Sunday, November 23, 2014

Habitual Truancy - My View

The Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service last week had a disturbing report - over 70% of MPS high school students were considered habitually truant. 

This was not a surprise to me. I teach at a traditional MPS high school on the northwest side.

I penned a letter to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last week and submitted it for publication. Sadly, I never heard anything back, and considering I don't want to wait any longer, I'm going to publish it here: 
As a teacher in a traditional Milwaukee Public High School, a story form the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reporting on habitual truancy rates within MPS high schools only reinforces the immense struggles inner-city education faces. My fellow teachers, administrators, social workers, and others work at confronting and attempting to combat the issue of student truancy on a daily basis. 
However, we need help. 
On a weekly basis as a school we review the previous week’s attendance and brainstorm ideas of how to increase attendance and engagement. Phone calls, letter writing campaigns, and home visits occur frequently, but success is still illusive. Yet, we continue to brainstorm, revisit methods, and work at expanding the resources we do have to reach our students. 
In my third year of teaching in MPS and living in Milwaukee as a transplant from the Fox Valley, the issue of student truancy contributes more than any other factor into the quality of lessons I am able to design and effectively implement. As a teacher in a school with inconsistent student attendance, it is incredibly difficult to design projects that involve multiple students and develop their skills of teamwork, leadership, management, and goal setting. These employability skills are crucial for our student’s success beyond the classroom walls as members of society. 
We teachers know the struggle and costs of habitual truancy. We need help. 
The solutions to this problem are long, complex, and must include stakeholders from across the entire community. The Community Schools model recently advanced by the Milwaukee Teachers Educators Association and Commitment Schools agenda by MPS are steps in the right direction. Furthermore, the advent of Parent Coordinators in all MPS schools this year as an additional resource is immeasurable in assisting our efforts as classroom teachers. 
However, to truly correct issues of student truancy, we need a holistic community wide approach. 
The news article notes very well many of the problems our students within MPS face with attendance. The reasons why students of mine are not at school or in my class are as individual and unique as the personalities that make up their being as a person. This means the solutions to this problem need to be unique and individual to the students who find themselves in a situation of habitual truancy. 
We need help reaching our students who have to take care of their own children, siblings, parents or have other family obligations. We need help reaching our students who work overnight to help pay for the heat bill. We need help reaching our students who are transient between Milwaukee and other communities. We need help combating all of the societal temptations that teenagers confront.

We need help.

With news of the governor and state legislature drafting a new school accountability bill for the upcoming legislative session, I worry the issue of student truancy will be left out of the discussion and ideology will rule the day. Punitive sanctions, loss of funding, or turning public buildings over to charter operators makes no progress combating the truancy issue on a societal level. 
For schools who are struggling with truancy, these options will mean fewer parent coordinators, fewer social workers making home visits, or larger class sizes with less individualized attention and instruction. This only serves to put more barriers in place to having students achieve a high school diploma or GED and further exacerbates the issues faced with unemployment in the inner city. 
This is an issue with blame beyond MPS, beyond families, and one on which we cannot just sit back and say, “oh-well” as a community. 
We need help.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Policy of Education - Why Didn't We Hear More Of This On The Campaign Trail?

As a public school teacher, and one in Milwaukee at that, one of the more infuriating things that was not talked about anywhere near as heavily as it should've been during the fall campaign was education.

Sure, there were statements made around the edges about not supporting or supporting vouchers, but specifics were often times left vague. This was especially true of the governor's ideas about expanding vouchers and his vision of what school accountability looked like.

Never mind it was a hot topic last winter. That was only nine months ago... Who could possibly remember things from nine months ago?

Well today, we saw some of the dividing lines over what education policy will look like next month and January come more sharply into focus. That came from the School Administrators Alliance, and a massive policy brief they prepared about the direction Wisconsin should be heading with school reform and accountability. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly a conservatives paradise.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: 
With hopes of changing the conversation about education policy in Wisconsin, leaders of groups representing school district administrators recommended that lawmakers consider a slate of research-based proposals in the next legislative session. 
Let's reiterate one compound word in there... research-based.
About 100 administrators gathered in Madison Wednesday morning for the announcement of the policy wish list. It includes everything from greater investments in early childhood education and school-based mental health services, to more money for technology and innovation, to allowing districts a greater annual increase to the amount they can raise per pupil through state aid and property taxes. 
Remember, one of the lesser-remembered nuggets of Gov. Walker's 2011 budget nightmare was that it capped property taxes, which effectively hamstrung districts ability to increase their budgets with fluctuating staff needs and costs of materials.
But such policy proposals don't resemble the legislative agenda being discussed by GOP leaders who control the Legislature. 
Not by a long shot.
A leading Republican senator says his first mission at the start of the session in January will be to dramatically redesign the state's school accountability and report card system. That could set the stage for legislation that would allow more taxpayer money to flow to more private voucher schools, and not necessarily public schools. 
Could set the stage? Let's just go ahead and call it like it is... It's a gift bill to private schools who are not going to be held to the same standards as the state's public system yet receive state money.
That's why those behind the biennial policy agenda of the School Administrators Alliance — the lobbying group representing state principals, superintendents, school business officials, special education directors and human resource directors — are making their recommendations public. 
Look, you can say what you want about teacher's political bends, it's largely true. We're liberals who are in the trenches every day confronting the ills of society and the divisions that bad public policy continue to create and exacerbate.  But there are PLENTY of superintendents, business officials, and HR directors who are not bleeding heart hippie classroom teachers. They're the ones who work the finances, and BELIEVE ME, not  all created equal.

