Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

July 27, 2018

Fundraiser August 8: for Supreme Moore Omokunde for the 16th Assembly District

Filed under: Elections — millerlf @ 2:59 pm

Join Ellen Bravo and Larry Miller Wednesday, August 8, 5-7 pm at:

The High Dive 701 E. Center St. (Pierce and Center)

The High Dive will be serving “Supreme Margaritas!”

(Suggested donation: $100 donation or whatever you can afford.)

                                                                                         Supreme Moore Omokunde

I am running to represent the 16th Assembly District. We need to end mass incarceration, decriminalize and legalize marijuana to pay for education (and fully fund MPS), and ensure economic development without displacement. After many years as a community organizer, including the past three as a Milwaukee County Supervisor, I’m ready to go to Madison and be a champion for my neighbors, the people of the 16th. Despite all the challenges we are facing right now, I’ve never been more excited about the opportunities we have to create a stronger community, where we lift each other up and work together to make real progress.

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July 24, 2018

New Orleans 2018: A Model for School Reform?

Filed under: Charter Schools,New Orleans — millerlf @ 2:28 pm

On August 29, 2005 Katrina devastated New Orleans. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said soon after, “Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to the education system of New Orleans.” His call for privatization reforms was supported by the Louisiana elite and business interests. Immediately following, national privatization interests became involved promising money if public schooling was dismantled. This included charter authorizers like KIPP, Teach For America (TFA) and voucher and private charter advocates like BAEO (Black Alliance for Education Options).

On September 29, 2005 all 7500 New Orleans Public School employees were fired, including all teachers. 6500 of the employees were African American. Private charters replaced most of the schools, hiring mostly white, recent college graduate TFA members.

Please read the following 2018 report by Dr. Raynard Sanders

http://www.theneworleanstribune.com/main/a-failure-on-all-fronts-what-we-really-need-to-know-about-school-unification/

A Failure On ALL FRONTS: What We Really Need To Know About SCHOOL UNIFICATION

By July 1, 2018, all schools under the Recovery School District-New Orleans will be under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board. But what does that really mean?

Dr. Raynard Sanders

In the summer of 2016, the mainstream media and others hailed the return of public schools from the state-run Recovery School District to the Orleans Parish School Board. The return was viewed by many as an accomplishment as they boasted that the schools were returning after making dramatic academic performance compared to the poor academic performance public schools in New Orleans pre-Hurricane Katrina. In reality, the unification plan does not mean that schools have improved or that the elected school board will have any real governance power. Consider that in an article in The Advocate in August 2016, Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, warned the local Orleans Parish School Board, “As the primary authorizer for public schools in Orleans Parish, OPSB needs to. . . restructure itself accordingly so that it serves as a thought and support partner for its schools”.  To be sure, words like “authorizer” and “support partner” hardly equate to real local governance.

While there were tainted voices from the community and the media declaring that the autonomy of the charter school boards and good leadership were responsible for improved academic performance after Hurricane Katrina, numerous researchers and journalists here in New Orleans and across the country have found that charter schools in New Orleans have consistently scored lower than public schools across the state of Louisiana on mandated state tests and the ACT Test (a national college admission test). The education reform efforts have also been criticized for the less than honest pronouncement of issues around access and equity, serving special needs students and fiscal mismanagement.

Remembering How the reform in New Orleans happened

In the name of school reform, within months after Hurricane Katrina, state officials along with powerful national organizations decided to drastically change the delivery model of public education in New Orleans from a system of public schools governed by an elected school board to a system of charter schools managed by unelected individual charter school boards.  The Louisiana Legislature passed ACT 35 on November 29, 2005, while the city was mostly depopulated after Hurricane Katrina. ACT 35 changed the requirements for state takeover of schools by raising the required minimum School Performance Score (SPS) score and redefining “academically acceptable”  and “academically unacceptable”. A school’s SPS is a composite score based on one of three student performance exams, the school’s dropout rate and its student attendance rate. Before Hurricane Katrina, a SPS score of 60 was the cutoff score for a school to be labeled acceptable. Any school in Louisiana that was designated Academic Unacceptable (AU) for four consecutive years and showed no improvement was eligible for state takeover and placed under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Department of Education’s Recovery School District (RSD).

Act 35 significantly changed the rules by raising the minimum SPS score to 87.4 even if these schools had not been AU for four straight years. Act 35 also expanded the state’s takeover authority so that it applied to school districts with more than 30 “failing” schools and with at least 50 percent of their student population in academically unacceptable schools. The 30- failing school provision meant that Act 35 had a unique impact on Orleans Parish, the state’s largest school district. Given the fact that 50 of Louisiana’s 64 parish school districts have fewer than 30 schools, the vast majority of parishes will never be affected by the 30-failing school threshold. When Act 35 was written, only, seven parishes had more than 40 schools; and Orleans Parish had far more public schools than any other district—47 more than the next largest district. Overnight, the new lines drawn by Act 35 distorted the appearance of school failure in New Orleans. Public schools in New Orleans that received awards from the Louisiana Department of Education in May of 2005 were suddenly failing. A 2006 report by the United Teachers of New Orleans titled “National Model or Flawed Approach?” noted that if Louisiana officials had applied pre-Act 35 standards to Orleans Parish, the state could have assumed control of only 13 schools in New Orleans. Given the fact that ACT 35 only affected New Orleans, it was discriminatory and illegal as its citizens were suddenly removed from the public education process, while locally elected school boards were still managing every other school district in the state.

