Educate All Students, Support Public Education

July 31, 2012

Onion “Point/Counterpoint” Raises Real Issues

Filed under: Teach For America — millerlf @ 2:13 pm

July 17, 2012 The Onion

My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids

By Megan Richmond, Volunteer Teacher
When I graduated college last year, I was certain I wanted to make a real difference in the world. After 17 years of education, I felt an obligation to share my knowledge and skills with those who needed it most.

After this past year, I believe I did just that. Working as a volunteer teacher helped me reach out to a new generation of underprivileged children in dire need of real guidance and care. Most of these kids had been abandoned by the system and, in some cases, even by their families, making me the only person who could really lead them through the turmoil.

Was it always easy? Of course not. But with my spirit and determination, we were all able to move forward.

Those first few months were the most difficult of my life. Still, I pushed through each day knowing that these kids really needed the knowledge and life experience I had to offer them. In the end, it changed all of our lives.

In some ways, it’s almost like I was more than just a teacher to those children. I was a real mentor who was able to connect with them and fully understand their backgrounds and help them become the leaders of tomorrow.

Ultimately, I suppose I can never know exactly how much of an impact I had on my students, but I do know that for me it was a fundamentally eye-opening experience and one I will never forget.


Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?

By Brandon Mendez, James Miller Elementary School Student
You’ve got to be kidding me. How does this keep happening? I realize that as a fourth-grader I probably don’t have the best handle on the financial situation of my school district, but dealing with a new fresh-faced college graduate who doesn’t know what he or she is doing year after year is growing just a little bit tiresome. Seriously, can we get an actual teacher in here sometime in the next decade, please? That would be terrific.

Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn’t desperately trying to prove to herself that she’s a good person.

I’m not some sort of stepping stone to a larger career, okay? I’m an actual child with a single working mother, and I need to be educated by someone who actually wants to be a teacher, actually comprehends the mechanics of teaching, and won’t get completely eaten alive by a classroom full of 10-year-olds within the first two months on the job.

How about a person who can actually teach me math for a change? Boy, wouldn’t that be a novel concept!

I fully understand that our nation is currently facing an extreme shortage of teachers and that we all have to make do with what we can get. But does that really mean we have to be stuck with some privileged college grad who completed a five-week training program and now wants to document every single moment of her life-changing year on a Tumblr?

For crying out loud, we’re not adopted puppies you can show off to your friends.

Look, we all get it. Underprivileged children occasionally say some really sad things that open your eyes and make you feel as though you’ve grown as a person, but this is my actual education we’re talking about here. Graduating high school is the only way for me to get out of the malignant cycle of poverty endemic to my neighborhood and to many other impoverished neighborhoods throughout the United States. I can’t afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone’s inspirational narrative.

But hey, how much can I really know, anyway? I haven’t had an actual teacher in three years.

July 23, 2012

Barbara Miner on “Why are Playgrounds Even Controversial?”

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:40 am

Do children deserve playgrounds? Why is this even controversial?

By Barbara Miner July 22, 2012 View from the Heartland  Barbara Miner’s blog is part of MJS’s Purple Wisconsin project. Miner is an award-winning journalist and photographer.

It’s a sad day in Milwaukee when we are forced to debate whether young children deserve playgrounds at their school.

Unfortunately, it’s another example of the deeply “separate and unequal” educational realities in our hypersegregated region. Can you imagine an outpouring of complaints in affluent suburbs such as Whitefish Bay or Brookfield if schools were required to have playgrounds?

At issue is a proposed ordinance on whether any new elementary school approved in Milwaukee should include outdoor play space. The Milwaukee Common Council is expected to take up the matter Tuesday.

The proposal seems like a no-brainer. Given children’s inherent energy levels, the rising obesity epidemic among children, and the link between exercise and academic learning, you’d think that the city could unite around this modest requirement.

But voucher and charter advocates are condemning the measure as an infringement on parent’s rights.

You know, sort of like when one’s rights are abrogated by seat-belt laws, and no-smoking ordinances, and immunization requirements.

A Common Council committee voted unanimously last week to require outdoor play areas in new elementary schools. School Choice Wisconsin — the well-funded, conservative group promoting private school vouchers and semi-private charter schools over traditional public schools — issued a press release condemning the committee vote.

The measure would “significantly limit parent’s educational choice in Milwaukee,” the press release complained.  “…The goal of this policy is to restrict education reform in Milwaukee.”

Wow. So playgrounds are now a barrier to education reform? That’s kinda crazy.

The issue of playgrounds was forced on the Common Council by a group of grass-roots activists concerned that voucher and charter schools are shortchanging our children.

“Over the past few years, many of us noticed the lack of amenities available for our children to ‘be children’,” a statement by the activists noted.

