Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hell Friday

This week has been murder.

Joint Finance Committee voting to kill my school district by toppling it in a Detroit-style murder. Then, the politics of the Milwaukee School Board itself and having it's own resolution tabled for a week... It's all just been too much.

Either way, with education in Wisconsin, and especially in Milwaukee, this is it:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I Just Can't...

The farce I witnessed last night in the Joint Finance Committee cannot possibly be described in this space.

Luckily, Heather at Monologues of Dissent, Larry Miller at his blog, Jake at the Economic TA Funhouse, Joanne Juhnke from Stop Special Needs Vouchers, the School Administrators Alliance, One Wisconsin Now, Wisconsin Education Association Council, and Democurmudgeon, all have you covered.

This isn't my first Joint Finance Committee education funding rodeo, so I took my first ever personal day from MPS today.

So what am I doing that I can't write? Sitting in a coffee shop and grading...

You know, stuff that teachers do. The thing that was most disgusting from last night was the fact that everyone who spoke, EVERYONE from both sides, seem to have no earthly concept what it's like to teach in one of the lowest performing schools in Wisconsin and what help we need to actually turn around.

They could've asked... Either party could've asked, and I could've given them some very simple suggestions.

Heaven forbid the fact that actual people who work in schools that are failing help people understand what's going on.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Off To JFC

I'm off to Madison and the Joint Finance Committee meeting. 

While there is some good, about the Republicans adding in some funding per-pupil the 2nd year of the biennium and cutting the Independent Charter School expansion, there is a lot of bad with the MPS take-over portion.

From the WisPolitics Budget Blog: 

The co-chairs said they have reached an agreement to provide $200 million more to K-12 education over the biennium than what Gov. Scott Walker proposed.
The money will be used to eliminate the guv's cut in categorical aids in the first year of the budget while providing a $100 per student boost in the second year.

Republicans are also backing a statewide expansion of the school choice program that would be patterned after the open enrollment program.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, declined to put a dollar figure on how much public school districts would lose in state aid through children deciding to enroll in the choice program. Still, they said their plan substantially follows a proposal Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has been studying. A memo of that plan by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau found such a move would be funded by $47.8 million that would have otherwise gone to the districts the students were attending.

The co-chairs said the vouchers would be $7,200 for K-8 and $7,800 for high school students.

Other pieces of the education package include: 
*special needs vouchers 
*a proposal Darling has been working on with Rep. Dale Kooyenga to take over the worst performing Milwaukee schools and put them under the authority of a commissioner appointed by the county exec.
More on the last part from the Milwaukee Teachers Educators Association Facebook Page:
The #wibudget Is as bad as thought. Sen Darling & Sen Nygren press conference right now. Although the budget gives a $200 million increase to the state's K12 schools it also includes an MPS Takeover, special needs vouchers & statewide voucher expansion are all in budget.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Oh My... The Plan For Funding Edcuation Just Keeps Getting Worse

I had such a nice and relaxing weekend. Basking in the sunshine was wonderful, then Sunday evening I worked on a conference call about setting up my 10 year high school reunion.

Then... THIS came out from Erin Richards of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Education funding is so screwed in Wisconsin.
Get ready for a hot week in K-12 education policy. 
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee will start Tuesday amending controversial education finance and policy proposals in Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget, and the following developments are in play: 
And yes, should it go late into the evening, I will be right there watching it all.
■ The leader of the Assembly is pushing a new plan to fund the expansion of publicly funded private and religious schools in a budget season that didn't benefit from any boost in tax revenue. 
That's right! We need to fund more vouchers instead of actually fund public schools! Because... Well, because!
■ A plan by two influential lawmakers to turn over some of Milwaukee's most chronically underperforming schools to a commissioner appointed by the Milwaukee County executive appears to have support on the budget-writing panel. 
Appears to have support on the panel?! Where's this information from? Who supports it? Who's tentative? This is major news to me. Sen. Olsen has already come out against it, but there needs to be another vote on this one. Who's the person who's not budging?

The level of colonialism we somehow are just accepting is astounding.
■ School district leaders are trying to persuade Republican lawmakers in charge to not just restore the $127 million cut to K-12 education that Walker proposed in the first year of the budget, but to give them a workable increase to address inflation costs. 
Because that is the whole reason we are fighting over the $127 million cut is because last biennium they put the special appropriation in to actually give the $150 per-pupil inflationary increase that everyone agrees is needed every budget cycle.

■ Walker's budget proposals to end the Chapter 220 integration aid program and to expand independent charter schools statewide also appear to have supporters on the finance committee. 

The voucher expansion is like being cut by a knife. This is the internal-bleeding of this budget that we won't see and will be infinitely too late to stop. Right now, independent charter schools in Milwaukee already bleed money from all 424 school districts in Wisconsin. There is a complex formula used to calculate each district's "share' of state aid they have to give back. If this expands beyond Milwaukee, you will see the costs EXPLODE and district's receive even less money than before.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has developed a plan to modify the funding model of the state's two newest private voucher school programs in Racine and statewide. The funding structure of Milwaukee's large and long-standing program would not be changed. 
Oh happy day... So the "funding flaw" would still remain, and MPS would STILL be required to spend money on student's it never sees.
Walker's budget calls for dropping the enrollment cap on the two-year-old statewide program, which is now limited to 1,000 students. But he didn't clarify how to fund the expansion. 
Because, why worry about how to actually finance things?!
Voucher advocates, including the powerful national lobby American Federation for Children, have pushed to make sure the annual per-pupil voucher payments — $7,210 annually for a K-8 student and $7,856 annually for a high school student — aren't reduced if participation is expanded. 
Because, heaven forbid if the vouchers are ever cut...
Under Vos' plan, new pupils in the Racine and statewide programs would be funded in a fashion similar to how the state's open enrollment program works for public-school student transfers. 
When students leave their home districts to attend public schools in other districts under open enrollment, the majority of the state funding that would have gone to the home district follows the pupil to the new district. But the home district "counts" the child in its membership, and gets to keep a small amount of money even though it no longer educates that child. 
So let's just use those numbers for a second and play this out for the gentle reader. I'll take my hometown of Fond du Lac as an example, because they have two voucher accepting private schools in town and a 2,000 student high school.

