Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The DPI Report Cards - Let's Remember Some of These Quotes This Spring

Today, the third round of DPI report cards came out. My school, one of the Milwaukee Public School's comprehensive high schools, dipped slightly in it's score, but overall most schools and districts in the state are meeting expectations.

Erin Richards, education reporter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel elaborated on what the report held for schools in and around Wisconsin. You can read her article HERE. 
The vast majority of Wisconsin's public schools and school districts once again met or exceeded state expectations last year for performance, according to annual report cards released Tuesday. 
The 2013-'14 report cards suggest that just about everyone is doing OK, except for the troubled Milwaukee Public Schools and a handful of other high-poverty districts that did not meet the state's expectations. 

The Milwaukee Public Schools are 'troubled'? Good to know that's my employer and what students read. I will be the first to admit that the Milwaukee Public Schools is in need of assistance in meeting the needs of all students. But I take issue with the stance that the district itself is "troubled." We as a district serve the students with the highest needs and often times most challenging in the state.

While we don't do it well all the time, all things considered, we work small miracles every day.
In general, the report cards continue to reflect that schools in well-funded, stable communities post better scores than those in low-income, unstable communities.
In other news, water is wet, sun sets in the west. More at 11...
Perhaps the biggest change from last year's release was State Superintendent Tony Evers telling parents that the report cards still don't measure a lot of the things they might find pretty important, like a school's lineup of art, music and tech ed offerings, or extra-curricular activities. 
So, in other words, it really doesn't truly "measure" a school? Which once again leads to a whole other question about how can anyone truly measure a school?
"I want to caution that this is only one picture," Evers said in a YouTube message.
He added that the report cards' true purpose is to identify high-performing schools so their successful practices can be shared, and low-performing schools so they can get help to improve.
Get help to improve. There's a novel idea. Instead of punishing schools that are in high poverty areas and have disproportionate populations of students who are English-language learners and special needs, why not use the report cards as a way of measuring what schools need additional help.
"It's not for punishment," he said. 
There's the money quote. That directly shoots at what Gov. Walker did in his initial 2013 biennium budget when he proposed voucher expansion be tied to schools DPI report cards. It was one of the first places where major rifts could be seen between the Governor and State Sen. Luther Olsen. Then last winter, Gov. Walker and other conservatives desire to have more "school accountability" was once again tied to the report cards and school scores.

Once again, I defer to a far superior writer and mind than mine, my colleague Jay Bullock's column where he proposed the novel idea of actually giving supports to schools that need them.  

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 88% of schools and 98% of districts met or exceeded expectations, based on the state's five-category rating scale.
A total of 424 districts and 2,113 individual public schools received report cards.
But remember, teachers are all lazy, kids are becoming dumber, and those damned union bosses want nothing more than to not see those numbers rise even higher.
Among the highlights: 
· Nine districts and 116 schools earned the top rating: significantly exceeds expectations. The districts were all in higher-income communities around the Milwaukee area: 
Swallow, Mequon-Thiensville, North Lake, Whitefish Bay, Elmbrook, Fox Point J2, Cedarburg, Waterford Union High School and Hamilton. 
So what you're saying is that higher income communities are usually more stable, have families where jobs are stable, and people with college educations impart their knowledge on to their children? Oh, and what you're also saying is that when the story came out this summer that transportation aid was impacting higher income districts like Fox Point than places in northern Wisconsin, that's a load of BS?
· On the other end of the scale, 66 schools and one district — MPS — failed to meet expectations. 
Yep... That's us. MPS as a whole naturally fails to meet expectations, even though one of the major things that dings MPS schools is student attendance. Schools try everything they can to have their students come, but ultimately, the school can only do so much with the resources they have.
· Another 159 schools and seven districts "met few expectations." Those seven districts were both large and small, and with higher-than-average poverty: Beloit, Montello, Racine Unified, Suring Public, Menominee Indian, Bowler and Bayfield. 
Look at those rural schools. Welcome to yet another reason why Mary Burke has been traveling the northwoods and why the Governor's voucher message is not resonating very well. Students who ride a bus to Suring don't have parents who can drive them to a private school with a voucher.
· New this year are alternate ratings for schools that have very small enrollment, only serve high-risk students or are too new to have three years of data to round out a report card. These schools were rated as making satisfactory progress (177 schools and one district) or needing improvement (19 schools). 
This is one of the more common-sense and smart things that is happening with the report cards.
· In MPS specifically, 30 schools met or exceeded expectations, and 104 met few or failed to meet expectations. Among the 27 schools in Milwaukee that received alternate ratings, 12 were deemed satisfactory and 15 were rated as needing improvement. 
Out of almost 160 schools, those numbers are despairing. However, the number of schools means little when compared to the number of students served by those schools that are in each category. I could go on, and on, and on, and on, about how MPS has a higher percentage of special education students, students with little to no English language skills, and emotional-behavioral trauma that is immeasurable.
3rd year of report cards 
The Wisconsin report cards are now in their third year for schools and second year for districts. They took the place of the unpopular accountability system under the No Child Left Behind law, which judged schools almost entirely on what percentage of students were proficient in reading and math each year. 
The report cards give each school and district a score of 0-100 based on four areas: student achievement in reading and math, academic growth, closing achievement gaps and postsecondary readiness. The schools and districts are then placed in one of five ratings categories. 
You know, because we are so concerned about everyone getting into college instead of wondering how we are going to have jobs for those who have little interest in college. Or, how we are going to ding schools for their student's attendance, which they have little control over.
A handful of schools in Milwaukee with 90% or more of their students coming from low-income homes beat the odds to meet state expectations on report cards. They included schools such as Vieau School, Greenfield Bilingual, Franklin Elementary and Jackson Elementary in MPS, and independent charter schools Milwaukee Academy of Science and DLH Academy. 
I'm glad some schools have "beat the odds." What are they doing and how can we replicate it? If you say "we have selective admittance" and if you tell me that their special education population is below the average for the region, you don't have a solution.
MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia acknowledged that too many schools in the district were not experiencing enough academic growth, and said the report cards underscore the need for urgency. 
A district initiative is underway to offer more staff training and some extra money to its lowest-performing schools. 
Money that the district has shifted from federal funds and is up to $300,000 over three years. Sadly, that's really not much cash for schools that need far more than only 1.5 extra bodies a year in staff. What we need are wrap-around services so our students come to school regularly. We need mental health services for our students who have significant emotional-behavioral issues. We need comprehensive medical care, communities who feel connected to their neighborhood school, and services to all special education services.

