Educate All Students, Support Public Education

March 24, 2016

Teach for America: 2nd Downsize

Filed under: Teach For America — millerlf @ 3:17 pm

TFA Cannot Downsize Itself Free of Alumni Concerns– Especially Diversity Displacement
by deutsch29 3/23/16

On March 21, 2016, education historian and activist, Diane Ravitch, posted a communication dated March 17, 2016, from “a current high-level administrative employee at Teach for America.” The big news is that TFA will be cutting roughly 150 national and regional staff. The communication also notes that when TFA failed to reach its recruitment goals for 2015, jobs were cut, but not at the higher levels. This time (2016), TFA did not reach its recruitment goals for a second year, and this time, the job cuts are not just “rank and file staff.”

On the same day as Ravitch’s post, March 21, 2016, TFA posted news of the cuts on its own web site.

In TFA’s case, the negative announcement is introduced via a shell of positive vocabulary:

Teach For America recently set out a new strategic direction focused on three objectives: strengthening our community, pivoting our programmatic model, and rallying the next generation of leaders to join this effort. To reach these objectives, our regions need to continue to adapt and innovate on our model for their unique local contexts, and our national organization needs to move from strong, direct management to facilitating regional learning and innovation. As CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard shared on February 29 with our network, this strategic shift is pointing us toward a leaner, more agile central structure, resulting in the elimination of some roles and the creation of others and a change to how we’re approaching the critical work of diversity and inclusiveness. …

The second paragraph is more direct at its center (the first opening and closing sentences are still emotionally-upbeat goo):

Extraordinarily talented and dedicated people work at Teach For America. Attrition and individual moves into other open roles at TFA should appreciably reduce the number of people who lose their jobs. We project our total national staff size will become about 15 percent smaller. For individuals who do not find their next role with us, we are providing a generous support package, as well as supporting our people in finding roles in our partner organizations. The need for talent is great in the vital work of supporting schools, children, and communities.

One of the cut positions is its national diversity office. TFA’s explanation: All TFAers should advance diversity; so, no diversity office is needed:

Additionally, guided by our strategic direction, we determined that the essential work of diversity and inclusiveness should sit squarely with those closest to and supporting the people who are most directly impacted. Every single staff member will take responsibility for diversity and inclusiveness, rather than having this accountability live in one centralized team. As just one example, the members of our program team who work most closely on corps member preparation and support will own our work on culturally relevant pedagogy.

The reality is that TFA has suffered in its recruitment for two years in a row, and it is changing its direction more drastically than it had planned, but it did plan to shift more decision making power to its regional offices, as noted in this February 2015 report on TFA, Bellwether Education Partners:

In 2013, the [TFA governance model] task force proposed a new operating model. Under this model, which Teach For America is phasing in over the next two to four years, regions will have greater control over their own budgets and staffing levels, and will be able to select varying levels of nationally provided services from a “menu” of options. … ..The task force then articulated a set of “freedoms and mutual responsibilities,” or FMRs, that outline the flexibility regions have to customize their work to local needs as well as the areas in which regions must implement a common approach or utilize shared resources.

Within the context of the FMRs, regions will have the ability to select to receive more or less support from national staff. … Regions that choose to receive less support will retain more resources within the region. Recruitment and admissions will remain national functions, as will core operating infrastructure such as technology, finance, and the Office of the General Counsel. …

The hope is that this approach will allow regions to innovate in ways that generate even stronger corps member and alumni impact. The risk is that it may now be possible for regions to fail. But Teach For America ultimately decided that the potential benefits—the ability to attract and retain experienced regional leaders, build deeper relationships with community partners, foster innovation, and ultimately increase corps member and alumni impact—outweighed the risks. Realizing these benefits, however, will require a significant culture shift. Regions will need to build internal capacity to work without a national safety net and to customize their work to local demands. National staff will have to shift from viewing their work as driving regional outcomes, to supporting regions in achieving their own goals. Eventually, the structure and work of many national teams may evolve significantly in response to regional demand. Teach For America has only begun this transition, which will continue to unfold and shape the organization’s development and growth over the coming years.

Bellwether’s report on TFA is an intriguing read because Bellwether is a friend to TFA, and Bellwether had to have TFA’s ready cooperation (and approval) to produce the report. As one might expect, in the Bellwether report, TFA appears to reveal itself as it sees itself– or at least how it viewed itself roughly a year ago. The report is a long read (97 pages), but it offers a comprehensive view of TFA history as TFA wishes to portray it and is therefore in its own right a study in TFA’s psyche.

And, as one might expect, a third party not enamored with TFA is able to readily view holes in that TFA-adulating presentation.

For example, the timing of the report captured TFA’s failure to achieve recruitment projections for 2015. It notes that TFA experienced high growth in the years following the economic crisis of 2008. TFA/Bellwether believe that a negative economy prompted more newly-graduated college students to flock to TFA for employment. As a result, TFA administration became larger.

If this were the case– that TFA grew as a result of a negative economy– then it seems that TFA leadership should have planned for a future when the economy was not quite so fragile– and when TFA recruitment might take a hit.

Based on the February 2015 Bellwether report, it does not seem that TFA had given serious thought to the possibility that their recruitment could fall. Then again, perhaps they thought of it and planned for what to do next (i.e., cutting national and regional positions) but just chose not to disclose as much in the Bellwether report.

What is also interesting in the February 2015 Bellwether report is that even though Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard were TFA co-CEOs at the time, Beard is frequently cited and Kramer appears to be missing in action. Indeed, in September 2015, Kramer “stepped down” as TFA co-CEO, leaving Beard as the TFA CEO.

An organization faced with national office downsizing surely does not need co-CEOs. Just an observation.

Aside from noting economics as a reason for decreased recruitment and failure to meet 2015 recruitment projections, the Bellwether report also notes that TFA faced negative press. In a comical quote, former TFAer (and, as of November 2014, former TN ed commissioner) Kevin Huffman states, “Teach for America is now Goliath instead of David.”

Sure, Goliath was a lot larger than David, but Goliath was the bad guy– who David stunned with a rock and then decapitated.

Is TFA on its way to decapitation by negative press?

According to the report, TFA just didn’t see resistance coming.

That’s just foolish. TFA is a teacher temp agency that then tries to place its former temps in strategic and powerful positions in order to advocate for test-score-driven ed reform. Of course many people will not approve.

Perhaps in its arrogance, TFA did not believe anyone could confront them in the media. But it happened. And, as the Bellwether report notes, the comedy continues. Consider this excerpt:

The volume and vitriol of the attacks caught Teach For America off guard. …The advent of social media exacerbated these challenges. While some of Teach For America’s critics, such as education historian Diane Ravitch, were highly adept in using social media to amplify their messages, Teach For America was slow to adopt a social media strategy. “We had lost touch with how this younger group of people were engaging with the world,” notes [former TFA staffer] Aimee Eubanks Davis.

“This younger group of people”?? Diane Ravitch is 77 years old.

Makes one wonder just how far out of touch TFA is with reality beyond itself.

It seems TFA just believed that younger people would not read Ravitch. But apparently, they do. (Ironic how she blew the whistle on the current TFA downsizing.) Whereas TFA might label her criticism as “vitriol,” it seems that they recognize that their recruits recognize her as among the “reputable voices” criticizing TFA’s temp-teacher lifeblood. From the Bellwether report:

Teach For America was equally unprepared for the negative impact that the external criticisms would have on corps member, alumni, and staff morale. “If you’re a brand new corps member and facing lots of challenges, the only thing that gets you through, especially the first year, is the belief that you are making a difference in the world,” says Ted Quinn. “If you struggle all day and then go on Facebook and Twitter and find reputable voices telling you that you’re hurting kids, it is absolutely shattering. We hear this very directly from our corps members. They may not buy into it, but they feel battered.” In the absence of a strong public response to critics, corps members felt abandoned and alone. Alumni and staff members report a similar experience.

The impact of external opposition has been most evident, however, to Teach For America’s recruiters. From 2013 to 2014, the number of applications dropped by 7,000. The number of first year corps members starting school in fall 2014 was smaller than the previous year—the first time that had happened since 2000—and the total number of corps members fell 800 short of the year’s target. These recruitment trends have continued: in December 2014, Kramer and Villanueva Beard sent a letter to district and school placement partners informing them that, based on current recruitment projections, Teach For America’s 2015– 16 corps could fall far short of the number of teachers its placement partners had requested. While a variety of factors have contributed to this trend—including an improving economy that increased employment options and competition for recent college grads—it is clear that the polarized education climate and external critiques have had an impact. As part of its continuous-improvement efforts, Teach For America conducts follow-up outreach to high potential candidates who ultimately choose not to apply. This outreach indicates that negative criticism of Teach for America influenced nearly 70 percent of these candidates’ decisions.

The report continues with TFA’s efforts to counter negative media:

…The feedback from corps members, alumni, and staff convinced Teach For America leaders that they needed to more proactively respond to critics. …

To address these issues, the organization created a new Public Affairs and Engagement Team, pulling together previously scattered functions of communication, marketing, external research, and community partnerships into a single integrated team. To lead this team, Kramer and Villanueva Beard tapped Aimee Eubanks Davis, a highly respected internal leader whose leadership of Teach For America’s diversity efforts had demonstrated her capacity to deal directly and sensitively with thorny challenges.

Eubanks Davis and then–acting Senior Vice President of Communications Peter Cunningham put in place a set of systems that allowed Teach For America to respond much more rapidly to external events and attacks. Every day, key leaders from the Public Affairs and Communications Teams participate in a daily call to review events in the past 24 hours, including any misinformation or attacks that demand a quick response, and to plan response for events expected later in the day. To keep an eye on the longer-term picture, the Public Affairs Team meets by phone to review communications and marketing campaign plans for the upcoming month. To help with rapid response, Teach For America also created an “On the Record” web page, where it can quickly correct misinformation and share facts. This approach allows Teach For America to respond to breaking news stories much more rapidly than it could through more traditional means, such as requesting corrections or writing letters to the editor.

TFA’s manner of countering criticism resulted in more criticism in George Joseph’s 2014 piece in The Nation. Joseph’s article demonstrates just how connected TFA is. In short, TFA was tipped off by another Nation writer about a freedom of information request made by its writer to the USDOE for info on TFA. A TFAer working at USDOE tipped off TFA, and TFA produced an internal memo about how to combat the negative press. Joseph obtained a copy of that internal memo. Joseph maintains that to TFA, negative media attention and “misinformation” are one and the same.

Back to Bellwether.

The report continues by noting TFA’s efforts over the past couple of years to create a “public-facing narrative about its work and values.” But here is another blind spot for TFA:

The Bellwether report does not address the growing number of former TFA voices critical of TFA.

And they are growing. And the authority of their authentic TFA experiences carries weight with a public that is itself growing increasingly critical of TFA.

For example, there is former TFAer Gary Rubinstein, who has been critiquing TFA for years and whose Open Letters series of posts to reformers (many who started with TFA) is well worth the read. For years, it seemed that Rubinstein was largely alone in his TFA criticism.

Not so any more.

For example, in 2015, former TFAer Jameson Brewer has co-edited a book, Teach for America Counter Narratives: Alumni Speak UP and Speak Out. Also in 2015, former TFAer Sarah Matsui published Learing from Counternarratives in Teach for America.

There are also Kerry Kretchmer and Beth Sondel, both former TFAers, who organized resistance to TFA.

And the list continues to grow. What is important to note is that an emerging concern with TFA is that even though it maintains that its recruits are ethnically and racially diverse, those recruits are displacing teachers of color whose lives are grounded in communities in which those revolving-door, “diverse” TFA recruits are landing.

A powerful accounting of this “diversity” shell game is Jennifer Berkshire’s (“EduShyster”) March 21, 2016, post entitled, “TFA’s Diversity Paradox.” In this post, Berkshire interviews TFA alumnus Terrenda White. The interview was also featured in the March 22, 2016, Washington Post. Here is an excerpt:

EduShyster: You have a new paper out examining TFA’s initiative to become more diverse. You use the word *paradox,* but don’t you mean ‘success’? I just read this TFA tweet that *The TFA corps more closely reflects the public-school population than any other large teacher-provider.* What’s paradoxical about that?

Terrenda White: When I was first writing about TFA, I was complaining about the lack of diversity in the corps, especially when I was there in the early 2000s. And so a part of me is really happy that TFA seems to care about diversity and improving their numbers, and I think I’m fair in my piece about acknowledging that. But while TFA may be improving their diversity numbers, that improvement has coincided with a drastic decline in the number of teachers of color, and Black teachers in particular, in the very cities where TFA has expanded. I don’t see them making a connection between their own diversity goals and the hits that teachers of color have taken as a result of policies to which TFA is connected: school closures where teachers of color disproportionately work, charter school expansion, teacher layoffs as schools are turned around. We have to talk about whether and how those policies have benefited TFA to expand in a way that they’re not ready to publicly acknowledge.

EduShyster: You argue that even as TFA may be bringing some teachers of color into urban areas through the *front door* of its recruiting and PR operation, the organization’s advocacy for specific reform policies is pushing teachers of color out the *back door.* Can you talk about how this is playing out in some specific cities?

White: What happened in New Orleans, for example, is a microcosm of this larger issue where you have a blunt policy that we know resulted in the displacement of teachers of color, followed by TFA’s expansion in that region. I’ve never heard TFA talk about or address that issue. Or take Chicago, where the number of Black teachers has been cut in half as schools have been closed or turned around. In the lawsuits that teachers filed against the Chicago Board of Education, they used a lot of social science research and tracked that if a school was low performing and was located on the north or the west side and had a higher percentage of white teachers, that school was less likely to be closed. As the teachers pointed out, this wasn’t just about closing low-performing schools, but closing low-performing schools in communities of color, and particularly those schools that had a higher percentage of teachers of color. What bothers me is that we have a national rhetoric about wanting diversity when at the same time we’re actually manufacturing the lack of diversity in the way in which we craft our policies. And we mete them out in a racially discriminatory way. So in many ways we’re creating the problem we say we want to fix.

What White describes above is not addressed in the Bellwether report, just as addressing legitimate TFA alumni concerns is not addressed.

What is addressed is the drop in alumni promoting TFA. As the Bellwether report notes:

Teach For America uses several measures to track corps member and alumni satisfaction. The Corps Strength Index, a set of questions that assess corps members’ attitudes, perceptions, and feelings about their experience with Teach For America, is administered before and after Summer Institute and twice during each year a corps member serves. Teach For America also collects data on net promoter score—a commonly used metric, across a range of industries, that assesses satisfaction based on whether the respondent would recommend an organization to someone else. Both indicators reflect declines in corps member and alumni satisfaction over the past five years.

Since Teach For America implemented the Corps Satisfaction Index, in 2008, Net Corps Strength, a figure that summarizes corps members’ response to the index questions, has declined every year. During the same period, Teach For America’s net promoter scores for both corps members and alumni have also fallen. In 2010, Teach For America had an alumni net promoter score of 50—meaning that the percentage of alumni who would strongly recommend Teach For America to a friend was 50 percentage points higher than the percentage who would not recommend Teach For America. Today, Teach For America’s net promoter score stands at 8—still positive, and therefore better than the net promoter scores of many organizations—but significantly down from just a few years ago.

Teach For America leaders were understandably troubled by these trends, and have invested considerable effort in understanding the forces that are driving them. By comparing corps strength and satisfaction data across regions, Teach For America has identified a number of factors, at a regional level, that can appear to lead to a stronger or weaker corps culture. A strong regional vision, the quality of relationships between corps members and staff who support them, and clear expectations all contribute to stronger corps culture at a regional level. But while these factors explain the variation in corps satisfaction across regions, they do not explain the trend of declining corps satisfaction over time, nor has Teach For America been able to establish any correlation between corps strength and regional pace of growth or the age of a region.

Note that according to TFA’s strategic direction report, TFA’s net promoter score had dropped to 4 percent– which means that the percentage of TFA alumni likely to recommend TFA to a friend is only four percent greater than the percentage not likely to recommend TFA to a friend.

To raise its net promoter score up to 30 over the next few years, TFA uses fluffy language about relationships and feeling connected– but it does not note the need to actually listen to alumni concerns, such as those about TFA’s displacing community-rooted teachers of color with its in-and-out, manufactured “diverse” temp corps:

Movements are all about people and relationships, and our people are at the heart of everything we do. Our community must feel far more connected, supported, and part of something that is bigger than them, particularly given the strains we’ve felt in recent years. To do this, we must dramatically improve the culture and connectedness of our community of corps members, alumni, and staff.

Now, back to Terrenda White’s words in the Berkshire interview:

What bothers me is that we have a national rhetoric about wanting diversity when at the same time we’re actually manufacturing the lack of diversity in the way in which we craft our policies. And we mete them out in a racially discriminatory way. So in many ways we’re creating the problem we say we want to fix.

TFA has a problem, and it is one that image polish, a gentle Bellwether report, and a “leaner, more agile central structure” cannot fix. A growing number of former TFAers are voicing their discontent with the damage TFA inflicts upon community-rooted education, discontent that will likely only increase over time.

Watch out, Goliath. You might not make it past this one.

March 10, 2016

The Mitchell Park Domes died of neglect by Gerry Broderick, County Supervisor

Filed under: Milwaukee County — millerlf @ 8:38 pm

As the community struggles with the decay and indefinite closing of the Mitchell Park Conservatory Domes, we are all left to consider the implications of years of deferred maintenance on our parks and cultural amenities.

If the Domes’ epitaph is to be written, it ought to be: “They died of malignant neglect.”
Successive administrations, particularly those of Scott Walker and Chris Abele, have ignored the needs of our parks and cultural amenities. The results have been devastating, and we are now witnessing the dangers of deferred maintenance writ large on the falling concrete at the Domes.
While various parties have attempted to cast blame for the deterioration of our parks on one another, there are certain facts that cannot be ignored.

The County Board has made several attempts to provide funding for parks maintenance, and has been rebuffed either by veto by the county executive or inaction by his administration.
For example, in 2012 the county executive vetoed a Parks Capital Development Plan from his own Parks Department calling for the expenditure of $75 million over five years. In vetoing the expenditure, he wrote to the board that “the county is in no position to dedicate $75 million dollars to fix problems that go back decades.”

Parks Director Sue Black was fired later that summer by Abele. A full explanation was never provided to the public, but other staff followed her out the door, leaving the department with a growing gap in institutional knowledge.

Meanwhile, in the wake of a 2009 audit, “A Tale of Two Systems: Three Decades of Declining Resources Leaving Milwaukee County Parks Reflecting the Best and Worst of Times,” estimating that parks maintenance needs “likely exceed $200 million,” the board in 2015 authorized an expenditure of $5 million for parks infrastructure projects not eligible for general obligation bond funding.

The county executive vetoed the measure, writing in his veto message that he owed it to Milwaukee County’s taxpayers “to do everything I can to protect their interests in the face of such irresponsible use of their money.” He went on to call the expenditure “flippant and irresponsible.”

This comes from a man who was more than willing to go behind closed doors in Madison and commit $80 million of taxpayers’ money for a new arena for the billionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks.

It’s not just the Domes that have suffered.

But the Domes are the most demonstrable example of the effects of deferred maintenance on our parks. And in fact the board acted to provide $500,000 in 2015 to develop a long-term maintenance plan for their deteriorating conditions and place netting for public safety. But the administration did not act, and now we have chunks of concrete falling from the structures.

Since when is it “flippant and irresponsible” to protect our parks? Tell that to the couples whose weddings have had to move from the Domes as a result of their indefinite closure. Our parks are a great part of what makes Milwaukee County a special place to live, and I have no doubt they are among the amenities that our residents value the most.

The future of these iconic structures is apparently in doubt, and the administration is scrambling to find solutions that the board already has provided.

It is sad that we should come to this point. But in the end, the Domes have become the victims of maintenance issues that have required attention for years.

They were killed by a failure to act. They were killed by a refusal to act.

The Domes have been a symbol of Milwaukee County’s creativity and commitment to our parks. Now, they are a symbol of neglect, and we are faced with the unfolding tragedy of the loss of Milwaukee County’s iconic structures.

As a retiring supervisor, I hope my successors find a way to preserve the Domes. Just as important, I hope they can find ways to protect our “emerald necklace” of parks and open spaces from the narrow-minded thinking that taxpayers do not want to spend our resources for that protection. Continuing a sound quality of life in our community depends on it.

Gerry Broderick is a Milwaukee County supervisor and chairman of the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee.

More on Baltimore (Public Schools)

Filed under: Baltimore — millerlf @ 8:08 pm

Baltimore schools chief gets critical performance evaluation
Read the Baltimore Sun at:

 Why Has Charter School Violence Spiked at Double the Rate of Public Schools?

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 7:58 pm

Meanwhile, charter advocates continue to criticize the safety of traditional public schools.
By George Joseph The Nation (March 8)

A few weeks after The New York Times released a controversial video of a Success Academy Charter School teacher lashing out at a student, New York City’s deep-pocketed charter school advocates are looking to shift the public narrative on who is committing violence in city schools.

Over the last few weeks, Families for Excellent Schools, a charter school lobbying and advocacy group with close ties to Success Academy, has placed TV ads, held a press conference, and taken to social media, claiming New York City public schools are in a violent “state of emergency.” The charter school campaign appears to be a response to the public backlash that Success Academy has received for its controversial disciplinary approach.

Taking state data, which includes “violent” incidents not involving the police, Families for Excellent Schools asserts that between 2014 and 2015 schools suffered a 23 percent uptick in violence. The public action was meant to undermine New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently claimed school violence has gone down, thanks to his administration’s softer disciplinary approach.

A Nation analysis of the charter school group’s data, however, suggests the move may backfire, since the numbers also show that charter schools themselves reported a far higher spike in incidents of school violence, 54 percent, more than double that of the public school average between the 2014 and 2015 school years.

Breaking the data down further, The Nation also found that while NYC public schools, perhaps responding to the district’s disciplinary reforms, actually dropped in nonviolent offenses like “criminal mischief” and “other disruptive incidents” at -6 percent and -23 percent, respectively, charter schools had a 65 percent surge in reported incidents of “criminal mischief” and a 33 percent surge in “other disruptive incidents.” Notably, charter schools also had far higher reported surges in drug and weapons possession incidents, at 53 percent and 27 percent respectively, whereas public schools only had 5 percent and 9 percent jumps for the same categories.

New York City charter school students represent a relatively small amount of the city’s overall population, and therefore make up only 4 percent of total violent incidents in New York City schools, but these drastic disparities raise questions about how charter schools’ controversial disciplinary cultures relate to the dramatic increase in reported school violence.

Brenda Shufelt, a recently retired librarian who served public school and Success Academy Charter School students at a colocated school library in Harlem, said that as charter schools rapidly expand, they may be taking in more high-needs kids, many of whom cannot conform to one-size-fits-all disciplinary approaches.

“In my experience, what would often happen is that charter school students would be so rigidly controlled that the kids would periodically blow up,” says Shufelt. “At PS 30, some of our kids would have meltdowns, usually because of problems at home, but I never saw kids melt down in the way they did in charter schools. They were just so despairing, feeling like they could not do this. I was told by two custodians, they had never had so much vomit to clean up from kindergarten and elementary classes.”

Examining the 10 charter schools with the highest reported incidents of violence in 2014 and 2015, The Nation also found that reported incidents escalated 485 percent last year over the previous year, more than four times faster than the growth of violent incidents for public schools of the same category.

Of the top six charter school sites with the most reported incidents of violence from 2014 to 2015, four were KIPP charter schools, part of a nationally heralded charter chain that has 11 locations in New York. In recent years, KIPP has drawn headlines for its disciplinary regimen, which often includes precise control of students’ physical movements, intricate behavioral systems of reward and punishment, and enforced silence throughout school hallways. In 2013, a KIPP school in Manhattan made news, after a kindergartner and first grader had anxiety attacks, triggered by the school’s practice of repeatedly locking students in custom-designed time-out closets. KIPP refused to end the practice after the controversy and did not respond to Nation inquiries about the spike in reported incidents.

Some experts, however, caution that charter school spike in “violent” incidents could be more a reflection of these schools’ “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies than students’ actual behavior. “The stricter the behavior regimens are, the more likely students are to be reported as violent when they don’t conform,” says Leonie Haimson of the advocacy group Class Size Matters.

“These policies could not just be responding to violent behavior but actually be coming to define and shape what counts as criminal, thus building into the school to prison pipeline,” says Celina Su, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College. “There’s also a real racial component to this. Look at where these draconian policies are being implemented and who do they have in mind. Who is allowed to play and who is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them?”

Zakiyah Ansari, a parent advocate with the Alliance for Quality Education, which receives partial funding from labor, is skeptical of both Families for Excellent Schools’ numbers and its intentions.

“State Education Department officials have conceded that the data system does not accurately measure safety and school climate and are undergoing an overhaul of the system because there it has little credibility,” says Ansari. “FES is clearly aware that these numbers can’t be trusted, but they are using them to paint black and brown children that go to public schools as dangerous. The harsh policies at KIPP, Success Academy, and other charter chains are abusive towards students, and the FES campaign is a deceptive attack on restorative justice approaches which actually make schools safer.”

FES did not respond to a request for comment.

March 6, 2016

BlackLivesMatter work in Milwaukee Public Schools advancing

Filed under: BlackLivesMatter,MPS — millerlf @ 9:10 am

by Larry Miller

In 2015 the MPS school board adopted a BlackLivesMatter resolution proposed by Dr. Robert Smith and myself.

Since its adoption, a group of community educators, parents, MPS teachers, principals and administrators have been meeting and preparing to implement the work, starting this summer. While the resolution calls for a broad reach in implementing the lessons of the Black Lives Matter movement, the working group is focusing on teaching and learning, along with restorative practices. Professional development training is being planned to be carried out this summer to prepare for implementing in classrooms and schools for this Fall.

I am very encouraged by the participation and the level of discussion taking place.

Following is the full resolution.
Black Lives Matter, Milwaukee Public Schools Resolution 1516R-001 April 28, 2015

WHEREAS, The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948) boldly declared that, “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship…”; and

WHEREAS, As a public school district, we are facilitators of the limitless growth potential of human beings. Our charge is to pour every ounce of creativity and energy that we have into the task of helping young people find and achieve their purpose. Our purpose must be guided by the belief that every human being deserves to live with dignity and that each of our students can leave his or her communities better than he or she found them; and

WHEREAS, The killing of unarmed Black men and women has left young people searching for answers to incredibly complicated and infuriating questions; and

WHEREAS, The extrajudicial killing of Black people in this country has deep roots in the dehumanizing system of white supremacy that once defined Black bodies as property and persisted in the form of lynchings during the 100 years of Jim Crow. The mob and the whip have been replaced by government sponsored “programs” like COINTELPRO, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, unjust policing, and structural policies that maintain racial segregation (redlining, urban renewal, and more) that exploit and oppress poor communities. Because these tragedies are not new and have lasting negative consequences for our communities, cities, and nation, we need to assert, over and over again, that the lives of Black people matter; and

WHEREAS, As WEB Du Bois stated, “The teachers of Black youth must believe in them. They must have faith in them and their community. They must trust them and encourage them and defend them.” Right now that means affirming that we are committed to the emotional and physical safety of Black students. It means that our schools and classrooms must be safe spaces for dialogue and support on the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement and the efforts to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline; and

WHEREAS, We believe deeply that the lives of all people matter. As a school district and as educators our lives are constructed around this fact. Shouting loudly that “Black Lives Matter” does not negate our commitment to ALL of our students. In fact, we believe that challenging all of our students and colleagues to recognize the innate value of Black lives will help them grow and that the quality of life for all who live in our communities will improve when we value the lives of everyone. Since so many of our Black students struggle to trust that our society values them, we must affirm that their lives, specifically, matter; and

WHEREAS, Historically, when Black people have fought for a more democratic society, the lives of all people have improved. Each time barriers to Black people’s potential have been erected, our whole society has suffered; and
WHEREAS, Educators knows that each of our students has different needs and that none of their lives end at our classroom doors. When our students are hungry or struggle emotionally, they don’t learn as well as they otherwise could. When our students witness or experience violence, they suffer emotionally and physically. To maximize student potential, our school system must meet the needs of our students in different ways. Right now, it is especially important for Black students to know that we value them, no matter what the legal system and police actions tell them; and

WHEREAS, Problems in our schools mirror those in our society. Society is plagued with poverty, growing inequality, gun culture, and violence. For our schools to be safe and centers of respect for the educational process, students, staff, parents and community must all come together for the betterment of our students’ future now; and

WHEREAS, The problems mirrored in schools can only be fully addressed with a united effort of community and school coming together; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That our district and schools and classrooms create safe space for dialog and support on issues faced in communities and schools related to policing, the educational process, and improving school safety; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That quality restorative justice practices be expanded and deepened district-wide, with the goal of training all staff in those practices; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the district create an advisory council — comprising community, parents, educators, and students — to assist in reviewing, strengthening, and creating curriculum and policy related to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, the efforts to derail the school-to-prison pipeline, the broader historical experience of the Black community, and present schooling experience; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the above advisory council shall assist in implementing policy and curriculum and establishing quality dialog with staff, parents, students and community; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That student leaders of all types be called on to participate in advancing this discussion and implementation; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the effort include discussions of biases, racial micro-aggressions, school-wide
data on race and discipline, fears, cultural ignorance, and stereotypes of Black youth; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That these discussions lead to training of school staffs in methods of de-escalation, mindfulness, creating a culture of trust, and cultural relevance; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That one of the goals of this process be to strengthen bringing community into our schools and to strengthen schools as centers of support for communities; and be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the district review its programs that may be contributing to unfair, unequal power relationships with community and school policing.
April 28, 2015

Op-Ed by Author of New Book on Housing and Poverty in Milwaukee

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 8:25 am

The Eviction Economy

By MATTHEW DESMOND MARCH 5, 2016 NyTimes (Author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.”)

I FIRST met Larraine when we both lived in a trailer park on the far South Side of Milwaukee. Fifty-four, with silvering brown hair, Larraine loved mystery novels, “So You Think You Can Dance” and doting on her grandson. Even though she lived in a mobile home park with so many code violations that city inspectors called it an “environmental biohazard,” she kept a tidy trailer and used a hand steamer on the curtains. But Larraine spent more than 70 percent of her income on housing — just as one in four of all renting families who live below the poverty line do. After paying the rent, she was left with $5 a day.

Under conditions like these, evictions have become routine. Larraine (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) was evicted after she borrowed from her rent money to cover part of her gas bill. The eviction movers took her stuff to their storage unit; after Larraine was unable to make payments, they took it to the dump.

Those of us who don’t live in trailer parks or inner cities might think low-income families typically benefit from public housing or some other kind of government assistance. But the opposite is true. Three-quarters of families who qualify for housing assistance don’t get it because there simply isn’t enough to go around. This arrangement would be unthinkable with other social services that cover basic needs. What if food stamps only covered one in four families?

America stands alone among wealthy democracies in the depth and expanse of its poverty. Ask most politicians what we should do about this, and they will answer by calling for more and better jobs. Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House, thinks we need to do more to “incentivize work.” Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, thinks we should raise the minimum wage. But jobs are only part of the solution because poverty is not just a product of joblessness and low wages. It is also a product of exploitation.

Throughout our history, wage gains won by workers through organized protest were quickly absorbed by rising rents. As industrial capitalists tried to put down the strikes, landlords cheered workers on. It is no different today. When incomes rise, the housing market takes its cut, which is why a two-bedroom apartment in the oil boomtown Williston, N.D., was going last year for $2,800 a month and why entire capital-rich cities like San Francisco are becoming unaffordable to the middle class. If rents rise alongside incomes, what progress is made?

Poverty is no accident, an unintended consequence from which no one benefits. Larraine’s rent money went to Tobin (also a pseudonym). A second-generation landlord, Tobin was 71, unsmiling and fit. His tenants waited tables at diners or worked as nursing assistants. Some received disability like Larraine or other forms of welfare, sometimes supplementing their checks by collecting aluminum cans.


March 2, 2016

“No-Nonsense” Charter Once Again Embarrassed

Filed under: Charter Schools,No-nonsence schools — millerlf @ 4:55 pm

Mother of Girl Berated in Video Assails Success Academy’s Response
By KATE TAYLOR FEB. 25, 2016 NYTimes
Nadya Miranda, 23, is the mother of a student whose treatment by an angry teacher at Success Academy in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was surreptitiously videotaped. Ms. Miranda has withdrawn her daughter from the school. the video.

A safe haven for her daughter: a Success Academy charter school in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, where she hoped her daughter would get a good education and be put on a path to college.

Then she saw the video.

The video, which was recorded surreptitiously by an assistant teacher in the fall of 2014, captured a first-grade teacher at the school scolding Ms. Miranda’s daughter for being unable to explain to the class how she solved a math problem. The teacher ripped the girl’s paper in half, ordered her to leave the circle to sit in what she called “the calm-down chair,” and said that she was angry and disappointed.

When the video was published by The New York Times this month, Success Academy held a defiant news conference. The network’s founder, Eva S. Moskowitz, defended the teacher, Charlotte Dial, saying that she had apologized “in real time” to her students, and accused The Times of bias. A teacher suggested that the newspaper did not believe that black and Hispanic children could be academically successful. Two parents stood up to say that they did not need .

A Momentary Lapse or Abusive Teaching?

In 2014, an assistant teacher at Success Academy Cobble Hill secretly filmed her colleague, Charlotte Dial, scolding one of her students after the young girl failed to answer a question correctly. The children’s faces have been blurred and their names obscured to protect their privacy.
Ms. Miranda, however, tells a different story.

In two lengthy interviews, she said that she did not know what was happening in her daughter’s classroom before she saw the video. She said that she was so upset by what she saw — and by the network’s rush to rally around Ms. Dial, while showing little concern for her daughter or other students — that she took the girl out of the school in late January.

Ms. Miranda said that while Ms. Dial had apologized to her, the teacher had never apologized to her daughter. She said that a public relations specialist for Success drafted an email for her, asking The Times not to publish the video, and that at a meeting Ms. Moskowitz held at the school on Jan. 20, Ms. Moskowitz asked the parents to support Ms. Dial and to defend the school to the paper. Ms. Miranda said that when she stood up, identified herself and objected that Ms. Moskowitz was asking parents to support the teacher without even showing them the video, Ms. Moskowitz cut her off.

“She’s like, ‘You had enough to say, you had enough to say,’ and she tried to talk over me,” Ms. Miranda said. “So I just really got frustrated, and I just walked out, and the parents that were concerned followed me, and the parents who were against me and for the teacher” stayed in the auditorium.

Ms. Miranda took her daughter home that morning and did not bring her back to the school. The next week, after confirming that there was a seat in the regular public school where her younger son is in prekindergarten, she withdrew her daughter and placed her in that school.

Success Academy declined to comment on the specifics of Ms. Miranda’s account, though in an emailed statement, Stefan Friedman, a spokesman, said the network was “sorry Ms. Miranda chose to withdraw her daughter.”

Ms. Dial did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Miranda, 23, said she sent her daughter to Success Academy because she wanted her to get a better education than she had and to aspire to college. Ms. Miranda was raised mostly by her mother, who spoke only Spanish and was disabled by diabetes and heart disease by the time Ms. Miranda was 13. She became pregnant in ninth grade and dropped out of school, later earning her high school equivalency diploma. She has worked as a home health aide and earns money now by babysitting for friends’ children. She and her children are currently living in a family shelter.

Her daughter attended Public School 10, the Magnet School of Math, Science and Design Technology in Brooklyn, for kindergarten, but Ms. Miranda was unimpressed with the work.

“I felt that she was doing more drawing than actually learning,” she said.

She entered the lottery for Success Academy, drawn by the network’s reputation for academic rigor, and won a seat. But when the school gave her daughter a placement test, administrators said she had to repeat kindergarten.

Her daughter was placed in Ms. Dial’s class for kindergarten and then stayed with the teacher for first grade. Ms. Miranda said her daughter had done well in math, but struggled with reading and writing and, over time, became discouraged.

“She used to tell me: ‘I’m never going to get it. I just don’t know. I’m not as smart as the other kids,’” Ms. Miranda said. “I would hear that from her, and I’d be like, ‘Where are you getting this from?’”

When she saw the video, Ms. Miranda said, she understood her daughter’s dejection.

“It makes me feel bad as a parent — like, what am I going to do to build her confidence all over again?” she said.

In an interview and at the news conference, Ms. Moskowitz dismissed the video as an anomaly, but Ms. Miranda’s daughter, now 8, said that Ms. Dial frequently yelled at students for infractions like not folding their hands. She said that she did not remember the specific incident captured on the video, but that she was afraid to ask questions in Ms. Dial’s class, because asking Ms. Dial to explain something a second time would lead to a punishment. She said Ms. Dial had on other occasions ripped up children’s papers when she thought they were copying others’ work.

She said she did not complain to her mother, because “I was scared of Ms. Dial.”

Ms. Miranda said she learned about the video when she arrived to pick her daughter up from school on Jan. 13 and was told to get her from the principal’s office. The principal, Kerri Nicholls, told Ms. Miranda that The Times was asking about a video of an incident between her daughter and Ms. Dial, but that she did not know what it showed. The next day, at a meeting with Ms. Nicholls, Ms. Dial and Ann Powell, the network’s executive vice president for public affairs, Ms. Miranda watched the video. She said that Ms. Dial cried and apologized to her, saying that she had had a bad day.

Upset after viewing the video, Ms. Miranda said she did not want it published, to protect her daughter’s privacy. Ms. Powell suggested she send an email to The Times. When Ms. Miranda said she did not know what to write, Ms. Powell drafted the email for her and told her to send it from her email address because it would be more powerful coming from her.

On Jan. 20, after the schoolwide meeting with the parents, Ms. Miranda sent another email to The Times saying that she was not happy with how the school was handling the incident and asking to be contacted. She did not speak with a reporter until last week.

Ms. Miranda said Ms. Moskowitz did not try to contact her until after the meeting on the 20th, and at that point, she felt it was too late. What most distressed her, Ms. Miranda said, was that the network and even many of the parents united behind Ms. Dial and did not seem to care about how her behavior affected children.

After the video became public, Ms. Moskowitz sent an email to parents at the network’s schools asking “for your compassion and understanding in judging this video and Ms. Dial.”
Despite having publicly described the incident captured on video as an isolated one, Ms. Moskowitz said in her email to parents that the network was “taking steps to ensure this does not happen again.” Ms. Moskowitz said those steps included retraining “teachers on our approach and the importance of setting high expectations and demanding that scholars give their best effort, but always in the context of deeply respecting children,” and “refining our introductory training to include more sessions on self-awareness, stress management, and the ability to manage up and ask for the help.” She said that from now on Success would provide training on those issues three times a year.

Seeking to hold someone accountable for what happened to her daughter, Ms. Miranda went into a Department of Education building in Brooklyn to ask about filing a complaint, but was told that Success was independent from the school district. She said that Ms. Nicholls, the principal, had given her information about how to reach Success’s board of trustees, and that she had sent a letter, but she was not optimistic that she would get a response.

Ms. Miranda said she felt betrayed by the school that she had hoped would give her daughter a better life.

“I trust you guys with my daughter, and now I feel like I can’t trust you,” she said.

Two City Charter Schools Will End their Contracts at the End of the Academic Year

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 4:38 pm

Struggling schools face accountability
By Lisa Kaiser Feb. 23, 2016

Two of the City of Milwaukee’s 10 charter schools will relinquish their contracts at the end of the academic year, and two additional struggling schools have faced enhanced scrutiny, signs that the city is making its charter schools more accountable after years of taking a hands-off approach to the schools it charters.

In January, leaders of the North Point Lighthouse Charter School—a member of the national Lighthouse Academies network getting financial help from the Andre Agassi-led, for-profit Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund—voted to relinquish its charter with the city and close its doors at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.

The city’s Charter School Review Committee, comprised of appointees, placed North Point Lighthouse Charter School, 4200 W. Douglas Ave., on probation in October 2015. According to its Jan. 15 letter to the committee, the school’s board anticipated that the city committee would terminate its five-year contract so it decided to announce its closure in January. The early heads up allows students to participate in public and voucher school enrollment fairs in January and February.

Although the school had hired a new principal last fall and said it was focusing on improving student achievement, among the problems cited in Board Chair Adam Peck’s letter are declining enrollment, staffing turnover during probation and below-target daily attendance.

According to the city’s school score cards, North Point Lighthouse Charter School received 46.8% or F in the 2012-2013 academic year, 58.1% or F in 2013-2014 and 63.6% or D in 2014-2015.

Finances were problematic as well.

“The school’s financial position in is jeopardy due to lease agreements that require the dedication of financial resources that ideally are needed to hire and retain highly effective urban educators,” Peck’s letter states.

North Point Lighthouse launched with great fanfare in 2012, when retired tennis pro Agassi visited the city to promote his new school. The Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund—a partnership between Agassi Ventures and Canyon Capital Realty Advisors—buys and develops properties, which it leases to charter school operators. The school operators can buy the school after they reach full occupancy. In 2013, Agassi returned to open Rocketship Southside Community Prep on the South Side, which also utilized the Canyon-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund to open its doors.

Also struggling academically and relinquishing its city charter is King’s Academy on North 60th Street, which will “return to our roots and once again become a private school,” Board Chair John W. McVicker Sr. wrote to city leaders in a July 2015.

By “private school,” McVicker means returning to the school’s roots as a publicly funded, church-based voucher school. The school was chartered by the city in 2010, but it had been a religious voucher school affiliated with Christ the King Baptist Church for the previous 11 years.

“We believe that we can better serve our students by making sure they are immersed in a school that stresses the power of Jesus Christ in their lives with a Christ-centered curriculum,” McVicker’s letter reads:

King’s Academy received D+ grades for each academic year since 2012-2013, scoring either 68.8% or 67% on the city’s report cards.

Two Schools Face Scrutiny

Two additional schools have faced pressure from accountability measures as well.

Milwaukee Math and Science Academy had been placed on probation in January 2015. In October 2015, the Charter School Review Committee asked for a mid-year review by Feb. 5. The school wanted its probation lifted. But accountability advocates Women Committed to an Informed Community and Schools and Communities United argued that it’s too soon to make a decision on the school’s status, since the test scores for 2015-2016 haven’t been completed yet.

The city’s score card gave Milwaukee Math and Science Academy 64.4% or D in the 2012-2013 academic year, 66.4% or D in 2013-2014, and 72.6% or C- in 2014-2015. The standard for probation is 70%.

The Charter School Review Committee voted to lift the school’s probationary status.

Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, run by former Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent turned voucher advocate Howard Fuller, is also struggling. The school received 71.3% or C- in the 2012-2013 school year, 68.2% or D+ in 2013-2014, and 78.2% or C+ in 2014-2015.

The Charter School Review Committee voted to review the school annually and to extend its contract for an additional five years.

All of the committee’s votes need to be approved by the Milwaukee Common Council.

A new study shows the time may be right for a change in Wisconsin’s school funding.

Filed under: School Finance — millerlf @ 4:33 pm

On New study shows it’s time for a fresh school-funding lawsuit in Wisconsin

The other side might sputter and stammer that the current state of affairs when it comes to Wisconsin’s school funding is good enough. But more and more research nationwide is showing otherwise, and now is the time to prove it in court.

By Jay Bullock Published March 1, 2016

Last week, State Rep. Kathy Bernier, a western Wisconsin Republican, stormed out of a “breakfast with legislators” meeting with school officials from the Eau Claire area. Her rapid exit was prompted by, as she put it in news reports, “vile” comments during the meeting.

Except she wasn’t being called names or anything. Rather, one Eau Claire school board member told Bernier that “Minnesota is beating us,” and complained that Wisconsin’s school funding formula is “broken.”

Apparently the truth hurts – Minnesota is increasing school funding, and we are not – so Bernier took her ball and went home.

I think this makes it a good time to talk about school finance. Wait; don’t click the red X on your browser just yet! I know school finance is about the most mind-numbingly dull subject you could imagine, but I promise to try to make it interesting. I’ll start with good news.

February saw the release of a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research about school finance, checking to see whether specific kinds of changes to state school funding formulas had an effect on student achievement. The answer is yes, more funding leads to better student achievement in high-poverty districts.

The NBER paper considers states that have changed their funding formulas after lawsuits over whether funding is “adequate.” Where courts have ruled that funding is inadequate, a total of 27 states, they find that the subsequent increase in funding helps students. In particular, they found states raised state spending for all districts, but progressively so – poorer districts got a bigger boost than wealthier ones. Students in the poor districts benefited significantly, according to achievement test data.

Wisconsin is not one of the states in the study, even though there was a change in the funding formula in the 1990s. That change was not prompted by a lawsuit over adequacy, though; it was, rather, Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s anti-tax attitude. But more on that in a minute.

Starting in 1990, the NBER paper explains, courts moved away from rulings over “equality” in funding between wealthy and poor districts toward, instead, considering whether funding was “adequate” in districts with poor achievement: Was the state’s funding formula in part to blame for the low scores in low-income districts?

There was in fact a big Wisconsin school funding case, the alliteratively named Vincent v. Voight, decided in 2000, right in the middle of the paper’s timeline of 1990 to the present. We don’t make the study, though, because in Vincent v. Voight, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court majority opinion, authored by the recently late N. Patrick Crooks, explicitly declined to adopt the adequacy standard. Instead, the court stuck by a standard it had previously used in a pre-1990 equality-era case.

Crooks wrote that what the Wisconsin constitution demands, and what the legislature at the time defined as their school-funding standard, is “an equal opportunity for a sound basic education.” The court majority created a simple test for whether such a “sound basic education” exists. Because even Wisconsin’s poor school districts had funding enough to offer these basics, the court said, no change in the funding formula was needed.

Advanced Placement classes canceled? Foreign languages cut? Vocational education decimated? Too bad, Crooks and company said; you still have the three Rs, so suck it up (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much).

As is her wont, then-Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote a scathing dissent, and the late Justice William Bablitch added his own. Both of them enumerated problems in low-income districts all over the state, from Milwaukee and Beloit to Wausau and beyond. Abrahamson further added that because the Supreme Court had only just in that ruling set out the test for what a “sound basic education” meant, there was no true hearing on whether Wisconsin was really offering it.

And Bablitch wrote, “Despite the historic and commendable efforts by the Governor and the legislature to support public education, after reading this record one is left with the overwhelming realization that, for too many of our children, those efforts have not satisfied even a minimal constitutional guarantee of an equal opportunity for an adequate education.” Ouch!

But Bablitch’s words went unheeded, of course, because Crooks rejected the adequacy standard.

What if he had not? What if, in 2000, the state Supreme Court had instead found Abrahamson and Bablitch in the majority, forcing the legislature to boost funding to low-income districts?

“Our results thus show that money can and does matter in education,” the authors of the NBER paper conclude. “Courts and legislatures can evidently force improvements in school quality for students in low-income districts.”

The improvements in student achievement cited by this study, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, “the nation’s report card”), were big. After the boosts in funding, “relative test scores rose … to a 0.09 standard deviation impact in the tenth year after the reform event that if anything continued to grow thereafter.”

The stats-speak in that sentence is strong, but what it means is that the increase in funding alone for poor districts in the states they studied is enough to move hundreds of thousands of students closer to or beyond proficiency.

The results, they say, are cumulative and sustained after funding formulas change.

Slate’s Jordan Weissmann last week noted this NBER study and a similar one; the other study looked at the same states and found improvements as well in graduation rates and adult poverty rates. NBER’s research says that the investment of extra funding has an estimated rate of return of 140 per cent – Wisconsin’s economy will get back what we spend to help low-income districts and then some. They write that “additional spending yields increased earnings of $4,815 per pupil” once students from these poorer districts hit adulthood and get jobs.

In other words, because the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2000 rejected the “adequacy” standard for school funding, bucking the trend set by 27 other states, we have surrendered 15 years of possible gains in student achievement in our low-income school districts, including – perhaps, especially – Milwaukee. We’re now into our second generation of students denied improved economic opportunity in addition to better educational outcomes. Since 2000, thousands of Wisconsin children graduated late or not at all who did not have to; millions of dollars in potential annual earnings evaporated. The blame for all that lies squarely with Crooks and Thompson.

What is in place in Wisconsin today is a funding formula that serves wealthy school districts well, sure, but primarily benefits the Wisconsin taxpayer. When Thompson and his legislative allies changed school funding in 1993, they did so not with a promise to bolster the fortunes of Wisconsin’s children but with a sop to the anti-tax crowd.

The reforms then had three pieces: the “Qualified Economic Offer” rule, which gave districts wide latitude to depress raises in teacher pay; a promise for the state to pay 2/3 of the cost of public K-12 education, which left a lot of funding decisions to a legislature that over the years has been spending-averse; and a revenue limit restricting how much districts could raise through local property taxes to make up for whatever the state didn’t provide.

That is the mess that Crooks said was hunky-dory in Vincent v. Voight. You can understand, then, why school officials laid into Kathy Bernier with the “vile” thought that Wisconsin’s school funding is broken.

The QEO and the 2/3 promise are now gone, though. What remains of that is only the revenue cap, and that was cut sharply in 2011. It has not returned to pre-recession levels. Districts are holding referenda left and right to exceed the caps. But realistically, even if low-income districts pass referenda, there is only so much blood to squeeze from the low property-value stones within its own borders. The state has to be the one to change.

So I think the time is right for another swing at a school-funding lawsuit. It is not that I believe the current court – April election pending – is so very different today, or that even if they did rule for more adequate funding, the current legislature has much interest in suddenly sending its love to districts like the Milwaukee Public Schools. It’s not even that I think we should follow Abrahamson’s advice from her Vincent v. Voight dissent and really apply the test for a “sound basic education” that didn’t get a hearing in 2000.

Rather, I think the evidence is much more clear now that school funding must be thought of through the lens of adequacy. The NBER authors put it bluntly that “after school desegregation, school finance reform is perhaps the most important education policy change in the United States in the last half century.” Funding schools as we do now simply hurts children, there is no question. It is as much a moral imperative to change that as it was to desegregate.

In addition, it’s clear there’s no longer a rational economic argument against reform for adequacy given how well the investment returns economic benefits in addition to educational ones.

It wouldn’t be hard at all to find some students, parents and even taxpayers ready to sign on claiming they have been hurt educationally or economically by the current formula, ready to submit evidence that “a basic sound education” isn’t sufficient anymore.

The other side might sputter and stammer – the way poor Kathy Bernier did on her way out the door in Eau Claire – that the current state of affairs is good enough. She’s wrong, and now is the time to prove it in court.

Tags: schools, education, funding, politics, national bureau of economic research, state rep. kathy bernier, school funding, shirley abrahamson, william bablitch

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