Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Edgewood College's Tim Slekar & School Choice Wisconsin's Jim Bender on Capital City Sunday

Oh, how sad I am the WKOW-TV in Madison does not put Capital City Sunday online in a full format for those of us who aren't able to watch on TV.

A while back, Tim Slekar, the Dean of the Education school at Edgewood College in Madison, faced off with School Choice Wisconsin's Jim Bender (don't get me started with him) about the upcoming likelihood of a school "accountability" bill.

This is from earlier this month, and while I'm sad I haven't seen this conversation until now, it's just as pertinent as it was when it happened:

Who's Leading Who?

What we're seeing in the closing weeks of December in discussions between the Republican Leadership in the Wisconsin State Legislature and Governor Scott Walker's Executive Branch is truly remarkable.

Apparently, this is really a case of the right hand not wanting the far right hand to do the leading.

There was a back-and-forth I had online a while back 

First, somebody better initiate talks between the Gov.'s office and Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt. Normally, you can get a sense of what's happening behind the scenes when the Rep. goes on the radio in Fond du Lac, but earlier this week he was again beating the drum of repealing the Common Core State Standards.

Apparently, the passenger pigeon got lost between the Governor's Office and his this week. From the Associated Press:
Gov. Scott Walker is backing off his call for the Legislature to repeal Common Core academic standards, saying he simply wants to insure there is no mandate they be used. 
Walker in July during his re-election campaign called on the Legislature to repeal the standards covering what students should know in the subjects of math and English. Walker said then he wanted them replaced with something Wisconsin-specific. 
But Walker said Tuesday his goal now is to remove "any mandate or requirement that requires a school district to abide by Common Core standards." He says he wants schools to have maximum flexibility. 
Under current state law, school districts can adopt their own standards but most have stuck with Common Core since that is what statewide tests are based on.
Again, it looks like the pigeon got lost in flight.

Maybe it didn't learn enough about being "American"?

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards certainly noticed. They issued a press-release which included the following: 
“The Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) applauds recent comments made by Governor Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stating their preference to allow local school boards to choose their own academic standards, including the Common Core State Standards if they so choose. These comments warrant our praise for the respect they show to local control exercised by locally elected school boards over the curriculum and instructional materials used in Wisconsin public schools. 
“Local school districts have made significant investments of time, energy and resources toward aligning their educational goals with those reflected in state assessments and in adjusting their curriculum and instruction accordingly. We are pleased that these investments will be allowed to stand and the efforts and resources expended thus far will not be wasted. 
“At the same time, we are also heartened by the stated intention of the governor and speaker to ensure school boards are not mandated to adopt any particular set of academic standards, but are free to exercise their best judgment about what works best for their students and communities and to set standards accordingly.”
My guess? They figured out that it really is not worth the while to essentially waste political capital on redoing standards to a point where they will essentially wind up with exactly what we have now and put a different name on it.

Plus, considering the Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce even thinks that abandoning Common Core is a bad idea, they are likely trying to shore up support with them in every way possible.

Because...  Right-to-Work-For-Less was back in the news today.

From the AP via WISC-TV in Madison: 
Gov. Scott Walker is telling Republican state senators he wants them focused on his agenda, not passing right-to-work legislation.

Walker spoke to senators during a caucus meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday. 
Walker mentioned right-to-work briefly as he was outlining his priorities of cutting property taxes, consolidating state government and passing a school accountability bill. He says debating right-to-work early in the session would distract from what he wants the Legislature focused on. 
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said he wants to take up the issue quickly because it's too important to delay. 
Despite urging the Legislature to back off on right-to-work, Walker has not promised a veto if a bill is passed. 
A new coalition of more than 300 construction-related businesses formed Wednesday to oppose right-to-work.
I've been part of a back-and-forth online between friends about whether or not the Governor is being coy about not wanting to have RTWFL or just trying to play counter to the legislature. But, when you look at the organizing occurring with different unions, many of whom have members who make up the governor's base of support, I stand by the fact that it's in the governor's heart but not his head. He and "Boss" Vos built the Assembly and even the Senate into such a conservative juggernaut that they can't stop the crazy.

And this is crazy for any politician worth their marbles wanting to run for President. (Insane as it may be.)

This is supposed to be the term where the Governor introduces more "reforms" and takes more "bold action." But, this time around, that doesn't mean having over 100,000 people marching counter-clockwise on the Capitol Square. That's four year old type of ancient history stuff, and far enough removed from the Iowa Caucuses that in this hyper-active go-go century, nobody even remembers. (Or, maybe didn't even hear about. Admit it, the national media botched the 2011 Uprising story. Liberal media bias my foot...)

So really, I think we need to take a moment and reexamined just who's pulling who's strings in the Capitol. Is the Governor all that powerful and some designed king-maker of conservative politics in Wisconsin? Or, is it really "Boss" Vos and his Assembly, acting as a natural bench to push State Senators further and further right. (Oh, hey Sen. Olsen! How's it going? Remember when we Democrats tried to oust you in a recall election? My, how times have changed.)

The governor has clout, don't for a minute think he doesn't. But at the end of the day, how much control does he really have over the legislative agenda? I don't think it's as much as you may think.

Some Day's Others Say It Better - Dom Noth On Milwaukee's Property Taxes and MPS

Wow. 