Oh, and how about classrooms that aren't exploding at 40 with 15 students who have an IEP? That would be awesome... So, you know, we can actually do differentiated instruction and provide it to students individually.
DPI spokesman John Johnson said as a result of the report cards, the state is trying harder to spotlight schools that are making growth or closing achievement gaps, rather than heaping awards on high-achieving schools. 
Johnson said they're also experimenting with a program that pairs up principals from different schools to work on leadership development.
Sigh... And yet none of this matters should Gov. Walker be reelected. Public education come January will take it up the rear, and just watch for how these report cards will be used to punitively punish schools that serve those with the highest needs.

Mary Burke's Reagan Ad

I've been so busy and caught up with school that I never actually got around to posting Mary Burke's Reagan ad. This is way better than standing in a damn hole looking up.


Monday, September 15, 2014

6th Congressional District Debate

Sorry for not posting more.

This weekend I partook in a weekend excursion to a flea market with my best friend. It's a yearly trek we've made for the last 15 years, and unfortunately this was one of the first that I didn't want to camp out overnight for. (35 and rainy aren't ideal conditions).

Then, yesterday, I was with 78,000 of my closest friends partaking in a family tradition that dates back to the 1940's when my grandparents received season tickets to the Green Bay Packers.

Oh, and today I was at school for 13 hours preparing for the week and catching up on grading. Tomorrow I'm presenting with a group of other teachers at our local union on best practices, which means I'll only get 9 hours in actually "at school." The pressures of grading on standards and creating high-level, rigorous, and engaging lessons for students is extremely hard.

Anyhow, if you're like me and curious about the 6th Congressional District race between Glenn Grothman and Mark Harris, you probably want to carve out 30 minutes to listen to their debate from today.

You can listen to the debate HERE. 

Lots and lots of talk about the economy, health care, and all the standard affair. Glenn goes off on welfare benefits, and even manages to get a dig in at Milwaukee, if subtly. It's a worthy listen, especially after watching Harris on Up Front this weekend.  While the road may be hard for Democrats, I still think it's doable.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Whammer Friday

It's been a real Whammer Jammer type week.

School's been stressful. The honeymoon is over, and if you're someone who teaches in a large urban district, you know what I mean. There really is nothing that compares to the stress that happens these weeks.

To get a sense of what teaching is like, just listen to the following song from the J. Geils Band. If you've never heard this, it's probably one of the most iconic songs harp players idolize.

Considering my musical ability (outside from some killer karaoke and mean steering-wheel drumming) ended with my 4th grade recorder concert solo at the mall, I'll leave some real musicians to the music:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Embedding Disabled By Request - Scott Walker's New Ad

Scott Walker released a new TV ad today. 

But embedding on sites like this has been mysteriously disabled by the request of the account user.

It features him standing in a damn dirt hole talking about how he heroically rescued the state from a budget deficit that was caused by the total meltdown of the world financial markets.

It's not lost on many of us how it looks like he's standing in the grave that is his campaign. Especially after it's come to light he's been more than willing to help people who are coordinating against his opponents.  Ahhh optics... How campaigns have risen and fallen on them since the beginning of time.

Meet State Sen. Rick Gudex's New Best Friend! Oh, and Ed-Reform Under Walker Preview

The American Federation for Children bankrolled now Sen. Rick Gudex's campaign against now former State Sen. Jessica King. (Just search the archives on my writings on this topic.) 

