Who Is John Gardner?

Published May 1, 1999

Although Milwaukee Public Schools board member John Gardner is a strong advocate of public education, he calls public schools “juvenile warehousing run by an incompetent monopoly.”

Speaking in a panel discussion at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 25th Anniversary Annual Meeting last August in Chicago, Gardner said he believes the major public policy question facing state legislators is how to give poor children a good education. Freeing low-income urban communities from the tyranny and incompetence of government educational monopolies, he says, is critical for American democracy.

“I believe that poor children can become productive citizens, but too many people on the left think of them as victims,” declared Gardner, for 30 years an organizer with labor unions, public interest groups, and community organizations. His aim is to make the Milwaukee Public Schools the best public schools, through choice and competition.

Gardner offered the following recommendations to state lawmakers at the August event:

  • Adopt tough graduation requirements for high school and middle school.
  • Establish high school admission standards.
  • Permit more choice within the public school system.
  • Strengthen evaluation and discipline for teachers, principals, and administrators.
  • Compile and publicize school-by-school accountability reports.
  • Close or reconstitute failing schools.

“Competition works. Choice will make the public schools better,” argued Gardner. “We have to dispose of the fatuous argument that choice will destroy them,” he added, noting that the Milwaukee Public Schools system has responded to increased parental choice by raising standards, giving parents more choices, and demanding greater accountability from public schools.