That's why this group making the recommendations it did are far differed from something WEAC or teachers would advocate for. While there are many similarities, it's important to draw a distinction. These are the people who work the books and know the money side of the equation at the local level.
"Our members have a real desire to see state-level policy come in closer alliance with what research suggests and what exemplars around the world have done," said Jim Lynch, executive director of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators.
The 44-page policy agenda puts it more bluntly: 
"There is a real cause for concern that policy-making at the state level is moving down the wrong path." 

The whole 44 page policy is a fascinating read (if you're like me and enjoy such tedious things.)
Research shows that investing in early childhood learning, rigorous teacher preparation and educational innovation pays off, the agenda continues, "but these issues are often overlooked in the Legislature in favor of less research-based and more ideology-driven reforms such as expanding vouchers or politicizing academic content standards." 
DING! DING! DING! I could also go on and on about another news story that I really should comment on... How 70% of MPS high school students are considered habitually truant. (I could have a conversation with you for HOURS on this topic as I teach at a north side traditional MPS high school.)
Lynch said schools can close persistent, wide achievement gaps in Wisconsin if state policy-makers view education as a priority and invest in research-based ideas that have been shown to improve whole systems. 
Of which there are MANY we aren't doing.
Policy recommendations 
Specifically, some of the policy recommendations include: 
• Add funding to the child care payment system Wisconsin Shares, which has been frozen for seven years.
• Create a school mental health grant program to provide services to children who are uninsured.
Yet another topic I could talk for HOURS on. The mental health services needed in my school, and in fact, in almost every school in Wisconsin, are FAR greater than most people would like to admit or realize. We are a traumatized society, for a variety of reasons. If we want schools to be successful, we need to confront it.
• Create a statewide commission to improve recruitment of talented teachers and principals. Review the rigor of their preparation programs.
There's so much I feel I'm losing as a teacher in the school I'm in. (See that whole 70% truancy article again.) I know I could be better than I am, but I also know I'm trying. It's hard, it's mentally draining, but it's what's needed.
• Continue to fund implementation of the statewide teacher and principal evaluation system.
• Provide more funding for broadband service, or make prices through a state contract known as BadgerNet more affordable for schools.
And let's not screw with school internet services like last biennium.
■ Fund a state-led digital learning program.
• Provide short-term grants for districts to experiment with innovations that upend outdated models of instruction. Evaluate those experiments.
I'm not a real believer than any model of instruction is "outdated." Socratic method has been used since the 400's BC. (You know, Socrates... Maybe it's the world history teacher in me...)
• Increase the annual per-pupil adjustment under revenue limits — the total amount districts can raise in state aid and property taxes per pupil — at the rate of inflation.
I don't know how many times I can say this, but if you don't increase things by the rate of inflation, you are cutting them. It's just that simple.
• Adopt State Superintendent Tony Evers' biennial funding proposal, which calls for more money for special education and bilingual students.
After you've read the 44-page policy outline, watch this little over 30 minute interview conducted today on Wisconsin Eye between State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and Steve Walters.
• Increase funding for student transportation.
There's the blasted rural-school funding problem again. Oh, and yet another issue that unifies MPS, the most urban district in the state, and rural ones.
• Establish a State Academic Standards and Assessment Review Council, charged with reviewing standards and tests used in schools, with members appointed by the state superintendent and other educational and research organizations. 
GOP bill planned 
Because of GOP victories in the midterm elections and key moderates in the Senate retiring, the Legislature will be a more conservative place for the next two-year session. 
That means issues supported by tea party-aligned Republicans and opposed by Wisconsin's public school leaders that failed to pass last session — like potentially dumping the new Common Core academic standards — could get traction this session. 
Read: Issues supported by big money interests who have profits on their mind and made big donations to tea-partiers to pass an agenda that further lines their pockets and divides society further.
The Common Core prompted a stand-off between K-12 administrators and lawmakers last session when administrators trooped to Madison to pack a Senate hearing and defend the new standards aimed at improving teaching and learning in mathematics and English. 
Get ready for that $#!%-show fight to happen again.
Already Wednesday, a key Republican senator's idea for a new state education council differed from the state council proposed by the administrators. 
Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) said he intends to release a draft bill later this month aimed at reforming the state's school accountability system. 
It would create a nine- to 15-member "accountability board" at the Department of Public Instruction to determine the data to be collected from all public, public charter and private voucher schools and included on the report cards.
Not that we've had a discussion about this idea at all during the fall campaign. Sen. Farrow is one of the conservatives who helped derail SB 286 last February, and all of these ideas have been on the table since then. He's also in favor of turning MPS into a so-called "recovery district," which means turning some or all schools over to charter operators and your humble blogger being out of a job.

