Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

March 19, 2017

@ School board Debates: Monday March 20 and Saturday March 25

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 6:43 pm
  1. Monday March 20th sponsored by MICAH.

Where: St. Matthews CME Church

2944 N 9th St.

Time: 6:30

2. Saturday March 25th sponsored by Community Brainstorming.

Where: St. Matthews CME Church

2944 N 9th St.

Time 9 am


January 20, 2017

MPS unfunded retiree benefit costs fall to under $1 billion

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 9:49 am

The amount of money Milwaukee Public Schools needs to fund future retiree benefits has dropped by more than half since 2007 and now sits at just under $1 billion, the district announced this week.

MPS’ unfunded liability for retiree health care and life insurance was $2.3 billion in 2007 and dropped to about $1.4 billion by July of 2011. It was down to $1.2 billion in 2013 and then dropped to $997 million in 2015, according to the latest actuarial valuation from Gabriel Roeder Smith and Co., which sent its report to the district in November.

The financial analysts noted that the district’s unfunded liability was expected to rise slightly between 2013 and 2015, but that it dropped instead — good news for a district that has long been burdened by a yawning gap between financial promises it made to retirees and the money available to actually pay for those benefits.

In a statement, the district said the unfunded liability decreased because the school board directed MPS to pay ongoing annual costs and also to pre-fund into a trust each year at least 5% of the expected retiree claim costs. As of July, that trust had accumulated $127 million.

Other changes in recent years also made a difference. The district negotiated a new health care plan administrator with unions in late 2010. And in 2012, after the Act 10 law gave the district authority to change benefits without negotiating first with unions, the school board raised the minimum retirement age, changed health benefit plans and closed the post-retirement health care plan to employees hired after June 2013.

“We still have work to do, but we are headed in the right direction,” said Dan Chanen, chief human resources officer, according to a statement provided by MPS.

January 7, 2017

Stop trying to kill public education

Filed under: MPS,Privatization,Public Education — millerlf @ 9:38 am

Jack Norman Jan. 4, 2017 MJSentinel

Why do school choice advocates want to build quality schools at the expense of public education?

The discussion about choice, public and charter schools is plenty heated. Let’s not pollute it with fake news.

Case in point: William Flanders’ and Corey DeAngelis’ misleading Dec. 26 commentary promising nearly half-a-billion dollars in benefits from the creation of a single private K-8 school in Milwaukee (“School choice: Nearly $500 million in benefits,” Opinions).

I’ll get to that piece later. But, first, a reminder of what the debate about public “versus” choice schools is all about.

The problem for public school advocates isn’t that choice advocates want to build quality schools as alternatives to Milwaukee Public Schools. Kudos to them for that.

It’s that in order to achieve that goal, too many of them want to do it at the expense of public education.

Consider this analogy: It’s widely recognized there are serious problems with the Milwaukee Police Department. These include relations with the African-American community, dealing with mentally ill troublemakers, staff diversity — issues plaguing police departments nationwide.

But would it make sense to strip the department of resources and instead use them to create a hodge-podge of private security forces? Would we have public safety depend on private armed guards, competing with each other and with the department for business?

Imagine the chaos if neighborhoods used tax dollars to hire private firms that market protection packages. Rich neighborhoods would add their own money to buy higher-quality services. What recourse would residents have against profiteering by unscrupulous firms?

RELATED OPINION: Voucher schools need to share data

Even the department’s harshest critics agree that public safety is best improved by reforming the public police force, retaining what it does well, while introducing new practices.

But when it comes to education, too many choice supporters are eager to abandon the public system and create a medley of private alternatives. Why do they keep playing education as a zero-sum game, where private-school winners must be balanced out by public-school losers?

Imagine, instead, a world in which the entire body of choice advocates joined in support of public education as well as private education. Rather than cheering the governor and Legislature as they systematically weaken public education, imagine they joined the fight against these policies.

Public school advocates years ago made necessary compromises. They accepted the continuing existence of the choice program. Charter schools? MPS is full of them. And the focus of the public school lobby is not on eliminating private school options but on ensuring they deliver quality education.