What school Reform in New Orleans looks like

The Orleans Parish School Board will exercise little control over charter schools under the unification plan, essentially having veto power only when school management organizations seek to renew their charters.

Despite the well-financed PR campaign by state education officials, school reform in New Orleans using charter schools as the new vehicle, has been a failure both academically and operationally. Charter schools created under the Recovery School District have consistently had the lowest SPS scores in the state of Louisiana. Since 2006, the charter schools in New Orleans have consistently scored poorly on state mandated test. All external analysis of test scores found poor academic performance by the Recovery School District’s charter schools. One of the early signs of trouble came from the Minnesota Law School’s Institute on Race and Poverty in a 2010 report titled “The State of Public Schools in Post-Katrina New Orleans: The Challenge of Creating Equal Opportunity”, which stated:

  • Rebuilding of the public school system in post-Katrina New Orleans has produced a five “tiered” system of public schools in which not every student in the city receives the same quality education.
  • The “tiered” system of public schools in the city of New Orleans sorts White students and a relatively small share of students of color into selective schools in the OPSB and BESE sectors, while steering the majority of low-income students of color to high-poverty schools in the RSD sector.
  • Despite declarations to the contrary, the flawed one-App program actually puts the power of choice in the hands of schools more so than parents or students and only adds to the challenge of ensuring that every child in Orleans Parish has access to a quality education.
  • The “tiered” system of public schools in Orleans Parish creates a tiered performance hierarchy and sorts White students and a few minority of students of color into higher performing schools while restricting the majority of low-income students of color into lower performing schools.

In 2015, some 10 years after the school reforms were implemented, noted researcher Michael Deshotels reported that:

  • 83 percent of the public-school systems in the state of Louisiana produce better test results than the Recovery School District.
  • 94 percent of the other public systems produce better ACT results than the Recovery School District’s high schools. In 2015, the median ACT score for the charter schools in the New Orleans’ Recovery School District would not get its students into any Louisiana college or university.
  • The Recovery School District is very near the bottom among the 70 Louisiana school systems in percentage of students graduating from high school. The RSD graduation rate of 61.1 percent is dead last in the state, not counting the kids who drop out as early as seventh and eighth grades.
  • Even though most Recovery School District’s schools are advertised as college prep, only 5.5 percent of RSD students taking Advanced Placement courses passed the credit exams.

Riddled with mismanagement and corruption

More recently, researcher Dr. Mercedes Schneider stated, “It is even worse press to note that 12 years after that post-Katrina, state-yanking of schools, those schools have returned to OPSB (sort of– all-charter RSD schools are still under charter management organizations), and the entire district has fallen to a D in 2017, a year when most Louisiana districts either retained the letter grade they had in 2016 or even increased the letter grade from 2016 to 2017”.

In addition to the poor academic performance charter schools in New Orleans, the so-call reform effort has been riddled with fiscal mismanagement and corruption. The Recovery School District has been cited in numerous Louisiana Legislative Auditor reports for not following state and federal policy. Additionally, for nine consecutive years, the Recovery School District did not maintain and accurately report equipment as required by state regulations. Most troubling is the lack of fiscal oversight from which charter schools in New Orleans were created and have operated the last 12 years.

In its report, “System Failure: Louisiana’s Broken Charter School Law,” the Center for Popular Democracy described the lack of oversight and noted the corruption at charter schools. The report notes that the rapid growth and massive investment in charter schools have been accompanied by a dramatic underinvestment in oversight, leaving Louisiana’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers at risk of academic failures and financial fraud. The state’s failure to create an effective financial oversight system is obvious, as Louisiana charter schools have experienced millions of dollars in known losses from fraud and financial mismanagement so far, which is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

This lack of oversight yielded a barrage of unheard of corruption at charter schools in New Orleans. The Center for Popular Democracy cited a few incidents of corruption at charter schools in New Orleans:

  • In February 2010, the former business manager of Langston Hughes Academy plead guilty to stealing over $600,000 from the charter school by making more than 150 cash withdrawals from Hughes’ operating account over 15 months.
  • In 2011, an employee of Lusher Charter School’s accounting department embezzled $25,000 by forging five checks she wrote to herself from the school’s bank account. The school discovered the theft and it was reported in its annual financial audit
  • An employee of KIPP New Orleans Inc., the operator of six charter schools in Orleans Parish, misappropriated two checks totaling almost $70,000.
  • In May 2014, a special investigation by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found that from January 2012 through September 2013, ReNew Charter Management Organization provided inaccurate information to the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana (TRSL) to allow 21 ineligible employees at five schools participate in the teachers’ pension fund.
  • The operations manager stole over $9,000 from Arise Schools, a New Orleans-based charter group. The theft was made public in a 2014 audit but was discovered by the school when they noticed money missing from a debit card. The employee twice bought $1,500 in gift cards with the organization’s debit card, in March and June 2014.