Oh yes, I have skin in this game. My career, my livelihood, and not to mention, my students.
It would also determine what sanctions or rewards should be given to schools based on how they perform on the report cards. 
You know, because instead of giving more resources to schools that are struggling, we should punish them. Because, that makes sense...
The current 3-year-old state report card system only includes traditional public and charter schools. Lawmakers in the last legislative session approved folding voucher schools into that system as well, starting in 2015-'16.
That's what came out of SB-286 last year after it's original draft and at least one subsequent substitute amendment were changed before passage.
Farrow also said the governor wants the new accountability system solidified "before any other discussion happens on other things." Such as, an expansion of private voucher schools.
It's a two-step process. Know what schools you're going to close and solidify a way students will flow into the voucher system. Oh, and don't be surprised if in January you see special-needs vouchers come back too. Then, in the biennial budget, watch for a massive expansion of the voucher system and public funds get diverted from public schools all over creation.
As for the prospect of funding any new proposals from administrators in the next state budget, Farrow was noncommittal. 
"All different departments are submitting their (proposed) budgets right now," he said. "If you look back at what departments ask for and what they get, I don't think it's ever been equal."
In short - I'm not saying a darn thing, because the SAA is going to be sorely disappointed.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Voucher Schools - A Failed Experiment

An organization I'm proud to be a card-carrying member of, the Milwaukee Educators Teachers Association, put together a wonderful video about the voucher program in Milwaukee.

Just wait Wisconsin, this is coming to you even more when the budget gets introduced:

Voucher Schools: A Failed Experiment. from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sen. Farrow Taking the Reigns on School Accountability

So, remember when I wrote about how school-accountability means I lose my job. Looks like things are moving at lightning speed.

Last February, when SB 286 (that session's school accountability bill) was being shopped around in draft form and re-introduced, Sen. Farrow was one of the key Republicans who opted to not back it. I found it surprising at the time that the savior of my job then was him.

But now, he's back, and this time he's taken the reigns on drafting a bill related to school accountability. From WISC-TV in Madison:
Republicans are moving quickly to pass a school accountability early next year, which would give Gov. Scott Walker an early example of how effectively he'll be able to push his agenda through the Legislature during his second term. 
The measure sank last session due to concerns about how to sanction failing schools and test private school students who use taxpayer-funded vouchers so they can be compared to their public school peers. Republican leaders, who will return with larger majorities in January, have said the issue will be one of the first they tackle, and a draft is already circulating and could be made public next month.
Already being circulated? Wow... That's quick. Furthermore, what scares me is how this is all completely independent of the state budget. Who knows what that monkey-wrenches that will throw into public education.
Walker also has called for the replacement of the Common Core academic standards, and he wants to increase or even scrap the enrollment caps in the statewide private school voucher program. All of those education issues should face a smoother road through the Legislature given the departure of moderate Republican critics who won't be around this session to influence, or derail, the changes. 
Don't even get me started with the farce that repealing Common Core is for Wisconsin and how the expansion of the voucher program is going to do exactly what Sen. Luther Olsen said it would the last two times it came up - create two school systems in Wisconsin.
Republican Sen. Luther Olsen, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has helped block past school accountability bills, as well as efforts to undo the Common Core standards and expand the voucher program. But next year, Olsen doesn't think he'll be able to stop them.
"I think there's some people who would rather go around me than through me on this stuff," Olsen said. "I want to work with them, but I can read the tea leaves." 
Think that "no-confidence" vote at the Republican Convention this past spring meant anything?
Sen. Paul Farrow, R-Village of Pewaukee, said he circulated a draft of a new school accountability bill to interested parties last week. It would not put sanctions in state law, but instead would create a council under the Department of Public Instruction that would determine the criteria for punishing lagging schools and rewarding high performers, Farrow said. 
This must have been some of what he was looking at trying to introduce last year in February. I wrote extensively on SB 286, but THIS posting is most telling about Sen. Farrow and what he wanted to see in such a bill. 
The bill also would allow for voucher school students to take a different test than those in public schools, with the scores then aligned so they could be compared on report cards, Farrow said. 
"My goal is to give any school it wants an option of what test it would take," he said. 
Which is what makes us in the public system irate. If you're getting public dollars, you should be held to the SAME system. If you want the money, you have to follow the guidelines. The fact that this group just gets to change the rules and get the money is incredibly infuriating.
Private schools have long argued that they are not subject to state standards and should not be forced to take tests that are aligned to those standards. 
Then you shouldn't get the money. Simple as that.
The earliest the changes could be implemented would be the 2017 school year, Farrow said. He hopes to introduce the bill by the end of December. 
Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have said they want to move quickly on the issue after the Jan. 5 inauguration. 
Sigh... Happy Holidays to me!
The accountability bill involves powerful interests in the Capitol — including the deep-pocketed voucher school lobby, private schools and public schools. Former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen is a lobbyist for the American Federation for Children, and two other former speakers lobby for another pro-voucher group, School Choice Wisconsin. 
Notice how WEAC or NEA are not mentioned there. Nor is WASB or the Superintendents.
American Federation for Children has been a major backer of Walker and pro-voucher members of the Legislature, spending $4.5 million since 2010 to help them, according to a tally by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. In the most recent election, the group spent about $850,000 on legislative races. That included nearly $111,000 to defeat vocal anti-voucher Democratic state Rep. Mandy Wright, who lost by 84 votes. 
Remember Sen. Rick Gudex? 
"I think the elections were a referendum in a number of those districts on school choice," Jensen said. "People who were supporters of school choice won and people who were opponents lost. That should give legislators some sense of where the public is." 
The public is also 100% in support of their local public school too.
The statewide voucher program is currently capped at 1,000 students, but Walker and Republican leaders have said they want to expand or even do away with that lid, as Jensen and other proponents are lobbying for. 
Citing the money spent by Jensen's group in the election, "it's no coincidence" that GOP leaders are promising an expansion, said Scot Ross, director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, which tracks spending by the pro-voucher lobby.
My resume is being updated as we speak and I'm considering graduate school options. The writing is on the wall for Soapbox and his current employer...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Some Days Others Say It Better - Saul Newton On Boss Vos