Let's say 5 students leave the high school this year, and would accept a voucher. Instead of $7,856 leaving with each student, let's say $856 is the "small amount" the Fond du Lac district keeps.

So $7,000 x 5 students leaving = $35,000 gone from the district at JUST the high school level.

Hmm, starting teacher salary is $36,000 in Fond du Lac, which doesn't include benefits. So, which teacher is going to go to 1/2 time at the school because you lost 5 students? Bump it up to 10 kids, and what teacher are you losing? What 5 classes are you no longer going to have? How are you going to balance your classes? How are you going to keep your numbers in each class down? How are you going to offer an expansive set of elective courses?

See why MPS has the issues it does? Maybe it's not that MPS is incompetent, but rather they are being squeezed.
According to a memo to Vos on Friday from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if that model were applied to new students entering the statewide or Racine voucher programs, the child's home district would see an aid reduction in the amount of the voucher. 
Taxes could not be raised to offset the reduction, but by continuing to count the pupils in their membership for general aids and revenue limit purposes, districts still could keep some money. The exact amount would vary by district. 
But be virtually nothing, and in no way make-up for the loss districts would see in being able to balance with schools that serve large numbers of SPED or ELL students.
The effect of the funding plan on districts would be felt differently depending on whether new voucher program participants were previously attending public schools, or previously attending private schools and applying to use a voucher. 
For the statewide program this school year, 75% of students who applied to receive vouchers were already attending private schools without taxpayer help. 
Which just goes to show you that, yet again, this program is NOT about helping people "escape" low performing schools, but about separating us in society and making people feel like they don't have a societal obligation to fund public schools, even if their own child isn't attending one.
To an extent, the plan from Vos would reduce the number of new pupils who could do that. To be eligible, students would have to meet income limits set for the two programs and either not be enrolled in school the previous year, be attending a public school the previous year or be a continuing voucher student. Private-school students could only receive a voucher to keep attending a private school if they were entering kindergarten, first grade or ninth grade. 
Income limits on participants in the statewide program are more stringent than the Racine program. 
Those are some good things to implement, but again, I don't even know WHY this program needs to happen in the first place. If the state wanted to offer a loan-program to parents who wanted help covering tuition, I'd be game for that. But you don't get the right to have the state pay for you to send your kid to a private school. You have an obligation to fund a public school and be a part of the community that runs it.

Plain and simple.
The fiscal bureau estimates that funding students in the open enrollment fashion over the biennium would cost around $48 million — which would be offset by the decrease in the aid reductions to the school districts of residence. 
Vos said he thought the voucher-funding plan was a good alternative to what the governor proposed. 
Vos said his plan would allow voucher schools to get more funding per pupil than Walker's plan would allow. Public schools would also fare well, he said. 
FARE WELL?!?!?!?!?!?!? FARE WELL!?!?!?!?!?

You have to be joking me!!!! This isn't faring well, it's death by a gagillion paper-cuts while swallowing glass shards to slice our internal parts!
Walker, who is preparing a run for the presidency, was noncommittal on Vos' plan.
"We're open to working with the Legislature in a variety of different ways, but I don't know that we're set on a particular" voucher plan, he said.
In other words... He doesn't have a damn clue because he's too busy plotting which coffee shop in South Carolina he needs to stop in.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he liked that the Vos plan would not require any additional taxpayer money. 
State Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he would want to add a "fix" to ensure school districts getting a smaller amount of money wouldn't lose money under the proposal by being expected to return the full per-pupil payment to the state. 
Always the voice of, "you know, this is an issue guys," Sen. Olsen is a quasi-sane voice in a land of Looney Tunes that make the early Daffy Duck seem like Einstein.
Public school opposition 
John Forester, director of government relations for the School Administrators Alliance, said the plan would strain limited funding for public education. 
The current budget bill has no increase in per-pupil revenues over the biennium, Forester said. But he noted the fiscal bureau estimates indicate the voucher expansion plan would cost school districts $48 million over the biennium because of new voucher students.  
He said if lawmakers also approve some type of expansion for independent charter schools — public schools authorized to operate free of school board oversight, often without unionized staff — finances for public schools would be hit again. 
Independent charter schools are funded by skimming a bit of aid from every school district in the state. More independent charter school means a little more aid gets taken from every district. Forester said school districts might have to raise property taxes as a result. 
Unless they can't, which means they will have to go to referendum, and THAT is how you create a horrible imbalance of public education across Wisconsin. As Superintendent of Public Schools Tony Evers noted last week on "Up Front w/Mike Gousha" it leads to districts of "haves and have-nots." 
Forester has urged school district leaders in recent days to contact Joint Finance Committee members to press for an increase in per-pupil revenue. 
"Emphasize that restoring (the $127 million) cut still only gets public schools back go a freeze in allowable revenue," Forester wrote to members last week. "We need an inflationary increase in per pupil revenues to meet the needs of students."
But heaven forbid we actually did things that made budgeting sense in Wisconsin...

"Public Education Is a Civil Right" - Dr. Darienne Driver

"Alan Borsuk just makes stuff up..."

I've heard that from more than one person on the Milwaukee education scene, and yes, these are people who aren't exactly always positive of each other. So naturally, every Saturday when his column for the week comes out, I take it with an extreme grain of salt.