The activists are particularly concerned about City of Milwaukee charter schools and voucher schools housed in former industrial buildings. Needless to say, the buildings were not constructed with children in mind. They were more often warehouses — putting a sorry spin of reality on the complaint that schools too often warehouse children rather than teach them.

“It is not acceptable for our children to be treated as if they live in the Jim Crow south of the past or a third world country,” the activists noted.

Their statement, sent by email on July 21, was signed by the co-chairs of Women Committed to an Informed Community, the chair of the Christian Community Caucus, the executive director of The Council for the Spanish Speaking, and the newly formed Education Coalition of Milwaukee.

It is irony bordering on tragedy that voucher and charter proponents — who sold their initiatives to the public as a way to improve education for poor children — now want to deny playgrounds to poor children.

The Brown v. Board decision in 1954 struck down “separate and equal” public schools as inherently unconstitutional. Now we have voucher/charter proponents stooping even lower and defending “separate and unequal.”

The Milwaukee Public Schools, despite one’s criticisms of the district, has traditionally included significant space for playgrounds. Nor is MPS building any new schools. Voucher and City of Milwaukee charter schools, meanwhile, are on a growth spurt. And much of that growth is due to decisions made behind closed doors, despite the significant public dollars involved.

Good luck finding out much of anything about the city’s charter schools. Do a search on the City of Milwaukee’s home-page for “charter school” and you get the phone number to call if you want to apply to run a charter school, a notice of a public hearing from 2010, and all sorts of unrelated things like the “City Charter and Code of Ordinances,” which includes matters such as the city’s boundaries and the duties and authority of city officers.

Almost four decades ago, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall warned about the problems that will confront our nation’s metropolitan areas if we allow hypersegregation between cities and suburbs. In a 5-4 court ruling that limited desegregation to Detroit’s city boundaries, he issued a dissent that was unequivocal, eloquent, and prescient.

“In the short run, “ Marshall wrote, “it may seem to be the easier course to allow our great metropolitan areas to be divided up each into two cities — one white, the other black — but it is a course, I predict, our people will ultimately regret.”

The Common Council is set to meet on Tuesday at 9 a.m. If you believe that children deserve playgrounds, call City Hall at 414-286-2221 and ask to speak to your alderperson.

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This blog is cross-posted at my blog, “View from the Heartland: Honoring the Wisconsin tradition of common decency and progressive politics.” At the blog,,  you can also sign up for email notifications.


July 22, 2012

Voucher Proponents Question Need for Playgrounds at Schools

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 5:52 pm

If you have the time, please attend the Common Council Meeting, Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 9:00 a.m., 3rd Floor – City Hall.  We need your support!

Playgrounds may be mandatory at new elementary schools

A move to require outdoor play spaces at new elementary schools draws worry from supporters of voucher schools.

By Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel

July 19, 2012

New elementary schools in the city of Milwaukee would be required to have outdoor play areas for children, under a measure approved by a Common Council committee this week that has concerned voucher-school proponents.

Only day care centers are now required by state law to include outdoor play spaces for children. That was a problem for Ald. Michael Murphy, who sponsored the proposed ordinance that passed Tuesday’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development committee in a 5-0 vote.

“At a minimum, we should recognize that kids should be able to run around and play outside,” he said in an interview, adding that the issue was brought to his attention by concerned residents.

The measure would apply to all new public or private elementary schools in the city, but it would primarily affect the operators of new public charter schools or private voucher schools who seek to build fresh or retrofit old structures for elementary school facilities.

For example, Rocketship Education, a national operator of charter schools from California that’s expanding to Milwaukee, recently sought a zoning change for a potential school site near S. 31st St. and W. Cleveland Ave. from light industrial to multifamily, said Ald. Jim Bohl, chair of the zoning committee.

If the play space proposal is approved by the Common Council, Rocketship’s grade school would have to follow the new design standard – if an outdoor play space wasn’t already in its plans.

The measure would apply to Milwaukee Public Schools as well, but the district isn’t building new schools at the moment, and most of its elementary schools have traditionally had outdoor play spaces.

Specifically, the proposal would require any elementary school that begins operating after the ordinance is passed to have at least 75 square feet of outdoor play space for each child using the space. It would require the space to be on the premises of the school, and to include a cushioned surface under any climbing equipment. The space also would have to have a permanent enclosure, according to the proposal.

School Choice Wisconsin, the state’s most influential voucher school advocacy group, is concerned about those requirements.

President Jim Bender said meeting those mandates could be difficult in an urban setting. He also noted that some of the city’s highest-performing schools, such as St. Marcus Lutheran School – a voucher school- would not have been able to open or expand had the ordinance been in place.