I can't possibly add much to this analysis. "Boss" Vos and the legislature are really classy when it comes to people trying to improve Milwaukee and our vitality. You know, it's not like we have a burgeoning class of Millennials like myself who love the city and want to see it succeed or anything. Nope, none of that at all in this town...

While I have a LOT of mixed feelings about public financing of an arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, the last thing I think the new owners of the team need to worry about is whether or not they are seen with the President of the United States when he visits town. Campaign stop or not.

Then again, maybe that's asking too much.

You can read Saul Newton's column from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel HERE. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lets Talk About TV News Reporters...

So, the Madison newspaper had an interesting story today. (Sorry JSOnline, I didn't see where you had it or if you did at all.) It related to a story that was run on WITI-TV this past year, the Fox affiliate here in Milwaukee.

Well apparently, the reporter has some choice opinions on public schools. Err, well, the Milwaukee Public Schools. But, she just won't tell you that. 

Here's the thing, I remember vividly watching the story on Fox 6 when it aired and finding myself completely dumbfounded on why this was even a local story. Essentially what happened is that a parent was ticked off that the school district didn't bend to their every desire, and that was morphed into "A school district that doesn't care." While the story says there are "districts" that aren't taking their complaint seriously, the tone of the story and focus is squarely on MPS.

You can view the original story from Fox 6 HERE. (Try and not laugh at the lax way the story is introduced...)

Take particular note of the tone that the story takes. First, video of a student with a taser on a school bus tazing other kids. (You know, because that's the kids the school system develops. Nothing about parents in there at all.) Oh, and of course that video is just used as a way to draw you into the story and reinforce that this is considered okay behavior. There isn't anything mentioned about what the video is at first.

Instead, the story moves to a truly terrible incident that occurred where a group of middle-school girls took a video of another student using the restroom and posted it on social media. However, that's where we get the next glimpse of how this really is a hit-piece on schools and not actually trying to enlighten the public. The story says explicitly about the mother of the girl who was filmed, "... she told school administrators right away, but wasn't satisfied with how they handled the situation."

Ah. Wasn't satisfied. Never any explanation of what the administrator did or didn't do, just that the parent wasn't satisfied, and that's supposed to equate to the school not caring or somehow trying to ignore the parent's concern. Then, the story goes on to say that the girl still has to be in class with one of the bullies who still taunts her.

While this is a bad situation, unfortunately the principal isn't allowed to just kick out of school whomever they want. There is a legal procedure for referring students to be removed from school, and it's ultimately not up to just the school's administration. Should something different have happened, perhaps, but I'm slightly confused about what should have happened if removing the students didn't happen. If people want easy answers in these situations, they aren't going to find them, and that's especially true when a 25 second news-clip provides limited context of the situation.

The next story is about a mom who's missed 5 days of work to take her son with special needs to school because he's been bullied on the bus. She wanted a new bus route, but that took time to get set up (sorry, that's just life), and that's why she's driving him. There's also documentation by the police of things that have happened to him, but yet again, the parent goes after the principal for not having done enough.

Again, no response from the principals at these schools, no statement from individual administrators, only statements from people in MPS central office.

