Educate All Students, Support Public Education

March 29, 2015

Alberta Darling’s New Scheme Will Do More Damage to Milwaukee’s Low Income Children

Filed under: Darling,Recovery District — millerlf @ 10:01 am

By ALEX MOLNAR Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 3/29/15

For more than 35 years, the main prescription for what ails Milwaukee’s schools has remained constant: school choice. In the 1970s and 80s, specialty and magnet schools were going to integrate MPS. In the 1980s and 90s, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was going to empower African-American parents through vouchers. From the turn of the century to now, charter schools were going to unleash a wave of “disruptive innovation.”

After three and a half decades of being treated with the choice “cure,” Milwaukee’s children are more racially isolated and impoverished than ever, and academic performance continues to lag.

Now, state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) proposes to solve the problem of chronically sub-par academic results not with resources and support but with still more choice. This time choice will appear in the form of a “Recovery District” run by an administrator overseeing a “portfolio” of charter schools. A “Recovery District,” the cliché-ridden argument goes, driven by competition and test-based accountability will unleash a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement.

Elliot Smalley (Memphis) and Patrick Dobard (New Orleans) made their case for the Recovery District idea at a 2013 Milwaukee meeting organized by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. A subsequent expert review of their presentations by Elizabeth DeBray (University of Georgia) and Huriya Jabbar (University of Texas at Austin) found little credible support for their claims of academic successes. This is not surprising, since the research nationally about charter school outcomes has overwhelmingly found that they offer no overall performance advantage over traditional neighborhood schools.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program enrolls about 26,000 students. But it’s hardly an academic all-star. After five years of study, the University of Arkansas longitudinal evaluation final report in 2012 reported no meaningful difference in the achievement results of choice schools and the much-maligned Milwaukee Public Schools. Moreover, for the period studied, the choice program had a studentattrition rate of 75%.

The results of neither the choice program nor the charter school sector differ meaningfully from those of district schools; in fact, the comparison likely exaggerates voucher and charter school performance. This is because voucher and charter schools are able to use various mechanisms such as parent volunteering requirements to effectively turn away or toss out students who don’t “fit in.” Thus, they nudge their performance statistics in a positive direction while at the same time increasing the taxpayer-funded education system’s inequities. By exporting their lowest achieving and most difficult students to MPS while leaching away its funding, voucher and non-MPS charter schools have steadily eroded MPS’s ability to function effectively.

Milwaukee’s public schools already have had a good dose of standards-driven and test-based accountability. Between 2003 and 2011 the Department of Public Instruction reported on the “Adequate Yearly Progress” of state schools. Since 2011, DPI has issued district and school “report cards.” Now, Wisconsin teachers andprincipals are also to be judged on the basis of student test scores.

The American Statistical Association, based on high-quality research, has warned against using test score based Value Added Assessment models to judge teacher performance. Yet even as parents have begun to recognize the negative effects of such standards and testing policies and are saying “enough,” the “Recovery District” idea builds on the same ill-advised testing and grading regime.

The simple truth is that in Milwaukee, regardless of sector, some students perform very well academically while many others don’t do well at all. The difference in student performance is highly correlated with their economic circumstance and other nonschool factors. Voucher schools, charter schools and standards and testing can do little about such matters. That’s a job for economic and social policy, a job Wisconsin and Milwaukee’s business and political leaders have steadfastly refused to do.

Instead of creating jobs in Milwaukee, they have blamed the schools for the poverty engulfing the city and set about dismembering MPS. Proclaiming they were doing it “for the children,” politicians in Madison and the civic elite in Milwaukee have largely succeeded in reshaping public education from a school system into a choice-based “system of schools.” Along the way, they have turned MPS into a resource-starved, lastresort school district for Milwaukee’s neediest students.

A “Recovery District” represents more of the same. It would further fragment Milwaukee’s taxpayer-funded education system and open wide the door to more private for-profit and non-profit management organizations — many of which have proven much better at funneling taxpayer dollars to their managers and/or owners and investors than educating students.

Though of little educational merit, Darling’s “Recovery District” will without a doubt be well-crafted to accomplish at least one purpose: insulating politicians from direct accountability for itspredicable failure.

Alex Molnar is research professor and publications director, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado-Boulder.

March 25, 2015

Alberta Darling’s Data Debunked as Experts On the Ground in New Orleans Speak in Milwaukee

Filed under: Darling,Recovery District — millerlf @ 8:28 am

Will New State Legislation Give MPS Schools to National Charter School Companies?

By Lisa Kaiser Sheppard Express 3/24/15

Wisconsin Republicans have the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) in their sights.