Most importantly, the school reform pushed down the throats of the citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina removed democracy from the citizens of New Orleans. Citizens have had no formal participation in the selection process of superintendent for the Recovery School District. The Louisiana Superintendent of Education has chosen all of the Recovery Schools District’s five superintendents since 2005. Taxpayers, citizens and parents have never been given an opportunity for input or comment on the Recovery School District’s budget. Meanwhile, since Hurricane Katrina, the Recovery School District’s budget rehas far exceeded the budgets of other school districts in Louisiana. They also have not had an opportunity to comment on the millions of dollars in contracts awarded at Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meetings held in Baton Rouge usually on weekdays at 10 a.m. and have had little or no input formally in the $1.8 billion of dollars of FEMA funds awarded to the Orleans Parish and Recovery School District to renovate and build schools damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Unification of Schools

The fundamental issue with the school unification law or Louisiana Revised Statute (17:10.7.1) is that while schools are returning to the Orleans Parish School Board with tons of problems that need to be immediately addressed, they are also returning with the same unquestionable authority they have operated with for the last 13 years.

The law makes it clear that “unless mutually agreed to by both the charter school’s governing authority and the local school board pursuant to a duly authorized resolution adopted by each governing entity, the local school board shall not impede the operational autonomy of a charter school under its jurisdiction in the areas of school programming, instruction, curriculum, materials and texts, yearly school calendars and daily schedules, hiring and firing of personnel, employee performance management and evaluation, terms and conditions of employment, teacher or administrator certification, salaries and benefits, retirement, collective bargaining, budgeting, purchasing, procurement, and contracting for services other than capital repairs and facilities construction.”

With that, the only authority the elected local Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) has is when the charter school’s license is up for renewal. While the state of Louisiana has renewed numerous failing charter contracts over the years, the basic problems have been the charter school’s daily policies and practices that have resulted in more than a decade of failure academically and operationally. We can’t expect any improvement in our schools if they continue on the same path of failure they have been on since 2005. We cannot give this kind of unquestionable authority to unelected charter school boards that have a history of failure in addition to violating state and federal law.  Complicating the matter even more so is that despite having their hands tied, the OPSB is technically liable for the charter school’s operations.

The case for revisiting school unification is clear. Presently, Louisiana Revised Statute 17:10.7.1 does not have any accountability standards that guarantee a quality education for all children. In fact, it only benefits the charter operator who can continue its present course of academic and operational failure.

It has been a failure on all fronts and most importantly, it has removed public participation and puts total control of our public schools and tax dollars in the hands of unelected and self-appointed charter school boards.

This revisiting should be led by the locally elected school board, in an open and transparent process with the inclusion of the voices from all citizens, and not just the usual charter proponents/organizations that created this disaster.

Dr. Raynard Sanders is an educational consultant and researcher, former principal and college administrator. He has written numerous articles on education equity and the privatization of public education and recently authored two books The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public School District: Money, Power and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System and 21st Century Jim Crow Schools: The Impact of Charter Schools on Public Education. Dr. Sanders also hosts “The New Orleans Imperative,” a weekly radio show that focuses on public education in New Orleans at 1 p.m. (CST) Mondays on WHIV FM (102.3 FM). 

 

 

July 15, 2018

MJS’s Alan Borsuk calls for “keep(ing) an eye” on the PAVE/Schools That Can merger as the vehicle for Milwaukee school improvement.

Filed under: Borsuk — millerlf @ 2:41 pm

In Borsuk’s 7/15/18 MJS opinion piece (https://tinyurl.com/y7fult58) he states:

“I referred to Schools That Can Milwaukee in the past tense because it and another long-time Milwaukee education non-profit, known as PAVE, are merging. Plans for the merged organization are expected to be unveiled in coming months. There have been hints that some major players in town want a new approach to encouraging school improvement. Will the new organization be a vehicle for that? Keep an eye on this.”

The historic, and often stated, goal  of PAVE (Partners Advancing Values in Education) is a “voucher in every backpack.”

Questions to Alan Borsuk and Schools That Can:

So we are expected to rely on an organization (PAVE), that wants to destroy public schooling, to lead education improvement in Milwaukee?

Are the referred to “major players in town” including the elected MPS board and Superintendent in discussion of “a new approach”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 27, 2018

Exciting New Curriculum from Rethinking Schools

Filed under: BlackLivesMatter,Rethinking Schools — millerlf @ 1:03 pm

New Rethinking Schools book

Milwaukee History Note From 2011

Filed under: Black Brown Unity — millerlf @ 10:05 am

Black & Brown Unity march hits segregation

Published Nov 20, 2011

A youth-led Black & Brown Unity march and rally took to the streets of Milwaukee on Nov. 12. A Latino/a contingent marching north from M&I Bank and an African-American contingent marching south after a protest at U.S. Bank converged on the 27th Street Bridge. They then marched together with allies to Mitchell Park, where they convened for cultural presentations and a powerful speakout of oppressed peoples from throughout Metro Milwaukee and beyond.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Milwaukee has become a city with a majority of people of color. Black and Brown people make up more than 60 percent of the population.

The sponsoring groups, Occupy the Hood and Decolonize the Hood, in their call for the action, pointed out that “Milwaukee has some of the highest racial disparities in unemployment, health care, education, prison rates and much more. It is also the number one segregated city in the nation. We believe identifying socioeconomic and social injustices shared by Black and Brown communities helps draw attention to the ills caused by disenfranchisement and exploitation. Therefore, November 12th, a National Day of Action in Milwaukee, will be a collaborative effort by both Black and Brown communities to join forces to fight against these social and institutional forces of oppression.”