This is what bothered me then and still bothers me now about this story. It paints a picture but does absolutely nothing to explain what principals, teachers, and everyone who works in an MPS school is up against every day. It's not apathy, it's literally situations like this that happen all the time and when there are 40 people in a classroom and 30% special needs populations, we don't have the resources to respond consistently.

Nope, the only principal they talk to is in West Allis... Not MPS.

Welcome to the problem that hasn't been addressed in this story - The lack of resources MPS has and the funding needed to correct that problem.

So, lets go to today's story and why I've put you through this:

From the Cap Times:
Fox affiliate TV reporter Meghan Dwyer was booed off the stage when she declared “Public schools suck!” while accepting a Midwest Emmy Nov. 1 for a report on bullying in the Milwaukee Public Schools. That criticism shifted to social media Wednesday after Mediabistro and other blogs picked up the story. 
“This is for all the kids that are bullied," Dwyer said, hoisting her Emmy statuette at an awards ceremony in Chicago. "Seriously, public schools suck. They’re horrible. They need to be held accountable. I tried to do this with Milwaukee Public Schools." 
As boos rose from the audience, the WITI investigative reporter's tone changed. 
“I love public schools," she said. "My kids will go there. But they’re — they need work. Sorry. That’s the story.” 
Here is her speech and the intro to stories that she was competing against:

Dwyer elaborated in a post-show interview where she claimed not to remember what she had said on stage.
“I do feel like public schools sometimes get a free pass," she added. "It’s taxpayer money. I feel like we need to know what’s happening.” 
WHAT. THE. #$%!

Luckily the Cap Times also mentioned several smart people on social media who made comments of their own about her remarks:
“Thanks for supporting public education,” a Dane County teacher tweeted Wednesday. 
“Just want to thank @MeghanAnnDwyer for making my job as a teacher so much easier!" tweeted a teacher in Milwaukee. "How Not To Receive A Local TV Emmy,” a communications professor posted. 
No kidding.  This was probably the sweetest nugget though:
Dwyer also won notice from media blogger Jim Romenesko, who pulled this gem from her Twitter profile: “Trying to make local news less embarrassing.”
Well, that was an epic fail.

What bugs me more than anything is that her comments are right in some context. Our public schools do suck at responding to student needs. But what's missing from this story is what is missing from most media reports in this day and age - THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM!

We've been so conditioned to believe that news is supposed to be "unbiased" and let "us decided" because they only report the news, not advocate. If you really want to help the situation, don't say that publics schools suck, actually freaking help the public schools! Advocate for resources! Find out what the district needs to actually address this issue you have somehow magically exposed! GIVE THE FULL DAMN PICTURE!

That's the problem. Local media who doesn't know how to actually report INFORMATION and enlighten the viewers while expanding their knowledge. Oh, and awards shows who are enamored with flashy stories and not a damn bit of actual resolution.

Want to be a real journalist? Do some good and don't just try and help three parents who aren't satisfied. Help change the system by helping get the schools what they need.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

School Accountability = Soapbox Jobless

Don't once kid yourself, when you hear the words "School Accountability" you should hear "MPS Takeover".

It's what it is in no uncertain terms.

Last winter, I went to great lengths to document the timeline of SB 286, the School Accountability bill that was introduced in the summer of 2013 and ultimately was passed as a raw shell of what it was designed to be.

Now, with conservative majorities in the legislature that have even made Rep. Elect Glenn Grothamn remark about how much fun the conservatives will have, I need to get my affairs in order. I'm about to loose my job. SB 286, when amended and reintroduced in January last winter, was abhorred by Democrats as nothing short of the takeover of schools located in MPS. The rub? If a public school was deemed failing, it needed to be taken over by a charter operator, with absolutely no guarantee that the same students would be attending the next year. (Which would never happen anyway...)

The bill put Sen. Luther Olsen and outgoing Rep. Steve Kestell on the hot seat within their own party, as people like Sen. Paul Farrow and Leah Vukmir were ticked that it didn't go further, and strip away "failing" schools (i.e. destroy MPS) sooner. That lead to Sen. Olsen fielding considerable heat in his own caucus and a stale-mate to ensue. What ultimately resulted was a simple bill on equal tests that left more of a bitter-taste in the mouth of private school supporters than the public ones.

There's just too many hot links to post to make this summary work well. Just search SB 286 and read, read, read.

