Educate All Students, Support Public Education

April 26, 2020

Thoughts on Today’s Alan Borsuk Column by Larry Miller

Filed under: Borsuk,Referendum — millerlf @ 2:37 pm

In today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, columnist Alan Borsuk blasts a Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) board meeting (even while admitting he didn’t listen to the entire proceeding) and decrees that, outside of a resounding win for the referendum to increase funding for public school children, everything going on with MPS is “bad news.”

At a time when public institutions are under duress because of a pandemic and a president actively dismantling democracy and government safeguards, Borsuk chimes in with Republican legislators who are undermining public institutions.

For the past two decades Borsuk has been nipping at the heels of Milwaukee Public Schools. He has portrayed himself as representing community concerns. But now that the public has weighed in clearly on the side of MPS, he has little to say.

Where’s the research and analysis of the 78% of Milwaukee voters and communities who support more funding for MPS?

Where’s the analysis of the MMAC’s refusal to support the referendum?

Where’s the perspective on the attempt by Robb Rauh of Milwaukee College Prep, Henry Tyson of St. Marcus Lutheran School and Ricardo Diaz of UCC to lead a coalition of private schools to undermine the referendum?

Three weeks ago, Borsuk derided the whole of MPS, declaring “schools with great learning cultures … in Milwaukee that come to mind are generally not MPS schools.”   He went on to question whether MPS is capable of real change. Truth be told, he wanted the referendum to fail.

But the public wasn’t listening.

I’m not going to ask Borsuk to stop nipping. I don’t believe it’s in him.

But I do ask that he step up to the plate and extend his lens to include the second largest school system in the state:  private voucher schools. How about some research on third Friday expulsions, selection and deselection policies, contracts that parents must adhere to in order to maintain their child’s enrollment, absolute obedience policies, refusal to fulfill IEP’s, teaching only to the test, absence of music and art programs? And that’s just a start.

I have been an elected school board member for 11 years and I am proud of the work we are doing. The board and administration are mindful of the tremendous challenges we face and the urgency of tackling them. But even with all the areas we need to improve, MPS is committed to take every student who comes to our door.

In this time of pandemic, we have given out over 350,00 breakfasts and lunches to every family that comes to us, including many voucher school families. As we work to transfer education to communities without internet access or computers, we are providing chrome books to our students and working to set up Wi-Fi access throughout the city. Poverty plus pandemic in a district starved of resources by a hostile legislature could have led to disaster. Our principals, teachers and support staff are all-hands-on-deck to make distance learning work.

By the way Alan, thanks for giving me an honorable mention for saying something affirming about the school board in today’s column. Maybe you should do the same.

July 15, 2018

MJS’s Alan Borsuk calls for “keep(ing) an eye” on the PAVE/Schools That Can merger as the vehicle for Milwaukee school improvement.

Filed under: Borsuk — millerlf @ 2:41 pm

In Borsuk’s 7/15/18 MJS opinion piece ( he states:

“I referred to Schools That Can Milwaukee in the past tense because it and another long-time Milwaukee education non-profit, known as PAVE, are merging. Plans for the merged organization are expected to be unveiled in coming months. There have been hints that some major players in town want a new approach to encouraging school improvement. Will the new organization be a vehicle for that? Keep an eye on this.”

The historic, and often stated, goal  of PAVE (Partners Advancing Values in Education) is a “voucher in every backpack.”

Questions to Alan Borsuk and Schools That Can:

So we are expected to rely on an organization (PAVE), that wants to destroy public schooling, to lead education improvement in Milwaukee?

Are the referred to “major players in town” including the elected MPS board and Superintendent in discussion of “a new approach”?








December 6, 2015

Is Alan Borsuk doing a victory lap for the MPS loss of enrollment?

Filed under: Borsuk,Privatization — millerlf @ 4:42 pm

Borsuk has written, argued and worked for the privatization of public education. Read how he frames the loss of enrollment in MPS. See his MJS “commentary” at:

April 28, 2015

Would Alan Borsuk send his grandchildren to a “No Excuses” school?

Filed under: Borsuk,Charter Schools,No-nonsence schools — millerlf @ 2:14 pm

In an op-ed last Sunday Alan Borsuk criticized a vote I took at a school board meeting on April 23. It concerned a proposed charter school that he described as a “no excuses” school. Actually in the world of education, these are called “no-nonsense” schools.

What Borsuk does not tell you is that there’s a huge debate around the country, most recently described in extensive articles in the New York Times (See blogs Parent Testimony on Abuse of “No-Nonsense” Charter Schools and “No-Nonsense” Charter School Model Intentionally Causes Students to Feel “Misery” ) and in an Atlantic magazine article from 12/2014 by the former Journal Sentinel reporter Sarah Carr, titled How Strict Is Too Strict.

Borsuk uses an unfortunate journalistic technique of paraphrasing board members critical of the proposal while quoting those in support. I wish he had given me due diligence by quoting my final comment: “We have Montessori, Language Immersion and IB for white and middle-class students, while low-income African American students get a code of conduct.”

