Educate All Students, Support Public Education

August 14, 2017

OSPP Pushing At Racine School District

Filed under: OSPP,Privatization — millerlf @ 12:42 pm

Commissioner could take over Unified schools if District fails again, unless amendment passes



RACINE — State legislators are discussing an amendment to the state budget that would give the Racine Unified School District, in the event the state gives the district a failing grade this fall, an extra year to improve its standing to prevent some failing schools from being part of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program.

Because of the failing report card last year, State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said the district is “looking at that potential this year” which could result in the state and the county determining the future of some failing schools.

“That means they would take five schools out of the Unified school district, eliminate all positions and then rehire all of those positions and then redo all of those schools and they would be out of the district,” Wanggaard said. “That would trigger a potential referendum for Sturtevant, Caledonia and Mount Pleasant, that they could form their own school districts.”

The legislature would likely approve the 2017-19 budget before the state test results are released in November so the amendment, if it goes through, would allow Unified an extra year of leeway before any schools become part of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, if the district receives another failing grade.

In November 2016, the district received a grade of “fails to meet expectations” from the state with 11 schools failing to meet expectations including Case, Horlick and Park high schools. However, several schools were docked points based on test participation, absenteeism rate and dropout rate, which moved them into the “fails to meet expectations” category.

Wanggaard, who has been championing the amendment, said the district has made important changes, specifically highlighting the launching of the Academies of Racine and changing Knapp Elementary School to a community school.

“To allow some of those things to come to fruition, I think that will get them up and going and moving in the right direction,” Wanggaard said.

Report to county executive

According to the state statute, the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program would automatically go into action after the second straight year of receiving a failing grade from the state and schools in the program would be run by a commissioner.

The commissioner is selected by the county executive from a pool of applicants appointed by the governor, city mayor and county executive. The commissioner also reports to the county executive.

Wanggaard said the amendment would give the district another year “to prove themselves.”

“If they fail then it goes to an Opportunity School (and Partnership Program) and it also triggers the referendum for those municipalities that want to have their own district,” Wanggaard said, adding it would be up to the municipalities to decide if they want to be involved with the Opportunity School and Partnership Program or try to form their own district.

In the past, some in Caledonia have advocated the community starting its own district.

‘Huge and stressful issue’

The district is aware of the seriousness of a another failing grade from the state and is concerned that if the amendment does not go through, the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program will go into effect.

Stacy Tapp, chief of communications and community engagement for Unified, said a task force was formed to focus on areas to improve the state test results after last year’s failing grade.

“The district has been focused on improving our report card results,” Tapp said. “We’ve also been focused on engaging students through the academy model and other efforts. However, we won’t get the report card until fall.”

School Board President Robert Wittke said he’s been in contact with local legislators about the initiatives the district has taken in the wake of last year’s results, which he views as an anomaly, but he said the community should know the seriousness of the situation.

“This is a huge and stressful issue,” Wittke said. “This would not be something that’s good for the community … Its one of the most important issues that we’re facing.”

Wittke said he’s confident the district has taken the right steps with forming the Academies of Racine and now the middle school transformation.

Delaying handbook, ‘boneheaded decision’

The changes the district has been making have not been lost on local legislators.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the delay would “allow the Academies (of Racine) to take hold.”

Although no amendment has been officially drafted, Vos said this will be part of the discussion but recent issues such as the employee handbook make it difficult.

“I still continue to be frustrated that as we are looking to try to give (Unified) more wiggle room to be able to turn the district around at a local level, then they make a boneheaded decision like delaying the handbook,” Vos said.

If the amendment does pass, it’s likely legislators will insist on certain conditions which could include approving a handbook that is compliant with Act 10.

Recently, the current handbook has come under scrutiny. Specifically, the legality of the Board of Adjustments was questioned by School Board Vice President and Mayor Dennis Wiser.

The Board of Adjustments is defined by the current handbook as being “comprised of equal representation of the District and the authorized representative of the teaching staff… to consider the appropriate level of benefits, plan design, structure, premium contributions and all other issues related to health, dental and disability benefits.”

Act 10 bars public employees from negotiating for benefits and only allows negotiation for salaries.

If the amendment does not go through, Wanggaard said the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program would automatically go into effect, “unless we do a statutory change with a separate bill to change (the program).”

