just teaching kids. They provide a lesson for anyone who is open-minded enough to look for themselves: The freedom and accountability of school choice work.