Looks like the federation is launching a stand-alone Wisconsin chapter, and of course a well-known conservative operatives name is attached to the organization. From their press-release, which also includes a crazy push-poll:
MILWAUKEE (Sept. 11, 2014) – The American Federation for Children, the nation’s voice for educational choice, announces the launch of its state affiliate, the Wisconsin Federation for Children. 
AFC has been active in Wisconsin, the birthplace of school choice, for a decade and official launch of its local efforts signifies a renewed commitment in the state, including a push for significant expansion of the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. 
Which is causing us fits right now as the Milwaukee Public Schools and trying to figure out our enrollment and how to provide services to our over 20% special education population who is notoriously under-represented in voucher schools.
“Wisconsin’s history as an innovator in education reform provides the perfect foundation for future growth and new opportunities for our kids,” said Brian Fraley, communications consultant for the Wisconsin Federation for Children. “We will help lead the push to expand educational options for parents and establish effective accountability measures, to ensure that educational choice becomes even more popular and stronger in the years ahead.” 
Effective accountability my foot. Just ask Sen. Olsen how much the voucher side of the table LOVES accountability. They can't stand it and usually like to claim it's why they wanted to get out of the public system, all of the bureaucracy! You know... Because the #batshitcrazy amount of testing the government mandates we do to try and prove we are actually doing our jobs isn't good enough for the people who yell loudest about it.
The Wisconsin Federation (WFC) will continue to advocate for school choice at the Capitol and in communities throughout Wisconsin as well as partner with other state and local organizations that share the goal to increase educational options available for Wisconsin families. 
Oh yeah, I'm sure those rural schools in Vilas Co. are just itching for school choice to come along and siphon even more money out of the state education pot and cripple their transportation funds even more.
“The future is bright for continued growth,” added Fraley. “Next year we celebrate a quarter century of school choice in Wisconsin and our recent poll results indicate that the issue could be a difference maker in several key races here this fall.” 
Not in a positive way. Despite what their little Mickey-Mouse poll says, school choice is an issue that is not cutting well for Wisconsin outside of southern and eastern Wisconsin. While larger cities may have private schools that are alternatives to the public setting, the fact of the matter is that the VAST majority of the 424 public school districts in Wisconsin are being squeezed further and further and further because of the loss of money to vouchers. When you add in the fact that so many of those smaller rural districts are nowhere near a voucher school candidate, and those cities rally around their local schools like a weekday church, you'll see more and more people who reject the idea of vouchers on implementation.
WFC recently polled voters in Wisconsin’s swing legislative districts and found that a healthy majority favored school choice. 
What do they define as a "swing" district? Plus, those districts are largely urban. In other words, areas where private schools are located and already existing alternatives to the public systems. Polls of statewide issues in localized places mean little to nothing from a group like this. Read ahead with major doses of skepticism.
More than six-in-ten respondents (63 percent) favor empowering parents with the right to allow tax dollars associated with the education of their children to follow them to the public or private school of their parents’ choice. Importantly, 62 percent of independent voters favor educational choice, while only 30 percent are opposed. 
The survey of these districts also found that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a school choice champion, has a one point lead over his Democratic challenger, Madison School Board member Mary Burke (47 percent to 46 percent, respectively). 
Respondents were asked if they favor various educational reform proposals, including:
“Expanding Wisconsin’s statewide school choice program so that it would allow any working class Wisconsin parent to use taxpayer dollars to send their child to the public, private or religious school of their choice. The law currently only allows the poorest parents to be in the program.” (60 percent total favor, 33 percent strongly favor, only 32 percent opposed) 
“Eliminating the cap on Wisconsin’s statewide school choice program so that more than 1,000 children can use taxpayer dollars to attend the public, private or religious school of their parents’ choice.” (56 percent total favor, 35 percent strongly favor, only 38 percent oppose) 
“Requiring all students in public schools, charter schools, and private schools in the voucher program to take similar academic tests so that the schools can then be graded and held accountable for their performance.” (83 percent total favor, 62 percent strongly favor, only 13 percent oppose) 
“Allowing the University of Wisconsin system and the Technical College system to establish independent charter schools without the approval of local school boards.” (49 percent total favor, 20 percent strongly favor, only 36 percent oppose)
Okay, let's stop right here.

On the first two statistics from their poll they cite, that's they trying to set up for blowing the cap off of the voucher program. Income levels, number of people, just blow it up. Just think of the phrase "every backpack has a voucher for the school of their choice."

On the third point, that's just them saying something that everyone likes but they'll never actually go for. Voucher schools like the allure of "similar academic test" but that word "similar" goes to one of the central battles over the school accountability bills that have come up over the last two sessions. Religious schools don't want to take the same tests that the public systems take and instead want to take their own "similar" tests.

We've seen point three tried in legislation before, and Sen. Olsen and Rep. Kestell have been able to hold it back. The loss of moderate Republicans, and those who know the voucher schools are only interested in their own pocketbooks and not at the overall strength of all schools, is a problem.

The same goes for point four. The allowing of technical colleges and other schools to charter schools comes directly out of legislation like AB 549.

The end of the press-release is as follows:
NMB Research polled 500 likely voters from swing legislative districts in Wisconsin on August 20 and 21, 2014. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.38 percent. More information from the pollster can be found here: http://bit.ly/1u45MQn. 
You can look a their voodoo all you want.  I haven't and I won't.

But, considering we've heard from Gov. Walker that he's planning on introducing a full package of education reform issues this January, I'm worried that we are getting a little sneak preview with this type of push-polling.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Greater Wisconsin Committee's Latest Ad

When I left for work this morning, I had already seen the ad that debuted today against Scott Walker by the Greater Wisconsin Committee. After a wonderful night of union organizing and activities, I'm finally now able to publish it on here:

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

No Post

Teaching is damn hard.

So tonight, I'm taking a break.

A "Broader Package Aimed At Improving Schools"? What Does That Mean?!

I have lots of reasons to be concerned about the prospect of Gov. Walker being reelected. Aside from just the prospect of yet again reduced school spending with the bass-akwards policies of the Governor actually getting us into a budget deficit while the nation as a whole continues to recover from the Great Recession, I'm a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher. That means, I have to worry about my job security. 

According to the article: 
WISCONSIN DELLS (WKOW) – Gov. Scott Walker said Sunday he will move to replace the Common Core State Standards in Wisconsin in January if he is re-elected. 
Speaking to media on a campaign stop in the Wisconsin Dells, Walker said he believes the Common Core guidelines do not provide state educators, civic leaders and parents with enough say in determining what children should be learning at each grade level. 
“I think the people of the state should be in charge of decisions like that, not people from outside of the state,” Walker said.
Seriously? Do we have to once again go down this road of how curriculum and local standards are still adopted by local school boards, but the state adopting Common Core is them saying that those are the standards that will be used on standardized tests and as a recommendation to local districts?

Plus, why are we in Wisconsin somehow so very different that people in other states (or nations for that matter) in determining when students should learn factoring or basic mathematics concepts?
A total of 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards since their release in 2010 by the bipartisan National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. 
The standards serve as a guideline for what K-12 students should be learning in each grade level. Schools can set their own curricula for meeting the standards. 
“We should have high standards for our schools in this state but they should be set by people at the local and state level,” Walker said.
Umm, they are. That's why the local and state people have adopted the Common Core.
The Governor said he would include a repeal of Common Core as part of a broader package aimed at improving schools he will bring to the legislature in January if re-elected. 
BEEP BEEP. Hold up, back the truck up. This is the first time we've heard pretty much anything with regards to the Governor's policies on education come January, should he be reelected.
“It'll be not only about (Common Core) but about other things like school accountability, so that any public use of dollars, be it at a public or private school, will be held accountable to the same report card,” Walker said. 
Ohhhh lord.

That sounds dangerous for an MPS teacher like me. I have vivid memories of last December wondering when the last school accountability bill known as SB 286 was weaving it's way through committee. That culminated with an amendment and horrid piece of legislation that pretty much was designed to dismantle the Milwaukee Public Schools over the next several years.  (I still remember sitting in my living room on one of the "Cold Days" and reading the text as I received it.)