A Revisit with Michelle Alexander on Schools: We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander

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Interview published in Rethinking Schools

We asked Alexander to share her thoughts about the implications of her work when applied to education and the lives of children and youth.

RS: What is the impact of mass incarceration on African American children and youth?

MA: There is an extraordinary impact. For African American children, in particular, the odds are extremely high that they will have a parent or loved one, a relative, who has either spent time behind bars or who has acquired a criminal record and thus is part of the under-caste—the group of people who can be legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives. For many African American children, their fathers, and increasingly their mothers, are behind bars. It is very difficult for them to visit. Many people are held hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home. There is a tremendous amount of shame with having a parent or other family member incarcerated. There can be fear of having it revealed to others at school.

But also, for these children, their life chances are greatly diminished. They are more likely to be raised in severe poverty; their parents are unlikely to be able to find work or housing and are often ineligible even for food stamps.

For children, the era of mass incarceration has meant a tremendous amount of family separation, broken homes, poverty, and a far, far greater level of hopelessness as they see so many of their loved ones cycling in and out of prison. Children who have incarcerated parents are far more likely themselves to be incarcerated.

When young black men reach a certain age—whether or not there is incarceration in their families—they themselves are the target of police stops, interrogations, frisks, often for no reason other than their race. And, of course, this level of harassment sends a message to them, often at an early age: No matter who you are or what you do, you’re going to find yourself behind bars one way or the other. This reinforces the sense that prison is part of their destiny, rather than a choice one makes.

A Birdcage as a Metaphor

RS: At one point in The New Jim Crow, you refer to the metaphor of a birdcage as a way to describe structural racism and apply that to mass incarceration. How does what is happening to African American youth in our schools fit into that picture?

MA: The idea of the metaphor is there can be many bars, wires that keep a person trapped. All of them don’t have to have been created for the purpose of harming or caging the bird, but they still serve that function. Certainly youth of color, particularly those in ghetto communities, find themselves born into the cage. They are born into a community in which the rules, laws, policies, structures of their lives virtually guarantee that they will remain trapped for life. It begins at a very early age when their parents themselves are either behind bars or locked in a permanent second-class status and cannot afford them the opportunities they otherwise could. For example, those with felony convictions are denied access to public housing, hundreds of professions that require certification, financial support for education, and often the right to vote. Thousands of people are unable even to get food stamps because they were once caught with drugs.

The cage itself is manifested by the ghetto, which is racially segregated, isolated, cut off from social and economic opportunities. The cage is the unequal educational opportunities these children are provided at a very early age coupled with the constant police surveillance they’re likely to encounter, making it very likely that they’re going to serve time and be caught for committing the various types of minor crimes—particularly drug crimes—that occur with roughly equal frequency in middle-class white communities but go largely ignored.

So, for many, whether they go to prison or not is far less about the choices they make and far more about what kind of cage they’re born into. Middle-class white children, children of privilege, are afforded the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes and still go on to college, still dream big dreams. But for kids who are born in the ghetto in the era of mass incarceration, the system is designed in such a way that it traps them, often for life.

RS: How do you define and analyze the school-to-prison pipeline?

MA: It’s really part of the large cage or caste that I was describing earlier. The school-to-prison pipeline is another metaphor—a good one for explaining how children are funneled directly from schools into prison. Instead of schools being a pipeline to opportunity, schools are feeding our prisons.

It’s important for us to understand how school discipline policies have been influenced by the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement. Many people imagine that zero tolerance rhetoric emerged within the school environment, but it’s not true. In fact, the Advancement Project published a report showing that one of the earliest examples of zero tolerance language in school discipline manuals was a cut-and-paste job from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration manual. The wave of punitiveness that washed over the United States with the rise of the drug war and the get tough movement really flooded our schools. Schools, caught up in this maelstrom, began viewing children as criminals or suspects, rather than as young people with an enormous amount of potential struggling in their own ways and their own difficult context to make it and hopefully thrive. We began viewing the youth in schools as potential violators rather than as children needing our guidance.

The Mythology of Colorblindness

RS: In your book, you explain that the policies of mass incarceration are technically “colorblind” but lead to starkly racialized results. How do you see this specifically affecting children and young people of color?

MA: The mythology around colorblindness leads people to imagine that if poor kids of color are failing or getting locked up in large numbers, it must be something wrong with them. It leads young kids of color to look around and say: “There must be something wrong with me, there must be something wrong with us. Is there something inherent, something different about me, about us as a people, that leads us to fail so often, that leads us to live in these miserable conditions, that leads us to go in and out of prison?”

The mythology of colorblindness takes the race question off the table. It makes it difficult for people to even formulate the question: Could this be about something more than individual choices? Maybe there is something going on that’s linked to the history of race in our country and the way race is reproducing itself in modern times.

I think this mythology—that of course we’re all beyond race, of course our police officers aren’t racist, of course our politicians don’t mean any harm to people of color—this idea that we’re beyond all that (so it must be something else) makes it difficult for young people as well as the grown-ups to be able to see clearly and honestly the truth of what’s going on. It makes it difficult to see that the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement manifested itself in the form of mass incarceration, in the form of defunding and devaluing schools serving kids of color and all the rest. We have avoided in recent years talking openly and honestly about race out of fear that it will alienate and polarize. In my own view, it’s our refusal to deal openly and honestly with race that leads us to keep repeating these cycles of exclusion and division, and rebirthing a caste-like system that we claim we’ve left behind.

RS: We are in the midst of a huge attack on public education—privatization through charters and vouchers; increased standardization, regimentation, and testing; and the destruction of teachers’ unions. Much of it is justified by what appears to be anti-racist rhetoric: Schools aren’t meeting the needs of inner-city children, so their parents need choices. How do you see this?

MA: People who focus solely on what do we do given the current context are avoiding the big why. Why is it that these schools aren’t meeting these kids’ needs? Why is it that such a large percentage of the African American population today is trapped in these ghettos? What is the bigger picture?

The bigger picture is that over the last 30 years, we have spent $1 trillion waging a drug war that has failed in any meaningful way to reduce drug addiction or abuse, and yet has siphoned an enormous amount of resources away from other public services, especially education. We are in a social and political context in which the norm is to punish poor folks of color rather than to educate and empower them with economic opportunity. It is that political context that leads some people to ask: Don’t children need to be able to escape poorly performing schools? Of course, no one should be trapped in bad schools or bad neighborhoods. No one. But I think we need to be asking a larger question: How do we change the norm, the larger context that people seem to accept as a given? Are we so thoroughly resigned to what “is” that we cannot even begin a serious conversation about how to create what ought to be?

The education justice movement and the prison justice movement have been operating separately in many places as though they’re in silos. But the reality is we’re not going to provide meaningful education opportunities to poor kids, kids of color, until and unless we recognize that we’re wasting trillions of dollars on a failed criminal justice system. Kids are growing up in communities in which they see their loved ones cycling in and out of prison and in which they are sent the message in countless ways that they, too, are going to prison one way or another. We cannot build healthy, functioning schools within a context where there is no funding available because it’s going to building prisons and police forces.

RS: And fighting wars?

MA: Yes, and fighting wars. And where there is so much hopelessness because of the prevalence of mass incarceration.

At the same time, we’re foolish if we think we’re going to end mass incarceration unless we are willing to deal with the reality that huge percentages of poor people are going to remain jobless, locked out of the mainstream economy, unless and until they have a quality education that prepares them well for the new economy. There has got to be much more collaboration between the two movements and a greater appreciation for the work of the advocates in each community. It’s got to be a movement that’s about education, not incarceration—about jobs, not jails. A movement that integrates the work in these various camps from, in my view, a human rights perspective.

Fighting Back

RS: What is the role of teachers in responding to this crisis? What should we be doing in our classrooms? What should we be doing as education activists?

MA: That is a wonderful question and one I’m wrestling with myself now. I am in the process of working with others trying to develop curriculum and materials that will make it easier to talk to young people about these issues in ways that won’t lead to paralysis, fear, or resignation, but instead will enlighten and inspire action and critical thinking in the future. It’s very difficult but it must be done.

We have to be willing to take some risks. In my experience, there is a lot of hesitancy to approach these issues in the classroom out of fear that students will become emotional or angry, or that the information will reinforce their sense of futility about their own lives and experience. It’s important to teach them about the reality of the system, that it is in fact the case that they are being targeted unfairly, that the rules have been set up in a way that authorize unfair treatment of them, and how difficult it is to challenge these laws in the courts. We need to teach them how our politics have changed in recent years, how there has been, in fact, a backlash. But we need to couple that information with stories of how people in the past have challenged these kinds of injustices, and the role that youth have played historically in those struggles.

I think it’s important to encourage young people to tell their own stories and to speak openly about their own experiences with the criminal justice system and the experiences of their family. We need to ensure that the classroom environment is a supportive one so that the shame and stigma can be dispelled. Then teachers can use those stories of what students have witnessed and experienced as the opportunity to begin asking questions: How did we get here? Why is this happening? How are things different in other communities? How is this linked to what has gone on in prior periods of our nation’s history? And what, then, can we do about it?

Just providing information about how bad things are, or the statistics and data on incarceration by themselves, does lead to more depression and resignation and is not empowering. The information has to be presented in a way that’s linked to the piece about encouraging students to think critically and creatively about how they might respond to injustice, and how young people have responded to injustice in the past.

RS: What specifically?

MA: There’s a range of possibilities. I was inspired by what students have done in some schools organizing walkouts protesting the lack of funding and that sort of thing. There are opportunities for students to engage in those types of protests—taking to the streets—but there is also writing poetry, writing music, beginning to express themselves, holding forums, educating each other, the whole range. For example, for a period of time the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, Calif., was focused on youth engagement and advocacy to challenge mass incarceration. They launched a number of youth campaigns to close youth incarceration facilities in northern California. They demonstrated that it is really possible to blend hip-hop culture with very creative and specific advocacy and to develop young leaders. Young people today are very creative in using social media and there is a wide range of ways that they can get involved.

The most important thing at this stage is inspiring an awakening. There is a tremendous amount of confusion and denial that exists about mass incarceration today, and that is the biggest barrier to movement building. As long as we remain in denial about this system, movement building will be impossible. Exposing youth in classrooms to the truth about this system and developing their critical capacities will, I believe, open the door to meaningful engagement and collective, inspired action.

 

Why teach about structural oppression and other systems of control?

Young people are not likely to get this information from any other source. If we are ever going to overcome this, we first have to be able to talk about it, describe it, to know what it is. Unlike the old Jim Crow, there are no signs alerting you today to the existence of racial bias. The “whites only” signs are gone, and it’s easy today to be lulled into this belief that people are at the bottom because they simply don’t work hard or are lazy or prone to violence. If we don’t pull back the curtain for young people and help them to see how unconscious bias operates, how systems of discrimination operate, then they will continue to operate on a false belief that race discrimination is a part of our past and not our present. They will find themselves being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

 

What would you want students to understand from reading and studying your book? 

They have the power to change the system. It’s easy to imagine that a system like mass incarceration can’t be dismantled. The same was said about slavery, the same was said about Jim Crow. And yet a powerful movement, led in large part by courageous, young people who were unwilling to accept the status quo, who were bold and brave and who were truth-tellers, helped to bring that Jim Crow system to its knees. I think it’s important that even as we learn about great injustice that we not become paralyzed by it but recognize that we are the change we’ve been waiting for and that young people—perhaps more than any other segment in our society—are the hope upon which future generations can rely.

Interview by Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools, published 2013

Who is shackling our children and who is supporting their liberation?

 

January 14, 2018

Behind Walker’s $200 Per Student Increase in Wisconsin State Budget

Filed under: Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 1:41 pm

by Larry Miller

(The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel chose not to run this because it is not suggesting solutions. I beg to differ.)

When is a raise in the budget not a raise? When it restores a tiny fraction of needed funds that have been systematically reduced for years and does nothing to correct the factors that cause under-funding.

The controversial Wisconsin state budget passed last September included an increase of $200 per student in public schools. In reality, that funding level, adjusting for inflation, still falls below what was allocated for K-12 schooling in 2010.

The small bump is not surprising, given the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters who support their public schools. Polls by Marquette Law School [https://law.marquette.edu/poll/] showed significant support, including a willingness to pay more in tax dollars for adequate resources for public schools.

Public school funding in Wisconsin continues to be constrained by a formula that is fundamentally unjust and broken. Children attending Milwaukee Public Schools are worth approximately $10,000 each under the budget. Those attending Glendale/River Hills are valued at $12,752. If Milwaukee Public School (MPS) children were allocated the same funding as Glendale/River Hills, our district would see an increase of more than $200 million annually. Similar comparisons can be made between MPS and Whitefish Bay, Shorewood, Brown Deer and Fox Point.

The majority of Republican legislators have made it clear that their preference is to support the private voucher system. In this budget the per student allocation increase for voucher students was higher than that for public school students. The budget also included a provision raising statewide the income level at which a family becomes eligible to receive a voucher.

The expensive 25-year voucher “experiment” has done nothing to change the status quo of the growing economic inequality in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. Yet we have a President who has promised billions in federal monies toward voucher programs, a Secretary of Education in Betsy DeVos whose political life has been spent dismantling public education, and a state legislature that prefers private to public. The private system exists not parallel to, but at the expense of, the public system.

In addition to unequal funding and diversion of funds to private schools, the broken funding framework fails to support students with special needs, or “special education.” Previous to the 1994 revenue caps, school districts were promised that the state would provide 63% of funding for special education. Right now districts are receiving less than 26% of those expenses, while they are required to fulfill 100% of students’ Individual Education Plans(IEP). This funding has been frozen for a decade. Milwaukee Public Schools has more than 15,000  students with IEP’s. The majority of the money to fulfill these must come from MPS’s general funding, which means less money for libraries, technology, music, the arts, and physical education.

Over the next 15 years, the legislature is giving $3 billion to FoxConn, along with an estimated $18 billion spent for prisons. That money must come from somewhere. This path suggests that public education for our children will suffer even more.

Wisconsin, we are better than this. In Milwaukee Public Schools our time is spent focusing on serving our students, their families and communities. We are doing this with all hands on deck, but with restraints from limited resources.

If we are going to improve the lives of the 85% of MPS students living in poverty, greater resources are crucial. We’ll never achieve regional economic development without high-level statewide public education, equitably and adequately funded.

Milwaukee public schools are faced with large class sizes, ancient buildings, the need for more 21st-century technology, expansion of library resources, and increased student access to music, the arts, and physical education, for starters.

This is an important year for Wisconsin elections. Please put our children’s education at the center of the dialogue and debate. Reform of Wisconsin’s education funding formula, funding for special education services, turning back the expansion of private school vouchers and prioritizing education, not incarceration, should all be part of making Wisconsin great again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 11, 2017

Trump’s War on Science: NYT Editorial

Filed under: Environment,Trump — millerlf @ 9:16 am

New York Times Editorial Board Sept. 9, 2017

The news was hard to digest until one realized it was part of a much larger and increasingly disturbing pattern in the Trump administration. On Aug. 18, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine received an order from the Interior Department that it stop work on what seemed a useful and overdue study of the health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

The $1 million study had been requested by two West Virginia health agencies following multiple studies suggesting increased rates of birth defects, cancer and other health problems among people living near big surface coal-mining operations in Appalachia. The order to shut it down came just hours before the scientists were scheduled to meet with affected residents of Kentucky.

The Interior Department said the project was put on hold as a result of an agencywide budgetary review of grants and projects costing more than $100,000.

This was not persuasive to anyone who had been paying attention. From Day 1, the White House and its lackeys in certain federal agencies have been waging what amounts to a war on science, appointing people with few scientific credentials to key positions, defunding programs that could lead to a cleaner and safer environment and a healthier population, and, most ominously, censoring scientific inquiry that could inform the public and government policy.