So that's why, even though it's David Blaska, I cringe at the thoughts he puts in people's heads and how they could very well influence the future of my employment status. On his blog, which I've only read for the first time with this post, makes a pitch for the legislature to take over MPS:
What does “aggressive” look like? Certainly, repeal John Doe. Yes, reform the Government Accountability Board. More school vouchers statewide, please. Reduce taxes even more. Expand Act 10 to include police and fire? Right to work? Maybe. 
But all those measures, however worthy, are small potatoes. Here is real change, as aggressive as The New Deal or the Great Society, conservative style: take over the Milwaukee public schools, shake them up, and make them work for the people of Milwaukee — not the Viagra-demanding union. School districts are a creature of the state; it can do this. 
As a proud union member and even prouder MPS educator (despite the stress it induces), I cannot tell you how insulting this is.
Take physical control of all 165 Milwaukee public schools, its 78,500 students, and its $1 billion budget. 
Why? We have some of the top rated schools in the state you realize?  Oh, and we also educate some of the absolute most challenging. Not that Mr. Blaska has ever stepped foot into my school, met my students, or thought about the long-term societal damage that would occur if we simply suspended everyone who didn't agree with Ward Cleaver-style schooling.
Determine how many of its 9,282 staff members to fire (the bottom fifth is about right) and how many to reward with merit pay. 
How in the hell would you go about this? Is the person who earned their Doctorate and is teaching at my school (one of the lowest 10 in Wisconsin) bad? What about me? What about the teacher at the top school in the city who fails students? What about those of us who teach at lower-ranking schools but have students who make gains on tests versus those who teach at higher-ranking ones and who's students don't?

Yet again, more statements from someone who's never once set foot into an MPS school or has the foggiest clue what it takes to teach in this district.
Supplant the newly hired superintendent with a reformer like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz, Geoffrey Canada, or former MPS superintendent Howard Fuller. 
Fire teacher, charter, charter, charter, voucher. What kills so many of us in the public side when we see Geoffery Canada's name mentioned is that we largely agree with many of the things his school in Harlem provides. The problem is that it shouldn't be something that's only at one school and supported by business. If we want to fix the problem, we need these services to be available for ALL students. 
Don’t disband the school board but make it a sounding board and pack it with Milwaukee business and civic leaders like Tim Sheehy and Cory Nettles. (School Board President Michael Bonds is asking the Journal Sentinel to assign a less reform-minded reporter,according to this source.) 
Because school isn't supposed to do anything related to inspiring art, or music, or just a pure love of learning? Why in the hell do Republicans think all school has to be connected to business? The uber-liberal in me wishes we provided people with jobs in things they are interested in, not force them to do things they aren't passionate about and run a rat-race for dollars that ultimately leaves them feeling hollow.

Then again, it would be nice if my students had jobs to look forward to.
Put everything on the table. Break up the system if necessary. Bid out educational services to private education service providers at some schools. Encourage more district, non-instrumentality charter schools in other neighborhoods. Invite the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There are many solutions.
But not solutions to the problems MPS's students face. What does breaking up the system do other than bankrupt it? Bidding out what educational services? Does this man not realize the killing that companies are reaping from public dollars for things that really don't provide any useful service towards students? What are non-instrumentality charter schools doing that district instrumentality or traditional schools are other than not having union teachers and being run by a charter management organization who's essentially trying to funnel money through their checkbooks before sending it out? What is the Gates Foundation going to do other than come here and say, "wow, you have a lot of challenging students. I think we can do something with 'these' over here."

Blaska then goes on to talk about how there is precedent for state takeover in Philadelphia (which is creating a total $#!%-show) and in New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana. Speaking with a teacher/administrator from Baton Rouge within the last month, they shake their head at all the "wonderful" data coming out of their state. They say so many students are left out and ultimately pushed to Texas or just drop-out.

Short-term fixes in the educational landscape often times have extremely negative long-term consequences.

But make no mistake folks, Blaska is onto something here. School Accountability is coming, and when it comes, you can bet your bottom dollar it will include converting low-performing public schools to charter schools. Which will gut MPS, bankrupt it, and leave it ripe for the state to pick it up and charter everything.

Soapbox is preparing his resume as you read...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Mike Tate & DPW Leadership... My Take

I was one of those people who thought a challenge to Mike Tate after the recall was warranted.

But then I thought a little more about it, did some research, and realized that what happened in the recall wasn't truly his fault. A lackluster candidate and timetable that he never really wanted weren't working in his favor. He took a situation nobody wanted and tried to make it work.

Generally, as a party chair, he's done fair work over the years, I think that's a relatively unbiased assessment. Turnout was up this year in Milwaukee and Madison and the 2012 elections were decent for Democrats in Wisconsin considering the divisions in the country and absurd redistricting. Democrats in Wisconsin need to face it, the national image of the party and President played a role in the election last week.

With the Tuesday $#!%-show behind us, there's now more calls for Tate to resign. This time, I'm a little older, a little wiser, and a lot more conflicted about what I truly think. However, what really troubles me is the absurd infighting between people who all are in the same tent. We all generally have the same ideals, but what we are fighting for at this particular time are different, which leads to some negative divisions that aren't helping our side for the long term.

First, I think the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has some wonderful people working for it who truly care about Wisconsin. They give an awful lot of themselves to try and position the party as a whole to succeed. But that doesn't mean they don't have all the things in place they should, nor that they shouldn't be held accountable by the party faithful and those who are politically active on the left.