That version of the bill touched almost everyone's third rail with conservatives being angry it didn't go after schools like those in MPS even more than they did, while liberals and progressives saw it as a way to dismantle public education.

Following the fall-out, Sen. Olsen introduced yet another amendment only two weeks later, which was the only that was ever formally introduced, and watered down the bill to merely deal with reporting procedures of student data. However, that didn't stop people like Sen. Paul Farrow and Sen. Leah Vukmir from making it known that they had every intention of making school "accountability" a top priority in the next legislative session. (And yes, Sen. Farrow is wholly in-favor of an MPS "Recovery Zone" where the lowest schools are turned over to private operators.)

With Sen. Olsen an outsider looking in when it comes to how his caucus feels on education issues, and Sen. Vukmir leading the charge against the Common Core, I see no reason why a candidate who has absolutely no representation of Milwaukee would lead the fight to strip it's locally controlled schools.
Walker added the proposal would include “a whole host of other things to provide flexibility for local schools to provide the best education possible.” 
When you hear that word "flexibility" I hear a word that accompanied him in the 2011 Act 10 debate everywhere. In schools, we don't want state mandated "flexibility." We want the ability to actually be flexible in serving our populations! There is so much in that brief little statement that scares me with what the Governor is concocting behind closed doors.
The Governor said he's hopeful the State Senate and State Assembly would back a replacement of the standards. He also touted the state of Wisconsin's educational system as a whole. 
“ACT scores, after four years of being Governor, are now second best in the country. Graduation rates are up since I've been Governor. Third grade reading scores are up since I've been Governor,” Walker said. 
Since the Department of Public Instruction adopted the Common Core in 2010 you mean too, right? You as Governor haven't done a damn thing to increase third grade reading scores over the last four years. Advancing the curriculum and codifying what districts across the state are doing with common standards do things like advance reading scores.

How is this man Governor again?
Democrat Mary Burke said in a statement that she supports the Common Core Standards. 
“We absolutely need higher standards in Wisconsin – we are currently 38th in the country in terms of proficiency standards – and implementing Common Core correctly will do just that,” Burke said. 
Let's also remember that Common Core is only Math and English. The "Next Generation Science Standards" haven't been adopted because they do crazy things like believe in science, so a lot of conservatives are against it. Districts though have adopted them individually.

“Schools should have flexibility in implementation because every school is different,” she said. “Let's put the politics aside and put our young people's futures first so Wisconsin becomes a thriving, top ten economy.” 
Burke faces Walker in November's election.  
Mike Wagner, a professor of journalism and political science at the UW-Madison, said he's not sure how prominent the question of whether to replace the Common Core standards will be on the campaign trail this fall. 
It really won't be. Moderates (all 4 left) don't see it as a major issue. But trust me, when their local schools next spring flip out because the legislature and governor decided to screw them over with funding and throw testing into a tailspin (when contracts have been signed), they'll see the ill in their ways.
In a recent Marquette University Law School Political Poll, 26 percent of respondents reported never having heard of the Common Core Standards. 
“It's not that voters don't care about Common Core,” Wagner said. “It's that most of them don't have a really good idea of what it does.”
“Among those who know, most Democrats and Independents like it and Republicans are fairly evenly split,” he said.
Which makes you wonder why Gov. Walker is going against so many people and wants to do something just for political reasons.

But then again, this is Gov. Walker we're talking about.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rural School Funding & Vouchers

Last week, in the rush to begin the new school year, I missed THIS excellent article by Matt Pommer about how rural school funding and vouchers don't mix.

Here it is reprinted in full:
Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting law has not solved the woes of rural school districts. Declining enrollments mean less state aid, and Republican-led efforts to help private schools may grow as a gubernatorial campaign issue.

Walker has championed the expansion of voucher schools in which tax dollars flow to private schools. Walker also signed a special $30 million, GOP-developed income tax break for families who send their children to nonpublic schools.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke would limit vouchers to Milwaukee and Racine, and eliminate the $30 million tax break. 
Arguments swirl around the quality of education in voucher schools and whether the voucher schools should take students with special needs. But the real question is how to divide the state’s financial resources for education. 
The situation facing rural schools was spelled out in a recent report by State Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, vice chairman of an Assembly Task Force on Rural Schools. The report noted that over two years, $544 million go to nonpublic schools. 
“These are financial resources that are no longer available for public schools and are in many cases appropriated as a first draw on general school aids,” the report said.
Diversion of public funds toward private schools that now are receiving an amount
of taxpayer financing helped create an “acute” situation for many school districts, according to Clark. Rural schools are facing “unique challenges,” he added. 
Among the factors Clark cited are high costs of busing students in sparsely populated areas, technology needs, lack of access to broadband internet, and recruiting and retaining excellent teachers. Often the rural districts go to the voters to exceed spending limits. 
“After years of reductions and budget cuts, many rural school districts are at a crisis point,” he said. “Without additional relief many districts will need to eliminate more programs, close schools, or in some cases dissolve entirely.” 
The idea of voucher schools across rural parts of the state could worsen declining enrollments, according to those close to public education. State School Superintendent Tony Evers notes that more than half of the state’s 424 districts have fewer than 1,000 students. The state-aid formula is tied to the property value behind each student. 
The aid formula is a “double whammy” for rural districts with declining enrollments, Evers told the task force. These districts lose money because there are fewer students to count and they look richer “because there is more property value behind the remainder of their students,” added Evers. 
He said the state aid formula should take into consideration the income levels of families in a district, not just the property values. That would face a lot of opposition in a Legislature with strong Republican links to well-to-do suburbs. 
The report noted the costs of busing children to school. The Independence school district in Trempealeau County spends $275,000 per year to transport about 200 students, the task force was told. That amounts to about $775 per pupil. The state provided just $14,700 in bus aid to the district in 2012-2013. Other rural districts also feel the pinch. 
Greg Doverspike, administrator of schools at Durand in Pepin County, sees bleak choices. Cutting bus routes means longer ride times. The alternative is cutting funds for the classroom. 
The task force was told rural district teachers earn about 15 percent less than teachers in urban and suburban districts. Teacher often leave rural districts for higher pay in other parts of the state.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Pay To Play - School Competition In Milwaukee

So, remember when I discussed my school's enrollment numbers and how that relates to the the "Third Friday Count" in a blog post earlier this week? In Wisconsin, the number of students you have enrolled in your school directly relates to the amount of money you receive from the state in terms of funding. In Milwaukee, it's a rat-race for schools who are in an open-market of competition for students, where increased student enrollment means increased funding and ability to offer services. 