That's really all I can say to THIS blog posting by Dom Noth. Dom doesn't post very often, but when he does, they are usually long-form, well thought out posts about complex topics that need a much greater analysis or scrutiny than you or I could possibly even begin to give.

And he does.

His post today (yes, I linked again, it's that important) is about MPS, and the Milwaukee property tax bill's reporting of how taxpayers money is being spent. In short, there's a a myth being portrayed on the bills that MPS is the top taker and not the city, mostly because of the voucher program and the damned "funding flaw."

A few select quotes to wet your whistle. But really, you need to read the WHOLE thing. It's technical, complex, and DAMN important in an era when voucher expansion looks to be going statewide and exploding the the Hindenburg:

Quote: 
Looking at the language and largest graphs within the bill, the home owner thinks the levy cost for MPS has grown 1%. It actually dropped 0.6% in one year. What actually has grown by 8.5% is the levy for a hidden school district, the second largest school district in the state, the voucher program. And since Madison makes sure those costs can be fobbed off on MPS, which never sees a dime, it is MPS that looks poorly run and overly expensive, not the voucher school program, known as the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). 
MPCP is actually the sixth unit of local government on a tax bill that only reports five units. About 20% of what is blamed on the MPS it never sees, thanks to bureaucratic accounting finesse in Madison.
Much like now you will never see a larger portion of that aid you send to the state for schools, because vouchers come out of the pot before it get's disbursed to your local public school district.
To put it another way that would spell it out for the bean counters, the city’s tax levy has gone up a modest 1.2% since 2013 (and the city has been a responsible steward of the public money) but the MPS, listed as rising 1% in costs, actually dropped by .06%. It was the MPCP that actually went up 8.5%, so while MPS is spending less this year it looks like it is spending more. 
But it is the city that creates this bill and furthers the illusion that does an injustice to reality.

The false arithmetic that allows this was concocted in Madison fine print but has been encouraged by the misnamed “school choice” organizations, several led by chamber of commerce lobbyists living outside the city and by former felons like Scott Jensen and Katy Veskus.
And coming to a school near you!
There are several consequences of this deception, but the foremost dupe is the state taxpayers. Many still believe the state income tax is funding the voucher school program, but the legislature made sure counties outside Milwaukee wouldn’t face such a “voucher tax” burden (they would have rebelled). In fact, $56.3 million a year – much more than a quarter of the statewide voucher program – comes directly from the Milwaukee property tax.
This, right here, this is part of the so-called "funding flaw" that MPS has to deal with. Want to know why we are perpetually broke even though we have some of the highest needs and highest property values in Wisconsin? Here you go...
Two years ago MPS got the city to at least insert a yellow slip inside the bill, outlining in small print the technical facts, including that “MPS is the only school district in the state compelled” to include in its levy tax money it doesn’t get. That was a baby step toward full transparency. The yellow slip, one of several inserts in the mailing, states flatly that MPCP gets $56.3 million this year from city property tax payers and that MPS sees none of that.
But really, does anyone even pay attention or even care?
Yet influential choice organizations have also fought acknowledging the lost levy unit on the Milwaukee property tax bill, in confidence the Madison legislature will resist spelling out the true cause of excess education costs – and the city won’t readily tilt against chambers the city does business with. The era of Don Quixote is long past.
Literary classics? Wait, are we supposed to know what that means. (Eyes roll...)
If the city, even down to its tax mailing, blocks understanding of how education is funded and where your hard-earned money goes, it destroys the reliable financial measurement that should be the cornerstone of good Milwaukee government. For the mayor and common council to allow this sort of deception on the very tax bill they produce has become a yellow stain that raises questions about their own integrity and guts.
Agreed. However, I think it's even more telling about how damn deceptive the state legislature has been on this issue, will continue to be on this issue, and scary it is to have the ceiling blown off the statewide voucher system.

In case you haven't already opened the whole posting, HERE it is again. Read it. All of it. 

Plus, if you want another smart number's guy's take on this whole story, check out Jake's post over at his Economic TA Funhouse. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

State Representative, And Newly Appointed Education Committee Chair, Jeremy Thiesfeldt on KFIZ's "Morning Show"

Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt was on Fond du Lac radio station KFIZ's "Morning Show" today to discuss the upcoming legislative session.

You can listen to the interview HERE. 

Some general banter starts the interview about Republicans making gains in the Assembly and Senate, but it was nothing overly extraordinary. What really interests me is Rep. Thiesfeldt's comments on his appointment of being committee chair for the Education Committee.
"I've spent most of my adult life working in schools, and I think I have a pretty good handle on what's going on in education in the state of Wisconsin." 
Okay, I'm going to go ahead and stop you right there. You've worked in a private religious school system in Fond du Lac. You've never worked in the public system at all, which automatically creates a huge blemish on your record of "working in schools" for almost any teacher worth their marbles. Plus, you've only done it in the Fond du Lac area. No urban experience. No TRUE suburban experience. No rural, away from any urban center, experience.

Heck, I'm 27 and between a clinical experience at Appleton East for a semester in 2009, student teaching at the high school and a middle school in Fond du Lac in 2010, AmeriCorps stint as a Parent Coordinator in Middleton in 2010-11, teacher in Fond du Lac at the high school in 2012, and now in my third year at my second school in the Milwaukee Public Schools, I have CONSIDERABLY more experience in a wide range of educational settings across Wisconsin.

And I'm only 27...