If the Democratic Party of Wisconsin really wants to rehab it's image, it needs to do a roadshow. Take a page out of Russ Feingold's playbook and do county listening sessions. Advertise it to not just members of the DPW, but use it as a recruiting tool, by inviting people who are interested in liberal politics. Take the the people who come and rip you a new one in stride. Share what people from other parts of the state think, and show people in their part of the state the party cares what they think.

2011 Act 10 has taught public unions that the only way to survive is by organizing on the local level and showing our purpose in affecting positive change locally. The DPW needs to take a cue from that and help truly organize the local parties. When that happens, and people feel they aren't just cogs in the machine, they will turn out.

Should Mike Tate resign? No. Should he be challenged and held accountable by members of the party and possibly challenged for his leadership position, absolutely. That healthy discourse and airing of grievances can only help us build for the future.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Cardinal Columns Gets The Last Laugh

The Twitter feed of the Cardinal Columns staff this week needs no explanation:

Lastly, the comedic relief:

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

I'm Scared...

When you learn about how to run political campaigns, you learn to not run on issues.

When you run on issues, you lose. (See Barrett 2012 recall election results.)
Well, apparently, when you decide to not run on issues, like Scott Walker did this past time, you also win. Make no mistake folks, the 2012 Democratic wins in Wisconsin were the end of a time when Wisconsin was a dual state where we ebbed and flowed between moderate forces in both Democratic and Republican parties.

We are now a conservative bastion of the north, and I am so, so, so screwed.

Reason why I'm up a creek is because now that the election is over, everyone is more than willing to discuss what they are planning, and with a four year agenda already under their belts, we know what it will look like. (Oh hey SB 286!) Oh, and with those pesky moderates in the State Senate gone, this legislative session will be a blood-red tidal wave to anything the even resembles something that resembles Wisconsin's progressive tradition.

From the Wisconsin State Journal: 
Walker says he hopes to fast-track the state budget process, expand the taxpayer-funded school voucher program, require drug tests for those seeking food stamps and unemployment benefits, and continue income and property tax cuts. 
“We’re going to be even more aggressive now,” Walker told members of his Cabinet on Wednesday at the Capitol. “Because I think we’ve got an even stronger ally in the Legislature.”
Yep... All things that were mentioned to those of us who were paying close attention to the election. Not a damn thing joe or jane average voter probably know much about with any depth. Oh, and let's not forget the 45-ish% of people who could've voted but opted to sit on the sidelines and not give a hoot.

But to see why I'm screwed, listen to Assembly Speaker "Boss" Vos:
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, were almost giddy at a Wednesday morning press conference at the Capitol about Assembly Republicans’ agenda for the next session. 
Vos said his priorities include continuing tax cuts, pushing for school accountability and expanding the state’s voucher program, overhauling the state Government Accountability Board, and changing how secret John Doe investigations are conducted in Wisconsin.
Vouchers statewide. With such a large majority, there's almost no-way that you won't see an unfettered voucher program open up. "The voters of this state gave us a clear mandate" will be their calls. One place I have cognitive dissonance right now is how in the hell rural voters voted for this legislature while their schools are being screwed harder and harder.

School Accountability - That's code for "Kill MPS." Make no damn mistake, when SB 286 was introduced last January after being amended, it called for making essentially half of MPS charter schools in five years. The reason why that bill ultimately didn't make it? Democrats knew it was already too radical and Neo-Stalwart Republicans were ticked it didn't go further. "The voters of this state gave us a clear mandate" will be their call for completely jacking MPS away from the local community and having their business associate friends come in and open charter schools to make a profit.

GAB - Republicans are pissed that they don't just give them whatever they want.

John Doe - Holy crap, we got damn close to not having our tracks covered, and at this point, the Governor already lost six friends to that damn thing. Obviously, when it catches people doing illegal things, it's not working.

Vos also talked about replacing Common Core with educational standards developed in Wisconsin and changes to campaign finance laws.
Two issues you heard nothing about in the campaign but were all over legislation last year and are part of what's coming.

I have to admit... I'm damn bitter right now. Why doesn't the media FORCE us to pay attention to the issues? WHY, WHY, WHY?!?!?!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


The underperformance by Burke tonight is stunning to say the least.

Soapbox is going through a lot right now in life, and I must admit, this whole election gives me a lot of pause.

I teach at an MPS north side high school. Job security, are you kidding me? I'm target #1.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Pre-Election Thoughts

I just returned Sunday evening from a lovely five days in Baltimore, MD for training on Restorative Practices. The Madison Metropolitan School District is dealing with it's shift away from negative zero-tolerance, and running into many of the issues that have dominated in MPS since it moved away in the mid 2000's. The racial disparities that these policies created were terrible and created a true school-to-prison pipeline, but in their wake we have not done the work needed to actually create discipline policies that aren't negative.

The ultimate problem is that schools of today need to provide services they were never designed to do. Yet, to have an educated populous, we must provide them. There's never the money or resources...

So, how does this play into tomorrow's election?