Well, when you're a voucher school, the count is just as important as it is for the public system. And some voucher schools are turning on their enrollment machinesto the point of giving away cash-rewards to people who have students enroll in their school! 

From the Milwaukee Teachers Educator's Association blog: 
UWM Charter School Uses Bribery to Increase Enrollment

Written by Bob Peterson, MTEA president 
UWM should be ashamed. 
Urban Day — a UWM charter — is using bribery to increase enrollment. 
Urban Day, on its website, in radio commercials and in flyers (photo above) distributed in the neighborhood, is promising $100 to anyone who recommends a student who will enroll and be present on the third Friday of September.

As educators know, the third Friday is used by the state to determine a school’s funding. As many MPS teachers also know, there is a history of students from voucher and charter schools transferring to an MPS school after that third Friday count. 
For years stories have circulated of private voucher and privately-run charter schools offering incentives to parents to enroll their kids – gas cards, gift cards, and even money.
But UWM’s cash-for-students plan stoops to a new low. 
On its website, Urban Day has a full-page graphic of $100 bills with the headline: Refer a Student, Earn Money.” The flyer meanwhile states: “Earn Free Money!!!” by convincing people to enroll in their school.

The flyer goes on to note: “For every new student who is enrolled at school on September 19th and has you as a reference: We will pay you $100. (No limit on the number of students, but students must be present on September 19th for you to receive money.)” 
Urban Day originally was a private voucher school, and for years had been touted as an exemplary community school. It became a UWM charter school in 2010. 
Urban Day’s flyer did not include any information about the school’s curriculum or offerings. Nor did the flyer (or website) note that in 2011-12 and 2012-13 the school met “few expectations” on the new statewide report card — the second lowest rating, just above “no expectations.” 
In 2012-13, only 8.6% of Urban Day students had special needs, compared to nearly 20% in MPS. 
UWM is supposed to be the flagship public university in our city. It should be ashamed.
Just think of what could happen in your hometown if Gov. Walker decides to expand the reach of vouchers even further should he be reelected...

Common Core Implementation In Sheboygan Co.

Yesterday I saw online an article that yet again discusses the Common Core State Standards and their implementation in Wisconsin. With the school year just having gotten under way, and the governor's race in full swing, it doesn't particularly surprise me to see school in the news. It's politics.

The article I saw was in the Sheboygan Free-Press, and you can read it HERE. 
When Vicki Hanson started to homeschool her now 8-year-old grandson two years ago, she quickly discovered that school is different from when she was young. 
Don't take this the wrong way, but I SURE HOPE SO! My dad is 62, and I hope that education is done differently in 2014 than 1960 for 8 year olds!
Hanson, of Sheboygan, said that's because of Common Core State Standards. 
"That Common Core makes it harder," Hanson, 63, said. "I had a hard time doing it and I'm not 8 (years old)."
Ohhhhhh.... Kay. It's Common Core that makes it harder?  Sigh, it's difficult to try and say that a parent or grandparent isn't qualified to teach their child or grandchild, especially because they are the child's first teacher and schools have traditionally depended upon them to prepare students for school. However, I will say, there is a reason why you have to go through a preparation program to receive a teaching license in Wisconsin.
The state standards, adopted by Wisconsin in 2010, set learning goals in mathematics, English and language arts that outline what students in kindergarten through 12th grade should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. 
Beginning this school year, Wisconsin's state assessment is tied to them. 
That's not necessarily something teachers are rejoicing over, especially because geniuses in government still have this notion that tying teacher performance to standardized tests has meaning.
Educators agree that the standards are more rigorous than what was previously in place, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. They also say they like the standards because they promote continuity and encourage students' critical thinking skills. 
Opponents argue that the standards are unnecessarily tough and they take away local control. 
HOW?!?!?! How do standards that are adopted by the state purely as a guide of what will be on standardized tests take away local control? Local school districts still have the authority to adopt standards for themselves.
Gov. Scott Walker has responded to the controversial benchmarks by asking the Wisconsin Legislature to pass a bill in January to repeal them and replace them with new standards set by Wisconsin officials. 
The benchmarks themselves aren't controversial. A better way to phrase that would have been, "Gov. Scott Walker has responded to disagreement over the benchmarks by..." Everyone is pretty much in agreement that whatever Wisconsin would develop would likely mirror over 90% of what's in Common Core, but just not have the name.
Despite the mounting political battle and backlash from some parents and other naysayers, school administrators and teachers continue to press on with the educational standards. 
"Educators see a lot of good in the Common Core standards," said Howards Grove School District Superintendent Chris Peterson. "My question is, if they're gone, what do we use in their place? ...I'll tell you that the old Wisconsin academic standards were horrendous. What we have now is far more superior." 

I teach social studies and we are still using the 1998 standards. Social Studies is a terrible beast to try and build national standards for, as everyone loves their own state and usually state laws mandate some form of state history or curriculum in local events. Mathematics is math in Oregon or Mississippi. (You'd think you could say the same about English/Language Arts and Science too...)
While much of their instruction remains the same even with the new educational standards, educators say that a major difference between Common Core and the previous Wisconsin standards is that Common Core promotes critical thinking. 
"What we really want kids to be able to do is critically look and analyze and apply as opposed to the rote memorization process," said Seth Harvatine, director of instructional services for the Sheboygan Area School District. "The kids are expected to do much more discussing and dialoguing the 'how' and the 'why' they got their answer as opposed to 'Did I get the answer right? Yes or no?'" 
And that ladies and gentlemen is one glaring way things are different form the time the 63 year-old grandmother was 8 and in school. As a social studies teacher, I still do believe in memorization of some terms, but I'm in high school. With third graders, is it really important to memorize a list, or actually figure out how to decipher why the list matters?
In English-language arts, for example, students are asked to read and write more critically by looking at texts from a variety of genres or sources, and then make claims that are supported by those texts. 
"They're always answering with evidence from the text and supporting whatever claims they're trying to make," said Tina Thone, language arts teacher at Horace Mann Middle School. "My favorite part about it is I'm no longer seeing that the answer is just 'no' or 'yes.'" 
Ha, well, I still see that. But, I teach inner-city high schoolers who didn't grow up under Common Core. It's incredibly frustrating for them when I have them do an activity that forces them to read and then answer questions about the reading, yet the answers aren't found in the text. (INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING!) But, it's good for them. It's promoting critical thinking, and when today's third graders become sophomores, be well positioned to tackle things like Document Based Questions.
For that reason, the standards often do require more of students, but educators say kids are up for the challenge. 
"It's really cool to see that I'm setting these really high expectations for kids and they can achieve them, as long as they've got that encouragement and support and the ability to take ownership of their learning," Thone said. 
Welcome to yet another example of what you learn to do when you train to become a teacher. You learn to operate in students "frustrational zone." Make them frustrated, but not frustrated because they can't do it, but frustrated because it's not too easy for them to do.

Teaching is hard work. And yes, this is why adding four or five more kids into a classroom is a big deal.
Schools in Sheboygan County began implementing Common Core as early as four years ago, with some integrating them as recently as last year. 
Because districts set their own standards and curriculum.

In the Sheboygan Area School District, teachers are in their second school year of teaching with Common Core. Teachers received training in the spring of 2013, and collaborated in groups to discuss new lessons or teaching strategies in response to the standards. 
Common Core is not a curriculum, but, in some instances the standards have influenced the way teachers instruct and the types of materials they choose to teach. This year, the district provided new math textbooks at the elementary and middle school levels that are aligned with Common Core, for example. 
Can we repeat that again? COMMON CORE IS NOT A CURRICULUM. Don't for a second trust a damn thing that says it is. They are benchmark goals.
The English and language arts disciplines have focused more so on utilizing new teaching strategies, said Thone. 
"No one has given me a set curriculum," said Thone. "We've been given the standards and now the beauty in it is we are professional, we're creative and we can take what we know and dive in and teach these standards to the kids." 
Oh, so what you're saying is that Common Core doesn't dictate what teachers have to teach, how often to teach it, and force them to be indoctrinated by Obama? Really?! But the Conservative people told me otherwise.

Again, this is why teachers are required to get licenses and it frustrates the hell out of us when people casually say, "anyone can be a teacher." You have to put together your own resources to help your students and be smart enough to strike that balance between engaging, challenging, and entertaining students.
Thone says one way she's doing that is by teaching her students a reading skill called "close reading." Instead of reading a text just one time, Thone now might ask students to read the same text multiple times, each time with a different purpose. 
Common Core opponent: "Why would you read a text twice?! Grumble, grumble, I know how to read and have already understood it. I'm not stoopid, grrrr..."
The first read is a cold read where students simply read the text. On the second read, students annotate the text, writing questions or reactions on the page as they go. The third read asks students to answer text-dependent questions. 
Opponent: "When I was in school we just answered questions about the text and I turned out just fine!"

Howards Grove High School math teacher Elizabeth Hill has responded to the standards by using a teaching strategy called "flipping the classroom." Students are instructed to watch videos at home of Hill introducing a math concept, and class time is then used for working on problems while asking questions and discussing the concept with other students and/or the teacher. 
I'm not a big fan of "flipped" classrooms because I think kids are busy enough at home. I also know that as a student, I never in a million years would've watched the videos and remembered what was happening for the next day. Plus, having divorced parents, time was a challenge.

But, to each teacher their own.
"It's trying to get kids to do more in the classroom," Hill said. "A lot of times in the past the math classroom has been a stand and deliver kind of situation and I'm trying to get them to do more critical thinking on their own, or working with their peers to come up with good reasons, good arguments as to why they are doing what they're doing, rather than just spitting out an answer." 
Overhead manufacturers I'm sure are trying to figure out how to compensate for their loss of Elmo & 3M overhead projector sales.
While some parents say they're happy with the newfound rigor in their child's classroom, others are noticing the differences and aren't too happy about the changes. 
Many who oppose them expressed concern about schools implementing standards that aren't locally made. 
So, they're worried people in Howards Grove didn't have a say in how students factor a Polynomial?
Peterson said he's not opposed to the Legislature forming a task force to create new, locally made standards — even if it means they're different than the Common Core. 
"If the new standards that they create mirror or follow along with what we have, that's fine. If they're drastically different, that's fine too, but don't pull the rug out from underneath us without something to replace it." 
While I think that's trying to be nice and not be too political in a part of the state that's generally pretty Republican, my response would be, "Why the hell do we need to abandon something to only spend more money on essentially recreating the wheel we have and not call it a wheel."
Peterson also added that local school boards still maintain control over selecting their districts' curricula. 
And standards... And standards.
Other parents or guardians opposed to Common Core expressed concern for their child's ability to be successful under the new, elevated expectations. 
Oh... Parents are going to be worried that Johnny or Janie aren't going to be getting their "A" anymore.

"It's so much harder," said Hanson. "I see the older grandson who is going to be 14 and he shows me his math and I'll tell you, I wouldn't even know how to start. What it ends up being is it's not the same, regular way that I did it in school. It's deriving at the same answer, but going through about five steps to get to it and I don't see the point." 
So, because XYZ parent or grandparent who doesn't see the point doesn't understand it, that clearly means we shouldn't be doing it. I don't understand the Big Bang Theory, so it must not be real. I can't see atoms and it doesn't make sense that there is space between electrons and protons and neutrons, so that must be false. How can dinosaur bones be on the surface of the earth if they were buried?