If public school advocates were once slaves to an incompetent bureaucracy and blind to systemic failures, that time is long past.

Alan Borsuk is a keen observer of education who has never held back his criticisms of MPS. But he complimented Superintendent Darienne Driver in a recent Journal Sentinel article, noting her “fresh, thoughtful and significant attempt to change the status quo.”

To return to the Flanders-DeAngelis op-ed: It alleges a wealth of economic benefits if St. Marcus Lutheran School purchased an MPS building. The authors claim their analysis “documents the staggering economic benefits of school choice.”

They cite a flawed University of Arkansas study to claim that students of top choice schools are slightly more likely to graduate and live a crime-free life. They attach numbers that add up, they allege, to nearly half-a-billion dollars in benefits over the next two decades.

Let’s be clear. Nobody doubts that high-quality schools — private or public — yield economic benefits for the community at large.

But the study the authors use is a cherry-picking piece of work. It looks at one school only, one that gives it the results it wants. It ignores critical factors in student success, such as parental involvement and motivation. It considers only its favored school’s benefits while ignoring any of the downsides that come from weakening MPS.

Public-school advocates are not out to kill private education. Can’t these private school advocates stop trying to kill public education?

Jack Norman is a retired journalist and policy analyst who lives in Milwaukee.

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.


November 5, 2016

Is School Choice Wisconsin Head, Jim Bender, Accusing MPS Superintendent Dr. Driver of Only Caring About Money and Not Children in Her Proposed Reform Agenda?

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 9:43 am

Jim Bender states in WUWM interview comments, “They (MPS) want to become the only charter authorizer. They want to do that so they can capture cash flow, and count those students in their head count and generate revenue off those students… I don’t know that it’s any other purpose for improving education. I think it’s got a lot more to do with the bottom line.”

MPS Superintendent Introduces Aggressive Reform Agenda

11/4/16 WUWM

The superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools is putting forward some big ideas for change in her district. This week, Darienne Driver presented the MPS board with a slate of reforms designed to boost achievement.

Some of the most attention-grabbing ideas focus on improving student performance. They include a proposal to create a “network” of support and training for staff at for the lowest-performing schools. Dr. Driver also wants to develop an “Office of Black and Latino Male Achievement” that would work to close the achievement gap between those students and their peers.

And she wants to make organizational changes.

The most notable would be petitioning the state to make MPS the only entity in town that could charter schools. Right now, the district oversees about half of Milwaukee’s charter schools. The other chartering authorities are UWM and the City of Milwaukee.

Dr. Driver would also like to put all MPS schools on the same academic calendar, and mandate uniforms across the district.

The push for change and a kick-start to improvement is welcome. In general, immediate reaction is that people need more information before they can pass judgment.

“I and many other people are really, truly looking forward to hearing more of what the meat behind the titled components of this proposal are,” says Danae Davis, executive director of local organization Milwaukee Succeeds. “I hope that none of us throws darts until we know what it is that we’re talking about.”

A conversation has definitely begun about the scope of some of these ideas.

Dr. Driver has said she wants to see her turnaround plans implemented at all of Milwaukee’s lowest-performing schools – not just those in MPS, but at independent charter and voucher schools, too.

This idea of letting MPS create a template for struggling public, charter and private schools is bound to stir the pot.

“MPS at its core has a conflict,” says Jim Bender, president of School Choice Wisconsin. “They are so desperate to keep market share, that they can’t afford to lose many more students, or their financial model implodes.”

“They want to become the only charter authorizer. They want to do that so they can capture cash flow, and count those students in their head count and generate revenue off those students. “I don’t know that it’s any other purpose for improving education. I think it’s got a lot more to do with the bottom line.”

But even Bender reiterated that we haven’t seen many details for these MPS proposals yet. He says he’s eager to learn more.

The district hasn’t released many details just yet. Some of the proposals might require changes in the law. For example, state Superintendent Tony Evers confirmed last month that would be the case if MPS wants to tweak its academic calendar.

WUWM has requested to see formal documentation of these proposals, but MPS has not yet provided that information. Reports say the district plans to release more details and a survey to staff and parents shortly.

