Educate All Students, Support Public Education

September 23, 2012

Talk Budget Cuts With Tony Evers This Wednesday at MPS Central Office

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 1:32 pm

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting More Budget Cuts” previews education budget and policy reform

State Superintendent Tony Evers to preview his proposed
2013-15 state education budget to MPS parents


EVENT:         What to Expect When You’re Expecting More Budget Cuts

WHEN:          Wednesday, September 26, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

WHERE:        MPS Central Office, 5225 W. Vliet Street, Milwaukee

WHAT:          State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers previews his proposed 2013-15 state education budget and ideas for education funding reform. PPS-MKE offers MPS parents opportunities to discuss and take action re: education funding.

WHO:             Sponsored by PPS-MKE, with the generous support of co-sponsors Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and MPS Board    Director Larry Miller

MILWAUKEE: At the invitation of Parents for Public Schools-Milwaukee, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers will headline “What to Expect When You’re Expecting More Budget Cuts” at an event this coming Wednesday. His remarks will include a preview of his 2013-15 state education budget, his proposal to restore education funding statewide and a brief Q&A.

Parents for Public Schools-Milwaukee (PPS-MKE): Launched in July 2012, PPS-MKE is the only Wisconsin chapter of the national nonprofit Parents for Public Schools. PPS-MKE promotes and strengthens Milwaukee Public Schools by engaging, educating and mobilizing parents, and is one of more than 15 PPS chapters in 13 states. PPS-MKE board member Robert Smith will moderate the event, which in addition to Supt. Evers’ presentation will include:

  • Parent discussion re: effects of funding cuts on kids and schools
  • Immediate opportunities for action to support children in MPS
  • More information about PPS-MKE

Contacts:         Jasmine Alinder (Parents for Public Schools-MKE), (414) 378-7262

Rob Smith (Parents for Public Schools-MKE) (704) 562-6970

Thomas Beebe (Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools) 920-650-0525

Event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit or


September 21, 2012

“Won’t Back Down” Film Pushes ALEC Parent Trigger Proposal

Filed under: ALEC,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 8:45 am
by Mary Bottari and Sara Jerving — September 19, 2012 PR Watch, Center for Media and Democracy

Well-funded advocates of privatizing the nation’s education system are employing a new strategy this fall to enlist support for the cause. The emotionally engaging Hollywood film “Won’t Back Down” — set for release September 28 — portrays so-called “Parent Trigger” laws as an effective mechanism for transforming underperforming public schools. But the film’s distortion of the facts prompts a closer examination of its funders and backers and a closer look at those promoting Parent Trigger as a cure for what ails the American education system.

While Parent Trigger was first promoted by a small charter school operator in California, it was taken up and launched into hyperdrive by two controversial right-wing organizations: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute.

ALEC brings together major American corporations and right-wing legislators to craft and vote on “model” bills behind closed doors. These bills include extreme gun laws, like Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law implicated in the Trayvon Martin shooting, union-busting legislation, Arizona style anti-immigrant legislation and voter suppression laws that have sparked lawsuits across the nation. The organization’s agenda is so extreme that in the last few months 40 major U.S. companies, including Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Kraft, and General Motors, have severed ties with ALEC.

Similarly, the Heartland Institute recently suffered an exodus of corporate sponsors after it launched a billboard comparing those who believe in the science behind global warming to the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

As the movie’s stars take to the airwaves this week to promote the film, it is unlikely they will discuss the agenda of the film’s billionaire backers or the right-wing politicians and for-profit firms who are promoting the Parent Trigger idea, the purpose of which is to promote the transformation of the American public school system into a for-profit enterprise. We provide a primer below.

Hollywood Fiction vs. the Facts on Parent Trigger

What is a Parent Trigger law? The proposals have varied from state to state, but they generally allow parents at any failing school, defined by standardized testing, to sign a petition to radically transform the school using any of four “triggers.” Parents can petition to: 1) fire the principal, 2) fire half of the teachers, 3) close the school and let parents find another option, or 4) convert the school into a charter school. While the details of how the school can be “restructured” vary from state to state, the charter school option is always present. Charter schools are privately managed, taxpayer-funded public schools which are granted greater autonomy from regulations applicable to other public schools, ostensibly in exchange for greater accountability for results, but they have been criticized for uneven and mediocre track records.

The film, starring Oscar nominee Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, reportedly portrays the struggle of a teacher and a parent who work to transform a low-performing Pennsylvania school, despite resistance from the local union — cast as the enemy of reform. Together, the African American teacher and the white, single mom unite to overcome hurdles and go door-to-door convincing parents to sign a petition to trigger a transformation.


September 20, 2012

What Romney Said That The Media Is Not Talking About

Filed under: General — millerlf @ 7:58 pm
Barbara Miner

By Barbara MinerSept. 20, 2012 ( Barbara Miner’s blog is part of our Purple Wisconsin project. Miner is an award-winning journalist and photographer.)