Questions for Mr. Borsuk:
• Would you send your grandchildren to one of these schools?
• Is absolute obedience the objective of good education?
• Do you support the high suspension rates at these no nonsense schools?
• Why did you not explain to your readers that these schools often have high attrition rates, where students leaving the program are not replaced, making it appear as if graduation rates are exceptional?
• Why do the absolute obedience schools have such low special education enrollment?
• Are you aware of the high teacher turnover at these schools?
• Which “discipline matrix” do you support?
• Are you aware of the civil rights complaints registered at these absolute obedience schools in New Orleans?
• Eva Moskowitz will operate 43 “no-nonsense” Success Academy charter schools in New York next year. Are you aware of the debate, described in a number of articles in the New York Times in the past month? (Your readers should be informed about this high profile discussion that is being closely watched by education experts throughout the nation.)
• Does the school board not have a responsibility to put in place programs that protect all children and provide a rich curriculum for all children?

Over the six years that I have been on the school board, I have come to the conclusion that I will always ask myself, would I send my grandchildren to a program I am voting to establish?

I’d encourage Mr. Borsuk to ask the same question.

April 1, 2013

Alan Borsuk Gives a Chimerical Account of MPS Leadership

Filed under: Borsuk — millerlf @ 7:19 am

On March 24th Alan Borsuk wrote a column in the Journal Sentinel called “Signs hint at possible changes for Gregory Thornton, Milwaukee School Board.” I submitted the following letter to the editors but they chose not to run it.

Dear Editors,

On March 24 Alan Borsuk once again churned the rumor mill about MPS leadership (“Signs hint at possible changes for Gregory Thornton, Milwaukee School Board”).

This weekly column would better serve Milwaukee Journal Sentinel readers with some serious investigative journalism about the Milwaukee education landscape.

Here are some places to start:  Report on the lack of transparency and public input for the City of Milwaukee chartering process. Investigate what’s going on inside the classrooms of voucher schools like Travis Academy. Research the recently admitted fundamental flaw in the design of the Rocketship charter school program. Report on the failing grade of two-thirds of New Orleans Recovery District schools.

Instead of hard-hitting articles like these, we are given 600 words of conjectures with comments like “left me wondering,” “my guess,” “I could be wrong,” “maybe,” “speculation may start.”

Journal Sentinel readers should demand a higher standard.


Larry Miller

January 8, 2013

How to Reform Milwaukee’s Schools by Diane Ravitch

Filed under: Borsuk,Charter Schools,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:44 am

New post on Diane Ravitch’s blog

How to Reform Milwaukee’s Schools

by dianerav

Alan Borsuk is a knowledgeable journalist who has covered education in Milwaukee for many years. He is now professing at Marquette, but still keeps a close watch on what is happening to education in Milwaukee.

In this article, Borsuk says that a new vision is needed to get beyond the stale and failed answers of the past. He is right.

Milwaukee has had vouchers since 1990. longer than any school district in the nation. The students in the voucher schools perform no better than those in the public schools.

Milwaukee has had charter schools for about 20 years. The students in the charter schools do no better than those in the public schools.

As the other sectors have grown, the Milwaukee public schools have experienced sharply declining enrollment. At the same time, the number of students with disabilities is far greater in the public schools than in either the voucher or charter schools. The latter are unable or unwilling to take the children who are most challenging and most expensive to educate. Thus, Milwaukee public schools are “competing” with two sectors who skim off the ablest students and reject the ones they don’t want. Most people would say this is not a level playing field.

Governor Scott Walker’s answer to the Milwaukee problem is to call for more vouchers and charters, and for virtual charters. But if the students in those schools are not outperforming the ones in the public schools after twenty years, why should those sectors grow? And we know from multiple studies that students in virtual schools do worse than those in brick-and-mortar schools.

More of the same is no answer. Doubling down on failure is a bad bet.

Yes, Milwaukee needs a bold vision.

It needs a reset.

It needs one public education sector, not three competing sectors. The time for dual- and triple-systems should have ended in 1954, with the Brown decision.

Milwaukee needs one public school system that receives public dollars, public support, community engagement, and parental involvement.

Vouchers and charters had their chance. They failed.

Now it is time to build a great public school system that meets the needs of the children of Milwaukee.

the children need universal pre-kindergarten so that they arrive in school ready to learn. The children with high needs require small classes and extra attention. The public schools should provide a superb program in the arts for all children in every grade. They should have a rich curriculum–history, literature, foreign languages, the sciences, mathematics, and civics–for all children. Every student should have daily physical education. The schools should have the nurses, guidance counselors, social workers and librarians they need. Children should have after-school programs where they can learn new skills, strengthen their bodies, and get extra tutoring.

It is impossible to achieve these goals in a city with three competing school systems. It is entirely possible to achieve when there is one school system that becomes the focus of the energies of parents, civic leaders, and the business community.

Many children, one Milwaukee.