Don't preach to me for a second about how good a handle you have on education in Wisconsin. Later in the interview, he notes he spent 10 years at the Lutheran elementary school and 12 at the Lutheran high school in town. Seriously, this is the person who controls legislation that affects public education in Wisconsin.

After that comment the Rep. goes on to discuss, in painfully slow fashion, how there are now pressures on schools from international competition and he desires to see Wisconsin move to the front, and blah, blah, blah. However, he ends by saying this:
"And also make sure that everyone understands what it means to be an American." 
What the heck is that supposed to mean? I don't know what it means to be an American? Who doesn't know what it means to be an American? Is that not acknowledging our faults? Is that us reciting the Pledge of Allegiance twice during the day? Seriously, how the heck are we not making sure that everyone understands what it means to be an American right now?

I'd like to think I have a pretty good grasp on it, but please, do tell this licensed social studies educator what I'm doing wrong... Oh, no suggestions? Okay.

Discussion then shifts to last term's "Common Core Committee" and his chairing that group. Sigh, what a farce that was. Remember Steve Walter's conversation last week? Rep. Thiesfeldt notes during the interview, "the debate is not over" and that "I will continue to pursue that topic." Oh happy day. Let's keep wasting money. His whole rationale why the Common Core is bad is because they are de-facto national standards and somehow because there is a set of de-facto national benchmarks, that's going to stop innovation.

Because stating that a student can multiply complex numbers by a certain grade level limits innovation in teaching, how??? Is it not teaching students what it means to be an American?

Ouch, my head already hurts.

Next, he makes some false equivalency about how most of the state standards in Wisconsin are from 1998 and that we've gone too long without reexamining them, and it takes too long to implement new standards. (Lest we forget Common Core was adopted in 2010 and was implemented in many districts the ensuing three years.) Did he ever consider the reason why it's taken so long to reexamine those 1998 standards is because of people like him obstructing things that need absolutely no legislative meddling? Also, he acknowledges the fact that standards were being looked at by DPI as early as 2007-08, so how the heck does what he just said make any sense?

Next, Rep. Thiesfeldt does correctly note that school districts have the ability to chose the standards they want, but he is using coded language in trying to tell people they need to put pressure on their local school boards to overturn their adoption of Common Core. Don't kid yourself, it's exactly what he's doing. It's his MO.

After a break, vouchers are next topic discussed.

He guarantees that there will be a "long look" at vouchers and says there will be "strong consideration" about the way the program will move "forward." He also tries to say that Republican candidates who ran in the fall and won ran on school choice, so naturally, that's what everyone wants across Wisconsin. (Gee, thanks Wisconsin Federation for Children and your absurdly large dollar amount pushing out good legislators like Rep. Mandy Wright.)

I almost can't even listen at this point. The bull that is being spewed at this point about low income students being "locked in" to a public school absolutely drives me bonkers. This is simply Rep. Thiesfeldt bringing a cash cow to his former employer and allowing them to tap into government money while not having to accept the same exact students, the same exact parameters, and same open-records laws that public schools have to follow. Boy, isn't it great how there has been absolutely no problem with misused funds or issues in Milwaukee. 

Lastly, right-to-work-for-less is discussed.

I'm so done... I can't even accept this junk. If you want to give yourself a headache and have almost 17 minutes to kill, give a listen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Words of A Burnt Out Inner-City Teacher - How I Can Relate

I read a lot of various articles, postings, and columns online, with many of them relating to teaching and education. However, one that really got to me, and was written as if it was someone who was in my school, in my situation, and who I could instantly talk to with having a shared experience, appeared in the Washington Post this past week.

You can read it HERE. 

I felt so strongly about this that I decided to repost it here and provide some of my own insights on my experiences teaching in Milwaukee.
Ellie Herman became a teacher after working for for decades as a writer/producer for television shows such as “Desperate Housewives,” “Chicago Hope,” “Newhart,” etc., and as an author whose fiction has appeared in literary journals, among them The Massachusetts Review, The Missouri Review and the O.Henry Awards Collection. In 2007, she decided, “on an impulse,” she wrote, to become an English teacher and got a job at a South Los Angeles charter school that was 97 percent Latino and where 96 percent of the students lived below the poverty line. She taught drama, creative writing, English 11 and 9th grade Composition at a charter high school in South Los Angeles until 2013,  when she decided to stop teaching — a decision explained in the following post — and spend a year visiting classrooms and learning from other teachers. She has chronicled the lessons she has learned on her blog, Gatsby in L.A., as well as on LA School report, a website that covers the intersection of politics and education in Los Angeles, where this piece first appeared in November 2013. I am republishing it, with permission from Herman and LA School Report, because it is as relevant today as it was when it was written. 
And will likely be relevant for the foreseeable future.
By Ellie Herman 
I burned out after teaching for five years at a high school in a very low-income neighborhood. What made me burn out was not that so many of my students came in with reading skills several years behind their grade level. Nor was it that many of them also came in with a history of negative experiences in school. 
Wait, are you talking about your school, or the MPS comprehensive north-side high school I teach in? Because really, you've hit on something here I don't think many people who hear about "burnt-out" teachers realize - It's not the academic achievement of students that burns teachers out.
No, my work in the classroom didn’t burn me out. Classroom work was always engaging and sometimes unbelievably rewarding. 
Can't say as I've had the same experience. Trying to engage students in class is horribly exhausting and mentally draining. Unfortunately, my students aren't always engaged in classroom work. They are occupied with their phone, their music, their friends, their friends in the hallway...
What finally pushed me out the door was a monster we called La Bestia — “The Beast.”La Bestia was a photocopier, the size of a Prius. On a good day, she could spit out 150 copies of an entire SAT practice test, all sorted and stapled. On a bad day, though, even if you just wanted 32 copies of a two-page Junot Diaz story, she’d throw a hissy fit, with flashing red lights and shrill beeps before stalling flat. 
WE CALL OURS THE RICHO'S!