The rush of commentaries on Mitt Romney’s 47% speech have emphasized his dismissal of just about everyone who isn’t rich, and his fantasy that if he were Latino he’d “have a better shot” at winning the election.

Strikingly absent from mainstream commentaries is Romney’s attitude toward the African American vote.

In an aside during remarks about Hispanics, Romney said: “If the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African-American voting bloc has in the past, well, we’re in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation.”

So we’re in trouble as a nation because the Republicans have a long-standing history of ignoring this country’s legacy of racism and slavery — and thus has alienated African American voters? And because Hispanics might also abandon the GOP?

Yes, the Latino vote involves race, but it’s also tied up with immigration and language issues. Fundamentally, despite advances and a growing appreciation of multiracial diversity, race in this country remains primarily a black/white issue.

Romney is working to mend his fences with Latino voters. On Sept. 19, he appeared at a Miami forum sponsored by the Spanish-language network Univision and proclaimed that his campaign is “about the 100%.” No such overtures have been made to the African American community.

On the one hand, it’s understandable that Romney’s’ comments on African Americans have been ignored. Who wants to potentially inflame racial tension and openly use race to defeat this country’s first African-American president? No matter what you think of Barack Obama, that’s an accomplishment all Americans should be proud of.

Yet sidestepping the role of race also reflects this country’s inability to discuss, as mature adults, the color-line that has been a dominant feature of American society since its founding.

Just because we are not talking about race doesn’t mean it’s a non-factor in the presidential election. If some analysts are correct, this unacknowledged elephant-in-the-room could be the deciding factor.

The most direct acknowledgement of race and the 2012 election has come from musician/songwriter Randy Newman. In his inimitable style, Newman released a satirical song on Tuesday with the refrain, “I’m dreaming of a white president,” with not too hidden echoes of Bing Crosby’s “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.”

“I think there are a lot of people who find it jarring to have a black man in the White House and they want him out,” Mr. Newman said in explaining his song, which is available for free at his website. “They just can’t believe that there’s not a more qualified white man. You won’t get anyone, and I do mean anyone, to admit it.”

To which I can only say, “Thank you Randy Newman.”

Other analyses have noted the racial underpinnings of the election, although the stories have rarely garnered front-page headlines.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in August found that Romney has 0 percent support among African Americans, compared to an unprecedented 94 percent for Obama. Little wonder that the Republicans have been pushing Voter ID and similar measures.

Romney has never hid that he is concentrating on the white vote. Yes, he has a wooden personality and a rich person’s cluelessness, but he’s not stupid.

“Romney’s camp is focused intently on capturing at least 61 percent of white voters,” an analysis in the non-partisan National Journal noted in late August. “That would provide him a slim national majority—so long as whites constitute at least 74 percent of the vote, as they did last time, and Obama doesn’t improve on his 80 percent showing with minorities.”

“These calculations underscore the depth of racial polarization shadowing this election and the achingly slim margin of error facing each candidate,” the analysis continued.

The unknown question is how many white voters may be swayed by race when they enter the ballot box on Nov. 6.

One fascinating perspective, appropriate to our Internet-era, comes from an analysis of Google by a Harvard University doctoral student in economics.

In an opinion last June in the New York Times, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz sought to quantify racial prejudice in different parts of the country based on an analysis of Google searches, such as searches for jokes about African Americans or searches that included the word “nigger(s).

“The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did [in 2008]…,” Stephens-Davidowitz writes. “If my findings are correct, race could very well prove decisive against Mr. Obama in 2012.”

Among one of the more disturbing facts in the opinion: in a Democratic presidential primary this spring in West Virginia (which had the highest rate of racially charged searches), a white prison inmate serving 17plus years for extortion ran against Obama. He won 41 percent of the primary vote.

Jonathan Chait has run several articles in New York magazine arguing that 2012 is “now or never” for the Republican Party. His analysis is based not on the inflated rhetoric of the Romney-Ryan ticket, but on demographics.

“The modern GOP — the party of Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes — is staring down its own demographic extinction,” Chait writes. White births are now a non-majority in this country, and by 2020 nonwhite voters will be a third of the electorate. In 30 years, nonwhites will outnumber whites.

Much has been made of Obama’s election as evidence of a post-racial reality. But political scientist Michael Tesler cautions against discounting the effect of race on voter attitudes.

The headline on a Slate article summarizing Tesler’s analysis makes the point in six words: “It All Comes Down to Race.” People’s racial attitudes even affected their feelings about Obama’s dog.

The September issue of Atlantic Magazine, meanwhile, has a lengthy analysis of Obama as a Black president that dissects the issue with nuance and sophistication.

“That a country that once took whiteness as the foundation of citizenship would elect a black president is a victory,” senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates writes. “But to view this victory as racism’s defeat is to forget the precise terms on which it was secured, and to ignore the quaking ground beneath Obama’s feat.”

Which brings us back to Romney’s 47% speech. It was remarkable not only because it was so ham-handed, and because it dissed African Americans and Latinos, or because Romney was caught on video so obviously fawning before billionaires. Most devastating, Romney angered the very people he will need to win —elderly and low-income white voters.

How will all of this affect voting on Nov. 6? No one really knows. As the saying goes, it ain’t over till it’s over.

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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.

Poverty and Schools

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 1:17 pm

Following is quote from Alex Kotlowitz, producer of the The Interrupters.

“Poverty can’t be an excuse for lousy teaching but neither can excellent teaching alone be a solution to poverty.”

NYT 9/16/2012

Chicago: After the Strike, Discussion of Its Outcomes

Filed under: General — millerlf @ 1:12 pm
Chicago Teachers Strike Implications? After Strike’s End, Questions Remain

By TAMMY WEBBER and SOPHIA TAREEN 09/20/12  Huffington Post

Chicago Teachers Strike News

CHICAGO — Mayor Rahm Emanuel secured an extension of Chicago’s school day and empowered principals to hire the teachers they want. Teachers were able to soften a new evaluation process and win some job protections.

As students returned to the classroom Wednesday after a seven-day teachers strike, both sides found reasons to celebrate victory. But neither the school-reform movement nor organized labor achieved the decisive breakthrough it had sought. And whether the implications extend beyond Chicago may depend on the next case having a similar cast of characters and political pressures.

Unions hoped the walkout would prove they were still relevant, and some reform groups were disappointed with the city’s concessions.

At times, the contract talks seemed overshadowed by personalities, with the mayor and union leaders occasionally trading insults and questioning each other’s motives.

Still, everyone involved in the dispute emerged with an achievement to trumpet: Teachers said the strike sparked an important national conversation about school reform. Union activists said it helped inspire public employee unions that have been losing ground. Emanuel declared it a boon for students trapped in failing schools.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers said the strike showed that teachers want a voice in improving schools rather than shouldering the blame for those that are failing.

“The bottom line is … you had teachers standing up for what they need to teach and what students need to learn,” Randi Weingarten said, citing concerns about school closings, standardized tests and a lack of classroom resources that are common across the U.S.

But in lots of places, the circumstances that led to Chicago’s walkout don’t apply. For one thing, many states forbid strikes by teachers and other public-employee unions. Some teachers unions and school districts have been able to work collaboratively to achieve changes, in sharp contrast to the clash in Chicago, a union-built town where organized labor still wields considerable power but new mayor is seeking more control over education.

“I think a lot of what went on to a certain extent is peculiar to Chicago,” said Martin Malin, director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at the Kent College of Law in Chicago.

Thomas Hatch, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, said the strike focused attention on teacher evaluations and fears of closing neighborhood schools. But he agreed that some factors, such as the combative personalities, are unlikely to affect other districts.

A report that characterized the relationship between the teachers union and Emanuel as “toxic” was on point, Malin said. Now that a deal has been reached, the challenge for both parties “is to seize that and work on rally transforming the relationship.”

Meanwhile, Chicago children returned to school Wednesday, a day after union delegates voted overwhelmingly to end the strike, which idled 350,000 students. The proposed contract will now be put to a vote of the full membership of more than 26,000 teachers and support staffers.

Iquasai Carpenter, a home health care worker with two children in elementary school, said her kids did homework packets at home during the strike.

“They missed school. They missed their teachers. They missed their friends,” she said as she dropped them off for class.

She sympathized with teachers and said they deserved pay raises. She didn’t like the idea of the new evaluations that take student test scores into account, but she was glad the union negotiated down what percentage would be factored in. If students don’t progress, she said, it isn’t always the teachers’ fault.

Reform advocates were not all impressed with the deal Emanuel agreed to.

B. Jason Brooks, director of research at the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, said Emanuel did not win much reform “and unions clearly came out the winners.”

Other states, he said, base up to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student performance, while Chicago’s evaluation is limited to 30 percent, the same amount set in state law. He believes a provision allowing teachers whose schools close to follow students to the receiving schools was a bad idea.

“I don’t really feel like this moves the needle in a significant way,” he said, saying the union chose to strike – and Emanuel to settle quickly – because President Barack Obama, a Chicagoan and Democrat, is counting on union support to win re-election.

Brooks said unions nationally “were looking for something to claim as a victory, and I think this gives them what they looking for,” he said. “But as the country looked at this, it might have reinforced the notion that unions are standing in the way of turning around the lowest-performing schools.”

The nation’s last big-city teachers strike happened in Detroit in 2006. Chicago teachers had not walked out since 1987.

“It’s been a really long time since a major urban district went on strike,” said Christine Campbell, a policy director at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education.

As for unions, “It certainly gave them attention and power that two weeks ago people weren’t really considering.”

She said the improvements will make the mayor look good in the long run and demonstrated that unions still matter.

She wasn’t sure that such a strike could be replicated in other cities, something she attributed to the local figures involved.

“The personalities are spiciest in Chicago right now,” she said.


Associated Press Writer Jason Keyser contributed to this report.

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