February 13, 2012

On Alan Borsuk’s Commentary on New MPS Budget

Filed under: Borsuk — millerlf @ 3:11 pm

By Larry Miller

When does speculation – what MPS parents might do – become suggestions – what MPS parents ought to do?

In a February 12 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel commentary, Alan Borsuk appeared to be on a slippery slope about the woes facing parents of students at top-performing MPS schools.

First, Borsuk claimed our schools are suffering because the district failed to use the “tools” given them by Gov. Scott Walker. He compares MPS to other school districts across the state, asserting that many of them are in the black because of those “tools” – read, stinging cuts to teachers’ benefits.

The truth is that many districts were saved by use of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Districts across the state will face similar difficulties to MPS when those federal dollars run out at the end of the school year. For example, the Waukesha school district took advantage of $3.6 million from ARRA to cover this year’s shortfalls. But next year they will not have those funds to fall back on.

Lamenting possible cuts for MPS’s top-performing schools, Borsuk says, “I suspect many of the immersion and Montessori school communities, including many teachers, wish they could charter right now.”

As for parents of kids at those schools, Borsuk wonders whether they’re “… aware that the application period to open-enroll into suburban public schools is open right now?”

Unfortunately, such “advice” only adds to an already difficult situation.

Governor Scott Walker has made disastrous cuts in education. Analysts have pointed out that  Milwaukee is among the hardest hit districts in the country. Inevitably, those cuts will hurt all of our schools.

Until every child at MPS can be assured a reasonable class size, decent books, curriculum designed not to teach to the test but responsive to children’s lives and learning styles, we have to say the system is not working.

But for now, we have to do the best we can with limited resources. In my mind, the number one priority is to draw the line at the present class-sizes in our schools.

Adults directly working with students must be a priority. As resources become available, support and reform initiatives can be expanded.

November 12, 2011

Is This Thursday’s Marquette Law School Forum Intended to Help Pave the Way for the MMAC Takeover Plan of MPS?

Filed under: Borsuk,MMAC — millerlf @ 10:04 am

The Marquette Law School is sponsoring a conference this Thursday, November 17, seemingly to introduce the MMAC’s new plan to create 2 school districts in the City of Milwaukee (see blog: MMAC Proposes New MPS Takeover Plan.)

The opening session of the conference, with a speaker followed by a panel, is basically a pep rally for the New Orleans “reforms”.  The panel includes Howard Fuller, a key architect of the MMAC plan. There is no speaker with a critical perspective on education in New Orleans.

According to the MMAC, the post-Katrina  New Orleans school “reforms” show the path for improving Milwaukee’s schools. The MMAC’s interpretation is:
·         Flood Milwaukee with “miracle” national charter schools.
·         Create a “low-performing” school district within MPS with an appointed school board.
·         Track students in the “low performing” district into vocational education.

I will be posting information about the New Orleans model and the MMAC plans over the next few days.

To view the day’s activities and to register for the conference go to:

May 9, 2010

Alan Borsuk in Denial Once Again

Filed under: Borsuk,Vouchers — millerlf @ 3:10 pm

In Alan Borsuk’s Op-ed, on Sunday 5/9, special education is once again left out of the discussion. It is interesting that Alan  Borsuk’s articles about MPS are usually laced with ridicule and sarcasm but when talking about voucher and charter programs his articles are filled with optimism and encouragement.

Borsuk states in the article when talking about three profiled schools, “None of the three screen students to admit only those likely to do better…” If that is the case why are only 3% of voucher students receiving special education services?

(I recently had a discussion with a voucher school principal. After being told that her school has only a “few” special education students, I asked, how is that possible?  She stated that she simply tells parents of special education students that she cannot provide the services that their children need. This principal said that parents then choose another school, most likely an MPS school.)

By the way, Milwaukee College Prep, one of the schools Borsuk talks about, proposed to start a charter school with MPS for 360 students. It will open in 2011.

4 initiatives seek to raise student proficiencies

Alan Borsuk Posted: May 8, 2010

Leaders and backers of the handful of high-energy “no excuses” schools in Milwaukee are launching efforts aimed at tripling the number of children attending such schools in the city.

The goal proclaimed by leaders of four efforts that have sprung up almost simultaneously is to raise the number of students in such demanding schools from about 6,000 now to 20,000 by 2020.

If the efforts succeed, they will dramatically change the education landscape in Milwaukee and, backers hope, make widespread the high achievement levels of the schools that are at the center of the new effort.

But for the effort to succeed, major political, institutional and financial hurdles will need to be jumped. People on both sides of the longstanding, giant chasm between partisans for Milwaukee Public Schools and partisans for charter schools and private voucher schools will need to cooperate and focus on matters of improving the quality of education where they might actually find common ground.

The question all the new efforts are beginning with is: How can the success of schools such as Milwaukee College Preparatory, 2449 N. 36th St.; Bruce-Guadalupe, 1028 S. 9th St., and St. Marcus Lutheran, 2215 N. Palmer St., become more widespread?


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