Even allowing for justifiable budgetary reasons, in nearly every case the principal motive seemed the same: to serve commercial interests whose profitability could be affected by health and safety rules.

The coal mining industry is a conspicuous example. The practice of blowing the tops off mountains to get at underlying coal seams has been attacked for years by public health and environmental interests and by many of the families whose livelihoods depend on coal. But Mr. Trump and his department heads have made a very big deal of saving jobs in a declining industry that is already under severe pressure from market forces, including competition from cheaper natural gas. An unfavorable health study would inject unwelcome reality into Mr. Trump’s rosy promises of a job boom fueled by “clean, beautiful coal.”

This is a president who has never shown much fidelity to facts, unless they are his own alternative ones. Yet if there is any unifying theme beyond that to the administration’s war on science, apart from its devotion to big industry and its reflexively antiregulatory mind-set, it is horror of the words “climate change.”

This starts with Mr. Trump, who has called global warming a hoax and pulled the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change. Among his first presidential acts, he instructed Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to deep-six President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, and ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to roll back Obama-era rules reducing the venting from natural gas wells of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas.

Mr. Trump has been properly sympathetic to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but the fact that there is almost certainly a connection between a warming earth and increasingly destructive natural events seems not to have occurred to him or his fellow deniers. Mr. Pruitt and his colleagues have enthusiastically jumped to the task of rescinding regulations that might address the problem, meanwhile presiding over a no less ominous development: a governmentwide purge of people, particularly scientists, whose research and conclusions about the human contribution to climate change do not support the administration’s agenda.

Mr. Pruitt, for instance, is replacing dozens of members on the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory boards; in March, he dismissed at least five scientists from the agency’s 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, to be replaced, according to a spokesman, with advisers “who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.” Last month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dissolved its 15-member climate science advisory committee, a panel set up to help translate the findings of the National Climate Assessment into concrete guidance for businesses, governments and the public.

In June, Mr. Pruitt told a coal industry lobbying group that he was preparing to convene a “red team” of researchers to challenge the notion, broadly accepted among climate scientists, that carbon dioxide and other emissions from fossil fuels are the primary drivers of climate change.

Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, called the red team plan a “dumb idea” that’s like “a red team-blue team exercise about whether gravity exists.” Rick Perry, the energy secretary, former Texas governor and climate skeptic, endorsed the idea as — get this — a way to “get the politicians out of the room.” Given his and Mr. Pruitt’s ideological and historical financial ties to the fossil fuel industry, it is hard to think of a more cynical use of public money.

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Even the official vocabulary of global warming has changed, as if the problem can be made to evaporate by describing it in more benign terms. At the Department of Agriculture, staff members are encouraged to use words like “weather extremes” in lieu of “climate change,” and “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency” instead of “reduce greenhouse gases.” The Department of Energy has scrubbed the words “clean energy” and “new energy” from its websites, and has cut links to clean or renewable energy initiatives and programs, according to the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, which monitors federal websites.

At the E.P.A., a former Trump campaign assistant named John Konkus aims to eliminate the “double C-word,” meaning “climate change,” from the agency’s research grant solicitations, and he views every application for research money through a similar lens. The E.P.A. is even considering editing out climate change-related exhibits in a museum depicting the agency’s history.

The bias against science finds reinforcement in Mr. Trump’s budget and the people he has chosen for important scientific jobs. Mr. Trump’s 2018 federal budget proposal would cut nondefense research and development money across the government.

The president has proposed cutting nearly $6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s single largest funder of biomedical research. The National Science Foundation, a government agency that funds a variety of scientific and engineering research projects, would be trimmed by about 11 percent. Plant and animal-related science at the Agriculture Department, data analysis at the Census Bureau and earth science at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration would all suffer.

It is amazing but true, given the present circumstances, that the Trump budget would eliminate $250 million for NOAA’s coastal research programs that prepare communities for rising seas and worsening storms. The E.P.A.’s Global Change program would be likewise eliminated. This makes the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, delirious with joy. He complains of “crazy things” the Obama administration did to study climate, and boasts: “Do a lot of the E.P.A. reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes.”

As to key appointments, denial and mediocrity abound. Last week, Mr. Trump nominated David Zatezalo, a former coal company chief executive who has repeatedly clashed with federal mine safety regulators, as assistant secretary of labor for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. He nominated Jim Bridenstine, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma with no science or space background, as NASA administrator. Sam Clovis, Mr. Trump’s nomination to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist, is not a scientist: He’s a former talk-radio host and incendiary blogger who has labeled climate research “junk science.”

From the beginning, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Zinke and Mr. Perry — to name the Big Four on environmental and energy issues — have been promising a new day to just about anyone discomfited by a half-century of bipartisan environmental law, whether it be the developers and farmers who feel threatened by efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act, oil and gas drillers seeking leases they do not need on federal land, chemical companies seeking relaxation from rules governing dangerous pesticides, automakers asked to improve fuel efficiency or utilities required to make further investments in technology to reduce ground-level pollutants.

“The future ain’t what it used to be at the E.P.A.,” Mr. Pruitt is fond of saying of his agency. These words could also apply to just about every other cabinet department and regulatory body in this administration. What his words really mean is that the future isn’t going to be nearly as promising for ordinary Americans as it should be.