I cannot BEGIN to describe to you how close to home this hits with me! We have two copy-machines and both of them always have something wrong with them. The repair person must come in at least once every month to do something to them, and even at that point there's usually something still wrong. Lines running across the paper. Horribly grainy copies. Some random flap folded over on some papers and not others. The lack of collating or stapling abilities.

I'm 100% serious when I say I'm looking for a working mimeograph machine that is cheap. I know I can find the fluid still online, and I think the investment of having one sitting in the corner just in case would MORE than pay itself back over the course of a year. (I believe in backwards-compatibility with technology and knowledge...)
The day I definitively and conclusively gave up, it was after six o’clock and I was making 100 copies of 11 different scenes for my Drama class. I’d been at work since before 7 a.m.; it was dark when I arrived at school and dark now. Since our school was mainly windowless, and we were always too busy to leave the building during the day, I had not seen sunlight for three days. I want to say, in case you think I am a total slacker, that I came to teaching in midlife, having spent 20 years as a TV writer-producer. I am no stranger to long working days and, in fact, am something of a workaholic. 
HA!

I get to school between 6:45 and 7am every day. Four days a week we have some type of meeting at 8am, while students officially begin class at 8:40. (However, homeroom is really just a period where students are still coming into school because of buses arriving and doing the check-in scan, so really it's 9:10 when 1st hour begins that I can start class.) Homeroom is usually reserved for supervising the hallways and meeting with students who either need make-up work or are just interested in chatting.

Funny how inner-city kids and those from the suburbs are so similar like that.

But you know what, that time commitment does wear on you. School ends at 4pm, and I have to spend at least one day a week at school until 6 - 6:30pm to do things like grade and make copies. (If the machine is working.) That's also not to say that I don't spend plenty of other days at school until between 5 - 6pm. Typically, Friday's are reserved for an early leave (4:15pm), but sometimes that's the easiest time to make copies because everyone else wants to leave too.

Oh, and let's not forget that if I have a union meeting, professional development training, or other commitment, that means I have to leave right after school and push out some of those other days a little longer. During the school year, the absolute shortest day I work is nine hours, with 10-11 being far more typical.

This September, I stayed until 8pm one night just to catch up. And no, that didn't mean I got a short half-day the next day. This isn't the white-collar world where you get to spread out your work during the day. You get to spread your work out AFTER your 8-hour time being "on the clock."
But teaching at a high-poverty school was different because no matter how fast or long I worked, I could not get everything done. I developed a body memory of exactly how much I could accomplish in five minutes, in one minute, in thirty seconds. I was always in a panic because I had limited control over my circumstances: if a kid threw up in the corner or no one could find the cart of laptops even though I’d booked it for the day, I had to make it work. 
What computer lab has enough functioning computers? (Our students are horribly hard on keyboards and mice and unfortunately break them by not being gentle with them.) I also have developed a body memory of how long it takes to get to the printer if I printed something off. When I had the chance to go to the restroom, or how long it would take me to quickly change a lesson if there were more or fewer students than I predicted.

Every day, you HAVE to make it work, and yes, that limited control over circumstances is very real. Oh, no paper in the copy room? WiFi randomly goes down? (Even though we have the best tech-guy in the district hands-down.) Twelve of your students don't have pencils for class? You don't have a choice. you HAVE to make it work. Those 50 minutes with your students are the time it has to work.

There's a reason they say 90% of teaching is acting. It's not that we don't love our content and want to share it, it's because just like putting on a show, there's a deadline to showtime.
Everything felt like an emergency. And there was never enough time — to re-tool the grading system because a third of the class was failing, to call parents of kids who did not show up for after-school help, to do a fill-in-the-blanks version of the assignment for the English Language Learners and to find a great extra-credit reading for the brainiacs. There was no time to think. If I had to name the one thing that surprised me most about teaching, it would be how utterly unintellectual it is, or becomes, when you have so many students with so many needs all coming at you at once, and you don’t have the time each of them deserves. 
I could spend DAYS analyzing this paragraph.

This right here folks, this is what everyone who does what I do in an inner-city school feels.

EVERYTHING does feel like an emergency. State mandates. District mandates. Random student shows up who needs to do x, y, z. Professional Development Plan for license renewal, Personal Professional Goal, Educator Effectiveness Plan, district data walks, parent phone calls, no copy-machine, overhead projector bulb dies with no spares in school...

EVERYTHING felt like an emergency because everything that happened was an emergency. Little annoyances in a suburban school are detrimental in mine.

THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME! Right now I'm trying to re-tool my own grading system because I have an over 50% failure rate with my students. They just won't turn in work. That means figuring out where to make things up, where to cut, how to design lessons that are engaging, academically challenging, and able to be given to students who weren't in class that day.

That whole truancy thing really, really contributes to our issues.

THERE IS NO TIME TO THINK. Let me repost this sentence from the article:
If I had to name the one thing that surprised me most about teaching, it would be how utterly unintellectual it is, or becomes, when you have so many students with so many needs all coming at you at once, and you don’t have the time each of them deserves.
That is my life. Every. Day.

My teaching is not intellectual. On Friday I had a make-up day for my history students. I was like a mad man running around finding things from October that students needed to do and make-up that were hampering their grades. I had to remember what I named an assignment in the grade book, where I had extra pencils, where that section of the textbook was, how to help a student on the Nile River analysis sheet, what the differences were between Athens and Sparta for women, what was special about the Indus Valley civilizations, how did Document C show Hammurabi's Code was just?

It's not like students were all sitting in their seats and quietly working. They were talking loudly, some completely off task, out of their seats, not paying attention, one of seven students shouting my name because they had a question and just couldn't wait.

They have so many needs and you just can't address them all. Emotional needs. Mental health needs. Social needs. Intellectual needs. You just can't address them all. And these were my honors sophomores.
Neuroscientists have identified a condition they call executive function overload, during which your brain, over-stimulated from continual crisis management, becomes unable to think clearly or feel emotions. I can see now that this happened to me. By the end of each day, I was numb. At night, I’d dream I was suffocating. I could not remember what joy felt like. 
You know how this affects for me? My students. They have been growing up in environments where there is continual crisis management, or attempts at management. So many of my students don't feel emotions, or don't understand cause and effect relationships because of it. I don't know if this is me yet. I do have fun, and I do know how to feel joy. But wow, I've been there some nights. I've been there.
On that day at La Bestia, she jammed somewhere in the middle of my job and I just stood there. All I could think was: I can’t live this way. And when the time came to renew my contract, I didn’t. 
I've stood there and said the same thing about living this way. Except, I have students who go through more and that's why I go in every day and give it my all. But I'm young still. I don't have it in me to do it for another 35 years. Not at this level anyway, let alone the fact that the state is doing everything in it's power to stop making teaching be a long-term career with growth potential.
Here in the United States, we continually examine teaching data to understand why other countries are doing better than we are. One thing nobody ever talks about is that teachers in the U.S. have a larger workload than teachers in almost any other country.
Because, didn't anybody tell you? Teachers in the US are lazy! How can we talk about something like statistics when anecdotal evidence is so much truer?
According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the average secondary school teacher in the U.S. puts in 1,051 instructional hours per year. Instructional hours are the hours spent actually in front of kids—in other words, about half of the job, the other half being time spent planning, grading and collaborating with other teachers. In Finland, the average teacher teaches 553 instructional hours per year. In Korea, 609 hours. In England, 695. In Japan, 510. 
Because supposedly, when teachers aren't in front of kids, they aren't doing their job. You know, it's not like we pay TV news anchors for the hour or 1/2 hour they are on TV. You pay them to do the background research, to follow-up on stories, to outline the show with the producer, to write, to edit, to enhance. It's a lot like teaching. You want me to design awesome lessons, make meaningful comments when assessing a piece of writing, document any manner of data, and make parental contacts? You can't give me two or three different classes to prepare for, 150+ students on a roster and have four mornings a week taken up by having meetings that more often than not could be resolved with a simple e-mail.

That's how.
When teachers in other countries are not in front of students, they can do the other half of a teacher’s job: planning curriculum, grading papers, calling parents, conferencing with students, creating assignments that meet every student’s needs, meeting with other teachers, innovating, thinking, learning. Here in the U.S. we do not give teachers that time. With Common Core on the horizon for LA Unified, we’re planning to blow through at least a billion dollars to train teachers in an entirely new philosophy of teaching. I have to wonder exactly when this training is going to happen. There were literally days when I did not have time to go to the bathroom. What else could I cut out of my day? Breathing? 
Yes. You are supposed to cut breathing. And drinking water. Don't you know you should be so lucky to have a bubbler in the hallway?
I miss my students every day. Despite everything, I loved teaching. For every dark day, there were moments of immense pride at what my students had accomplished. I plan to go back. But I’m terrified of burning out again. If the United States is serious about attracting and retaining good teachers, the first thing we need to do is give us the conditions we need to get our jobs done right. Just about every other country in the world does. Why can’t we?
WHY CAN'T WE?! 

Don't Say I Didn't Tell You So... - Thiesfeldt Named Education Chair

Don't say I didn't tell you this was going to happen. Assembly Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Fond du Lac was named the Assembly Education Chair this week.
"I would like to thank Speaker Vos for appointing me to lead this important committee," Thiesfeldt said ina statement. "With my experiences as a 22-year educator, and a four-year member of the Education Committee, I intend to play a leading role in bringing Wisconsin to the forefront of educational reforms in the U.S. I also would like to thank my colleague and outgoing Education Committee chairman Steve Kestell for his faithful service leading this committee in recent years."
Educational reforms. Which means, privatizing, vouchers, curriculum unaligned nationally, and lack of resources being put into classrooms with the most needy students.
Thiesfeldt coached athletics and taught various subjects in elementary and high school over his 22-year teaching career prior to being elected to the Assembly in 2010. He recently chaired the Speaker's Select Committee on Common Core Standards, which concluded its duties with recommendations to the Speaker last January. In addition, he served on the Assembly Committee on Urban Education and the 2014 Legislative Study Council on Student Achievement Guarantee in Education Program.
Never once did Rep. Thiesfeldt teach in a public school. That is crucial to emphasize again, and again, and again, and again. He never has been subject to the stringent rules and regulations that govern educating in the public system, which is why he's been able to bounce around and around in various roles within the Lutheran schools in Fond du Lac. You know, stringent rules like having a teaching license...
"I look forward and am eager to start what will be a very busy session for this committee," Thiesfeldt stated.
I'm not. Bye-Bye job...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Human Lives Matter

Today after school we lost one of our students to gun violence. Word hasn't traveled to me yet as to what the student's name is, or if I either knew them, or had them in class. It doesn't matter.

No person. Student. Adult. Young. Old. Black. White. Latino. Native. Inuit. Mestizo. No person should have to fear gun violence. I don't care who you are, I don't care what you said, I don't care what you did. No person deserves to die from a bullet two blocks from school.

No Person...

This is sadly something we face all too often in large urban settings. It would be a lie to say this is the first time, even this year, I've had to face the reality of a school member, one of my students or former students who have dealt with violence and death. But either way, once in my time as a teacher, as a human being, is too much.

Please... Today, whenever you're reading this, just please remember that human life is sacred and so, so precious. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Public Policy Forum's Report On The State Of Education In Milwaukee

Today, the Public Policy Forum released a new report on the state of education in Milwaukee.

Being a proud Milwaukee Public Schools teacher and Milwaukee Teachers Educators Association member, I naturally come towards reports like this with a certain amount of bias and opinion. And yes, there are also those who have taken to scoffing at Public Policy Forum reports, but I'm not really one of them. If there's one thing Public Policy Forum has done, and done relatively well over the years, is investigate complex and convoluted policies and institutions in town and offer a pure "apples-to-apples" comparison on differing views.

The folks over at PolitiFact might want to take a cue out of the PPF playbook.

The press-release from the forum today lays out in good detail what the report all entails:
In a pair of reports released today, the Public Policy Forum explores the characteristics of K-12 schools in Milwaukee as if they were one “system.” This approach provides a holistic view of the range of options available to Milwaukee elementary and secondary school students, while also allowing for reflection on how the city’s education landscape has changed during the past decade and how that landscape compares to peer cities. 
This is important.

There really is no place that a student/parent/citizen/journalist/prospective employee can go and compare the various schools/systems that are operating in Milwaukee. I also think it is vital to not compare MPS to other systems in Wisconsin, something sadly I think we will hear all too often from the legislature this spring. Instead, we need to compare Milwaukee to similar cities with similar educational landscapes. It's not easy, but it's how it should go.
The centerpiece of the report is a statistical breakdown of K-12 schools in Milwaukee, showing overall characteristics in terms of schools, students, teachers, types of schools, demographics, and academic achievement (where data is available). The three primary sectors – public, private, and charter – also are broken down, with further comparison of statistical information on the specific types of schools within each sector (i.e. City of Milwaukee- vs. UWM-chartered schools, general MPS schools vs. MPS charters, private schools that participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program vs. those that do not). 
Have you're eyes glossed over yet?

Yes, discussing education in Milwaukee is THAT complicated. As you can probably tell, I was just the life of the Thanksgiving get-togethers I was at, and I'm sure that for Festivus/Christmas activities I will be equally as cheery.

The full 40-page report can be found HERE, and is FULLY worth the while reading through. It's only 39 pages and has a fair number of charts and graphs.

However, the press-release does provide a lot of great pull-outs from the full report. Such as:
This broad, “by the numbers” overview – and accompanying brief analyses of key related issues like school finance, special needs education, and measures of academic quality – reveals that the various types of schools face similar challenges. 
“All of them are racially segregated, in different ways and to differing degrees,” says the report. “All of them serve student populations that are more than 75% economically disadvantaged and, in one way or another, all of them struggle with academic performance below state averages.”
I think that speaks VOLUMES to what issues we really need to be addressing in Milwaukee with respect to solving the problems surrounding education in Milwaukee. However, while all schools may be segregated, all schools may serve largely economically disadvantaged students, and all struggle with academic performance, none serves as large a percentage of students with special education needs than the Milwaukee Public Schools.
The report finds that “the rate and degree of system change have been substantial – sosubstantial, in fact, that we ask whether the astonishing number of school closings, openings, and restructurings – as well as the accompanying high degree of student mobility – has served students well.” 
Do you think Sen. Paul Farrow, or the legislative Republicans who want to carte-blanch rubber stamp his accountability bill, are going to consult this at all in the final crafting of that bill? I don't, which means you'll see more school closings, more restructuring, and an even greater rate of student mobility than now.
Putting these two comparative analyses together yields several policy questions that are ripe for further analysis. Those include: 
- What is the impact of school closings and school restructurings on staff, students, and planning? 
Planning? Damn near impossible. Impossible for parents/students to plan on what schools will be around for the long-haul, especially ones that are consistently ranked low on the report card. Which means often times the parents who have the fewest resources or education themselves are often times subject to the least stability.
- Does the greater number of schools in Milwaukee and the continuous school turnovermean that finding, developing, and retaining school leadership is more difficult here than in other cities? 
HELL YES!
- Do parents and students receive the kinds of information they need to make a well considered choice in school selection? 
HELL NO!

Because of the viscous nature of having to compete for dollars and students, everyone is trying to market themselves to parents instead of working with cold, hard facts. Laying out the pluses, minuses, and having a whole matrix for parents to choose from across the education spectrum in Milwaukee is impossible. I will admit, we in MPS don't do a good job of this either.
- Why has there been an increase in the number of single race/ethnic schools in Milwaukee and what might be done to alter that trend?
I don't even have the time to explain this all in one time...
These reports set the stage for a longer-term research effort by the Forum to dig deeply into the distinctive features of the city’s education framework, to explore how those features truly affect academic performance and school finance, and to identify best practices that could improve student learning in our city and region. 
I eagerly await that follow-up, and to see what the legislature does in the mean time.

From The, "Let's Have Jake Flip a Gasket" File - Elimination Of Top Income Tax Bracket?

I shudder at the thought:
You have to be kidding me, right? The link to the story is HERE from WKOW-TV in Madison:
MADISON (WKOW) -- Officials at the state's top business lobbying group say Wisconsin's top income earners deserve a tax break and the idea is attracting interest from some influential state lawmakers.
Because, certainly that whole idea of income inequality and the like is just a farce apparently.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) is pushing to eliminate the state's top income tax bracket of 7.65 percent, a rate paid by individuals earning $240,190 per year or more and married couples earning $320,250 per year or more.
You know, those as being defined as "upper class." This isn't that hard a thing to consider either, we're not talking about what $300,000 can buy you living in New York City, we're talking Milwaukee or Madison.
If eliminated, the highest rate would be just 6.27 percent, which WMC believes would attract more businesses to Wisconsin.
What they meant to say was, allows even greater political capital to be spent on buying off lawmakers.

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) tells 27 News she hears all too often that taxes are too high from constituents in her Assembly district along the Illinois state border.

"Our high tax climate and the reputation that we have in Wisconsin is still hurting us from an economic development standpoint," said Rep. Loudenbeck, who will sit on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) that will be in charge of delivering a state budget next spring.
Because she's out there talking with people who are making over $200,000 a year and not those who are making somewhere in the "average" income range of around $40,000 a year?
Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) also sits on the JFC and crafted a tax cut passed during the last budget session. He says Wisconsin simply can't compete with states like Illinois, where the top tax rate will drop to 3.5 percent next year. Rep. Kooyenga says that's an important difference because a majority of small business owners file taxes for their businesses on personal income tax returns.
Take a note of these comments for sometime when the JFC is debating this spring and Rep. Kooyenga makes a comment about how jacked-up Illinois budget situation is. Gee, you think lowering the income tax bracket and revenues has anything to do with that?!

#ragestroke
Rep. Loudenbeck says even when companies do locate on the Wisconsin side of the border, their executives often choose to live in Illinois for tax reasons. 
You mean, just like so many people decide to live in Wisconsin to avoid regulations that Illinois has on it's citizens? Seriously, this argument cannot possibly be taken seriously.
"So, we can incent all we want to get the businesses to locate here, but where people choose to live is definitely partially driven by the tax climate in the state they choose to call home so, we have to be cognoscente of that," said Rep. Loudenbeck.
Or the school climate, quality of life, cultural opportunities, etc. Which, by the way, are generally paid for by taxes. See, what's funny is that while you're chasing that Gen-X crowd, us Millennials are brain-draining from Wisconsin like no other because our state is gutting things we believe in like the arts, comprehensive well-rounded educations, and social equality.
But how to pay for such a change is a tough question no one seems to have a firm answer for right now.

By WMC's own estimates, scrapping the top tax rate will reduce state revenues by $250 million dollars per year. Rep. Loudenbeck and Rep. Kooyenga say the answer lies in budget cuts.
OH COURSE IT DOES! Because, you know, state agencies are just so damn bloated with people sitting around doing nothing, the UW System is just awash in cash and literally throwing money into Lake Mendota, and the rural schools have so much technology and modern infrastructure with no referendums needed.
"I think we're all trying to look for ways to make government more efficient and ways that we can streamline and not affect service delivery at the state level," said Rep. Loudenbeck.
In short, they are going to look for ways to gut budgets and take away things that Millennials care about.

Again, they wonder why that brain-drain is happening?
But Todd Berry, President of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, says that could be easier said than done, especially since the state faces a projected budget deficit of $2.2 billion by mid-2017.
Because lets not forget, they already damn-near eliminated business taxes through a phase-out that began in 2011.
"This state has had round after round after round of budget crises, so, in some respects the low-hanging fruit has all been picked," said Berry,  
That means some creative budgeting might have to take place in order to turn the idea into a reality.
By "creative budgeting" that means bonding, slashing & burning, and slush-funding.
The state's current top tax rate was set during the last budget cycle in 2013. Prior to that, there was a top rate of 7.75 percent set by former Governor Jim Doyle and a Democratic controlled legislature in 2009, which raised it up from 6.75 percent.
You know, during that whole damn-near depression that we were suffering where the upper class was hit, but nowhere near as hard as the middle and lower classes.

Remind me again why people my age are staying in Wisconsin? I forgot, I have to get my transcripts to submit with my grad school application...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

JR. Ross & Steve Walters - Wis Eye's "Week in Review"

If you really want to keep an ear to the floor of what the conventional wisdom is among those in the Wisconsin State Capitol Press, it's worthwhile spending a few minutes with Steve Walters and JR Ross in their weekly review segments for Wisconsin Eye.