“In a time when students in Milwaukee perform significantly below their peers academically, the committee chose to require new schools to direct dollars to playgrounds, not classrooms,” Bender said in a statement.

Or consider HOPE Christian School: Fortis, a K-8 school at 3601 N. Port Washington Ave. that opened in the 2009-’10 school year without a play space. For recess, students ran around staff members’ cars in the small parking lot.

Leaders of the HOPE network of voucher schools said at the time that resources in the early stages were better spent on resources more closely tied to student success, such as textbooks and teachers.

Today, all three of the HOPE network’s grade schools have outdoor play spaces, said spokeswoman Wendy Greenfield.

July 11, 2012

Glaring Comparison of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Treatment of MPS and Voucher Schools

Filed under: Journalism,Vouchers — millerlf @ 12:41 am

Some unnatural tilts in media coverage from vouchers to cops

By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted July 5, 2012

The principal was already in hot water for abusing children and other practices that shut his school down in May. And then in June came a search warrant, a 22 page criminal record and an investigation for child enticement and harmful materials. Testimony existed how the principal led two juveniles to his home to show off the hooks above his bed used to dominate female visitors (according to the complaint) and then offered to tie one boy up, which sent them running from the house.

You only knew about this June 22 if you watched WISN Channel 12 news – since the main newspaper hadn’t led with such details when it reported the school closing in May. That was curious. Sex scandals of any flavor sell newspapers and are prized, even exaggerated when police searches don’t immediately result in charges. So maybe the education reporter and the vice reporter hadn’t connected the dots.

But public educators read something darker and deeper, having long dealt with what they call the JS attitude to expose and attack the public education system at any turn and trumpet any hint of salaciousness or failure. Why else would JS recently report seven young deaths from fire, shootings, crashes and the like that had no connection with schooling over the last year — with a headline that all were MPS students? Seemed quite a reach when you recall the public school responsibility to educate all who apply.

Had the child abusing school story – a K-12 filled with multiple reports of children being beaten, police called in more than 20 times, a principal accused of enticing juveniles to his home for lurid encounters – been about a Milwaukee public school, imagine how speedily reporters would have jumped to tell the tale in headlines three inches high across the top of the front page. Proof not needed. “Public school scandal” would be enough.

But this was a voucher school.

The principal with the long rap sheet who calls himself “Dr.” – Corey Daniels – had his private school for low-income families closed twice by the state Department of Public Instruction but found ways to keep it open anyway, to the dismay of the misled parents who hoped the Milwaukee Institute for Academic Achievement would live up to its name or reflect the values expected from the space it occupied within the Grace United Church of Christ, 4920 N. Sherman Blvd.

The placement of the May 28 JS story and the lead caption and paragraph rather tepidly described “unsafe conditions” and “so understaffed that the school leader took children to his home while he worked on ‘other things.’” There was little public outrage because “things” were buried far down in the JS story – multiple beatings for instance.

Imagine if such reports involved public schools, though of course these voucher schools also survive on sizable taxpayer money — and a complicated aid formula bleeding money from public schools even as the state reduces support alarmingly for public education.

This is the curious schizophrenia in current media coverage, which some observers interpret as giving the program where real scandals occur a pass or softening the problem.
With voucher schools like Daniels ran, the news stories lead with such “horrendous” acts as “transporting in unregistered school busses without a proper license.”

This is horrendous? The full weight of the criminal record, the beating charges, the 20 times police had been called to the school, were buried way down, not fully known and only given prominence in TV coverage.

Such lack of print enterprise or editorial outrage is particularly strange since the voucher program would be easy to cover. There are a little more than 100 schools in the city of Milwaukee created under the voucher gift of taxpayer funding, yet the reports of corruption, child neglect and endangerment range over 30% of them over the last few years. Imagine how even a tinier percentage would be treated in the public school arena.

Contrast the treatment of the voucher program with how JS gets highly exercised at poor families abusing government food share projects by grabbing extra groceries or at the Milwaukee police department when reporters uncover mislabeled crime statistics.

JS has long had a beef with the Milwaukee police department (just as many educators think it has a beef with the MPS). So it clearly encouraged conspiratorial nuts to accuse police officers of deliberately reducing aggravated assaults into simple assaults to make crime figures look better, much to the anger of both the police union and Police Chief Ed Flynn who have to face each other across the bargaining table while cooperating on law and order issues.

In reality there is no benchmark to compare this data against past police departments, as JS itself concedes. As one angry sergeant complained to me in private, by heritage city police would be more inclined to “land harder in reporting an assault rather than lighter.” He was particularly outraged when the newspaper speculated out loud that Milwaukee major crime wasn’t going down but going up and officers were colluding with Flynn to fudge for political purposes.