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August 24, 2017

Join Rev. William Barber August 28 in Milwaukee

Filed under: Civil Rights Movement Today — millerlf @ 12:11 pm

Milwaukee, WI Mass Meeting

When: Monday, August 28, 7:00pm – 9:00pm (CDT)

Where: St Gabriels Church of God, 5363 N 37th St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53209, USA

Join co-chairs Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis for a Mass Meeting for the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival on Monday, August 28 at 7:00 pm at St. Gabriels Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to learn about the inspiration, vision and strategy of the PPC. The Campaign will build a broad and deep national moral fusion movement — rooted in the leadership of the poor and dispossessed as moral agents and reflecting the great moral teachings — to unite our country from the bottom up.

August 14, 2017

OSPP Pushing At Racine School District

Filed under: OSPP,Privatization — millerlf @ 12:42 pm

Commissioner could take over Unified schools if District fails again, unless amendment passes

RICARDO TORRES ricardo.torres@journaltimes.com Aug 10, 2017

 

RACINE — State legislators are discussing an amendment to the state budget that would give the Racine Unified School District, in the event the state gives the district a failing grade this fall, an extra year to improve its standing to prevent some failing schools from being part of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program.

Because of the failing report card last year, State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said the district is “looking at that potential this year” which could result in the state and the county determining the future of some failing schools.

“That means they would take five schools out of the Unified school district, eliminate all positions and then rehire all of those positions and then redo all of those schools and they would be out of the district,” Wanggaard said. “That would trigger a potential referendum for Sturtevant, Caledonia and Mount Pleasant, that they could form their own school districts.”

The legislature would likely approve the 2017-19 budget before the state test results are released in November so the amendment, if it goes through, would allow Unified an extra year of leeway before any schools become part of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, if the district receives another failing grade.

In November 2016, the district received a grade of “fails to meet expectations” from the state with 11 schools failing to meet expectations including Case, Horlick and Park high schools. However, several schools were docked points based on test participation, absenteeism rate and dropout rate, which moved them into the “fails to meet expectations” category.

Wanggaard, who has been championing the amendment, said the district has made important changes, specifically highlighting the launching of the Academies of Racine and changing Knapp Elementary School to a community school.

“To allow some of those things to come to fruition, I think that will get them up and going and moving in the right direction,” Wanggaard said.

Report to county executive

According to the state statute, the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program would automatically go into action after the second straight year of receiving a failing grade from the state and schools in the program would be run by a commissioner.

The commissioner is selected by the county executive from a pool of applicants appointed by the governor, city mayor and county executive. The commissioner also reports to the county executive.

Wanggaard said the amendment would give the district another year “to prove themselves.”

“If they fail then it goes to an Opportunity School (and Partnership Program) and it also triggers the referendum for those municipalities that want to have their own district,” Wanggaard said, adding it would be up to the municipalities to decide if they want to be involved with the Opportunity School and Partnership Program or try to form their own district.

In the past, some in Caledonia have advocated the community starting its own district.

‘Huge and stressful issue’

The district is aware of the seriousness of a another failing grade from the state and is concerned that if the amendment does not go through, the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program will go into effect.

Stacy Tapp, chief of communications and community engagement for Unified, said a task force was formed to focus on areas to improve the state test results after last year’s failing grade.

“The district has been focused on improving our report card results,” Tapp said. “We’ve also been focused on engaging students through the academy model and other efforts. However, we won’t get the report card until fall.”

School Board President Robert Wittke said he’s been in contact with local legislators about the initiatives the district has taken in the wake of last year’s results, which he views as an anomaly, but he said the community should know the seriousness of the situation.

“This is a huge and stressful issue,” Wittke said. “This would not be something that’s good for the community … Its one of the most important issues that we’re facing.”

Wittke said he’s confident the district has taken the right steps with forming the Academies of Racine and now the middle school transformation.

Delaying handbook, ‘boneheaded decision’

The changes the district has been making have not been lost on local legislators.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the delay would “allow the Academies (of Racine) to take hold.”

Although no amendment has been officially drafted, Vos said this will be part of the discussion but recent issues such as the employee handbook make it difficult.

“I still continue to be frustrated that as we are looking to try to give (Unified) more wiggle room to be able to turn the district around at a local level, then they make a boneheaded decision like delaying the handbook,” Vos said.

If the amendment does pass, it’s likely legislators will insist on certain conditions which could include approving a handbook that is compliant with Act 10.

Recently, the current handbook has come under scrutiny. Specifically, the legality of the Board of Adjustments was questioned by School Board Vice President and Mayor Dennis Wiser.

The Board of Adjustments is defined by the current handbook as being “comprised of equal representation of the District and the authorized representative of the teaching staff… to consider the appropriate level of benefits, plan design, structure, premium contributions and all other issues related to health, dental and disability benefits.”

Act 10 bars public employees from negotiating for benefits and only allows negotiation for salaries.

If the amendment does not go through, Wanggaard said the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program would automatically go into effect, “unless we do a statutory change with a separate bill to change (the program).”

“Every time this (Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program) is done it’s the students that are at risk,” Wanggaard said. “They’re not being prepared for what these changes are. I know it’s difficult for the staff and stuff like that but it’s the students that need the preparation to go on for their potential future.”

 

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