“Superintendent Driver and the Milwaukee Board of School Directors are excited about the opportunities presented by the administration,” district leaders said in a statement. “We look forward to working together in the months to come and implementing programs that will continue our push to further improve outcomes and opportunities for our students.”

Dr. Driver introduced these plans on the heels of an announcement that the district is already improving.

Even though school report cards won’t be released until later this month, the state Department of Public Instruction confirmed that MPS will not be considered “failing” this year. It seems this has given Dr. Driver and her team the momentum to pursue a more aggressive reform agenda.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Driver wanted to introduce all of her ideas now, so that the board could talk through them one or two at a time, as the district moves into its budgeting season. That process commences later this year.

November 3, 2016

Driver unveils major improvement plans for MPS

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 6:46 am

Erin Richards , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel November 2, 2016

Saying that Milwaukee Public Schools has not effectively engaged children of color, Superintendent Darienne Driver is proposing a slate of major reforms, including mandating student uniforms, launching the school year in August and imposing principal coaching and potential staff changes at the lowest-performing schools.

If anyone was waiting for a mic drop from the superintendent, who is two years into her tenure and still shy of 40 years old, this might be it.

“I think we’re in the right mind-set for improvement and it’s time to kick it into action,” Driver told the Milwaukee School Board Tuesday night after she revealed the ideas, which also include creating an office of black and Latino male achievement. More details will be released to MPS staff and parents this week, with a district-wide survey going out Friday.

“We want to get as much feedback about this as possible,” Driver said.

Another twist: Some of the proposals cross the borders of MPS. Driver has called for turnaround plans to be put in place at all the city’s lowest-performing schools, including independent charter and private voucher schools over which MPS has no jurisdiction. Driver and Board President Mark Sain have also proposed that MPS become the sole authorizer of charter schools in the city.

“We know people may classify it as some type of takeover, but really, it’s about conversation,” Sain said Wednesday.

The sweeping proposals are a more dramatic set of ideas than MPS has offered in years, and many would say they are overdue. Only about 20% of district students are reading proficiently, according to the state exams. Graduation rates have dropped across all racial groups. Enrollment in conventional schools is declining.

Driver said MPS isn’t where it needs to be, but she’s also making it clear she wants the plan for tackling those challenges to be on the district’s terms. She rebuffed a plan by Republican lawmakers to wrest control of the district’s lowest-performing schools and put them under the control of the Milwaukee County executive. Now it appears MPS is going on the offensive with a more comprehensive strategy. In the wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 reforms, superintendents and school boards have more authority to change school calendars and other work conditions without union approval.

Driver said introducing the proposals now will allow one or two per month to come to the School Board for consideration and public testimony through the end of the year and into early 2017, when they can flow into the district’s budget process and the state’s biennial budget process.

Driver’s proposals

Some of the proposals include:

Changes for the lowest-performing schools: New report cards will soon identify the latest lowest-performing schools in MPS. There are 53 that meet that definition now. Driver has proposed creating a network to support between 10 to 12 of the lowest-performing schools each year for the next three years, with up to 35 by 2018-’19. The “signature schools” would have a new hiring window in the spring, and then develop individual culture and instructional plans. Teachers would attend at least four days of extra training. Principals would get side-by-side coaching and meet with the superintendent monthly to talk about data.

“We’re proposing some different hiring practices for low-performing schools,” Driver said.

A unified calendar: All district schools would follow the calendar for International Baccalaureate schools, which start in mid-August and finish before the end of May. A June session would extend the year for five weeks for students who need to recover credits or earn additional credits.

Driver said one calendar could also save hundreds of thousands of dollars on busing and duplicative staff training.

State law requires public schools to start after Labor Day, but State Superintendent Tony Evers has pledged to ask the Legislature to change that for MPS. Even if it doesn’t, Driver said MPS could request a district waiver from the Department of Public Instruction.

School uniforms:  Driver said more parents are asking for uniforms, especially after some district schools implemented them this year. Uniforms are frequently a draw for parents who send their children to independent charter and voucher schools, though research is mixed on whether they have any effect on achievement. Driver said uniforms could also help identify MPS students in the community. Or more specifically, identify children who are not MPS students.

Schools could decide to opt out of the districtwide policy.

“One Milwaukee:” MPS is tiptoeing toward thinking more collectively about student achievement at all schools, including independent charter and voucher programs. Driver is looking to districts like Cleveland and Denver that have established mechanisms for holding all schools accountable, which include expanding high-performing schools and limiting low-performing ones.

That’s where the call for turnaround plans in the lowest-performing charter and voucher programs comes from. Driver said all schools should be judged by the same measuring stick.

Chartering authority: Sain, the School Board president, said MPS becoming the sole chartering authority in the city would reduce the frequency with which some people “shop” their proposals among the city’s three active chartering entities: MPS, the Common Council and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Currently, MPS authorizes about 20 charter schools, the city oversees nine and UWM oversees 12.

Sain said that as a sole authorizer, MPS could achieve “economies of scale” by providing support to all.

“The issue is, instead of opening up more schools, we need to have more conversations about how to fix what’s there,” Sain said.

The idea would require a change in state law at a time that the GOP-led Legislature has added authorizers in recent years, including giving such power to the MPS superintendent.

Sean Roberts, the head of Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, said Wednesday it’s worth talking about a citywide strategy for authorizing schools, but he opposes diminishing current options.

“Legislating the limitation of options that are working for students and families in the city would only serve to stifle innovation and quality,” Roberts said, adding that independent charter schools have shown stronger growth and achievement than district-operated schools.

Early literacy development: Milwaukee has about 50,000 children under age 5, and half live in poverty. Exposing all to quality early-literacy programs, potentially at stand-alone sites, would help make sure they’re all prepared for school, no matter what school their parents eventually send them to.

Contact Erin Richards at or 414-426-9838 or @emrichards.



October 28, 2016

Why I have decided to run again for the MPS school board

Filed under: MPS,Public Education — millerlf @ 4:21 pm

I’ve been fortunate to be part of the effort in Milwaukee to improve public education and serve students and their families. MPS is seeing important gains in educating the city’s children. In a variety of areas — college readiness work, expansion of highly successful programs like Montessori, strengthening our bilingual programs, advancing rigorous curriculum in schools, advancing the BlackLivesMatter initiative, creating the foundation for ethnic studies, bringing the arts into all of our schools, improving cultural relevancy for students, and striving for academic growth in educating all students — I have been able to work with a visionary administration and a school board that puts children first.

Despite our accomplishments, the administration and school board recognize that our most difficult work lies ahead. The challenges are daunting but hope and enthusiasm are visible throughout the work.

At the same time, intentional roadblocks to serving 77,000 students keep rising to the surface. At a time when white nationalism, misogyny, and xenophobia plague our national and local politics, some of the same people supporting these undemocratic positions have MPS and the governing authority of the MPS school board in their cross-hair. Their efforts represent a diversion from supporting and educating our students; fair-minded people who care about reaching all children must oppose such attacks.

Our job is to educate every child who walks through our doors and strive to help them succeed. We will continue to do this work and we will continue to make progress.

I cannot walk away from this work at this time.

Larry Miller

I will be holding a fundraiser

on Monday November 14,

from 5PM to 7PM at:

The Art Bar

722 E. Burleigh St.


October 14, 2016

Sen. Larson and Rep. Sinicki Commend Defeat of Takeover and Applaud Milwaukee Schools on Continued Achievement

Filed under: MPS,MPS Takeover,OSPP — millerlf @ 1:39 pm

State Capitol, PO Box 8953, Madison, Wisconsin 53708
October 13, 2015 608.266.7505
Rep. Chris Sinicki
Sen. Larson and Rep. Sinicki Commend Defeat of Takeover and
Applaud Milwaukee Schools on Continued Achievement
Madison, WI – Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) and Representative Chris Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) offered the following comments regarding the recent news about Milwaukee Public Schools:
“Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI) indicated that the Milwaukee Public School District (MPS) will not face the threat of an undemocratic takeover of their schools this academic year.
“We are glad that the gains made by MPS have prevented this harmful law from taking effect in our community. This success became possible through the positive educational growth by our students, the dedication of our great teachers, and the tireless efforts of many leaders, in particular Dr. Darienne Driver, her staff, Director Sain, and the Milwaukee School Board. We applaud them for their victory and their continued leadership.
“Despite crushing reductions in funding, Milwaukee Public Schools have continually ranked nationally for their academic achievements. The progress made by MPS proves the true ability of local governance to make positive changes through democratic processes. As MPS is first to note, there is more work to be done to continue this positive momentum. As legislators representing the youth of the city of Milwaukee, we will continue working with MPS to achieve more for our students.
“The majority party in the Legislature needs to stop punishing students and attacking teachers if they expect our schools to improve. They hatched their takeover plan late in the budget session and added it to the state budget in the middle of the night with no public hearing or comment. Their plan was immediately called out for what it was: a clear attack on Milwaukee’s neighborhood schools. It sparked vehement, ongoing protests by numerous local leaders who spoke out against it and by local parents, teachers, and neighbors who decried its obvious ill intent. We later saw the abrupt resignation of the only commissioner appointed under the takeover plan.
“While the takeover scheme was designed to hurt our public schools, it achieved one thing: it brought our community together to work on and begin to solve our educational challenges at the local level. It is our hope that DPI’s optimistic news fosters a sincere and robust debate on how to assist our school districts in educating our children.
“What we need to do is what works: ensure equal, fair, and full funding for all our Wisconsin students; promote the proven community school model as a way to boost student performance; and support our neighborhood schools. These are the Wisconsin values that we are ready to champion this coming session.”

October 12, 2016

Rep. Goyke Congratulates Milwaukee Public Schools and Stands with Dedicated Staff and Students on MPS no longer being required to participate in OSPP

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 7:41 pm

MADISON – State Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) released the following statement in response to today’s notification by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to Milwaukee County and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) that no districts are currently eligible for the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP) in 2016-17.

“I offer my sincere congratulations to Dr. Driver, the MPS School Board, Teachers, Parents, and Students for the positive gains made in our Milwaukee Public Schools.
During the final days of Wisconsin’s previous biennial budget debate, the OSPP provision was added. I was present and remember it well – it was nearly 1:30 in the morning. With no collaboration with those most impacted, this plan was put forward and passed.
Today’s notification by DPI shows the progress we’re making in Milwaukee. The notification is a testament to the hard work and successful collaboration between Dr. Driver and the School Board.
I believe in Dr. Driver. She has earned my support through her tireless work for Milwaukee students. I also believe in our MPS School Board. They have worked together for Milwaukee students while representing their constituents with passion.
Today’s announcement shows the hard work is paying off. We must continue to support and empower Dr. Driver and the School Board. Real change is happening and today’s notification is clear evidence that when we work together for a common purpose it is positive and meaningful to the students in Milwaukee.”

Rep. Dale Kooyenga’s statement on Milwaukee Public Schools no longer being required to participate in OSPP

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 7:36 pm


 Madison – Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) released the following statement regarding the letter from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver about the eligibility of MPS for the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP): “While the new report card model removes the Milwaukee Public School district (MPS) from being a “failing district” and, in turn, removes MPS from being eligible for OSPP, I am optimistic that this is a sign that the district is making progress under the leadership of Dr. Darienne Driver. OSPP was enacted into law not only to strengthen MPS, but to empower Dr. Driver. It is a testament to Dr. Driver that she is so well regarded by leaders and citizens of the community across the political spectrum.

Although MPS has demonstrated progress, this new report card model is attributable to a new methodology of grading schools and districts. Under the previous model, MPS would still be considered a failing district. There are dozens of schools in MPS where less than 10 percent of the students are proficient in reading and/or math. High schools such as Bradley Tech have a 4 year graduation rate of 50.4 percent and the overall MPS 4 year graduation rate is 58.2 percent.

I am optimistic greater progress can be made if the MPS board empowers the superintendent to make the tough decisions necessary to improve educational outcomes. I will continue to work with and listen to members of the greater Milwaukee community and take whatever actions are necessary to improve educational outcomes in Milwaukee.”

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