That’s nothing new. Conservative Republicans have attacked public schools, and MPS and its unions in particular, for years.

But what is novel is a proposal for the state to, in essence, take over “failing” MPS schools and turn them into taxpayer-funded charter schools.

State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) offered that proposal in their “New Opportunities for Milwaukee Plan,” which targets education and job creation in the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods. A highlight of their education proposal would create a “turnaround school model in Milwaukee [that] would operate outside of the traditional bureaucracy that stymies reform.” The Republicans would create a board to oversee a turnaround school initiative for all Milwaukee schools that fail to meet expectations. Darling and Kooyenga would also allow high-performing charter schools to replicate without getting additional authorization from any other entity. Currently, charters in the city are granted by UW-Milwaukee, MPS, the city and MATC, although the technical college hasn’t used this power.

Additionally, Darling and Kooyenga would like to create “free-market zones” in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, with no corporate income tax, right-to-work policies (they wrote their plan before the Legislature passed the state-level law) and the use of social impact bonds to allow entrepreneurs to ease their focus on profits.

What’s more, Gov. Scott Walker also promotes charter schools in his proposed two-year budget. He’d like to set up a state-level Charter School Oversight Board, which would approve new charter schools. He’s added $4 million to the budget to pay for the additional charter students. Walker would also loosen regulations on where students could attend charter schools and where authorizers could charter schools.

But do Milwaukee and the state at large need more charter schools? Would MPS get better results if all of its failing schools were turned into charters?

Darling and Kooyenga didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s request to talk about their charter school plan. But three experts on New Orleans’ experiment with charters told the Shepherd that a recovery district has created as many problems as it’s solved.

The Post-Katrina Recovery District

Darling and Kooyenga are basing their charter school turnaround model on post-Katrina New Orleans. Louisiana had created a state-run Recovery School District in 2003, before the hurricane, but it oversaw just a handful of schools. At the time, the Orleans Parish School District was struggling, just as high-poverty urban public school districts around the country struggle. The city only had a few charter schools and they performed about as well as their traditional counterparts. Parents could send their kids to a neighborhood public school or a signature public school outside of their neighborhood.

But when the hurricane hit on August 29, 2005, the state, then led by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, as well as the George W. Bush-led federal agencies, decided to expand charters dramatically. In November 2005, when many flooded-out New Orleans residents were scattered elsewhere, Blanco called a special session of the Legislature and in short order passed Act 35, which allowed the state to take over schools that performed below the state average and convert them to charters. But the carefully crafted legislation only applied to New Orleans. Blanco also did away with requirements that faculty, parents and students be consulted when converting a school to a charter.

The beefed-up New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) took over more than 100 former public-turned-charter schools while a handful of high-performing traditional schools remained in the public school district. Act 35 also summarily fired more than 7,000 public school employees and terminated their union contract when it expired. The veteran teachers were largely replaced by new Teach for America recruits from around the country.
The passage of Act 35 was swift, and it was sweeping. It was also heavily incentivized by the Bush administration and the Koch- and Bradley Foundation-funded Heritage Foundation, which saw post-Katrina New Orleans as a laboratory of sorts for taxpayer-funded free-market experiments, charter schools among them. Multimillions of federal moneys and philanthropic grants went to charters, only, bypassing the traditional public schools.

Test Scores Disputed

A decade later, results are mixed and provide warnings for anyone attempting to turn Milwaukee into a school recovery zone.

New Orleans’ charter proponents argue that student performance and graduation rates are up, thanks to the post-Katrina free-market reforms. Darling and Kooyenga’s turnaround district proposal draws from a 2012 guide for cities interested in pursuing New Orleans-style education reforms. The authors, including Neerav Kingsland, the founder of the charter incubator New Schools for New Orleans, claim that from 2005 through 2010 New Orleans decreased the city-state achievement gap by more than half, dropout rates plummeted, the African American achievement gap shrank and student performance rate of growth has outpaced the rest of the state.

But three education experts from New Orleans—Kristen Buras, associate professor at Georgia State University and author of Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space, parent advocate Karran Harper Royal and former teacher and principal Raynard Sanders—dispute the claims of any miracle happening thanks to New Orleans’ experiment with free-market education.

Buras said that any data about New Orleans’ student performance should be treated with caution, beginning with the notion that the pre-Katrina New Orleans public schools were failing and needed a state intervention.

Buras said that the pre-Katrina public schools’ academic struggles were due to “a long history of white neglect by policy makers and racism in Louisiana. That racialized state neglect of New Orleans’ public schools generated a lot of the challenges and struggles that black veteran teachers fought against for over a century. So when reformers say that New Orleans’ public schools were failing they don’t really get into the root cause of that failure.”

Act 35, which converted almost all of the city’s traditional public schools right after the hurricane hit, changed the definitions of passing and failing. Prior to Act 35, the standard was set at 60 points out of 200 and the vast majority of schools were making the grade. But the legislation raised the standard to 87.4 points. This higher standard immediately flunked 107 of 120 New Orleans schools.

“By shifting the definition of performance, it legitimized the RSD taking over the schools in Orleans Parish, which they then turned around and handed over to private charter school operators,” Buras said. “And all of this was done before African American community members could even come back and see if they still had a house still standing.”

The post-Katrina student achievement scores are just as dubious, Buras said.

After the New Orleans public schools were converted to charters, the state lowered the standard back down to 60 points, then changed the scale and standard again.

“The standard used to judge charter schools is different than the standard used to judge a traditional public school,” Buras said. “Any upward trajectory that you see is legislatively contrived. You can generate success by shifting the standard.”

Buras also warned that performance scores from the city’s high-performing traditional public schools, governed by a democratically elected school board, are often lumped in with the RSD-run charter schools’ test scores to inflate them.

Parent advocate Royal said her analysis of the 2014 student performance showed that only four of more than 100 charter schools in the recovery district would be above the higher state standard.

“Once people clear through the propaganda I think they will see it for the failure that it is,” Royal said.

Students and Teachers Displaced
The new educational landscape in New Orleans has been fraught with controversy, some of it landing in the courts.

The 7,500 teachers fired en masse sued. Two lower courts ruled in their favor but the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned those decisions and approved the mass firings. The teachers are now taking their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Buras said the mass firing of veteran unionized teachers—many of whom made up the black middle class—has had a devastating effect on the city but has been a boon for the national recruiting group Teach for America.

“[The public school teachers] had struggled for decades under inequitable conditions to teach kids and while their houses have been completely flattened by the flood waters, federal moneys—rather than paying those veteran teachers their benefits and salaries—were redirected to the RSD to recruit nationally and to pay out-of-state, inexperienced, transient recruits’ housing allowances,” Buras said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also sued on behalf of students needing special education, arguing that students with disabilities weren’t being educated properly and were being disciplined improperly. After a four-year battle, it obtained a consent decree in December and an independent monitor will oversee its implementation.

Local control and input is gone, too. A neighborhood public school doesn’t exist. The democratically elected Orleans Parish School District only oversees a few schools. The boards of the charter operators are largely self-appointed. Parents and residents must contact their school operator or the state-run RSD if they have a complaint or concern. Instead of attending neighborhood schools, African American students are bused to schools that had been built during the recovery period in primarily white areas. Royal said she’s seen four different bus operators picking up kids at one street corner to take them to their various schools across the city.

“When we use the word disenfranchisement, we are using that word with all of its historical connotations,” Buras said. “The notion of local governance—the voice of the electorate, specifically the African American community—there is no more of that.”

Former educator Sanders told the Shepherd that New Orleans’s recovery district is the perfect model to study when considering radical education reforms.

“New Orleans for the past nine years has had no elected school board, they have been managed by private companies, they have had school choice where parents can walk with their feet, they got rid of their old teachers, they don’t have a teachers’ union contract and most importantly they have had an unprecedented amount of funding,” Sanders said. “On top of all of that they are still ranked at the bottom versus other school districts in Louisiana and they have the lowest ACT scores in the state.”

Kristen Buras, Karran Harper Royal and Raynard Sanders will speak at two Milwaukee Public Schools-sponsored events this week. On Thursday, March 26, they’ll hold workshops at the Milwaukee High School for the Arts, 2300 W. Highland Ave, at 4:30 p.m. On Friday, March 27, they’ll hold a panel discussion at Parklawn Assembly of God, 3725 Sherman Blvd., at 6 p.m. For more information, go to

March 21, 2015

Wisconsin Education Alert: Pressure Is Mounting Around the State to Restore and Increase Public Education Money to the Budget

Filed under: Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 1:26 pm

At the Joint Finance hearing in Milwaukee on March 20 the resounding demand was clear; SUPPORT PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS, SUPPORT PUBLIC SCHOOLS, SUPPORT PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATORS.

The Journal reported, “In a meeting with reporters before the hearing, Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) said restoring some funding to K-12 education was a “big priority” for lawmakers.”

The use of the phrase “restoring some funding” means partial funding. This will be an attempt to return enough money to the budget to appease some districts and divide the state-wide effort defending public education.

We cannot let this happen. The budget must not only restore the $150 categorical fund but must go beyond, to significantly increase funding, as all previous administrations have done.

March 20, 2015

Shameful Display Today By Private Voucher School At Milwaukee Joint Finance Hearing

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 3:28 pm

Dressed in t-shirts printed with “School Choice Works” the EverGreen Academy private voucher school today paraded a large group of students before the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee hearing at Alverno College.

Parading students to lobby for voucher legislation or other policy changes has been a tradition over the last 25 years.

St. Marcus marched students, on more than one occasion, from their school to the Malcolm X facility demanding possession of the building.

This is in the tradition of the voucher movement leadership, for years, loading students onto buses, during school hours, and taking them to Madison to fill the halls of the State Capitol building for political lobbying.

If Milwaukee Public Schools attempted to do this, it would be portrayed as scandalous.

March 19, 2015

Wisconsin Private School Vouchers: A Short History

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:45 pm

• Wisconsin’s private school voucher program started in Milwaukee and has now become a state-wide program.

• The law enacting the Wisconsin voucher program, called the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), was passed in 1989. The first year of operation was the 1990-1991 school year. Originally the program was limited to 300 Milwaukee students whose families had an income less than 175% of the poverty level.

• Pupil Achievement Standards: Each private school is required to meet only one of the following standards in order to continue to be eligible to participate in the program in the following school year:
1. At least 70% of the pupils in the program advance one grade level each year.
2. The school’s average attendance rate for pupils in the program is at least 90%.
3. At least 80% of the pupils in the program demonstrate significant academic progress.
4. At least 70% of the families of pupils in the program meet parent involvement criteria established by the school.

• [Funding for the Milwaukee private school voucher program partially comes from taking a percent amount from Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS)  for each voucher student. This can only be made up by the MPS school board raising the Milwaukee property tax levy. This is referred to as the Milwaukee “voucher tax.” Before 2013 the formula required that 38.4% of the share of the cost of vouchers came from MPS (and subsequently Milwaukee property owners if the school board raises the tax levy), with the state paying the remaining 61.6% In the 2013-15 budget the legislature enacted to “sunset” the “voucher tax” by 2026. This means that Milwaukee property owners will pay between $400 million and $500 million to vouchers between 2013 and 2026. The 2013-2014 school-year saw over $56 million removed from the MPS per student state funding to pay for vouchers.]

• 1995 Originally, no more than 1% of the enrollment in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) could participate in the program, and no more than 49% of a choice school’s enrollment could consist of choice pupils. Expansion in 1995 Act 27, which allowed sectarian schools to participate in the program, increased the participation limit to 15% of MPS enrollment and deleted the percentage limit on the share of choice pupils in a choice school.

• In a 1998 decision the Wisconsin Supreme Court said the program was constitutional; the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review that decision.

• Religious schools began to participate in 1998.

• In 2005, DPI required that all teaching staff at voucher schools must have a high school diploma. Before 2005 there were no requirements for education attainment for voucher school teachers, administrators or other staff, including high school graduation.

• In 2005 the enrollment limit for the Milwaukee program was raised to 22,500 pupils.

• In 2009 teachers were required to have a bachelor’s degree, but no requirement for teacher training or certification.

• In 2009 state law was enacted requiring vouchers schools to administer the state assessment (WKCE) to choice pupils for the 2010-2011 school year. [In 2010-2011 MPS students scored higher on the tests than the voucher students and continue to do so.]

• In 2011 the enrollment cap for Milwaukee vouchers was eliminated.

• In 2011 Act 32 created a process under which a private school choice program could be created in eligible school districts other than MPS.

• In 2010-11, 83 percent of Milwaukee students enrolled in any given private school, accepting voucher students, received a voucher.

• In 2011 the family income cap for Milwaukee vouchers was increased in the 2011-13 state budget to 300% of the poverty level – meaning that a family of 2 parents and 2 children could earn up to $77,700 and still be eligible.

[One of the many glaring differences between MPS and that of the private voucher schools is related to special education services. In MPS about 20% of the students receive special education services; less that 3% of voucher students receive special education services.]

• In 2012-13, 78% of students enrolled in any given choice school participated in MPCP.
–1/5 of voucher schools were 100% choice students;
–1/2 of voucher schools were 95% or more choice students;
–3/4 of voucher schools were 68% or more choice students.
• In 2013 the voucher payment was increased to $7,050 for Pre-K to 8th grade and to $7,856 for high school students.

• The Wisconsin legislature created a Racine voucher program in 2011 and a statewide voucher program in 2013.

Present proposed changes 2015-17 budget:

• Remove the cap on voucher school participation statewide.
• Vouchers in the Racine Parental Choice Program and Wisconsin Parental Choice Program will be paid with funds from equalization aid allocated to the resident voucher student’s public school district.
• Only kids going into kindergarten, first grade, or ninth grade can receive a voucher. Kids who were in public schools the prior year would be eligible.
• Eligibility for statewide vouchers would be households with income no more than 185% of the federal poverty level. For Milwaukee, that number is 300%. For Racine, until now it has been 300%, but it would go to 185%.

• One proposal allows for voucher students to be tested differently that public school students.
Some of the research findings

• MPS students scored higher on the tests than the voucher students and continue to do so.

• Voucher proponents have been claiming that the voucher students have higher graduation rates than MPS students but Wisconsin’s Legislative Audit Bureau’s five year longitudinal study (2011) showed that approximately 75% of the voucher students who enrolled in 9th grade withdrew by 12th grade.

• Poorer, minority, and low achieving students are much more likely to leave MPCP, and much more likely to do so if they attend a school with greater than 75% of students receiving a voucher.

• Students who exit MPCP and return to MPS show substantial achievement gains once they return to MPS, even though they often choose the least effective MPS schools to return to.

March 17, 2015

Milwaukee Needs to Learn the Truth About the New Orleans Recovery School District

Filed under: Darling,Recovery District — millerlf @ 3:25 pm

On March 26th and 27th you will have a chance to interact with three activist immersed in the fight for public education in New Orleans.

On Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. at Milwaukee High School of the Arts (2300 W. Highland Ave.) they will conduct workshops. All are invited.

Friday, March 27, 2015 • 6:00 p.m. at Parklawn Assembly of God (3725 N. Sherman Blvd.) they will participate in a community meeting and panel.

Karran Harper Royal is a New Orleans
public school parent who
cares about real education
reform. She is an advocate
for disabled and challenged
children and an educational
policy consultant.

Dr. Raynard Sanders
has more than 30 years of
experience in teaching,
educational administration,
and economic/community
development. He is a former
New Orleans high school principal.

Dr. Kristen Buras is an
associate professor in
Educational Policy Studies
at Georgia State University
in Atlanta. Buras has spent
the past decade researching
school reform in New Orleans.

See below for leaflets for both events:

Education Conversation 2015

Expert Panel Flyer 2015

March 1, 2015

Walton Family Foundation Discouraged About Education Privatization in Milwaukee

Filed under: Privatization,Waltons — millerlf @ 11:13 am

In a February 28th article, Alan Borsuk reports on the announcement by the Walton Family Foundation that they will be pulling back from investing in “school reform” initiatives in Milwaukee.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The Walton’s pay their workers substandard wages, benefits and healthcare while implementing discriminatory policies in their workplaces. Yet the Walton Foundation’s claim is to save the children of the very people they exploit. This is the family that is wealthier than the bottom 42% of all Americans combined.

What is their education agenda? Dismantle public education. It is not a coincidence that the “reforms” funded by the Waltons are the same as those advanced by ALEC, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council.

Is the intention of the Waltons the liberation of poor communities and communities of color? The truth is that they are the power, the status quo, that must concede for progress to occur.

Borsuk article:

Walton Family Foundation stepping back from Milwaukee education scene

Feb. 28, 2015 MJ Sentinel Alan Borsuk

“We have decided to make grants where we can have the highest impact, which means working in the places that we believe are most ripe for improving our education system.”

Read that sentence and you know that it isn’t coming from someone happy with the education landscape in Milwaukee.

In fact, the statement is from the Walton Family Foundation, the huge philanthropy of the family of the founders of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The foundation is pulling back from a long, strong commitment to “education reform” in Milwaukee.

The Walton decision is important in itself. The foundation has given several million dollars a year to Milwaukee schools and education organizations.

But it is also important in a broader context. Walton is joining a significant list of national players who in one way or another have entered the Milwaukee scene and then departed or reduced their interest.

I came, I got involved, I got frustrated, I didn’t see much change, I moved on. That has been the summary of a parade of those who have found Milwaukee a difficult environment for change.

And there are others (the large and impressive KIPP network of charter schools comes to my mind first) that have declined even to try Milwaukee for similar reasons.

Fifteen years ago, Milwaukee was called by some “ground zero” for school reform. Now, you rarely see national attention to Milwaukee education, at least not for positive reasons. The Walton decision underscores that.

It’s a curious thing, since you would think the current political dynamics in state government would make this a time for enthusiasm among private school choice, charter schools and innovations in the structure of urban education. In some ways that’s true, but in surprising ways, it is not.

In short, I’d attribute this to the entrenched nature of the way we do things, the continuing strength of those opposed to the things Walton favors and missteps by those who favor what Walton favors.

Milwaukee was among a handful of cities targeted in recent years by Walton. Walton had a fairly short list of Milwaukee grants, but they were generally large — frequently in the mid six figures.

It supported the launch or major facility improvements of several religious and charter schools in Milwaukee, in several cases to the tune of $375,000 each.

And it provided major funding to groups such as School Choice Wisconsin, Milwaukee Charter School Advocates and Teach for America in Milwaukee.

According to Walton reports, in 2012 and 2013 combined, it gave $740,000 to Schools That Can Milwaukee, a nonprofit that works on innovation and improvement in all three major sectors (private, charters and Milwaukee Public Schools). Grants for 2014 have not been reported yet.

Abby Andrietsch, executive director of Schools That Can, said the Walton decision, “is definitely hard news and it’s not news that we wanted to get.

“But we have strong community support and we have strong impact data that is getting stronger. We feel very confident that with that data to tell our story and show our impact, we’re going to be able to engage the community going forward.”

‘Wake-up call’
She called the Walton step “a wake-up call” for Milwaukee on the need for cooperation on school improvement.

It is overstating things to say Walton is pulling out of Milwaukee. Let’s call it a big pull back. Walton will make few, if any, new grants to schools or school networks here.

In some cases, it will phase out its support over two years. And the Arkansas-based foundation will no longer have a staff person living in Milwaukee.

What will Walton do?

The statement from foundation spokeswoman Daphne Davis Moore said, “We remain committed to Milwaukee families and are transitioning our focus to improve the environment at the state level in Wisconsin to allow families to have access to more high quality school options.”

Translate that as involvement in Madison in promoting parental choice in general, school accountability aimed at closing or making major changes in low-success schools, and probably “recovery district” ideas that would make more MPS schools into charters.

Howard Fuller, the Milwaukee choice advocate, has had a close relationship with Walton, and organizations he is involved with have received Walton grants.

“From what I see, they’re going to continue to be supportive of the advocacy work in the state of Wisconsin,” Fuller said. “What I hope we can do is create a better overall environment in Milwaukee for creating great schools for kids. Hopefully we can do it not only in a way that Walton would come back, but maybe we can attract others to see Milwaukee as a place that people want to be.”

The Walton decision comes at a time when there are some positive indications of cooperation among the often-warring factions in Milwaukee education. There are a small number of efforts where people have worked together, and efforts to promote a more cooperative environment have been occurring behind the scenes.

There even may be a new player coming to the scene to fill at least some of the gap being left by the Walton decision.

Abigail Schumwinger, who was the Walton representative in Milwaukee until a month ago, said she is beginning to work for a group developing a fund that will make start-up and capital grants to private schools.

Called the Drexel Fund, it will formally kick off this summer and it has a goal of raising $30 million in the next five years. Schumwinger said Drexel expects to focus on six states, including Wisconsin.

Whether you like or dislike the causes Walton has supported, there are messages in the foundation’s decision.

To me, two stand out: Frustration has consequences. And it’s not too late to think working together in pursuit of more high quality schools in Milwaukee could be worth it.

Alan J. Borsuk is senior fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School. Reach him at

Let’s Demand a Sane Approach to Testing in Wisconsin

Filed under: Legislation,Testing Issues — millerlf @ 10:01 am

Wisconsin is engaging in “education chaos” with the legislative proposals on K-12 education presently being debated in Madison.

Fairtest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, addressed the US Senate in February on reauthorization of ESEA. Their criticisms and proposals should be a roadmap for ending the testing insanity we now face in Wisconsin and across the nation.

Key criticisms from Fairtest on proposed testing policy:
• Increased testing coupled with punitive sanctions caused a wide range of damage. The harm includes narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing out low-scoring children, and cheating.
• Continuing to require every grade testing will perpetuate the damage. Congress should not lock states into another decade of excessive and counter-productive testing.
• Ending punitive sanctions is an essential step, but it alone will not end the pressure to narrow curriculum and teach to the test.
• It should allow states to use federal funds for assessments that enhance learning as well as provide information for parents and public reporting.
• The new “college and career ready” (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) tests states and consortia are now implementing will not solve the problems. Even if they are a modest improvement over current exams, none are good enough to make the focus of instruction. They assess far too little of what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and civic life, while narrowed curriculum and other harms will continue.

FairTest Testimony on ESEA Reauthorization to Senate HELP Committee.
Submitted by fairtest on February 3, 2015

Less Testing, More Learning
Testimony to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Monty Neill, Ed.D., Executive Director, FairTest (National Center for Fair & Open Testing)

Dear Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, and Members of the Committee:
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requires that states test every student in every grade 3-8 and attach punitive sanctions to results. The result has been damage to educational quality and equity. The harm has been most severe for the students in low-income communities the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is intended to help.

NCLB was intended to accelerate school improvement. But, despite enormous pressure to raise reading and math test scores, the rate of progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) at grades 4 and 8 was generally faster in the decade before NCLB took effect than under this law. (See That is also a consistent trend for most demographic groups, including Blacks, English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities. Score gaps between whites and other groups in 2012 were no narrower and often wider than they were in 1998 and 1990.

Nor did NLCB lead to gains on NAEP for high school students. Scores were highest for blacks and gaps the narrowest in 1988. Hispanic scores and gaps have also stagnated under NCLB. Further, SAT scores declined from 2006 to 2014 for all demographic groups except Asians, while ACT scores have been flat since 2010 for all demographic groups.

These results alone would be reason to acknowledge that NLCB has failed and that both sanctions and testing need to be overhauled. But the consequences of NCLB are even worse.

Increased testing coupled with punitive sanctions caused a wide range of damage. The harm includes narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test, pushing out low-scoring children, and cheating. (See States and especially districts greatly expanded their own mandated testing in an effort to stave off sanctions. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently reported students are subject to an average of 113 tests between kindergarten and high school graduation. (See In many large cities, students take 10, 20 and more tests in each grade. NCLB also marginalized promising alternative assessments whose expanded use was beginning to improve teaching, schools and learning.

The evidence shows that NCLB has left many children behind, especially those whom ESEA was designed to help. Continuing to require every grade testing will perpetuate the damage. Congress should not lock states into another decade of excessive and counter-productive testing.

Unfortunately, the situation is growing worse. The U.S. Department of Education’s NCLB “waivers” require “value-added” and “growth” measures for judging every single teacher. Research shows this test misuse can be as inaccurate as a coin toss. (See This requirement is further intensifying teaching to the test and causing a massive expansion of standardized exams as states force districts to carry out the policy. Miami-Dade, Florida, reports it must write 1600 new tests to meet this unfunded mandate, a requirement the Superintended called “insanity.” (See Fortunately, neither the proposed House bill nor Sen. Alexander’s draft bill requires states to continue this program. This renders unnecessary a requirement to test in every grade to obtain scores with which to evaluate educators.

Ending punitive sanctions is an essential step, but it alone will not end the pressure to narrow curriculum and teach to the test. Inertia, the weight of experience under NCLB, will perpetuate the problem. Research prior to NCLB, such as that conducted by Boston College researchers, found that even public reporting induced increased teaching to the test. At a minimum, states should be free to take stronger steps to reduce pressure to teach to the test by ending the every-grade requirement.

The new “college and career ready” tests states and consortia are now implementing will not solve the problems. Even if they are a modest improvement over current exams, none are good enough to make the focus of instruction. They assess far too little of what students should know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and civic life, while narrowed curriculum and other harms will continue.

For these very good reasons, other economically advanced nations do not require testing in more than three grades. They also do not use student scores to judge teachers and schools. Clearly, requiring every-grade tests is not necessary to ensure high-quality schools.

Test proponents seem to believe that parents cannot know how their children are doing without yearly standardized exams. But teachers evaluate and grade students regularly. Research clearly demonstrates that student grades are better predictors of college success than are test scores. Parents do not need annual scores for every grade. Their children need good teachers and schools, ones that do not reduce learning to what is most easily measured. If they do not have them, improvement requires vastly more than focusing on test results.

The federal government has a legitimate role in helping ensure all children receive a strong education. It should neither leave all decisions up to the state nor act as the nation’s school board. What, then, is the proper balance? What should Congress support and require?

It should allow states to use federal funds for assessments that enhance learning as well as provide information for parents and public reporting. Sen. Alexander’s ‘Option 1” accomplishes this. Congress should not functionally block states, districts and schools from making changes that support rather than undermine enhanced outcomes.

One highly relevant example is the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which has a waiver from all state-mandated exams except English Language Arts for its dozens of public high schools. Instead, students graduate by completing individuated performance tasks in language arts, math, science and history. These tasks require the extended work, research, critical thinking and problem solving students need for success in the real world. While Consortium schools mirror New York City’s diversity, every demographic group graduates at higher rates. Higher percentages of graduates also enroll in college. More than the national average of their enrollees remains in college for third semester and beyond.

These and other high-quality assessments could flourish if allowed by federal law. NCLB killed many similar forms of assessment and marginalized others. It is time for Congress to help repair this damage.

FairTest chairs the national Forum on Educational Accountability (FEA), which has shared language on accountability and school improvement with the HELP committee (see The FEA proposals would redefine accountability and lead to a focus on improvement, not punishment.

For accountability, states and districts would be required to assess the adequacy of resources available to schools, the nature and scope of improvement efforts, and the results of those efforts. States would report on key indicators in these areas and how the state itself is using this evidence to improve schools, particularly those that are in need of assistance. This is an expansion of accountability from Sen. Alexander’s draft, but one that does not put states or districts in a straight-jacket.

To promote improvement, FEA has identified “common elements” found in high-quality schools and successful turnarounds. FEA’s proposals would require states to assist the lowest-performing five percent of schools in implementing, as needed, these common elements. They include leadership, curriculum, instruction, professional learning, school climate, disciplinary practices, parent and community engagement, and wrap-around services. While this, too, would expand federal requirements beyond Sen. Alexander’s bill, the FEA proposal does not specify the actions localities and states must take, but rather the important areas they must address.

In conclusion, FairTest calls on the Senate HELP Committee to:
• Allow states to use grade-span testing and the other means for assessment flexibility and improvement described in Sen. Alexander’s “Option 1.”
• Overhaul accountability and improvement in line with the recommendations of the Forum on Educational Accountability.

Our children, our communities and our nation deserve a strong, effective ESEA. FairTest believes these recommendations are the basis for revising the current federal education law, and they provide a basis for bridging divisions within and between our political parties.

FairTest will be pleased to answer questions and discuss the ideas presented in this brief. You may reach me at, 617-477-9792.

Fairtest at:

Resolution Passed by MPS School Board on Walker Budget Proposals

Filed under: MPS,Scott Walker,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 9:42 am

Resolution 1415R-013

WHEREAS, It is important that parents and citizens of the state have a clear understanding of the state budget and its implications for funding at the school district level; and
WHEREAS, When Governor Walker publicly presented his proposed biennial budget on February 3, he stated, “our budget will increase state support for schools by providing more than $100 million annually for the school levy tax credit and more than $100 million in the second year of the budget for equalization aids — while maintaining revenue limits to ensure continuing property tax relief,” no mention was made of the cut of $150 per pupil ($127 million statewide) in special categorical aid in the first year of the proposed budget;
WHEREAS, Such a decrease would result in a “base” cut to the Milwaukee Public Schools of approximately $12.1 million in 2015-2016; and
WHEREAS, While cutting $150 per pupil in the first year — funding that, under current law, would be provided in each year of the 2015-17 biennium — Governor Walker’s budget plan provides no increase per pupil in the revenue limit even to minimally cover inflation, a provision commonly included in previous state budgets that recognized the costs associated with maintaining programs for students; and
WHEREAS, When the base cut and the lack of an inflationary increase in the revenue cap are factored together, the overall result is a total reduction conservatively estimated at $23 million in funding for the provision of educational opportunities for children in the Milwaukee Public Schools; and
WHEREAS, Even though the Governor proposes to include about $142 million (about $165 per pupil) in the per-pupil categorical aid in the second year of the biennium, the net result over the biennium is a cut of approximately $135 per pupil ($112 million); and
WHEREAS, Although the Governor also proposes spending $211.2 million in increased school-levy credits ($105.6 million in each year) and $108 million in increased general aid, with no corresponding increase in the revenue limit, this $319 million is “school funding in name only” —none of which schools will be able to spend to meet the educational needs of their students; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the Milwaukee Board of School Directors join with other school districts in the State of Wisconsin to strongly encourage the Governor and the State Legislature to revise the Governor’s proposed budget to restore school funding in 2015-17 to levels adequate to fund public education in Wisconsin and to reject any decrease in anticipated revenue in the first year of the biennium, while also providing for inflationary revenue increases in both years; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That this Resolution be spread upon the permanent Record of this Board, and that the Board direct the Board Clerk to prepare and to present engrossed copies of this Resolution, suitably signed and sealed, to the Governor and to the State Legislature.
Adopted this 26th Day of February, 2015,
Michael Bonds, President Milwaukee Board of School Directors

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