Turns out that further investigation and studies all the way up to the Common Council blew all that up in the newspaper’s face. Crime was going down, some of the data entries went the other way, reporting simple assaults as aggravated, and the main cause was computer coding and clerical problems. Could it be that so much of what the pubic gobbles up as conspiracy actually comes down to human frailty, technological limits and policy complexity? That’s certainly what consumers dealing with phone and cable companies and shopping centers face daily going about their normal lives.

Coverage of education issues raises similar speculation. While no one thinks 66% graduation rates are acceptable for public schools, you will look in vain for stories of how even that is remarkable given the economic and social wreckage MPS deals with daily and how its results steadily improve despite the constant disparagement and loss of funding. Yet meanwhile more state money is set aside for the voucher program though independent studies prove it’s not as good for students.

Truth is, no one can attack voucher schools without being accused of not caring about poor black children or not appreciating the power of faith education, since religious fundamentalism and church locales have proven a major part of the voucher growth. Those attitudes have become the tools to protect voucher schools and avoid side-by-side comparisons, even when available data demonstrates their weakness, even while the facts suggest that the occasional voucher successes are actually an aberration.

Maybe that’s why the media seems generally less upset by abuses in the voucher schools, which it treats as growing pains in a movement it has editorially endorsed.

Of course there are capable voucher schools, though not at the rate or results of public schools, proving that skill and knowledge make a difference in any system. But studies continue to demonstrate how the wonderful sounding abstract theory — that voucher schools provide options for disadvantaged families – doesn’t work in real life and parents regularly flee back to the public schools to give their children truly rounded education.

The voucher approach is credited as offering disadvantaged families a “choice” – choice being a winning concept in selling education though apparently not so popular these days in terms of women’s reproductive rights.

This blind belief in voucher money has defeated the usual media standard of looking at results, weighing outcomes in context and more fairly reporting how public schools have responded to all the challenges within society and are actually doing better than the voucher setup with a heck of a lot more students and the responsibility to educate all children, not cherry-pick.

Maybe it’s defensible that the journalistic watchdog reserves its hardest scrutiny for the largest institutions, but it sure has let smaller fish that have philosophical support wriggle away — until they become quite big fish indeed. Voucher schools are the well-meaning concept that in practice opens the door to corrupt influences and secretive outside right-wing money. The forces funding voucher growth completely contradict the intentions of the communities getting these schools. They further a political agenda that would upset the inner city neighborhoods these schools serve – and many in education suspect the newspaper is serving as the hand-maiden.

But newspapers are not alone. Politicians, including entrenched city incumbents, proclaim a “black pride” brand to support this program – yet they are taking money for their campaigns from the far-away wealthy voucher supporters who would never send their own children to such schools. Their constituents have to look harder at where that campaign money comes from and how these leaders play footsie with the opposition in the background.

Ask yourself: Is this where your candidate is getting money? There’s a national money conduit called American Federation for Children, relying on rich donors in Arkansas, New York, Texas, California, etc., who care little about Milwaukee children and whose campaign expenditures only begin to be revealed July 20 in state reports.

AFC has been playing heavily and somewhat nastily in local politics for years – and not just in school board races, often running repulsive political flyers and TV ads against progressive names such as state Sen. Chris Larson and Rep. JoCasta Zamarippa.

It may sound convincing to claim that deeply faithful neighbors can do a better job teaching children than trained and often unionized professionals, that well meaning people can teach as well as college educated ones, that grade school children can learn with occasional prayer sessions, that union teachers are not as dedicated as the nice lady sitting next to you in the church pew. And politicians like Scott Walker can make hay on the idea that experience is not a factor in merit, that the teacher who sticks and learns over 20 years is not as valuable as the teacher who excels, blazes (and maybe burns out) in the first two years.

So now in Wisconsin politics the voucher program has become an unrestrained sideshow without sufficient regulation. It keeps growing in state funding and territory, relying on gullible minority leaders. It has attracted influences aimed at swallowing up local voice and public schools, allowing an influx of fraud and charlatans taking advantage of people’s love of children.

Society has indeed neglected its black urban children – which created quite a political opening in these communities – but should it be to the point of accepting big bucks from alien ideologies? Wealthy conservatives saw the passion from far away and exploited it for a different social agenda, figuring those liberals were too dumb to catch on.

The sunshine of publicity could expose this double game, just as sunshine is now sending 20 corporations scrambling from the social excesses of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose work in state legislations on Voter ID and Stand Your Ground bills exposed these companies to consumer outrage).

But sunshine requires a media with objectivity, and political leanings have certainly interfered. Educators now have reason to wonder at the tendency to downplay voucher school abuses while exaggerating deficits in the public schools.


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