Well, no Wednesday a group of us took the train (gee, that would've been nice in Wisconsin) to Washington DC, and I was lucky enough to see some sights I haven't in nine years. If you've never looked at the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, or any of our other founding documents, it's hard to quantify what you feel. It's a flood of emotions, to say the least.

However, one thing it really did was make me think about the wonderful exercise in democracy we get to practice tomorrow, and how something as simple as drawing a line to create an arrow does so much for our future. For the love of everything people, go out and vote. I can't possibly express it enough.

I'm nervous... But also have a better feeling than I did in the recall election. There, I always felt that there was this perception that Barrett could win, but deep down you knew there was little chance. Here, I feel like we've done so much work and targeted the right people to such a point, that there will be such a razor close finish it's going to incredible to witness what happens.

Which is why I'm happy enough to take the offer of a free ticket to the James Taylor concert at the Bradley Center. I'll be peaking in in Twitter, I'm sure, but the last thing I need is the heartache or elated state that comes with election night. I just don't need that stress...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Putting Numbers Together - Vouchers In Fond du Lac

Since the implementation of the statewide voucher program, I've decided to focus on my hometown of Fond du Lac.

You can read a little about that HERE and HERE.

But today, the FDL Reporter decided to really put out there information about what vouchers really mean to the private religious schools that receive them - A giant freaking check. 

You can read the full article HERE. 
A total of 57 students attend school this year in Fond du Lac through Wisconsin's Parental Choice Program. 
Winnebago Lutheran Academy — a parochial high school in Fond du Lac — is a newcomer to the program with 12 private school voucher students attending classes.
St. Mary's Springs Academy, Fond du Lac's Catholic parochial school system, has 45 voucher students enrolled for the 2014-15 school year. This is the system's second year of participation. 
There is one additional small private religious high school in Fond du Lac. However, between the Fond du Lac School District's large 2,000+ student high school, St. Mary's Springs, and Winnebago Lutheran Academy, you have the vast majority of students who are from Fond du Lac and attending high school.
Cost of tuition at WLA is $5,225 per year. The cost to educate a student is $7,350, offset by funds donated through the Association of Congregations (41 congregations) that support the school, said Principal Dave Schroeder. 
Okay, so tuition is $5,225 per year and the school covers the rest by church funds? How much is a voucher worth again for a high schooler? Answer - $7,856. That means at least with every student the school nets from the voucher program, WLA is making $506. When you take out the tuition and look at only the "net" increase and money that the church saves because of the voucher, that's $2,631 PER STUDENT that WLA saves with a voucher every year.

That's not chump change.
All of the voucher freshmen were new students to WLA, the rest were existing students. Total enrollment is 331 students. 
"We were guaranteed 10 students, so anything more than that is a bonus for us," Schroeder said. 
Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching!
At Springs, 20 choice students were rolled forward from last year, said President Kevin Shaw. 
"This year we received 25 additional students, including seven new SMSA students," he said. "Each year we qualified for 10 students but then received more students in the second draw." 
So, they in effect just admitted that they only received seven new students out of 25 who are new voucher students. That means 18 students at Springs were already there but now are having the state bankroll the instead of them paying tuition or Springs providing them scholarships.

Tuition to attend St. Mary's Springs Academy High School is $5,735. 
And they don't provide any information based on what the church provides to the school to help educate students. (In a posting I did a while ago, I noted how the Fond du Lac School District is required to provide them someone on the taxpayer rolls for assisting Special Education students.)

So, when you take $7,856-$5,735=$2121 that Springs makes every year accepting voucher students.


Oh, and I'm sure that many of those who received a voucher are now not accepting a Springs scholarship, meaning that there's even more money being saved.
WLA received 74 applications and SMSA had 80 applicants for the program. Students participating in the program were chosen randomly through a state lottery. 
I'm going to bet the severely Cognitively Disabled students or those who need such extreme special education services were not part of those applications...
Statewide there are 1,013 students receiving vouchers. Of the 538 new students, 101 were previously attending a public school. There were 39 voucher students from last year that chose not to participate again. 
Pathetic numbers...
State law provides each eligible private school participating in WPCP with a voucher payment of $7,210 for students in Grades K4 through 8, or $7,856 per student in Grades 9-12. The funds are generated from public tax dollars. 
There are 31 private schools or school systems in the state participating in the program. State law limits enrollment to 1,000 students, up 500 from last year.
There is great reason to elect Mary Burke... Keep you public tax dollars under your own supervision of your locally elected school board. Avoid the money-profiting that these private schools now have with vouchers.

Charm City Bound

I'm going to be out of Wisconsin over the next five days enjoying my time in charm-city, Baltimore, MD.

So, don't expect too many updates... Not that I've been very update-ish lately. However, with the election right around the corner, I will write more. I promise.

Thanks much!
- Soapbox

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brad Schimel's Generic Thank You

Apparently Melissa Baldauff of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin captured this beautiful picture on Republican Attorney General candidate Brad Schimel's website: