Educate All Students, Support Public Education

December 20, 2016

Ex-MPS Board Member Bruce Thompson on Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

Filed under: Charter Schools,DeVos — millerlf @ 10:58 am

See article at UrbanMilwaukee:

December 15, 2016

MTEA President: DeVos will be Disaster

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 8:31 am

Kim Schroeder MJ Sentinel 12/15/16

Mark Twain said, “We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”

Public schools are a fundamental piece of American democracy, with 91% of all American students attending public schools. They remain the only educational institutions with the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to educate all students. Defunding our public schools would be a threat to the quality of life and well-being of children in every Zip code.

But now, this most cherished of American democratic institutions is facing its greatest threat with the appointment by presidentelect Donald Trump of billionaire Betsy DeVos as education secretary. De-Vos, a longstanding member of the GOP corporate elite, is known for some of the most aggressive failed free-market experiments seen in America’s publicschools. DeVos’ track record speaks clearly. If she is confirmed by the Senate, students who attend public elementary and secondary schools will see billions of dollars siphoned from their public schools into unaccountable privatevouchers and charters.

Some Trump backers claim that they wanted to shake up the establishment, but DeVos comes from a family of wellfinanced billionaires tightly woven into the Republican, corporate-dominated political machine. They have helped fund every Republic presidential candidate for the last 50 years and are deeply embedded in the world of dark money groups such as Americans for Prosperity, ALEC, and Blackwater.

Betsy DeVos was one of the key players who pushed for Michigan’s charter school law, which passed in 1993. The disaster of Detroit’s private charter system is her legacy.

Nearly $1 billion of public dollars are siphoned away from Michigan public schools every year. According to the New York Times, “over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produce a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.” For-profit companies operate over 80% of Detroit’s charters, more than in any other state.

Critics may say that not all charter schools are bad,which may be true. But only a small percentage of private charters outperform traditional public schools. And private schools serve fewer English-language learners andchildren with special needs; expel a disproportionatenumber of minority students; and, even though they are funded with public dollars, are not held to the same legal standards as public schools. We should not consider funding these schools with public dollars unless they are held to the same standards as public schools.

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association represents the educators who work with the children and families of Milwaukee Public Schools. We cannot stand by as the private school profiteers cheer, waiting for DeVos to funnel every last dollar from our public schools into their bank accounts — without any strings attached. This single cabinet appointment could undo decades of advances in public education set up to protect the educational rights of every child in this nation.

Kim Schroeder is president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.

How Trump’s Education Nominee Bent Detroit to Her Will on Charter Schools

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 8:20 am

Few disagreed that schools in Detroit were a mess: a chaotic mix of charters and traditional public schools, the worst-performing in the nation.

So city leaders across the political spectrum agreed on a fix, with legislation to provide oversight and set standards on how to open schools and close bad ones.

But the bill died without even getting a final vote. And the person most influential in killing it is now President-elect Donald J. Trump’s nominee to oversee the nation’s public schools, Betsy DeVos.

he bill’s proposals are common in many states and accepted by many supporters of school choice, like a provision to stop failing charter operators from creating new schools. But Ms. DeVos argued that this kind of oversight would create too much bureaucracy and limit choice. A believer in a freer market than even some free market economists would endorse, Ms. DeVos pushed back on any regulation as too much regulation. Charter schools should be allowed to operate as they wish; parents would judge with their feet.

Detroit Public Schools, she argued, should simply be shut down and the system turned over to charters, or the tax dollars given to parents in the form of vouchers to attend private schools.

“She is committed to an ideological stance that is solely about the free market, at the expense of practicality and the basic needs of students in the most destabilized environment in the country,” said Tonya Allen, the president of the Skillman Foundation, a nonprofit that works with Detroit children, and a co-chairwoman of the coalition that produced the report that became the basis for the legislation last spring.

“If she was showing herself present in places and learning from the practitioners, that’s a fine combination,” Ms. Allen said. “But Betsy never showed up in Detroit. She was very eager to impose experimentation on students that she has not spent time with and children that she does not have consequence for.”

Ms. DeVos has a long career as an education philanthropist and lobbyist, but not as an educator. She and her husband, Dick, an heir to the Amway fortune, are considered the most powerful Republicans in Michigan. In the debate over Detroit schools, Republican lawmakers say, Ms. DeVos withheld her financial support until they agreed to kill the bill.

And they were rewarded well when they did: Ms. DeVos’s family began a flood of donations to Republicans that totaled $1.45 million in seven weeks.

Ms. DeVos declined to be interviewed. But her allies say her views have been misinterpreted.

“She’s never said choice and choice alone is the panacea for public education,” said Gary Naeyaert, the lobbyist who leads the Great Lakes Education Project, which Ms. DeVos founded to advance charter schools in Michigan in 2001 after her family had spent nearly $5.8 million on a losing initiative to establish statewide school vouchers. “It’s choice, quality and accountability.”

Hers was a different version of choice, quality and accountability, however, than that envisioned by those who drafted and supported the legislation: a broad coalition of charter school and teachers’ union leaders, the Detroit chamber of commerce and some of the city’s most prominent Republican philanthropists and politicians, its Democratic mayor and the state’s Republican governor.

“The misinformation campaign was horrendous,” said Thomas Stallworth III, a former state legislator who lobbied on behalf of the coalition. And the sway of her contributions was too much to overcome. “There’s no way we could compete with that. We don’t have those kinds of resources.”

Ms. DeVos and her husband had lobbied hard for the state law that established charter schools in 1994. It allowed an unusually large number of organizations to start charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. But it created little oversight.

Even charter school supporters now criticize Detroit as one of the most unregulated markets in the country. About 80 percent of the state’s charters are operated for profit, far higher than anywhere else.

In 2011, the DeVoses and the Great Lakes project lobbied successfully to lift a cap on the number of charter schools, fighting off a provision that would have kept failing schools from expanding.

In Detroit, which now has a greater proportion of charters than any city but New Orleans, one result was a glut of schools as more charters opened but the city’s population continued to decline. Yet while there are too many seats in schools downtown, there are not enough in the poorest, most remote neighborhoods, where most students live.

Traditional and charter schools alike compete with televisions, laptops and bicycles for students — and the taxpayer dollars that follow them. More than 150 schools have opened or closed in the last seven years, and it is not unusual to find students who change schools every year, and teachers who do so more often than that.

With more than a dozen organizations issuing charters, it is hard for parents to get the information they need to inform their choices. And, in a city of 140 square miles, the highest-performing schools usually remain out of reach to the poorest students, because most schools do not offer transportation, and the city bus service is unreliable.

Most charters have failed to improve on the dismal performance of the traditional public schools. High-performing national charter networks have stayed away because of the instability of the market. The Walton Family Foundation, which has committed $1 billion over the next five years to expanding charters and choice, similarly withdrew its money from Detroit earlier this year.

The legislation proposed earlier this year by Goeff Hansen, a Republican state senator, would have paid off the debt of the city’s traditional public schools, which were on the brink of bankruptcy, and returned control of those schools from the state to a locally elected school board.

But the provision that proved most controversial to the DeVoses would have established a Detroit Education Commission, appointed by the mayor. With three members from charter schools, three from the traditional public schools and one an expert in educational accountability, the commission was to come up with an A-to-F grading system for all schools, and evaluate which neighborhoods in the city most needed schools.

School operators that earned below an A or B could not expand without the commission’s signing off on their location. Schools that earned an F three years in a row could be closed.

Ms. DeVos and her husband wrote legislators urging them to reject any legislation that included the commission. Why, they argued, should residents have choice in where they shop for food and travel, but not in schools? She wrote a Detroit News op-ed arguing to “retire” Detroit Public Schools and “liberate all students” to use tax dollars to attend public or charter schools of their choice.

Leaders of 20 charter schools in Detroit, including some of the highest-performing, made a last-ditch effort to urge the Legislature to adopt the commission. “We have to be looking at every possible way to expand the choices and the opportunities in the neighborhoods for families,” Clark Durant, a onetime Republican candidate for the United States Senate and the co-founder of a network of schools, said at a news conference alongside Mayor Mike Duggan. “And I believe this is the beginning of that effort.”

The legislation passed the State Senate. But in the House of Representatives, support fell away, as leaders of the Republican caucus reminded the members of how much financial support the DeVoses could withhold.

They warned that the DeVoses would finance primary challenges against Republicans who defied her, as they had done to one who voted against the bill to lift the cap on charter schools five years earlier.

The DeVoses, said Representative Dave Pagel, a Republican who supported the commission, “made arguments that were strongly heard, and they prevailed.”

Another Republican, declining to comment for fear of alienating Ms. DeVos when she is poised to become a cabinet secretary, sent a link to an article detailing the DeVoses’ financial contributions to Republicans after the vote, saying it explained all there was to explain.

The House passed a bill that never included the language establishing the commission. The bill paid off the debt of Detroit Public Schools and returned the city’s traditional public schools to local control. And it will allow the state to close the schools at the bottom of existing state rankings, which Mr. Naeyaert said was proof that Ms. DeVos supported measures to ensure quality.

But that will mean shutting down mostly traditional public schools, which in Detroit serve the neediest students, and further desert students in neighborhoods where charters have largely declined to go.

“My complaint around this is not that you disagree,” said Ms. Allen, at the Skillman Foundation, “but that you never could come up with another solution to deal with the practical issues of poor public policy that is not only eroding a traditional school system, but eroding all schools.”

Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools

Filed under: DeVos — millerlf @ 8:16 am


BOSTON — At the rightmost edge of the Christian conservative movement, there are those who dream of turning the United States into a Christian republic subject to “biblical laws.” In the unlikely figure of Donald J. Trump, they hope to have found their greatest champion yet. He wasn’t “our preferred candidate,” the Christian nationalist David Barton said in June, but he could be “God’s candidate.”

Consider the president-elect’s first move on public education. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the nation, says that he was Mr. Trump’s first pick for secretary of education. Liberty University teaches creationism alongside evolution.

When Mr. Falwell declined, President-elect Trump offered the cabinet position to Betsy DeVos. In most news coverage, Ms. DeVos is depicted as a member of the Republican donor class and a leading advocate of school vouchers programs.

That is true enough, but it doesn’t begin to describe the broader conservative agenda she’s been associated with.

Betsy DeVos stands at the intersection of two family fortunes that helped to build the Christian right. In 1983, her father, Edgar Prince, who made his money in the auto parts business, contributed to the creation of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as extremist because of its anti-L.G.B.T. language.

Her father-in-law, Richard DeVos Sr., the co-founder of Amway, a company built on “multilevel marketing” or what critics call pyramid selling, has been funding groups and causes on the economic and religious right since the 1970s.

Ms. DeVos is a chip off the old block. At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists, she singled out education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to “greater kingdom gain.”

And so the family tradition continues, funding the religious right through a network of family foundations — among others, the couple’s own, as well as the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, on whose board Ms. DeVos has served along with her brother, Erik Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater. According to Conservative Transparency, a liberal watchdog that tracks donor funding through tax filings, these organizations have funded conservative groups including: the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal juggernaut of the religious right; the Colorado-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family; and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

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Like other advocates of school voucher programs, Ms. DeVos presents her plans as a way to improve public education and give families more choice. But the family foundations’ money supports a far more expansive effort.

The evangelical pastor and broadcaster D. James Kennedy, whose Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is a beneficiary of DeVos largess, said in a 1986 sermon that children in public education were being “brainwashed in Godless secularism.” More recently, in 2005, he told followers to “exercise godly dominion” over “every aspect and institution of human society,” including the government.

Jerry Falwell Sr. outlined the goal in his 1979 book “America Can Be Saved!” He said he hoped to see the day when there wouldn’t be “any public schools — the churches will have taken them over and Christians will be running them.”

Vouchers are part of the program. According to an educational scholar, they originally came into fashion among Southern conservatives seeking to support segregation in schools. But activists soon grasped that vouchers could be useful in a general assault on public education. As Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, which receives support from a DeVos-funded donor group, explained: “Complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now.”

The DeVoses well understand that, stripped of specious language about reform and choice, such a plan for public education would be deeply unpopular. In 2002, Mr. DeVos Jr. advised a Heritage Foundation audience that “we need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities.”

The public school system faces the most immediate threat, but it is not the only institution at risk. The Christian right has already won a number of key roles in the Trump administration.

The head of the presidential transition, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, is an avid voucher proponent. As governor of Indiana, he expanded a voucher program that now funnels $135 million a year to private schools, almost all of them religious. Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, favors religious tests for new immigrants and objects to chief justices with “secular mind-sets.” The nominee for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is a member of a physicians’ organization aligned with conservative Christian positions on abortion and other issues.

Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, may not appear to be a religious warrior, but he shares the vision of a threatened Christendom.

“I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis,” he said at a conference in 2014. This was “a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”

What is distinctive about the Christian right’s response to this perceived crisis is its apocalyptic conviction that extreme measures are needed. There is nothing conservative about this agenda; it is radical. Gutting public education will be just the beginning.

Correction: December 15, 2016

An Op-Ed article on Tuesday about Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s selection for secretary of education, misstated a detail of the history of the school-voucher program in Indiana. The program began under Gov. Mitch Daniels, not under his successor, Mike Pence.

Katherine Stewart is the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”


December 12, 2016

Suburbanite Attacks Democracy and Home Rule in Milwaukee in Op-ED: “MPS board has to go”

Filed under: MPS,MPS Takeover — millerlf @ 8:11 am

Jay Miller December 11, 2016 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

At a minimum, the union and MPS bureaucracy should not be given another chance to sabotage reforms.

Dave Umhoefer’s recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the decline of union clout since the passage of Act 10 is well done. In a recent piece, he drew particular attention to the state teachers’ union. As a local union leader said about the union prior to Act 10, “The gravy train was running, and they didn’t see the curve.”

Having one of your own describe the pre-Act 10 union as a “gravy train” is a remarkable admission. The union committed two cardinal sins. It fixated on teachers’ salaries and benefits without regard to their impact on taxpayers and fought to save jobs for even the least deserving teachers. In its own self-analysis, the union found that it spent “85% of its time litigating disputes and misconduct cases involving 2% of its members.”

That the union often would sacrifice a classroom full of students for teachers who had no business being in that classroom is beyond reprehensible.

Perhaps the union sees a more constructive path in its future. I admit to being surprised by the current president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, Kim Schroeder, saying, “We went back to actually caring about the profession as the main goal of our union”. Is Schroeder saying that previously the union didn’t so much care about teaching as a profession? That’s a remarkable admission, too.

One thing is for sure. If MPS is to make any progress, the School Board should be disbanded. It has frustrated past MPS superintendents and I suspect that the current one, Darienne Driver, feels the same frustration but for obvious reasons may be reluctant to express it.

As Umhoefer points out, the union helped elect eight of the nine current board members. Quite predictably, those members feel beholden to that very same union. They fight charter and voucher schools at every turn, and resist any sort of innovation intended to lift MPS out of the abyss. The reason for their resistance is simple: Change threatens their fragile hold on power and job security.

Taking away an elected school board would hardly be a blow against democracy. MPS School Board elections are held in April every year. Very few vote in these races. Board members typically win their seats by garnering between 2,000 and 4,000 votes. Given the get-out-the vote effort undertaken by the local union, we can guess who most of the folks are who actually show up to vote.

Even some Democrats are frustrated with the School Board. No less than former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett proposed a plan in 2009 to put the public schools under mayoral control. The Legislature, which was controlled by Democrats at the time, refused to go along because of not wanting to incur the wrath of the unions.

At least in part due to that recalcitrant attitude, Wisconsin lost out on a lucrative Race to the Top grant being offered by the United States Department of Education to qualifying states. In fact, Wisconsin did not even make the initial cut.

State Sen.Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga worked to pass a tepid reform plan last legislative session. It would have turned over a couple of MPS’ lowest performing schools to outside operators under the aegis of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Desmond Means, the Mequon-Thiensville superintendent. MPS, the union and School Board did everything they could to torpedo implementation of that plan. And they succeeded. It is foundering at this very moment.Top of Form

After MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver’s big new plan to reshape the struggling district, the Legislature will get a chance in January to have its say.

One hopes that Darling and Kooyenga won’t be fooled again. The Legislature must act and act boldly — on an expansive basis, not just in piecemeal fashion. There are a lot of smart, creative people with deep experience and proven success in reforming underperforming schools. Whether appointed by the governor or someone else, they should be vested with a fair degree of autonomy. At a minimum, the union and MPS bureaucracy should not be given another chance to sabotage reforms.

Maybe Driver herself is the right person to lead this effort — if she doesn’t have to kowtow to a group of calcified MPS board members who feel a higher loyalty to the union and their own jobs than to the students they purport to serve.

Jay Miller lives in Whitefish Bay.


December 7, 2016

 Is Charter School Bubble About to Burst?

Filed under: Charter Schools — millerlf @ 12:02 pm

Their shaky financing is causing failures locally, nationally. Yet Trump wants more.

By Terry Falk – Nov 28th UrbanMilwaukee

Universal Academy recently informed Milwaukee Public Schools it could no longer financially support its three Milwaukee schools due to a lack of enrollment. Both Universal and MPS agreed to allow Universal to continue operating at a single site, the previous Webster building, while two other sites, Green Bay and Lee, would be returned to MPS.

MPS officials believe Universal has attempted to be a good partner with the district. However, while Universal may have made a few mistakes, it could be a victim of a bursting charter school bubble that is beginning to appear across the nation. That problem was described by UW-Madison Prof. Julie F. Mead and has become all the more important since incoming President Donald Trump has signaled a desire to increase the use of charter and voucher schools in America.

Mead is a co-author of “Are We Heading Toward a Charter School ‘Bubble’? Lessons from the Subprime Mortgage Crisis,” an article in the February 2016 issue of University of Richmond Law Review. Their work is a follow up to a similar contention made in a blog post in July 2014 by Prof. Mark Naison, Fordham University in New York.

According to Mead and others, the subprime mortgage crisis began with some laudable goals of extending home ownership to as many individuals as possible. In exchange for little or no down payment, new home owners could obtain a mortgage with a ballooning interest rate that would kick in after a couple of years. The thought was, as they became homeowners, their lives would be more stable, their incomes might rise, and even if they had trouble meeting the rising interest rates, they could always sell the homes at ever increasing prices.

But that is not how it worked out.

Instead, many homeowners couldn’t make the mortgage payments, so fewer people could buy homes, home values crashed, and America found itself in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

According to Mead and others, charter schools may be headed in the same direction. Chartering organizations rushed in to take advantage of the charters being handed out by state legislatures, school districts, and other organizations.

And just as the housing mortgage crisis was fueled by a building boom resulting in overcapacity, too many charters were created with too many seats. That is one of the problems Universal faced here. And like the  homeowners who bought houses with little down payments and no money in the bank, many charter school management companies have little leeway in their cash flow if the number of students just are not there. They can’t weather the storm if problems develop at one or two schools.

Back in Philadelphia, Universal may be losing three of its eight schools due to poor performance. Universal is not alone in these problems.

Consider the story of American Quality Schools of Chicago. In 2012, AQS was approved for a charter with the city of Milwaukee and was seeking another with MPS. I opposed the charter and convinced the majority of the MPS board to deny the charter, incurring the wrath of several board members.

It is fortunate that we said no to AQS. When AQS first applied to MPS it was running or in the processing of running about a dozen schools from St. Louis to Fort Wayne, Indiana. But many of its charters were in trouble, and they were losing much of their portfolio. Today AQS has only two schools left; the rest have either closed or the chartering agency pulled its management away from AQS. The school authorized by the city of Milwaukee? It never opened.

In most cases, AQS never held the charters directly, but was only contracted as a Charter Management Organization (CMO) to run the school. That is still the case of its school in Fort Wayne. The Urban League holds the charter and contracts management with AQS.

CMOs, says Mead, “are the most similar to the subprime mortgage problem.” Moving from the chartering organization to the charter holder to a CMO is like the bank issuing a mortgage and then bundling mortgages to sell on the open market. Like the bank ridding itself of the liability of the mortgage, chartering organizations are removed from the liability of the CMO to operate in a fiscally responsible manner and provide a quality education.

The problem with most state charter laws is that the chartering organization takes no responsibility once they issue a charter until renewal time, says Mead. “The risk to the authorizer doesn’t exist.”

In the charter modification with Universal, MPS is exercising greater day-to-day financial oversight. Mead believes that state laws should require total financial transparency of all contracts. This is especially a problem with for-profit CMOs who believe they have little or no obligation to have open books as a private company.

Last year AQS tried to open a charter school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but did not find enough interest to continue the process. It also attempted to open a private school, tuition based, in the higher income community of Batavia, just west of Chicago. It too attracted little interest and the project was abandoned. Now AQS is in China, trying to recruit students, offering the services to help them attend schools and universities in the United States – a long way away from AQS original mission.

There are a whole string of other major charter school players that have fallen on hard times. This is especially true for for-profit charter companies says Jessica Huseman in a 2012 Slate article. EdisonLearning was once the largest for-profit charter manager in the country, in control of 130 schools across 22 states. By 2012, it managed only five schools.

Large corporate models running charter schools across state lines in districts with various rules and reporting requirements makes it almost impossible for large charter companies to compete successfully. Yet we may see a push for more such charters under President Trump.

Terry Falk serves as a member of the Milwaukee School Board.

Falk blogged:

I actually mentioned College Prep in my original article I submitted to Bruce Murphy. I’m not upset that he cut it. The article was fairly long, and one cannot say everything in a few hundred words. Just like in the housing boom/bust, not everyone who went out and got a mortgage overextended their credit, but everyone got hurt by the bad housing policies around them. Even good charter schools are going to get hurt if there are few controls in the chartering process. I’m not even saying that Universal is a bad charter. I’m just saying we can’t have a total free market, dog-eat-dog, chartering system. When charters close, children get hurt.


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