Grandparent doesn't understand 14 year old (likely Freshman) math, so that must mean it's not as good as what she did in 1966.
Hanson said she's also concerned for her younger grandson — whom she homeschooled up until last year — that he'll be behind in reading and math now that he's back in the public school system. 
So, she doesn't like the new rigorous standards because they are confusing and not the way she did it when she was in school, but now she's worried that her homeschooling him has left him behind?

What is it? Are the standards bad, or are the changes in teaching they've helped foster accelerating students? What is it?!

I respect parent decisions for students. They are their children. But that still doesn't mean my head won't ache over what I hear sometimes.
Another parent, Teri Hittman of Oostburg, expressed concerns for her daughter, who has dyslexia. 
But Thone says the standards aren't just for accelerated learners. 
"I really notice that there's ability to challenge all my learners to be active thinkers," she said.  
There's room for improvement with anything new, but most of the criticism over Common Core stems from a misunderstanding, Peterson said. 
So, so true. And, it's not just misunderstanding, it's an all out misinformation campaign. The phrase "ObamaCore" isn't a misunderstanding.
"I do think there's a lot of misconceptions," Peterson said. "I struggle with having someone identify what standard they are against. Someone who is anti-Common Core, if they could show me the specific standard that is not good for kids, I would entertain that convresation. I'd want to hear that, but I haven't had a conversation like that." 
No, they're mad because they somehow think that because it wasn't created locally it's bad. It's that anti-big government crowd that's anti government because they want to be anti government.
For nearly all area school districts, any new textbooks and resources that were purchased, or training that took place in response to Common Core was done with money that was already set aside in the budget for professional development. 
And textbook manufacturers have aligned their books with Common Core, so going away from it isn pointless anyway.
That was the case for Howards Grove, said Peterson. 
"Anytime we talk about professional development, that's a cost," Peterson said. "We devote money to staff development every year whether we have Common Core or Wisconsin Academic Model Standards. It's just money that we set aside." 
However, if the Legislature repeals the standards, as Walker has urged, and dictates that districts toss the standards, it would require extra funds, not to mention extra time and resources spent on re-training teachers, said Peterson. 
And what's stupid is that it's trying to re-train teachers for something that really isn't going to be different than Common Core. Which will frustrate teachers who will feel like they could be better spending their time doing something else, and annoy districts who'll have to schedule professional development activities with monies they don't have.
Those are just a couple of the frustrations Peterson has regarding the controversy over Common Core State Standards. 
When the Wisconsin Legislature began last year to form committees to review and evaluate the standards, Peterson wrote a letter — signed by every district administrator in Sheboygan County — to members of the select committee. 
"As educators, we are incredibly frustrated to hear and read some of the misinformation that is circulating related to these standards and, quite frankly, most of the criticism regarding the Common Core is simply without merit," wrote Peterson. "It seems that those with specific agendas and often very little accurate information are working to create fear around something they don't seem to understand." 
Again, I don't think it's that they don't understand, I think they just don't like that it's not their way of doing it.

Hill agrees that so far, Common Core has been positive for her students. Having only implemented them two years ago in the Howards Grove School District, it's still too early to tell their long-term effect, but she said she hopes they'll stick around long enough to tell. 
"I like to think that even if Common Core would go away tomorrow, I think I would still use it in my classroom," Hill said. "I do really feel that we are making strides in it. And with all the criticisms and everything, I like to just say, 'Let's wait and see what happens. Rather than changing it all right now and trying something new, let's see if this does work after some time.'"
I'm a big fan of Tim Selkar's views on many things with Common Core. I don't totally buy all the jazz that's said about how because Common Core is more rigorous that means that students are going to be achieving higher. I'm not anti-Common Core, because I think that the idea of having a nationally unified set of benchmarks for students is good, especially in the world where families are far more mobile than two generations ago.

However, what I do think Common Core has done is created a whole sea-change in how teaching is done because it's forced teachers to align across the country, which means good ideas are more easily shared and best practices are more easily adaptable. Simply writing a benchmark doesn't help student achievement. It's all the background work that's happened in the last five years, augmented with a lot of young teachers like yours truly who grew up on technology, that's helped bring better practices into the 21st Century classroom.

*** Here's a video that I saw going around the interwebs today:

Fact 1 - This is not "Common Core Math." There is no such thing as "Common Core Math." Common Core is a set of national benchmark standards, not a way of doing math or a curriculum.

Fact 2 - The language the teacher is using here is 100% inappropriate for young learners and not something she would use with young learners. (She's also not exactly explaining what's happening in the best way for adults to be honest, but in TV you only get so much time.)

Fact 3 - The physical way the teacher here is drawing this out is not "doing math." What this is supposed to do is teach students to think that 9+6 is the same as 10+5. It's a way of having students learn that things may look different, but you wind up with the same result.

Fact 4 - Not every student is going to understand math this way. However, many students do (in fact, I have a family member who I showed this video to because I thought the teacher was explaining it terribly and they said, "that makes total sense to me. It's what I do in my head when I do math.")

Fact 5 - It's videos like this that make anti-Common Core people flip out.

Here's what happening in this video, the teacher is showing in a visual fashion the concept students would learn. She's teaching students that using "base 10" is an appropriate way to think in mathematical terms. Instead of doing the old-school "memorization" worksheets where you would have students do timed tests and see how many they could do, you teach students the concepts behind the math.

Yet, it looks confusing when done in a minute and thirty second fashion. No, it's not how you would do middle school algebra. No, doing a standard algorithm isn't "wrong" or being abandoned. But, this is the exact type of thing that may be confusing to parents and making them frustrated with the Common Core at lower grade levels. I feel for them because honestly, when I watched this video the first time, I didn't understand what the hell was happening.

But you know what, I got informed. I got someone to explain to me why this worked for them, and why sometimes, especially at younger levels, it's important to realize that if we want to change how well our students acquire concepts like mathematics, it requires us to make a change in how we teach it. Yeah, it's confusing at first, but once you break through that confusion, you see a broader vision.

But please for the love of everything holy, don't confuse "standards" and "curriculum."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Teaching Week One - Thoughts

While everyone may be an expert in education because everyone has attended school, I'm still going to put my two cents into the echo-chamber of the Cheddarsphere on what my first week of school was like. Consider it to be some reflective practitioning.

- On starting year three with MPS

This is the first year I've started a school year without the disjointed fear and anxiety that is associated with starting at a new school, with new classes, and all with less than a week's notice on what classroom and classes I'd be teaching.

It was glorious. I got to come in a month before school started to do prep work! I got to set my room up ahead of time! I got to do some little things like put furniture in computer labs that I thought needed it. In other words, I got to actually think about things without having to just act because there was too little time.

My first job was taking over for a teacher who decided to take a different position outside of education mid-year. I found out the day before winter break that I would be starting Jan. 2nd, and oh, did I mention I still had to work my other job in the ensuing week? Then, I was hired by MPS the week after Labor day two years ago and walked into my first job not knowing what grades or classes I would be teaching. Last year, I was transferred to my present position and a week before school started was the first time I was able to see my classroom and get a schedule of classes.

Having continuity of teaching at a school and continuity of classes taught is so flipping huge. This was the smoothest start of the year ever.

- On school attendance

Unless you've ever taught in a large urban school district, you probably have no clue how nerve-wrecking it can be trying to get your attendance numbers before the "Third Friday Count." Our school last spring was budgeted for about 100 less students this year, meaning our staffing would reflect our projection. Well, over the summer we registered about 50 students MORE than we had last year. However, the first day of school, we were well over 300 students BELOW what that registration number was.

Did you get all that?

That means that if we don't get those students through the door before Third Friday, our school will lose whatever dollar amount of funding is associated with that student from MPS. When you get to around 30 students lost, you've gotten to the point of needing to "excess" a teacher, meaning they go back to the district either for reassignment or to become a substitute within the district. Luckily as the week went on we recouped a little over the 100 who weren't there the first day, but we still have a ways to go.

Oh, the things you learn when you come to teach in a large urban district. Hey suburban/rural teachers, I know you guys do everything imaginable to get students in by Third Friday too, including throwing parties and the like, but I bet absolutely none of you have ever had to worry about the word "excessed" or having whole swaths of student schedules change the first week of October because your school lost a few teachers. It's no joke, it's what happens.

And people wonder why I harp on how private schools hold onto kids until Third Friday and then kick them out...

Oh, and did I mention four of my five classes have rosters of over 30, and three of them are 35+?

- On Continuity of Leadership

If you read the Soapbox frequently, you've probably seen me write about the MPS "Commitment Schools," of which mine is one of. One of the provisions of the grants/plans associated with being a Commitment School is that MPS will not simply move your head principal to another building, which happened frequently at ours over the years. In fact, last year was our fourth head principal in four years, and fifth in six years. Teachers lost track of the number of assistant principals.

This year, our building had the exact same administrative team as the year before for the first time in over 13 years according to many veteran staff. Or as the joke went, "since at-least sometime in the 90's." Again, one of those things many suburban and rural schools don't have much experience with. (Although in the wake of 2011 Act 10, turnover is a little more prevalent.)

I really hope MPS understands how huge and vital this is to us on the ground-level with students. The climate and culture of our building is noticeably different than this time last year. We have administration who changed opening week procedures and know what the pitfalls of previous years were. Again, they had time over the summer to think and then plan and then implement.

It's a novel concept really.

While the week went on we saw some returns to issues of the past like chronic hall-walking students and students not caring about tardiness. However, it's something that we can address right away next week. Yes, there are still issues in our building - too many disruptive students, some staff being disgruntled over various decisions, lack of a bookstore person to check out textbooks, (again, another thing rural/suburban schools don't deal with), but we have people in leadership who know where to get answers.

Seriously though, do you have any idea how hard it is to teach inner-city students without having access to textbooks? New staff didn't even have access to "teacher editions" until the end of this past week!

Please MPS, understand this concept: Continuity of leadership in a building helps building culture change and succeed.

- On my students

When you're in a building for two years in a row, funny things happen. Last year's students purposefully walk by your door to fist-bump you on their way to class. They tell their friends, "That's 'Soapbox', he's cool." When you teach at a school like mine where teacher turn-over is over 30-40% many years, you see their eyes literally light-up as they see you in the hallway that first week. You see students you couldn't pass last year walk into your room and greet you. You see students you did pass come and complain about their new teacher. You have new students complain about their last year teacher.

When you teach in an urban high school, you worry who you may not see return in the fall. You worry about how low your new students are and how much differentiation you'll have to do. You worry about those students you couldn't pass last year and how they'll react when they come back, and yes, you worry about your last year students and whether or not you prepared them well enough for making that step-up to this year's classes.

You're told it time and time again in college and it becomes somewhat cliche, "kids are kids." Until you've come from a suburban/rural environment to the inner city, and gotten past their hardened exteriors, and the macho/tough facade many of the students have, and then when you peel the onion back a few layers, you realize that they are just a fragile, and scared, and hopeful, and worried, and happy, and anxious as any other student.

Whether you live off Highway 83 in Oconomowoc, or just outside Rudolph, or at 30th and Center in Milwaukee, kids really are kids. Good teachers work to find that commonality. I'd like to think great teachers work at helping students realize that commonality and to channel their hopes and desires into a achievable goal.

That's my goal this coming year at least. It's scary as hell being an MPS teacher knowing the stakes the fall election has on my future employment. But what's more scary, and angering, is how my students are pawns in a shill game in Madison. By your third year in MPS, if the students you teach haven't become "your kids" and you won't fight like hell for their best interests, I think you may need to check yourself.

My students are my kids. Watch Wis-Eye all you want on urban schools, school funding, and school policy. (It's great government watching.) But if you want an unvarnished view of the realities we face every day, come talk to me.