But this week's column, which can be seen HERE does hit on a theme that deserves a little exploration - giving MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver more stand-alone oversight of some schools. I'm certainly not advocating for it, nor is there any indication that Sup. Driver is either, but after watching countless public affairs shows this morning, I'm troubled by what people think it means.
Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Darienne Driver is the one person involved in Milwaukee education who just about everybody respects. 
That could put her in an important, maybe pivotal, position right now. 
This is true. The Milwaukee Teachers Educators Association is very positive towards Driver, and sees someone who brings to MPS what has been missing for a long time - vision and systems thinking. All too often over the past 15 years we've had either one or the other.
Getting the county executive involved in schools is kind of an, um, unexpected idea. 
But what if it morphed into launching turnaround efforts at some schools under the wing of Driver, with the Milwaukee School Board cut out of control of those schools?
Interesting idea... And something that Board President Michael Bonds was more in favor of than the current proposal. (Although I get the distinct feeling he doesn't like the thought of either of these ideas.)
There were hints that that might be what Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), the authors of the idea, are angling for. 
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Erin Richards reported that Darling told her that "she thought highly of Driver, and that she would like to see her be considered for the role of commissioner — as long as the School Board isn't involved in the turnaround schools." 
I'm still seeking why there is such an adversarial tone towards the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors. (Could it be that the MTEA has positive working relationships with some members and they don't have the desire to tick-off 6,000 teachers and almost another 4,000 support staff of various kinds?)
In a follow-up story, Richards quoted Patricia Hoben, leader of the two high-energy Carmen charter schools in Milwaukee, saying, "The best thing would be to have the School Board let the superintendent do some of these things that she hasn't yet been authorized to do." 
Hoben is likely to play an important role in this discussion.

Why should an independent charter school operator who gets to pick her students, be exclusionary towards those who are difficult to educate, and has nowhere near the experience of Dr. Driver in running the efforts of over 76,000 school children play an important role in this discussion?

Just because she's been able to plaster herself over committees dating back to 2011 on school "accountability" and the effects of charter/choice/public schools in Milwaukee means diddly to me.
I consider the idea of giving Driver expanded power, particularly over a few schools, a trial balloon within a trial balloon — and potentially the route to something positive coming out of a controversy otherwise likely to come to nothing or worse. 
About four years ago, then-MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton privately floated a similar idea. He wanted all the charter schools in town put under his authority, with the School Board having no control over those that were authorized by government bodies outside of the MPS board. 
Nothing came of that, of course. 

Why on earth should only one person get to oversee charter schools and have the authority to keep them open or close them down? The school board is the authoritative "check" on holding schools in the charter program accountable. They are the ones who get to decide which schools get a charter, have their charter renewed, and force schools to stick to requirements of their charter.

As board member Terry Falk said last year at a meeting, "there's nothing that a charter school can do that we can't do." And that's true... Except, be exclusionary for students because of attendance/discipline issues. MPS has plenty of schools with entrance requirements, but none are bound by mandatory attendance, parental participation, or behavior. Those are the reasons why charter schools are exclusive. (Well that, and they can force their teachers to have lower pay and different working conditions outside the school day because they have no say in such issues.)
My bet is that if Thornton were still around — he's superintendent of Baltimore city schools now — he'd be eager to cut a deal with Republicans in control of the Legislature. 
Which is one reason nobody... Not teachers, not many in central office, not the school board... Nobody trusted Gregory Thornton by the end of his tenure.

Later in the column, Borsuk outlines some of Sup. Driver's qualities and why this could be seen as a ploy to give her schools and a free hand from the school board:
She is in favor of cooperation and innovation, and she speaks with conviction (amid a lot of technocratic jargon sometimes) about the potential for improvement. Republicans, Democrats, School Board members, business and civic leaders, voucher and private-school people — an array of people are positive about her. 
That said, her political skills, the level of her ambition and her willingness to assert herself (especially against a School Board that does not bring the words "bold action" to mind) have not yet been tested. 
Beep, Beep, back up. How can you possibly say the school board doesn't bring the words "bold action" to mind? The new board, with two new members, has only been in place for less than a month! Additionally, and I've said this before, I loathe the word "bold" when being attached to some action. It's bold to jump off a cliff without a tether or parachute. It's also incredibly stupid. Bold isn't always better.
Driver spoke out last week against the Darling-Kooyenga idea, saying that choice schools in Milwaukee had done no better than MPS schools, that shutting down a school and reopening it is a quick-fix idea that doesn't work unless you get real about what it takes to succeed, and that taking schools away from MPS would cause great harm to the system. 
But what if those concerns could be navigated? 
If Darling and Kooyenga push forward, would even the Milwaukee School Board be willing to make a deal that reduced its power but kept schools under the MPS umbrella, given that the alternative could be much worse? 
GOOD LORD!!! Why did you not keep with the idea that holding voucher schools accountable too is a major flaw with this idea! That's not a concern to be navigated, it's a fundamental flaw! Right now, there are plenty of school options in Milwaukee that the MPS board has no oversight over. They include private religious schools, private voucher schools, and independent charter schools from UWM and the City of Milwaukee. In fact, the only thing the MPS board does with the charter schools MPS has is hold them accountable to their charter and that they are meeting performance expectations!

There is NOTHING that the superintendent would do with schools that the board isn't already doing with their oversight, except usurping the democratic process and putting it in the hands of a single person. I'm sure giving the Superintendent oversight of some schools would just do WONDERS for the working relationship between the board and Superintendent.
One important task for leaders, whatever becomes of this proposal, should be to sell Driver and many other people on the potential for better things ahead for children, not just in school but in the rest of their lives and in the lives they can realistically hope for as adults. 
Again, how in the hell did we get to a place where the narrative is that the MPS Board of School Directors doesn't want what's best for children and give them a better chance as adults.
Driver spoke at a forum Monday at the Marquette University Law School (disclosure: I was one of the organizers). 
She became quite passionate about the limited potential and hope for many children in the city. 
"We're in a city where they (children) don't have enough evidence that investing in their education is going to yield them some kind of positive outcomes and results," she said.
"I think all the time, would I be in this chair if I went to Milwaukee Public Schools, if I went to any school in southeastern Wisconsin or in the state of Wisconsin? I have to ask myself that question all the time, because we don't get real about what is happening in our schools.
So what she's saying is EXACTLY what the teachers unions, the school board, and pretty much anyone with a damn clue has been saying! It's about poverty and the lack of real opportunity for students when they graduate!!!
"So we can't go to the quick fix. It might sound great and exciting, but that's not going to get us to what is really happening in our schools. I just beg everyone please, don't go to what sounds sexy. ... 
"It (overall education improvement) is possible, but we have to focus on teaching and learning and making sure that our students are successful, that they can be connected to something that's relevant and meaningful when they're done with education, and not just keep arguing about the model of delivery. But let's get real about what we can actually do for our young people." 
I see Driver asking a crucial question: How do we get real and get better at the same time?

I wonder how much of the answer might involve giving Driver herself good tools to do that.
NOTHING!!! Driver isn't in the least saying that she needs to do an end-run around anyone. She's saying we need to focus as a community on issues outside of schools and schools need to focus on teaching and learning! WHY, WHY is this so hard to understand?!?!?!

In fact, you can see her express this sentiment from this weekend's "Up Front w/Mike Gousha." I HIGHLY recommend watching it.
Mike: You are addressing (low academic achievement)?  
Dr. Driver: There are things I started working on two years ago as Chief Innovation Officer, and now as Superintendent. We have not talked about the disruption this causes to students.  When you start taking about selective schools, the fact that we do have 20% of our students that have special needs, and another 10% that are English Language Learners. The plan as proposed would not support those students Choice schools, under law, do not have to provide those services to special ed students. The students with the greatest need would continue to go unserved under this plan. I think another piece,  this plan does not flesh out anything around finances or infrastructure. The idea one person, the County executive, could appoint a commissioner without any other details on how it would be funded or operated is very flawed. 
Another program that discussed the Sen. Darling/Rep. Kooyenga plan was MPTV's "InterCHANGE." In the YouTube video below, if you skip to 15:30, you can see the four panelist discuss the topic.

Gerrard Randall, a former UW Regent and one of the right-leaning panelists makes some of the more interesting comments. He notes that there is a "level of frustration" with MPS's achievement, but VERY CORRECTLY notes that there is a gross misconception about how much progress MPS has made over the last few years.

This could possibly be because I'm only now finishing my third year in the district, but so, so often I see us on the leading, bleeding cutting edge of innovation and reform in our district. In fact, we are often times ahead of where parents are and their level of comfort. The reason we still need to issue textbooks? Parents. They aren't comfortable with just class-sets or checked-out books for a night. Urban parents are different than suburban parents, and that's something we need to admit too. Not better, not worse, just different.

Randall also believes that the plan that has been floated/leaked, will not be the ultimate plan that's adopted, which brings us back to Alan Borsuk's column about giving control of schools to the Superintendent. Are we seeing a possible new plan emerge through talking points?

I guess only time will tell, and the Joint Finance Committee is set to take these issues up this coming Tuesday.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hovde 2018? Oh, Okay...

Any chance I get to resurrect this picture, I'll take it.

Apparently, tonight at the Republican Party of Wisconsin Convention, Eric Hovde said he is mulling his options about running against Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018:
Eric Hovde, who came up short to Tommy Thompson in the GOP U.S. Senate primary three years ago, said he will again consider a bid for the chamber in 2018.

Hovde's name has floated as a possible candidate to take on U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and he said he's been flattered at the encouragement he's received.

Still, Hovde said he likely wouldn't make a decision until 18 months out from the race. Having already run once, he has more time to consider a bid than others.
"It's the riding the bike theory," Hovde said, adding he already knows what to expect in a campaign.

Hovde said he'd only be interested in the Senate if he embarked on another run.
"It would only be the Senate. Why? Real simple. Our problems are still in Washington, and the biggest problem is the Senate," Hovde said.
It would not surprise me if someone like Congressman Sean Duffy or Reid Ribble would try and make a play for that seat too. Both will have had considerable time in the house by then and while both are extremely different in style, would likely see the chance at a pickup with it being a non-presidential election year.

Then again, by 2018, I fully expect the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to be well on it's way to a turnaround, so using 2014, 12, and 10 assumptions is dangerous.

Joint Finance Committee Tuesday - It's The Debate In Haste!

Today started so well, with headlines from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel such as "GOP Plan for Struggling Schools Faces Uphill Battle." which I covered yesterday HERE.

Then, the rest of Friday happened.

From Rep. Christine Sinicki's Facebook Page:

It appears that the MPS takeover bill is for real. Rumor has it Alberta Darling will retire after this term and this is her "swan song". All indications are that it will be slipped into the budget on Tuesday. If you have a republican Senator or State Rep. Call them this weekend! Ask them to oppose this ill-conceived idea.
Like · Comment · 

Rep. Sinicki's statement seems to correlate with what I'd been hearing during the afternoon on Friday that yes, it looks like it's true, there will be an attempt to fold some form of Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga's #batshitcrazy plan for MPS into the budget.

The Journal-Sentinel's education reporter Erin Richards did a brief interview today that was posted online. The video can be seen HERE:

Aside from rehashing what the gentle-reader of this blog already knows, there was a little analysis that I hadn't heard before, notably that Rep. Kooyenga reached out to Mayor Barrett first before going to Co. Executive Abele, and the only reason he didn't go for it was because the plan lacked details.

She also agrees with what many of us have already assumed, but seem to have gotten a little bit more confirmation on today - that because this bill is so contentious it wouldn't stand a chance at a stand-alone hearing. Hence why you see it being looked at to go directly into the budget.

The hope for people who truly do care about public education in Wisconsin is to get on the horn and call members of the Joint Finance Committee and tell them that this isn't just bad for Milwaukee, but a horrible precedent for Wisconsin.

Remember when vouchers were "just a Milwaukee thing?"

Remember when independent charter schools were "just a Milwaukee thing?"

Don't kid yourself Green Bay, Racine, Madison, etc... It could very easily come to you in the coming years as well! This is a fight for ALL of us to have! I only can hope that Democrats are united in JFC on this and that Sen. Luther Olsen can convince other members of the committee to not accept this thing.

(Yes Sen. Lena Taylor, I did notice your press-release today, and NO, I'm not happy the language wasn't stronger against this proposal.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Darling & Kooyenga's "Opportunity Zone" - Ice Cold Reception In State Senate

Since 2011, even Republicans who disagree with what their more, ahem, "ideological" members have proposed will signal they are willing to listen and consider alternatives to what might be initially floated as a trial balloon.

State Sen. Luther Olsen sees no such thing in Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga's radical proposal to change the governance structure of some Milwaukee Public Schools.

From WHBL radio in Beaver Dam: 
The head of the state Senate's education committee says his chamber would not pass a separate bill to have a county commissioner run Milwaukee's lowest performing public schools.

Last night at our MTEA union Representative Assembly, I asked what people were hearing about other members of the legislature. While I had assumed Sen. Olsen was not on board, I'm kind of surprised how quickly his response came today. That certainly throws a new chink into the amour of Darling and Kooyenga. The WHBL report, and THIS report from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which came out this morning, indicate that next Tuesday is the day the Finance Committee expects to unveil it's K-12 funding.
A plan from two suburban Republican lawmakers to have some of Milwaukee's lowest-performing public schools answer to a commissioner appointed by the county executive rather than the Milwaukee School Board may face an uphill battle to become law. 
A key GOP senator said the proposal lacks details and wouldn't pass the Senate as an independent bill. Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said the plan also doesn't address how a mere change in governance will swing achievement in schools that continue to enroll the same disadvantaged children. 
"What does the county executive know about running schools and picking a commissioner?" he asked. 
Ha, that's the question we've been asking about the City of Milwaukee for years now with their ability to charter schools. While I'm not a fan of independent charters to begin with, I'm more okay (yes, I said it like that) with a university like UWM chartering than a city or county. UWM at least has a School of Education with professors with doctoral degrees who understand schools and how they operate.
Timing is also an issue. The proposal isn't a drafted bill yet, and the backers, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), have said they want to fold the proposal into the governor's biennial budget. But the Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to take up education policy issues early next week. 
It sounds like Tuesday is the day, and if nothings drafted I can't imagine how horrible it will look with them trying to tack it in hodgepodge fashion at 3am.
The 15 Democratic lawmakers who make up the Milwaukee legislative caucus united Wednesday in opposition to the plan. 
Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said Republican leaders two weeks ago said public education was their No. 1 priority, and that they should "prove it" by fixing the GOP-led proposal to cut $127 million from K-12 education before they tackle the turnaround zone. 
"If there is a serious conversation to be had about failing schools in Milwaukee, then we need to have a conversation about all failing schools, including failing voucher and failing charter schools," he said. 
So glad that man represents me in the State Assembly. Later in the article, after more re-hashing what I've already covered, we get word from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos...
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said he hadn't discussed the bill yet with his GOP caucus but that he personally liked the basic idea and thought there was a chance Republicans could get behind it. 
"I support things that are meant to help make schools operate better," Vos said.Vos said that there would need to be strong backing from either Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele or a different official who would assume responsibility for the schools under the bill. 
"I don't think we want anybody to be reluctant in taking on this task," he said. 
HMMMMMMMMMMM.... THAT'S interesting! (Just check out Twitter and #NoMPSTakeover)
Abele said after the proposal was circulated that he would be willing to take on the role, but that it wasn't his idea. 
While Abele would've been MUCH, MUCH better off just keeping his mouth shut and not putting out an awkward press-release where he said he'd accept such authority, he certainly doesn't sound like a solid person who wants such authority under his purview. (Not that Abele has ever been opposed at taking power for his office. Oh, hey Co. Board!)
A spokesman for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said they didn't get a copy of the latest plans at all from Kooyenga or Darling. Kooyenga's office said they sent the plans.Barrett, in concert with former Democratic governor Jim Doyle, launched a failed attempt to have the mayor lead the Milwaukee school system in 2009. 
Tell me this isn't a government operation...
Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee), chairman of this year's new education panel, the Senate Committee on Education Reform, said he thought the plan was an opportunity to focus on low achievement in Milwaukee and bring in some new energy and a new direction. 
Sen. Farrow was instrumental at killing SB 286 last session, which in many ways would've done similar things to MPS that this bill does. He's long been noted as a supporter of such "recovery districts," so this isn't anything new.
Looking for details 
In the Milwaukee education community, some charter-school leaders said they were optimistic about the plan, but that it needed a lot of details ironed out. Like money. The plan does not propose new money for reforms — or the commissioner's salary — beyond the schools' existing revenue streams. 
OHHHHHH! So, money IS important when talking about providing for students in need!!! Also, WHY are current charter operators are so giddy at the thought of this proposal? If they have a really great program, why aren't they falling over themselves to go to UWM or the City of Milwaukee and be granted another charter if MPS is so reluctant to replicate good programs???

I'll tell you why! Because this gives them unlimited flexibility and ability to skim money!!! They see dollar signs all OVER it for their "management organization."
There are other questions: Would the commissioner have chartering authority akin to MPS, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the City of Milwaukee? Would operators would have to lease the school buildings from the district? What would happen to the schools if and when they met some measure of success (which would also have to be determined)? Would they be returned to the district? Or continued to be run by the new educational management company? 
Ha... Returned to the public sector. That's funny...
Patricia Hoben, leader of Carmen High Schools of Science & Technology, which is authorized by the school board but hires its own employees, said it might be better to start small with just one or two schools to work out the kinks. 
"But I think the best thing would be to have the school board let the superintendent do some of these things that she hasn't yet been authorized to do, like engage charters (in some schools as partners)," she said. 
Lolz... All she can think of is Bradley Tech.
Hoben recently suggested partnering with the district to expand the presence of her charter school inside the long-struggling Bradley Tech High School. But the district decided to go a different route, by deepening relations with UWM and Milwaukee Area Technical College to revive the school's technical curriculum. 
Because her "expanding her presence" was taking over one of the newest buildings in MPS with low maintenance costs and doing no such thing as "partner" but instead just take it over and kick out a majority of the students. There's little question as to why MPS went with a "different direction." She's already still expanding her north side campus.
Ricardo Diaz, head of the United Community Center, which houses the high-performing charter Bruce Guadalupe Community School, said he commended Darling and Kooyenga for their enthusiasm and show of good faith. 
But he also said perhaps a "trial balloon" — like, revisiting the Bradley Tech discussion and trying new management at just that school — could be a good pilot project. 
I've been in that school and it's a wonderful program they have there. However, I would NEVER say that Darling and Kooyenga are showing "good faith" on this at all.
Where the entire 16-member Joint Finance Committee will stand on the proposal is unclear. That committee is in the down-to-the-wire stages of revising Gov. Scott Walker's proposed 2015-'17 state budget. 
Controversial items wrapped into the state budget often stand a better chance of passing than if introduced as an independent bill. Contentious public hearings at the committee level often contribute to the demise of proposed legislation.
Sigh... looks like I'll have to bring some coffee to Madison on Tuesday night.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

One More Thing To Note About The "Opportunity" Zone

So, the Journal-Sentinel article from yesterday was updated late and includes a TON of changes in editing and a few extra tidbits that were unwritten when I originally wrote yesterday. (First to news, but constantly updating/changing the same article REEKS for those of us who are historians.)
Again, you can view the article HERE, while my initial writing covering what was the most up-to-date version of the article as of last evening is HERE. 

This is the first of many additions and important notes:
Under the proposal, County Executive Chris Abele — who was not fully briefed about the plan before details were leaked to the media — would name a commissioner with parallel authority to Milwaukee Public Schools. 
Abele said Monday that he didn't seek the legislation, but if it passed, he would accept the responsibility.
It's admittedly hard to not view the "who was not fully briefed about the plan..." Line as Exec. Abele trying to walk-back a lot of the backlash this bill generated yesterday and any association he had with it. (You're welcome.) It also likely has to deal with THIS article from where it notes how Abele is a good/bad choice for the conservatives who wish nothing more than to eviscerate MPS.

Then, there are some numbers attached to the schools that would largely be targeted with this proposal:
There are 55 MPS schools in the middle of the debate: schools that received "fails to meet expectations" ratings on the latest round of state performance report cards and would be eligible for a change in governance, according to the proposal. In many of the schools, more than 90% of children are not reading on grade level and less than three out of four attend school regularly.
How can students learn to read if they don't attend school regularly? And really, how can you blame the school for students not attending regularly?! There are home visits, TABS referrals, and phone calls, but there is really only so much a school can do to actually force students to come, and come on time. Remember THIS story that came out about how truant MPS high school students are? Do you think the percentage increase in MPS students being truant has anything to do with more and more voucher/charter operators opening and MPS having to always accept those who don't follow the rules?

Remember, this proposal is all about the school BUILDINGS and nowhere in it forces the charter school that is going to take over the building to keep the same students. If you were to have a school like Carmen HS take over Bradley Tech (like they wanted to) you can bet your BOTTOM DOLLAR that a majority of the students currently at Bradley Tech would not be there and graduate. They would be forced out through suspension/expulsion or "strongly suggested" to enroll somewhere else because the program "isn't a good fit."

Just you watch...

The next bit of new information comes from MPS Board President Michael Bonds:
Bonds said there are other options. For example, he said he could support a proposal to put Driver directly in charge of some schools — as long as it didn't include turning over the schools to non-district operators.
Bonds has drawn the ire of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association for his support of charter schools in the past, and this essentially takes it to a logical conclusion where he even gives up any oversight the board has to try and appease conservatives in Madison.

The conservatives really don't like the MPS School Board because they don't break to their will...

Bond's statement is important to note, because it is echoed by Exec Abele, who could wind up appointing Sup. Driver as the person in charge of these schools. Either way, it sounds like the Joint Finance Committee could be taking up the education portion of the budget next week Tuesday. If that's the case, expect a LATE Tuesday and very tired Wednesday.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Today's Fallout From The Darling/Kooyenga Plan

The fallout today when news of the proposed MPS turn-around district hit the media was certainly swift.

Lots of news stories and reporters questioning what's happening means we can also start putting together a few more puzzle pieces as to when this could possibly be proposed, how much it could change, etc

First, from Erin Richards, education reporter at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: 
The Milwaukee County executive would oversee the turnover of up to five struggling Milwaukee Public Schools per year to operators of public charter or private voucher schools with better records of success, according to details of a proposal that two suburban Republican lawmakers have been working on for months. 
Under the proposal, County Executive Chris Abele would name a commissioner who would have parallel authority to Milwaukee Public Schools but have broad freedom from rules, save for laws regarding health and safety, non-discrimination and special education services, according to the proposal. 
Staff at the public schools run by new operators would have to re-apply for their jobs and, if hired, would waive their right to be represented by a union. The plan suggests that staff would not have to have state teaching licenses, but would get a special license to teach in schools under the authority of the commissioner. Staff would have to pass criminal background checks. 
All things I outlined in my post on this yesterday.  
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Dale Kooyenga (Brookfield) emailed details of their proposal, named the "Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program," to private and charter school leaders, as well as Milwaukee Public Schools, late last week for feedback. 
Needless to say, the contents of the e-mail spread quickly.
The email was forwarded to the Journal Sentinel.  
Darling said she and Kooyenga are seeking feedback to improve their plan, but that it's aimed at implementing new changes that the Milwaukee School Board has historically blocked. 
Notice how this is one group of democratically elected officials trying to supersede the authority of another group of elected officials? Sen. Darling represents a fraction of the City of Milwaukee. Not one member of the Milwaukee legislative delegation has signed up with this, and by all accounts, have never once been invited to give input.

Also, the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors and Superintendent Darienne Driver were never consulted in the crafting of this proposal. Only after it was put together did they elicit "feedback."

"I hope to generate an open and honest discussion of what is possible in Milwaukee if the needs of the children are put ahead of the needs of the status quo," she said in a statement. 
Really Sen. Darling?


MPS has been begging for YEARS about the need for help with wrap-around services and legislative help. The recent proposal of Community Schools legislation (SB 146) is one such step in their quest to have legislative assistance with proposals that have proven to work FOR ALL STUDENTS in other cities.

Why don't you help MPS with what they are asking for?!

"Excuse me, I need a fork, not a spoon..."

"Here's an even bigger spoon!"

"Yes, it's very nice, but it doesn't actually solve the problem of not having a fork to hold my meat"


This is the logic we are seeing in state government right now...
MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver and other district supporters were critical of the plan. They said it discounted the strong impact that extreme poverty has on the schools' low performance — something that would not be alleviated by a change in school governance. Driver also pointed to the fact that private voucher schools have no better performance record overall than the city's public schools. 
"We can't go to the quick fix," Driver said Monday during an education conference at Marquette University. "I just beg everyone: Don't go to what sounds sexy. Let's go to the data." 
The data is a mighty funny thing.

As the original MPS teacher-blogger extrodinaire Jay Bullock pointed out on his Facebook feed:

  • Jay Bullock And compare it to the reading results here, remembering that the overall MPS average is 16% for reading.

    Today's Paper, also known as the e-Edition, is an online replica of the printed newspaper. You can view today's...
    Like · Reply · 15 mins
  • Jay Bullock One, count em, one non-MPS school on this list of "80-80" schools that deal with the hardest-to-teach students beats the MPS average, and not by 10 percentage points. (By 10% yes, in that it scores more than 16% 0.1, but just barely.) Where will Kooyenga and Darling find the school operators to take on these schools?

That's the funny thing about data... While it can be manipulated to all hell, you have to be careful how you intend to use it.

Back to the JS article:
She added that any new plan to address low-performing schools in Milwaukee should also address chronically underperforming voucher and charter schools, and not just district schools. 

By ALL accounts even within the voucher and charter sector there are many, MANY schools that are under-performing.

The way to solve issues of equitable education in Milwaukee is not to expand just in one sector. It's to do root-cause analysis and actually solve the problem.
Kooyenga said they were not trying to undermine Driver, but help her by allowing other parties to focus on the district's most troubled schools. 
Bahahahahahahaha... Really? He cannot be seriously saying that statement with a straight face?!
He said the charter or voucher school operators chosen to partner with specific MPS schools might be local or national operators, especially ones that could attract high-quality teaching talent. He said a metric for success might be defined as schools that post average reading and math state test scores that are at least 10% higher than the MPS district average. 
As opposed to MPS attracting high-quality teacher talent? Seriously, has this joker not been in my school and met my Math Department Chair? She is everything any school in ANY district could want, and she's choose to stay where it's tough because EVERYONE deserves a great teacher.

There's that data Jay was referencing above again... 10%. So, 26% proficient.

It is once again at this point where I would like to note that over 100 schools within MPS's family are not "failing" by the DPI report card and several exceed or even significantly exceed expectations. MPS does know what the heck it's doing with educating students. (Look, I work in the district, and BELIEVE ME, there are plenty of days to get on the proverbial soapbox about MPS. They are often times on the bleeding cutting edge, and with so many of our highest performing students, it shows.)
Having voucher schools, which are private and for the most part, religious schools, assume management of any city public schools is a new twist in the proposal. Most other states with turnaround zones similar to what Kooyenga and Darling have proposed only invite charter school operators to manage chronically underperforming schools. Charter schools are public schools and cannot teach religion. 
The whole twist and idea of having private schools come in and assume control of public assets is mighty damn confusing. They are clearly trying to make a play and have groups like St. Marcus Lutheran get a hold of MPS's dollars, but are struggling with how to do it within statute. At least that's how I see this, and why the language is so muddled and confusing.

A representative from Darling's office said they might change the proposal to make clear that any private school that took over a district school would have to be nonsectarian. 
Kooyenga said there are enough votes in the GOP-controlled state Legislature to approve the plan. He said they haven't decided whether it would be its own bill, or be folded into the state budget. The former would mean it would get a public hearing; the latter means it could be wrapped into last-minute changes without as much opportunity for debate. 

That's information that wasn't even included in the initial writing of this article at around 7am.

I've said since last session that the way they would do any type of MPS take-over would be in the state budget. It's just too politically messy to do a public hearing and have the possibility of 10,000 MPS employees show up. Fold it into the state budget, unveil it at 2am as is normal (after partaking in some Inn on the Park libations I'm sure) and then let it hit the fan behind you.

It's a genius move politically, but does nothing to help students.
Other details of the plan include: 
■ Eligible schools would come from the 55 MPS schools that receive "fails to meet expectations" ratings on their state report cards. The commissioner would analyze the schools and select up to three in 2015-'16 for a change in governance. After that, up to five schools could be added each year. 
Kooyenga on WISN-TV's 6pm news tonight was quoted as saying "two to five every year".

If MPS loses 10 schools in the next two years, it's bankrupt. Simple as that.
■ The commissioner would be tasked with turning around the schools through direct management or through soliciting offers from charter or voucher school operators to manage the schools. The commissioner would also manage partnerships for school wraparound services that help support children in non-school hours. 
More repetition of services that MPS already performs and even more competition for the scarce resources there are! Wow, what a way to serve students.
■ Per-pupil payments for children in the Opportunity Zone schools to come from funding that would otherwise flow to MPS. 
And you know the Special Education population would be considerably lower, which means cheaper students and their equal pot of dollars would flow to the "Opportunity Zone" while MPS would be left with the most expensive to educate.
The plan drew sharp criticism from Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association union. He said it was "an insult" to the Milwaukee community and part of a larger plan to privatize schools throughout the state. 
Damn right it did. There's a reason I'm proud to say he's the leader of my professional organization.
"For two white suburban legislators to propose that the white county executive appoint a 'Commissioner' who will have 'parallel authority' to the democratically elected school board is a racist attack on the democratic rights of the citizens of Milwaukee, the majority of whom are black and brown," Peterson said in a statement. 
Like I said yesterday, don't attack us for playing the race card when we were dealt a whole damn deck of them. That's all this is about... money and race. You'd never ONCE see this proposed in Waukesha, or Forest County.
He added that the proposal would be "laughable if not for the fact that anti-Milwaukee bias and anti-public education sentiment among some power brokers in Madison make this threat real."
I cannot fathom growing up in an environment where schools were so unstable. Is it any wonder why we say that Republicans hate Milwaukee and are setting out to destroy the very things and places that attract young Millennials to Wisconsin? And they can't figure out why we have a brain-drain????
State Superintendent Tony Evers indicated Monday at the Marquette education conference that he was not in favor of the proposal. He said improving schools doesn't necessarily hinge on changing governance, but on hard work and adequate resources. 
"Looking for a silver bullet is a fool's errand," he said.
Because if the legislature would actually listen to MPS and educators, we could tell you what would help us solve the problems. But, because you don't think we know what we're talking about and see every day, and you find it easier to cast down your noses at us from the suburban highlands... We're left with this.