“Every time this (Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program) is done it’s the students that are at risk,” Wanggaard said. “They’re not being prepared for what these changes are. I know it’s difficult for the staff and stuff like that but it’s the students that need the preparation to go on for their potential future.”


October 28, 2016

Urban Milwaukee: Why State’s MPS Takeover Plan Died

Filed under: OSPP — millerlf @ 4:14 pm
Murphy’s Law

In changing state ratings to protect choice schools, Republicans ended up killing OSPP.

By – Oct 27th, 2016 Urban Milwaukee

Darling insisted the law was intended to create a “partnership” with MPS, but Driver clearly saw it as undermining her authority, and questioned why it did not also address chronically underperforming choice and charter schools (which are championed by Darling and Kooyenga). The OSPP soon came to called the state “takeover law.

Darling’s response highlighted the schizophrenic nature of an approach that wants to make nice with Driver even as it undermines her leadership, of a “partnership” plan that is really a takeover. Kooyenga’s response highlights the contradiction of a state plan that targets poor performing public schools with mostly low-income students while ignoring choice schools in the same category.

Dale Kooyenga and Alberta Darling.

Dale Kooyenga and Alberta Darling.

It was back in January 2015 that Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) announced their plan to dictate change in Milwaukee Public Schools through a plan they soft-pedaled with the name Opportunity Schools and Partnership Plan (OSPP) and which was soon enacted into law.

Under the law, selected MPS schools with failing grades on the state report card would become independent charter schools that do not employ unionized teachers or answer to the Milwaukee School Board. A new commissioner independent of the board or Milwaukee School Superintendent Darienne Driver would choose and oversee these schools.

Darling insisted the law was intended to create a “partnership” with MPS, but Driver clearly saw it as undermining her authority, and questioned why it did not also address chronically underperforming choice and charter schools (which are championed by Darling and Kooyenga). The OSPP soon came to called the state “takeover law. The harder edge of the plan was suggested at times by the comments of Kooyenga, who has labeled MPS schools eligible for a takeover “the worst of the worst schools,” while castigating MPS leaders for doing a “good job of bringing absolute chaos, dysfunction and toxic environment for trying new ideas in Milwaukee.”

So there is more than a little irony in the fact that the takeover program was killed as a result of changes in state standards intended to help choice schools.

The changes were announced the same month, January 2015, that the OSPP plan was released. Gov. Scott Walker, in releasing his massive proposed budget for 2015-2017, including language that would alter the state school report card system. “These measures include changes” to start “weighting school performance to account for student poverty rates, student disabilities and the length of time a school has had to influence a student’s academic progress.”

The state school report cards were begun under the Walker administration during the 2011-2012 school year and were intended to give parents a simple measure of how good a school was. Initially the grades were given to school systems, but by the 2013-2014 year the grades were given to every individual school.

Officials with the state Department of Public Instruction felt the report card had a built-in bias. “We’ve been pretty open about the report card and the correlation with poverty,” DPI spokesperson Tom McCarthy says. The schools getting lower grades, he says, “correlated almost perfectly with the percent of students in poverty.”

Nationally, the data on schools shows the same correlation between lower achievement test scores and high poverty rates. But DPI’s concerns were not addressed.

That is, until the growing push to also measure achievement in choice and charter schools benefitting from public funding resulted in a decision to extend the state report cards to these schools. This was alarming indeed to representatives of choice, charter and virtual schools.

School Choice Wisconsin had great concerns about the report card. Jim Bender, president of the group, serves schools with a high percentage of low-income students, who would more than likely rank lower than average schools in the state.

“The report card was flawed,” Bender says. “In working with legislators to improve it, we certainly took the lead. When all the data pointed to a report card that was not accurately showing the performance of high poverty schools, we worked to improve the report card.”

One reason his group was able to take the lead is because of its clout in the capitol. Bender has hired lobbyists John Gard, a former Assembly Speaker and Jeff Fitzgerald, another ex-Speaker and also the brother of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Bender himself was formerly a senior aide to Jeff Fitzgerald. To that list can be added yet another former Republican Speaker, Scott Jensen, who works for two Washington D.C.-based groups that work to support School Choice, the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice.

Bender concedes that “If there was no choice program, we would likely have the old system” of report cards in Wisconsin. Bender, however, puts the ultimate blame on “the heavy hand of DPI…Education policy has always been turned over to DPI from the public schools. They are not going to mess with DPI for fear of retribution.”

But public schools had no reason to oppose the changes in the report card, because the result would make it easier on any school serving a significant population of poor students, while making the overall system less tough.

Indeed, the result of a new system that took into account the impact of poverty was that Milwaukee Public Schools, as a system, no longer had a failing grade. It was bumped up from “failed to meet expectations” to “meets few expectations.” Individual schools in the system are also likely to get higher rankings, though this fall’s grades for all schools have yet to be finalized.

As a result, MPS no longer qualifies as a failing school system under the criteria created by the OSSP law.

The reaction of Darling was hilarious. She released a statement saying “I want to congratulate Superintendent Driver for her leadership in moving MPS out of the ‘failing school district” category. This is great news for all of Milwaukee.”

This was just a few months after Darling had decried MPS as a system where students are “trapped in failing schools…This isn’t a new problem. Many Milwaukee public schools have been failing generations of students.” Apparently no one explained to Darling that the new ranking was really just a cosmetic change.

Kooyenga, by contrast, complained that “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.”

Darling’s response highlighted the schizophrenic nature of an approach that wants to make nice with Driver even as it undermines her leadership, of a “partnership” plan that is really a takeover. Kooyenga’s response highlights the contradiction of a state plan that targets poor performing public schools with mostly low-income students while ignoring choice schools in the same category.

Kooyenga has promised we haven’t heard the last of this issue. “Rest assured, there will be more reforms,” he declared. Meanwhile, the more accurate acronym for OSPP might be RIP.

October 20, 2016

Far-Right MacIver Institute Attacks Any Progress made by Milwaukee Public Schools

Filed under: MacIver Institute,OSPP,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 9:16 am
Lisowski: Call it whatever you like, MPS is still failing its students
OLA LISOWSKI October 17, 2016 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The facts overwhelmingly show us that high school graduates in Wisconsin, and especially in MPS, aren’t ready to take on the real world.

In a letter to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Darienne Driver, State Superintendent Tony Evers has provided an update on the beleaguered Opportunity Schools Partnership Program. DPI’s official report cards come out in November, but Evers’ letter provides a teaser in writing that “based on the preliminary data … there are no districts eligible for the OSPP in 2016-’17.”

In other words, expect MPS to lose its “failing to meet expectations” label in the coming report cards, which more heavily weigh progress than outcomes.

Evers writes that in order to participate in OSPP, schools must be placed in the lowest performance category — failing to meet expectations — for two consecutive report cards, or the school building must be vacant or underutilized. Participating schools also must be located in a district categorized as failing to meet expectations.

I’m happy that the state is more diligently measuring progress. When students do better year over year, it’s cause for celebration. But before we all declare MPS a success and the problem solved, let’s wait for the report cards to to be published in November. Consider the latest data available, which paints a different picture, showing that many MPS schools are still serving their students at dismal levels.

According to the University of Wisconsin Remedial Course Report, 175 schools sent more than six graduates to the UW System who needed remedial education in the fall of 2015. Of those schools, 160 graduated classes in which more than 10% of students required remedial math education. In 76 schools, more than 25% of students required math remediation. In 12 schools, 50% or more of the graduating class that went to the UW System needed remedial education.

Bradley Tech, for example, sent 12 students to the UW System in fall 2015. Eight students required math remediation before starting regular courses. This is a school that attracts millions of dollars in philanthropy and is held up by MPS as “the premier technology and trade high school in Milwaukee.” And yet its graduates must take zero-level math courses to catch up with their peers.

Think about what that means for those students who have been told for years that they’re lucky to attend elite institutions within MPS. For the 58% of MPS students who graduate high school in four years, large numbers go on to the UW System where they must take remedial coursework for zero credits and full tuition. For the more than 30,000 students trapped in schools for no other reason than their ZIP code, it’s tragic. The status quo still reigns at MPS, and children are left in schools that fail them — official state label or not.

By declaring MPS to no longer be failing, it appears that DPI simply has moved the goal posts rather than addressing the real issues within the largest school district in the state. The facts overwhelmingly show us that high school graduates in Wisconsin, and especially in MPS, aren’t ready to take on the real world. Never mind what the bureaucrats tell you — that’s the definition of failing to meet expectations.

Ola Lisowski is a research associate at the MacIver Institute, a Madison-based right-wing free market think tank.


Right Wing blogger on OSPP

Filed under: OSPP,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 8:47 am

Alt-right blogger and MacIver Institute contributor, James Widgerson, presents the perspective of the OSSP failings shared by those who hope for the destruction of public education and Milwaukee Public Schools.

Note that Steve Baas, senior vice president for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce for Government Affairs, is interviewed for the article.

Read the blog at:

Click to access Wigderson.pdf

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.”

May 4, 2016

OSPP: Chicago-based School “reform” Group Gets Mixed Grades

Filed under: OSPP — millerlf @ 1:01 pm


Chicago-based group, the Academy for Urban School Leadership, has been identified as a lead partner to oversee the Milwaukee OSPP.

A Chicago Tribune article on AUSL from February 2012 entitled “School reform organization gets average grades” [10] stated that,

“Most of AUSL turnarounds score below CPS averages on the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state benchmarks on standardized testing. Those schools that beat district averages have been accused of pushing out their lowest-performing students or those with discipline problems to artificially inflate their test scores.”

School reform organization gets average grades

February 06, 2012|By Joel Hood and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune reporters

Over the last decade, a nonprofit teaching academy with strong political ties has launched an education revolution inside Chicago Public Schools, tearing down and rebuilding some of the city’s worst-performing schools.

Now running 19 schools and locked in a public battle this month to add six more, the Academy for Urban School Leadership has become a force inside CPS, a virtually autonomous “district within the district” supported by millions in public and private funding.

The organization’s pioneering work to “turn around” struggling schools by removing most of the teachers and administrators and replacing them with AUSL-trained staff, and installing a new culture of discipline and academic rigor, has won them praise from political heavyweights such as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“Schools are in crisis right now. They’re failing,” said Donald Feinstein, AUSL’s executive director. “And so the question is, how long would it take (for CPS) to redevelop an entire workforce when there may be a better way to go in with a dramatic intervention?”

Launched by a reform-minded venture capitalist in 2001, AUSL has always enjoyed a close relationship with CPS. But never more so than under Emanuel, who selected a former AUSL top executive to oversee CPS’ finances and named AUSL’s previous board chairman as president of CPS’ Board of Education.

AUSL, which has hopes of managing as many as 38 schools next year, has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary in Emanuel’s push to overhaul the city’s beleaguered public school system. Yet for all the public attention, AUSL’s results have been mixed; many students have made considerable progress, but as a group they still lag well behind district averages.

Test scores increased remarkably in AUSL’s 12 “turnaround” schools in the first year or two under the group’s management but then leveled out, with many ending up on par or even below comparable neighborhood schools.

All of AUSL’s turnarounds remain on academic probation, including the two original turnaround projects, Sherman Elementary in 2006 and Harvard Elementary in 2007. However, two of the turnarounds have earned elite Level 1 rankings from CPS, a sign they could come off probation next year. Six others were designated Level 3, placing them among the worst in the city.

While CPS has recommended closing many neighborhood schools in recent years because of poor performance or underutilization, two-thirds of AUSL’s schools remain open at less than 70 percent capacity.

Most of AUSL turnarounds score below CPS averages on the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state benchmarks on standardized testing. Those schools that beat district averages have been accused of pushing out their lowest-performing students or those with discipline problems to artificially inflate their test scores.

While AUSL teachers have implemented an intense and focused training style to keep students engaged, few of those strategies have found their way into other CPS schools.

And critics — who include some parents, the teachers union and a few educators — say every time CPS hands over another school to AUSL, it is diverting money away from cash-strapped neighborhood schools that risk falling further behind.

“We just worry about the extent to which these politically connected individuals are using AUSL as a method to alter the landscape of neighborhood schools,” said Chicago Teachers Union staff coordinator Jackson Potter. “Because they’re not the ones that have to deal with the fallout that comes as a result of these decisions. It’s the community.”

AUSL’s supporters see it differently. CPS Chief Administrative Officer Tim Cawley, tapped by Emanuel after running AUSL’s finances for three years, says the organization is taking on the toughest challenges in CPS and that it takes time to change the culture at chronically underperforming schools.

Cawley called AUSL an “important partner” with CPS and said those ties will only strengthen over time. In 2008, just two years after it began the turnaround model, AUSL officials set a target of 25 schools by 2012 and a long-term plan of 38 schools by 2013-14.

“Detractors look for things to make a fuss about,” Cawley said. “The results that AUSL gets are fantastic. And as long as that continues, we would be delighted to have them take on more and more of the lowest-performing schools and help make them better.”

Chicago investor Martin Koldyke, founder of the Golden Apple Foundation, created AUSL with the simple goal of better preparing young teachers for the unique demands of urban education. AUSL filled its ranks with teachers wanting to provide more intense, hands-on instruction and recruited many from careers outside education.

Koldyke, like most of those who helped launch AUSL, has donated heavily to political candidates, including $25,000 to former MayorRichard M. Daley’s re-election campaign in 2006 and $25,000 to Emanuel’s mayoral fund in 2010. In total, Koldyke and AUSL board members have contributed more than $100,000 to various political campaigns since 2003, according to state election records.

Some of those politicians helped raise AUSL’s profile. As congressman, Emanuel helped spearhead a fundraising drive to install an artificial athletic field at the Chicago Academy, a K-12 school in the Portage Park neighborhood that was AUSL’s first school and remains the organization’s headquarters.

When he was looking for innovative approaches to education, then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama staged a news conference in the Chicago Academy’s auditorium and held a focus group with teachers at another AUSL school. Attorney General Lisa Madigan spoke at an AUSL graduation in 2009.

As AUSL has grown, so, too, have its financial resources. AUSL reported $7.7 million in grants and contributions in 2009, the last year that tax records were available — more than double the totals from four years earlier. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alone has awarded AUSL at least $12 million.

Though board members are unpaid, salaries for AUSL’s top executives have increased as the network has expanded. Executive Director Feinstein, a longtime CPS principal who joined AUSL in its infancy, was paid $152,000 in 2010, almost three times his salary in 2005, according to tax records.

Feinstein said that whatever attention AUSL has received from political leaders has been well-earned.

“(Emanuel) was very impressed. (Obama) was very impressed,” Feinstein said. “It comes down to training great teachers, giving these schools a fresh start, preaching a new culture and climate, and getting it right.”

Cawley said AUSL has never asked for or received political favors.

“I have a lot of respect for (former) Mayor (Richard M.) Daley. AUSL would not have happened if not for him,” Cawley said. “But political contributions had nothing to do with the way decisions were made. Nothing.”

CPS has paid AUSL millions to take control of its worst-performing schools. In addition to the money the district portions out to each neighborhood school, turnaround high schools receive $500,000 for specialized teacher training and recruitment and an additional $500 per pupil to pay for instructional coaches, student mentors and tutors. Elementary schools receive $300,000 and $420 per student.

The district also pays to hire one additional assistant principal at each turnaround school for one year and has pumped millions into these schools to repair crumbling walls, fix or modernize equipment, or simply give the school a fresh coat of paint. CPS has pledged $25.7 million to upgrade schools marked for turnaround this year.

These investments have made a difference. All but one AUSL elementary school has posted double-digit gains on Illinois Standard Achievement Test proficiency since the turnaround began. However, an analysis of ISAT scores show that while AUSL has succeeded in raising student performance to meet state benchmarks, the percentage of students exceeding state standards can be small.

At the Sherman School of Excellence in Englewood, for example, ISAT scores jumped 31 percent since turnaround in 2006. However, just 5 percent of students exceeded standards in math over that period, and there was no improvement in reading scores.

Results like these have led some to say AUSL is focusing on students slightly below state standards to boost the percentage of students meeting that threshold.

Critics say it makes CPS’ proposal this year to hand over Casals Elementary School, a high-poverty school with composite ISAT scores above seven AUSL turnaround elementary schools, all the more curious.

“It’s telling a false tale to the public that we can do better than traditional public schools without speaking about all the extra revenue they have or what they’re doing to get those test score jumps that they’re so proud of,” said Julie Woestehoff, executive director of the parents’ advocacy group Parents United for Responsible Education.

Feinstein said that to truly appreciate what AUSL has done, critics need to remember where these schools came from.

“It’s all about growth, continuous improvement,” Feinstein said. “We’ve come a long way, but we have a ways to go still. That’s what drives our work.”

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