How a Superintendent Became One of America's Biggest School Choice Advocates

Education reform: Lessons from a career in school choice – interview with Howard Fuller | VIEWPOINT
Education reform: Lessons from a career in school choice – interview with Howard Fuller | VIEWPOINT

Howard Fuller has spent a life time advocating for school choice, and was instrumental in the success of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. He talks with...


How was your kids' first day of school? They motivated to change the world? They meet any teachers or administrators that truly inspired them? Didn't say?

Well, maybe they didn't get to meet a Howard Fuller.

Part of the reason they may not have met a "Fuller-like" leader is that Fuller was never a teacher. He wasn't a principal. In fact, the state of Wisconsin had to change the law so that he could take the job of Milwaukee superintendent 25 years ago.

Fuller went into the superintendent's job "not being married to anything" in the system. The upside to that was that he got to bring in people who, like him, thought outside the box. The downside? "I didn't know anything."

Fuller said his experience changed his outlook on schooling. No longer was the system merely a "bureaucracy." He was now responsible for the fate of many well-meaning educators who had names and faces and ideas and wanted to design a better learning experience for kids. That made accountability harder, but it also opened his eyes to many ways of teaching.

Did he succeed as the superintendent? Well, he lasted four years, but the unusual coalition he created has led the school choice debate for two decades.

Fuller backs public school, charter schools, home schools, anything that enables children to learn. And he thinks kids are better able to learn when parents have a choice.

"Power to the people ... Parental choice is a powerful, powerful weapon. ... What it does is it changes who has control over the flow and distribution of the money," he said.

"What I've been striving for all of my life actually is to try to help people who are poor have more control over their lives, right, and so every lever of power that you can give them, to me, is important. Because I have to keep reminding people that a voucher is not a school, it's a financial mechanism that allows people to access a school, and so that financial mechanism is the innovation, not the schools at the end of this. It's the power that's gained, and so even though they may access bad schools. the idea is not to not have vouchers. The idea then is to not allow those bad schools to operate, right?"

What do you think is the key to school accountability?