Moving on from the Journal-Sentinel article, WISN-TV's website has statements from several of the major players in this whole saga. One of the more interesting ones comes from Co. Executive Chris Abele, someone who nobody knew was even possibly a player in the saga of MPS:
"Providing the best K-12 education system for the community should be a priority for everyone who lives in Milwaukee. For the past 20 years, it has been a priority of mine as I have been actively involved in a variety of education policy efforts in Milwaukee. I have worked with every MPS Superintendent going back to Superintendent Andrekopoulos, I helped the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, on whose board I still sit, in partnering with over 35 MPS schools, I assisted in crafting the successful Race To The Top grant proposal that MPS was awarded, and I continue to be involved in Schools That Can Milwaukee, an organization that seeks to ensure that 20,000 Milwaukee students attend high-quality urban schools by 2020.
Interesting bit of chest-pumping to start with... Interesting...
"In all of these efforts, my goal has always been the best quality education for as many kids and their families as possible, delivered in the fairest, most sustainable way possible. While this legislation is not something I sought, when I was recently approached by Rep. Kooyenga and Sen. Darling asking if I would be the appointing authority, I told them that it was hard to have an opinion absent all of the details. But IF the bill passed that way, it’s a responsibility that I would accept and take very seriously.
That's a roundabout odd way of saying, "I was consulted and agreed." So, just how on board with this proposal is Exec. Abele?
"Proponents of this legislation should know the following: I like and respect MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver and would want to work very closely with her; I remain very concerned about the funding flaw that the current voucher system continues to create for MPS; and I believe public money should be directed to open admission schools, not selective admission schools.

"If placed in this position, I’m committed to work hard to take this proposal and ensure that its implementation is as successful as it can possibly be. The families in Milwaukee deserve no less."
So wait? Is he on board with this or not?

I've admittedly never been the biggest Chris Abele fan. From his dividing the Milwaukee County Board and usurping their power last session, to his budgeting and divisive relationship with the County Employees, to now this, he's not exactly what I think of when I think of "Milwaukee Democrat."

This is just another one of those things to make me even less and less like him. He may say he's a Democrat, and he may be able to act as a good philanthropist. But he's terrible as a true politician and crafting political messages. We as a community need more answers from him on where he stands.

As for others, I'd be remiss if I didn't link over to Jay Bullock's post at Blogging Blue where he lets his views on this be known. (Hint: Jay's a lot smarter than me, so it's naturally much smarter than anything I've written.) There are a few things of his that deserve to be highlighted as well...
They also seem to fear fully licensed teachers. The plan allows the commissioner to grant licenses to whoever wants one to teach in these schools. Let’s be clear: the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction makes no provision for such a thing to happen. The federal law governing schools makes no provision for such a thing to happen. 
Oh you know... Federal law... PSHHHHH, what's that matter?
There are well-established emergency licenses and even alternative certification programs available, sure. But this power, residing in a single individual with, potentially, no expertise or qualification in education, to unilaterally grant licenses to any random person is unprecedented. A quick googling turns up no other program anywhere in the country—even in the “recovery zones” in New Orleans or Detroit on which this program is modeled—that allows a commissioner like this one to license teachers on his own. 
And, really, does anyone believe that the problem in these schools is that the teachers there are licensed and represented by the union? If that is the problem, then why are the top schools in the state full of licensed, qualified teachers? Would Kooyenga and Darling have the nerve to walk into MPS’s Reagan or Fernwood Montessori, or for that matter, Brookfield East or Maple Dale in their home districts, and demand they discharge all the licensed teachers in their employ? Of course not.
Nope, nor do they question the level of unionization in those schools, even in a post 2011 Act 10 world.

Jay then goes on to talk about just how much "churn" and turn-over there is from schools in Milwaukee. (As one of my students how many schools they've been to in their life? I just dare you):
Brother Bob Smith, former longtime leader of the Messmer schools in the city’s voucher program, used to say, famously, “Make the right decisions, or make them somewhere else.” Students who cannot be served by choice schools, because of disabilities, for example, must be taken in by MPS. And we know from years of research that voucher schools churn tremendously. The last study found that fully 75% of students who started ninth grade in a voucher school dropped out of the program before graduation. Many city charters, too, suffer from high student turnover or expulsions. 
While I’m sure most educators in all sectors—and I’ve met a lot of them!—are in this business for the kids, the data are undeniable: Milwaukee’s children switch schools far too often, and leave the non-MPS sector schools at an alarming rate.
Make the right decisions or make them somewhere else? Yep, that sounds about right, and why so many students come to our school after being kicked out of someplace else. Like I said before, we are a "Statue of Liberty School." We take everyone. I cannot tell you how often I'm told the F-bomb, or that I'm "forcin' it."

Jay closes with this very thought provoking piece:
The Milwaukee Public Schools has no ability to pick choose, to tell students to make their decisions somewhere else. Students who leave voucher schools, charter schools, and, soon, these “opportunity schools,” by choice or by force, will be taken in by MPS. 
The logical end of this plan, then, which carves out five schools a year from the public district, is that MPS will have only those students whom other sectors will not teach, cannot teach, refuse to teach. As more and more public schools are handed over to a one-man “opportunity schools” commissioner, and as the budget for the public schools shrinks to nothing and the cost of educating special needs students rises, bankruptcy is inevitable. The district is already supporting retirees from when it enrolled 100,000 students or more; when it enrolls half that, or less, it will simply be unsustainable. 
And then what will be the “opportunity” for those students only MPS will teach? 
Answer that, Kooyenga and Darling
I'd love the answer to that question. And yes, you can bet your bottom dollar I will be there in Joint Finance when the Education Budget gets debut.