Friday, January 2, 2015

Another year, and we get more GOP power grabs for K-12 schooling

2015 is starting out with a bang when it comes to Republicans trying to deform reform K-12 education. Look at what wisdom dropped on New Year’s Day in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel from the office of State Sen. (and Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair) Alberta (Dingbat) Darling.
At least one leading Republican senator is exploring the idea of a so-called recovery district in Milwaukee, but it's too soon to say whether that idea will morph into an actual bill in the next legislative session.

Right now, there's a lot of talk but no details.

Aides for state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) acknowledge the suburban Milwaukee lawmaker has been talking to stakeholders about the idea of a recovery or state-run district, but there are no definite plans yet.
I could go on in detail why a “recovery zone” imposed on Milwaukee schools through the State Legislature is such a stupid and arrogant idea, but I’ll let Andy at the Wisconsin Soapbox do it for me. Andy’s a high school teacher at an MPS school, and he probably has a whole lot more of a clue about the reality than I do, and certainly more than Dingbat Darling, who is likely on her 4th Xanax-and-other-item cocktail at Ozaukee County Club as I write this. Andy picks up from another part of Erin Richards’ article to discuss the subject.
Champions of changing the structure of persistently low-performing schools say that dramatic action is necessary to spur improvement, and that high-performing charter schools, or public schools managed by independent nonprofit companies, are one solution.

No... They're really not. The only real reason that those schools succeed are for the same reasons why MPS has several schools that are extremely high performing, they can be exclusionary. They can kick out students who are consistently disruptive, they don't have anywhere near the level of special education students, or emotional-behavioral needs students as we do.

We have high performing schools for those reasons. If you want to reach the students at a school like mine, we need resources like school psychologists, job training, class sizes capped at 20, structured discipline policies where students are not immediately kicked out or given a pass for bad behavior. We know what we need, the problem is that nobody wants to hear the answers because they are expensive and not efficient. Good education in inner-cities is inherently not efficient.
It’s not like expanding “choice” and other alternatives to MPS have been a great success in Milwaukee. For those of you who were away over the Holidays and may have missed, let me remind you of the story that broke earlier this week about the voucher-funded Ceria M. Travis Tech high school that shut down over Winter Break after its owners couldn’t come up with the bond money to keep operating, and lost its state subsidy from the Department of Public Instruction. This school performed at an atrocious level, well below the allegedly “unacceptable” levels at MPS, and the even-lower levels for Milwaukee’s voucher schools.
Last fall at the academy, only 2% of the students could read on grade level. Only 3% could do math on grade level.

The average rates of proficiency for voucher schools that year was 12% in reading and 15% in math.

Former Ceria M. Travis first-grade teacher Jacqueline Sperling worked at the school during her first year of teaching in the 2011-'12 school year. Sperling said her salary was $31,000 that year, and that she started with 38 children in her class and no textbooks or any other books.

"We had to submit lesson plans," she said. "But there was no rule over what we had to do or how much we had to do."
And while Ms. Sperling was being overworked and underpaid, her bosses at Travis seem to have done just fine. This is from the more recent article describing Travis Tech HS’s shutdown.
The nonprofit running the schools is headed by CEO Dorothy Travis Moore and her daughter, Executive Director Wilnekia Brinson.

Both are paid six-figure compensation packages, according to their organization's federal tax filings. Meanwhile, current and former employees have complained to the state and to the Journal Sentinel of lacking textbooks and other adequate classroom materials and resources to help children learn.

They also complained that Travis Moore has regularly employed teachers without bachelor's degrees — the state requires teachers at voucher schools to have degrees — while employing family members with dubious job titles and responsibilities.
And Andy at the Soapbox pointed out that most of the 179 students that are now without a school will likely be thrown back into MPS starting on Monday, and MPS has to quickly adjust its resources to meet the needs of this large number of extra students. Sure, they’ll eventually get some of that money back as a state aid adjustment, but that’s well after its classroom staffing and hiring for this school year has been done, and its tax levy for the next school year have been set.

On the in-classroom side, MPS teachers also have to deal with the problem of having these transfer students get up to speed with what is being taught in a given classroom. I’m not even mentioning the burdens thrown on the students, who now have to adjust to a brand new school, set of classmates, and other social concerns that go far beyond the academic difficulties involved in changing schools.

Here’s another example of how GOP politicians at the state level are trying to consolidate power in education. Indiana voters put in Democrat Glenda Ritz as the state’s School Superintendent in 2012, replacing Tony Bennett, who corruptly gave preferential treatment on grades given to charter schools over public ones in Indianapolis- charter schools that his wife happened to work for. Since being elected, Ritz has constantly had to battle with the GOP-stacked Indiana Board of Education, and an example of the types of conflicts happened last month when the BOE passed a bill over Ritz’s objections to give more power to the Board of Education to run “turnaround initiatives”, similar to what Darling’s office is floating in Wisconsin. What this will do is take that power away from the Indiana Department of Education, run by Ritz, and install it in the hands of the more charter and voucher-friendly BOE.

So naturally, what’s the answer from Hoosier GOP legislators to Ritz’s concerns and policy conflicts with Gov Mike Pence and BOE officials? We’ll let Eric Weddle of Indiana NPR affiliate WFYI tell you

Because who needs democracy when determining a society’s needs in education, right?

This is the bottom line of how GOPs really operate when it comes to public education. They want to consolidate more power for themselves and their allies and take it away from any other organization that might check their power, giving them and their financial supporters all the control over education policy and funding, but none of the accountability for the results that might come with doing so. In Wisconsin, what this means is that when Sen. Darling and others make noise about “reforming” Milwaukee schools, they aren’t doing so with the idea of improving performance of the schools or improving the chances of success for kids to make it in that community. They’re doing it to take power away from the locally-elected MPS school board and the teacher’s unions that work at the school, and centralize the power in a Madison-based organization that’s stacked with members from the overly white, GOP-voting suburbs. And if such a system is privatized the “right way”, it puts a whole lot more taxpayer money into the hands of their campaign contributors from the voucher lobby, whose owners rake in big profits while the vast majority of the rest of the state suffers and not just kids and teachers will lose in this scenario, but also the taxpayers who pay more for running two school systems, with results that may well be worse.

I’ll let Andy from the Soapbox finish with why the spectre of a “recovery zone” for schools should worry all of you, even if you’re not in the metro area that these zones might be imposed on.
This isn't just a fight for MPS. Yes, it's personal for me because it is my students and my job, but it's a fight for public education across Wisconsin. What happens when in 10 years you have had the same persistently low performing schools in Green Bay? Or Racine? Or Madison? You think they are just going to stop in Milwaukee?

Folks, it's time to stop treating Milwaukee and MPS as the ugly-duckling of schools and cities in Wisconsin. There's a lot you can learn from us and see in your future. Let's buckle up and start saving that future now.


  1. I'm curious -- "Aides for state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) acknowledge the suburban Milwaukee lawmaker has been talking to stakeholders.....", who exactly would those "stakeholders" be?

  2. THAT is an interesting question, Anon. I'm going to go out on a limb and bet it's no one that lives in Milwaukee and makes less than six figures. Nor do I bet that it includes a lot of people that really care about improving outcomes for Milwaukee kids that will be going through the K-12 system over the next 20 years.

  3. Milwaukee school "recovery district"? Before that, we need:

    1. A statewide recovery district for all citizens screwed over by these lamebrain Republicans the past four years; and:

    2. An Alberta Darling recovery district so she can heal up in a place where she can't mess some more with a city she doesn't live in and has no business meddling in