You can view this week's segment HERE. 

I know there is some concern about Wisconsin Eye's funding coming from conservative sources and them being more sympathetic to their views, but I think a lot of that is more overblown than it really is.

The first topic of discussion is Right to Work and how Sen. Fitzgerald's comments are incredibly interesting regarding carving out some certain unions as being exempt. It also seems that JR believes that this is being generated more in the legislature than by the Governor, who no doubt will sign any RTW legislation that hits his desk, but likely doesn't want to use all his political capital on such a decision. I guess we shall see.

Towards the end, there is also talk about how education issues will shake out with Sen. Paul Farrow being chair of the Education Reform Committee and acting as a de-facto bypass to Sen. Luther Olsen and the Education Committee. While JR called it the "Anti-Common Core Committee" I think that's really small potatoes at this point compared to school accountability. That's what will really come out of this group of legislators.

Take half an hour at some point and view this conversation.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lost Friday

I have taken a bit of a sabbatical on Friday songs recently. Well that's now over, as I return with Springsteen's "Lost in the Flood." Springsteen has a song for all of us at any point in time in our lives we may be in, and right now I feel incredibly lost in the flood.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What I'm Up Against

- Right to Work being introduced? Don't say we public sector people didn't tell in the private sector that it was coming... Possibly exempting those who support conservatives with donations? Even more reprehensible.

- Sen. Paul Farrow being named Chairperson of the "Senate Committee on Education Reform and Government Operations"? Welcome to yet another signal that my days as a teacher in MPS are likely numbered. There's no way of denying it, we're going to get freaking pummeled and while my job is on the line, I can't help but wonder what happens to my toughest students.

- My problem is that I like planning and not just throwing caution to the wind. With the election of 2010, my plan was utterly destroyed by forces beyond my control. If Wisconsin wants to figure out how to stop the "brain-drain" those in power need to figure out us Millennials don't agree with so many of their decisions.

What's this soon to be 28 year old going to do? I have no ties that bind me right now other than my job. I'm not married, have no kids, and while I've grown to love what Milwaukee has to offer me, I see a lot of storm clouds on the horizon waiting to destroy the things that are here and I enjoy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Remember - It's Not Free Market, Unless It's Their Version of Free Market

SB 318, a bill last session to try and snatch school buildings from the Milwaukee Public Schools, was designed to be nothing short of a windfall for private, voucher, and non-MPS charter schools.

You can just search SB 318 to see the bevy of entries I had on the issue.

Well, as if you couldn't have guessed, it's going to come back even stronger this session. Like the shingles virus after chicken pox, it's already in us as a state and there's a three-in-three chance those of us in MPS will see it.

From today's JSOnline: 
A spokesman for state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said Monday that re-introducing a bill to force the sale of more empty Milwaukee Public Schools buildings will be a "top priority" in the next legislative session. 
Don't you just love suburban legislators with minimal if any district within the City of Milwaukee making decisions on the city and how it's affairs are carried out?
Darling has partnered with Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) to bring such a bill forward before, but it didn't pass. 
The next session starts Jan. 5. 
Darling and Sanfelippo made clear their intentions in response to a Journal Sentinel article about the status of a variety of MPS sites, as of the end of 2014. The district still has vacant properties it's paying to maintain, but has made moves in recent years to sell and repurpose more of them.
And the ones it hasn't are generally so far gone that they aren't even suitable to be reused as schools. But hey, even if that McDonalds is from 1966 and has been vacant since 2004, do you think they're going to sell it to the Burger Kind down the road who's looking to expand from their small lot?

I don't think so...
The situation with the Malcolm X building on Milwaukee's near north side, however, has not pleased many lawmakers who wanted to see the building sold to St. Marcus Lutheran School, a private voucher school that was seeking an expansion site. 
MPS pursued a different deal instead, which fizzled, and will now develop the site on its own, which will cost at least $10 million. Officials have announced they will move an International Baccalaureate middle school into the building at 2760 N. 1st St.
Which was in the works LONG before last legislative session. But why let pesky details get in the way of Rep. Sanfelippo and Sen. Darling's ideology.
Sanfelippo said in an email that it was "reprehensible to have state taxpayers paying to keep these buildings mothballed when we have successful choice and charter school operators wanting to use them for their intended purpose: to educate children."
What's reprehensible is how you throw away the needs of students who are in MPS and who've been kicked out of the charter/voucher/private systems because of things well beyond their control.

But what do I know, I only teach at an MPS north-side high school. It's not like my students don't tell me these things...
MPS officials maintain they have been active in selling buildings as well as repurposing empty facilities by filling them with programs families want.
Which they have.

Yet another reason why I haven't been blogging as much recently. I've been studying for the GRE in February. Education, especially as an MPS teacher, is not a practical long-term bread-winning career anymore.

Oh us Millennials. We're just so darn lazy...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

In case you haven't noticed, I've taken a little break from the constant writing and updates here on the Soapbox. I'm just happier right now doing this, and after November 4th I've come to realize that happiness has been undervalued in my life.

I'm not done writing, not by a long shot. Just wait until we hear more about school accountability and the budget. Until then, I'll put my two cents in whenever I darn well feel like it.

With that said, here's my Thanksgiving tradition. In full orchestration and five-part harmony: