Educate All Students, Support Public Education

April 5, 2020

Why is the Milwaukee county executive race so important to Betsy DeVos?

Filed under: Charter Schools,Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:26 pm

By Marva Herndon -April 4, 2020 Wisconsin Examiner

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. By Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s Secretary of Education, has long funded politicians who support voucher and charter-school schemes through her group, the American Federation for Children. The same American Federation for Children has funded school privatization efforts all over the country. Betsy DeVos is partly responsible for one of the biggest school reform disasters in the country – the privatization of Detroit Public Schools.

Now comes the election on April 7, 2020 — the Milwaukee Perfect Storm. Throughout this country the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted education at all levels. Betsy DeVos and local allies including the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC) see this disruption as a perfect opportunity to push their takeover agenda to the Milwaukee Public Schools. That’s DeVos is pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the race.

What could be the takeover mechanism? The County Executive and the Opportunity Schools program!

Most Milwaukee residents may have forgotten the Opportunity Schools & Partnership Program (OSPP) established by Wisconsin Act 55, in the 2015-2017 biennial budget. This legislation is still waiting to be executed by the Milwaukee County Executive. Chris Abele explains in a letter at the end of the Legislative Audit Bureau report on the program why he did not carry out the implementation of this statute, which lacked both state funding and local political support.

Why is it that so many school privatization figures are interested in the County Executive race? The OSPP requires the Milwaukee County Executive to select a program commissioner to operate the new school district it creates. This new district is created by selecting up to five Milwaukee Public Schools deemed failing on the Wisconsin Report Card to be transferred over to the new opportunity district each year. The new district must turn over these schools to a currently operating charter or voucher school. With additional deals or maybe contracts even a new school operator can join in this financial feast on the children and taxpayers of Milwaukee.

What does the school operator receive in the OSPP?

The expectation that the students come with the school building, along with the current per-student dollar amount paid to charter operators – between $8100 and $8900 per student.

School buildings and all the contents – statute is unclear whether the desks, computers and other equipment transfer with the building or if these items remain the property of the school district.

Termination of schools’ existing district employees – If an MPS school is transferred into the program, the program commissioner must terminate the school’s existing employees who are MPS employees and may reassign the school’s staff out of the school.

What does the program commissioner get?

The commissioner may charge each entity operating an opportunity school a fee of up to 3% of the total per-student payment the entity receives, not to exceed a combined total of $750,000 annually from all entities.

What do Milwaukee children and taxpayers receive in return?

  • Disruption of their education that provides no continuity in curriculum
  • For students with IEP’s (Individualized Education Program) or special needs, mental health services – there are no requirements that their needs be met
  • Loss of civil rights in charter or voucher schools
  • No accountability of any type to taxpayers
  • Loss of local control by elected school board
  • Loss of use and access to taxpayer-owned properties
  • Disaster for the city and MPS district as this program is not funded by the state and the city of Milwaukee holds the debt for the MPS District

Is the OSPP the reason that Betsy DeVos, MMAC, Howard Fuller, Chris Abele and many others are throwing around their influence and money in this election? What do you think?

Disclaimer: I am speaking as an individual, not representing any organization or government office.

Marva Herndon, who was first elected to the Milwaukee Public School Board in April 2019, is a graduate of West Division High School, has enjoyed a 25-year career as a computer programmer, and changed careers after retiring from Harley Davidson in 2009. She and her husband, Carl, are parents of four daughters, all MPS graduates. Their grandchildren who reside in Milwaukee either are MPS graduates or are currently enrolled in MPS.

March 23, 2020

3 Minute Privatization Video: Must See

Filed under: Privatization,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:44 am

January 27, 2018

A Revisit with Michelle Alexander on Schools: We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander

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Interview published in Rethinking Schools

We asked Alexander to share her thoughts about the implications of her work when applied to education and the lives of children and youth.

RS: What is the impact of mass incarceration on African American children and youth?

MA: There is an extraordinary impact. For African American children, in particular, the odds are extremely high that they will have a parent or loved one, a relative, who has either spent time behind bars or who has acquired a criminal record and thus is part of the under-caste—the group of people who can be legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives. For many African American children, their fathers, and increasingly their mothers, are behind bars. It is very difficult for them to visit. Many people are held hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home. There is a tremendous amount of shame with having a parent or other family member incarcerated. There can be fear of having it revealed to others at school.

But also, for these children, their life chances are greatly diminished. They are more likely to be raised in severe poverty; their parents are unlikely to be able to find work or housing and are often ineligible even for food stamps.

For children, the era of mass incarceration has meant a tremendous amount of family separation, broken homes, poverty, and a far, far greater level of hopelessness as they see so many of their loved ones cycling in and out of prison. Children who have incarcerated parents are far more likely themselves to be incarcerated.

When young black men reach a certain age—whether or not there is incarceration in their families—they themselves are the target of police stops, interrogations, frisks, often for no reason other than their race. And, of course, this level of harassment sends a message to them, often at an early age: No matter who you are or what you do, you’re going to find yourself behind bars one way or the other. This reinforces the sense that prison is part of their destiny, rather than a choice one makes.

A Birdcage as a Metaphor

RS: At one point in The New Jim Crow, you refer to the metaphor of a birdcage as a way to describe structural racism and apply that to mass incarceration. How does what is happening to African American youth in our schools fit into that picture?

MA: The idea of the metaphor is there can be many bars, wires that keep a person trapped. All of them don’t have to have been created for the purpose of harming or caging the bird, but they still serve that function. Certainly youth of color, particularly those in ghetto communities, find themselves born into the cage. They are born into a community in which the rules, laws, policies, structures of their lives virtually guarantee that they will remain trapped for life. It begins at a very early age when their parents themselves are either behind bars or locked in a permanent second-class status and cannot afford them the opportunities they otherwise could. For example, those with felony convictions are denied access to public housing, hundreds of professions that require certification, financial support for education, and often the right to vote. Thousands of people are unable even to get food stamps because they were once caught with drugs.

The cage itself is manifested by the ghetto, which is racially segregated, isolated, cut off from social and economic opportunities. The cage is the unequal educational opportunities these children are provided at a very early age coupled with the constant police surveillance they’re likely to encounter, making it very likely that they’re going to serve time and be caught for committing the various types of minor crimes—particularly drug crimes—that occur with roughly equal frequency in middle-class white communities but go largely ignored.

So, for many, whether they go to prison or not is far less about the choices they make and far more about what kind of cage they’re born into. Middle-class white children, children of privilege, are afforded the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes and still go on to college, still dream big dreams. But for kids who are born in the ghetto in the era of mass incarceration, the system is designed in such a way that it traps them, often for life.

RS: How do you define and analyze the school-to-prison pipeline?

MA: It’s really part of the large cage or caste that I was describing earlier. The school-to-prison pipeline is another metaphor—a good one for explaining how children are funneled directly from schools into prison. Instead of schools being a pipeline to opportunity, schools are feeding our prisons.

It’s important for us to understand how school discipline policies have been influenced by the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement. Many people imagine that zero tolerance rhetoric emerged within the school environment, but it’s not true. In fact, the Advancement Project published a report showing that one of the earliest examples of zero tolerance language in school discipline manuals was a cut-and-paste job from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration manual. The wave of punitiveness that washed over the United States with the rise of the drug war and the get tough movement really flooded our schools. Schools, caught up in this maelstrom, began viewing children as criminals or suspects, rather than as young people with an enormous amount of potential struggling in their own ways and their own difficult context to make it and hopefully thrive. We began viewing the youth in schools as potential violators rather than as children needing our guidance.

The Mythology of Colorblindness

RS: In your book, you explain that the policies of mass incarceration are technically “colorblind” but lead to starkly racialized results. How do you see this specifically affecting children and young people of color?

MA: The mythology around colorblindness leads people to imagine that if poor kids of color are failing or getting locked up in large numbers, it must be something wrong with them. It leads young kids of color to look around and say: “There must be something wrong with me, there must be something wrong with us. Is there something inherent, something different about me, about us as a people, that leads us to fail so often, that leads us to live in these miserable conditions, that leads us to go in and out of prison?”

The mythology of colorblindness takes the race question off the table. It makes it difficult for people to even formulate the question: Could this be about something more than individual choices? Maybe there is something going on that’s linked to the history of race in our country and the way race is reproducing itself in modern times.

I think this mythology—that of course we’re all beyond race, of course our police officers aren’t racist, of course our politicians don’t mean any harm to people of color—this idea that we’re beyond all that (so it must be something else) makes it difficult for young people as well as the grown-ups to be able to see clearly and honestly the truth of what’s going on. It makes it difficult to see that the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement manifested itself in the form of mass incarceration, in the form of defunding and devaluing schools serving kids of color and all the rest. We have avoided in recent years talking openly and honestly about race out of fear that it will alienate and polarize. In my own view, it’s our refusal to deal openly and honestly with race that leads us to keep repeating these cycles of exclusion and division, and rebirthing a caste-like system that we claim we’ve left behind.

RS: We are in the midst of a huge attack on public education—privatization through charters and vouchers; increased standardization, regimentation, and testing; and the destruction of teachers’ unions. Much of it is justified by what appears to be anti-racist rhetoric: Schools aren’t meeting the needs of inner-city children, so their parents need choices. How do you see this?

MA: People who focus solely on what do we do given the current context are avoiding the big why. Why is it that these schools aren’t meeting these kids’ needs? Why is it that such a large percentage of the African American population today is trapped in these ghettos? What is the bigger picture?

The bigger picture is that over the last 30 years, we have spent $1 trillion waging a drug war that has failed in any meaningful way to reduce drug addiction or abuse, and yet has siphoned an enormous amount of resources away from other public services, especially education. We are in a social and political context in which the norm is to punish poor folks of color rather than to educate and empower them with economic opportunity. It is that political context that leads some people to ask: Don’t children need to be able to escape poorly performing schools? Of course, no one should be trapped in bad schools or bad neighborhoods. No one. But I think we need to be asking a larger question: How do we change the norm, the larger context that people seem to accept as a given? Are we so thoroughly resigned to what “is” that we cannot even begin a serious conversation about how to create what ought to be?

The education justice movement and the prison justice movement have been operating separately in many places as though they’re in silos. But the reality is we’re not going to provide meaningful education opportunities to poor kids, kids of color, until and unless we recognize that we’re wasting trillions of dollars on a failed criminal justice system. Kids are growing up in communities in which they see their loved ones cycling in and out of prison and in which they are sent the message in countless ways that they, too, are going to prison one way or another. We cannot build healthy, functioning schools within a context where there is no funding available because it’s going to building prisons and police forces.

RS: And fighting wars?

MA: Yes, and fighting wars. And where there is so much hopelessness because of the prevalence of mass incarceration.

At the same time, we’re foolish if we think we’re going to end mass incarceration unless we are willing to deal with the reality that huge percentages of poor people are going to remain jobless, locked out of the mainstream economy, unless and until they have a quality education that prepares them well for the new economy. There has got to be much more collaboration between the two movements and a greater appreciation for the work of the advocates in each community. It’s got to be a movement that’s about education, not incarceration—about jobs, not jails. A movement that integrates the work in these various camps from, in my view, a human rights perspective.

Fighting Back

RS: What is the role of teachers in responding to this crisis? What should we be doing in our classrooms? What should we be doing as education activists?

MA: That is a wonderful question and one I’m wrestling with myself now. I am in the process of working with others trying to develop curriculum and materials that will make it easier to talk to young people about these issues in ways that won’t lead to paralysis, fear, or resignation, but instead will enlighten and inspire action and critical thinking in the future. It’s very difficult but it must be done.

We have to be willing to take some risks. In my experience, there is a lot of hesitancy to approach these issues in the classroom out of fear that students will become emotional or angry, or that the information will reinforce their sense of futility about their own lives and experience. It’s important to teach them about the reality of the system, that it is in fact the case that they are being targeted unfairly, that the rules have been set up in a way that authorize unfair treatment of them, and how difficult it is to challenge these laws in the courts. We need to teach them how our politics have changed in recent years, how there has been, in fact, a backlash. But we need to couple that information with stories of how people in the past have challenged these kinds of injustices, and the role that youth have played historically in those struggles.

I think it’s important to encourage young people to tell their own stories and to speak openly about their own experiences with the criminal justice system and the experiences of their family. We need to ensure that the classroom environment is a supportive one so that the shame and stigma can be dispelled. Then teachers can use those stories of what students have witnessed and experienced as the opportunity to begin asking questions: How did we get here? Why is this happening? How are things different in other communities? How is this linked to what has gone on in prior periods of our nation’s history? And what, then, can we do about it?

Just providing information about how bad things are, or the statistics and data on incarceration by themselves, does lead to more depression and resignation and is not empowering. The information has to be presented in a way that’s linked to the piece about encouraging students to think critically and creatively about how they might respond to injustice, and how young people have responded to injustice in the past.

RS: What specifically?

MA: There’s a range of possibilities. I was inspired by what students have done in some schools organizing walkouts protesting the lack of funding and that sort of thing. There are opportunities for students to engage in those types of protests—taking to the streets—but there is also writing poetry, writing music, beginning to express themselves, holding forums, educating each other, the whole range. For example, for a period of time the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, Calif., was focused on youth engagement and advocacy to challenge mass incarceration. They launched a number of youth campaigns to close youth incarceration facilities in northern California. They demonstrated that it is really possible to blend hip-hop culture with very creative and specific advocacy and to develop young leaders. Young people today are very creative in using social media and there is a wide range of ways that they can get involved.

The most important thing at this stage is inspiring an awakening. There is a tremendous amount of confusion and denial that exists about mass incarceration today, and that is the biggest barrier to movement building. As long as we remain in denial about this system, movement building will be impossible. Exposing youth in classrooms to the truth about this system and developing their critical capacities will, I believe, open the door to meaningful engagement and collective, inspired action.


Why teach about structural oppression and other systems of control?

Young people are not likely to get this information from any other source. If we are ever going to overcome this, we first have to be able to talk about it, describe it, to know what it is. Unlike the old Jim Crow, there are no signs alerting you today to the existence of racial bias. The “whites only” signs are gone, and it’s easy today to be lulled into this belief that people are at the bottom because they simply don’t work hard or are lazy or prone to violence. If we don’t pull back the curtain for young people and help them to see how unconscious bias operates, how systems of discrimination operate, then they will continue to operate on a false belief that race discrimination is a part of our past and not our present. They will find themselves being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.


What would you want students to understand from reading and studying your book? 

They have the power to change the system. It’s easy to imagine that a system like mass incarceration can’t be dismantled. The same was said about slavery, the same was said about Jim Crow. And yet a powerful movement, led in large part by courageous, young people who were unwilling to accept the status quo, who were bold and brave and who were truth-tellers, helped to bring that Jim Crow system to its knees. I think it’s important that even as we learn about great injustice that we not become paralyzed by it but recognize that we are the change we’ve been waiting for and that young people—perhaps more than any other segment in our society—are the hope upon which future generations can rely.

Interview by Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools, published 2013

Who is shackling our children and who is supporting their liberation?


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.”


June 12, 2017

Milwaukee Journal Sunday Op-ed, “Plan to fix schools falls short”, Falls Short

Filed under: Privatization — millerlf @ 9:20 am

In Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel there is an op-ed (“Plan to fix schools falls short” by Wright and Petrilli that criticizes the new federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act. Their alternatives for schools, identified as low performing, is warmed over privatization: private charters, turnaround districts, receiverships and “innovation zones”. They offer Nashville and New Orleans as examples of these privatization “successes.” Once again neoliberal school “reformers” deny truth.    

Read the following articles:

New Orleans:




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.

October 7, 2016

Wisconsin Education Alert: Rep. Dale Kooyenga Interview on MPS Takeover

Filed under: MPS Takeover,Privatization — millerlf @ 2:56 pm

The following October 5th interview with Rep. Dale Kooyenga includes the following:

  • He calls for looking at the governance structure of MPS. He says everything is on the table.
  • He calls for the MPS Board of School Directors to “decentralize” control.
  • He takes credit for initiatives and work done by the MPS administration and board.

The MPS discussion starts at approximately 13:25 minutes. (K12 funding is at 11:40 minutes)


September 6, 2016

After Hundreds of School Closures, Black Families Are Still Waiting for Justice

Filed under: Privatization,School Closings — millerlf @ 5:01 pm
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 By Mike Ludwig, Truthout

Graffiti alters a sign outside a school in New Orleans, Louisiana that has sat vacant since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. After the storm, schools across the city were closed or converted into charter schools; a process that civil rights advocates say disproportionately displaced Black students. The school pictured here is located in the historic Treme neighborhood and was recently sold to a private developer who is converting the buildings into studies for artists. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)Graffiti alters a sign outside Andrew J. Bell Jr. High School in New Orleans, Louisiana, which has been sitting vacant since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. After the storm, schools across the city were closed or converted into charter schools — a process that civil rights advocates say disproportionately displaced Black students. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)

As students across the country head back to school this week, some will be traveling longer distances than usual to reach the classroom. These students do not live in remote areas. In fact, they live in some of the most urban districts in the country, and they used to have schools right in their own neighborhoods — until school boards and state officials closed their doors in the name of “reform.”

In May of 2014, civil rights organizers in Newark, Chicago and New Orleans filed complaints with the Department of Education demanding federal intervention to stop widespread discrimination against people of color in their cities’ public school systems. The complaints couldn’t have been more urgent — neighborhoods were literally losing their schools to closures and consolidations, and the students whose schools were being shuttered were overwhelmingly Black and Brown.

It’s been more than two years, and of those three cities, only Newark, New Jersey’s school system has reached an agreement with federal officials. Even that agreement, which requires the district to identify and fix transportation and academic problems faced by students displaced by school closures, is only between the district and federal officials. To the frustration of civil rights advocates, the deal does not include an agreement for accountability between the schools and the taxpaying families who say their children were systemically discriminated against as the closures swept through their neighborhoods.

In New Orleans and Chicago, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is still investigating the complaints, offering no regular updates to the civil rights attorneys and the communities behind them. Speaking on background, a department spokesman said officials do not discuss the details of ongoing investigations as a matter of policy, and some take longer than others to complete due to complex legal issues.

Meanwhile, schoolchildren in New Orleans are crossing busy, four-lane roads to reach charter schools located neighborhoods away from the shuttered school buildings sitting vacant on their own streets.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated southern Louisiana in 2005, a state-run board took over the New Orleans school district, fired thousands of local teachers and initiated the most aggressive consolidation and privatization campaign in the nation. Black students and families watched their public schools close at much higher rates than those with predominantly white students, and the district often failed to provide them with adequate educational alternatives after the closures, according to the 2014 complaint.

In Chicago, schools are being “sabotaged” by budget cuts and attacks on the local teachers union. Schools struggling from a lack of resources will be labeled as “failing schools” in just a few years, but only by standards set by bureaucrats and lawmakers miles away, according to Jitu Brown, a community organizer in Chicago and the national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance. The organization is made up of grassroots civil rights groups in 23 cities fighting to replace policies that shut down schools with community-based solutions.

Chicago is not alone. In cities across the country, hundreds of schools have shut down under so-called “reform” policies handed down by the Bush and Obama administrations, according to Journey for Justice. State and local officials use enrollment numbers, high-stakes testing scores and other metrics attached to state and federal funding incentives to identify and shut down schools considered to be “failing,” robbing neighborhoods of essential public resources and disrupting students’ academic life.

“We don’t believe that we have failing schools,” Brown told Truthout. “We think that’s a political statement. We’ve been failed.”

An Unequal Education System

Brown says that taxpaying parents in Black neighborhoods deserve better-funded schools with more resources for learning, but the inequities in Chicago are sitting in plain sight. For example, schools in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods enjoy teacher’s aides in every classroom and librarians on staff at all times, while schools in lower-income neighborhoods of color do not.

Brown said that a “sense of possibility” must be raised within a child’s mind to “open the door for information they receive.” But it’s much more difficult to spark that sense of possibility in schools that lack the classroom tools for inspiring learning that are available in other parts of the city. And it’s those same under-resourced schools that are shut down when students’ test scores do not meet the standards set by politicians outside their community.

Civil rights advocates argue that the disruption caused by school closures makes it more likely that students will skip class and even drop out of school, further lowering enrollment numbers and graduation rates in districts already being punished for underperforming. Plus, when schools close, neighborhoods lose places to gather, learn and access public services. Children and alumni lose a place where they learned, played and made memories.

“You have the feeling that you don’t have any community roots anymore and its very disruptive to a community’s mentality and community psyche,” said Jessica Shiller, a “scholar-activist” who teaches education at Towson University and works with communities impacted by school closings in Baltimore, where the city is four years into an aggressive renovation plan that will close and consolidate 26 schools by 2022.

Shiller told Truthout that shutting down neighborhood schools is one of the worse things policy makers can do, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

“That school is where kids get meals and have a relationship with somebody outside the family, a person watching them during the day; it’s where they play basketball, it’s a place to gather and see friends,” Shiller told Truthout. “And I don’t think that school district leaders … are thinking about it that way.”

Shiller said that some residents in Baltimore’s Black neighborhoods are already cynical, viewing the “renovation” plan as a force for gentrification, designed to push unwanted families and students out, making room for more affluent residents.

Back in Chicago, more than 100 schools have been closed in the past 15 years, with shutdowns peaking at 49 in 2013. New research shows that Black and Latino children in Chicago were most likely to be displaced by school closures, depriving them of the opportunity to attend schools located conveniently in their own neighborhoods and, in some cases, forcing them to travel through areas with high incidences of street-based violence in order to attend class. In New Orleans, nearly every public school in the majority-Black city has been shut down or converted into a charter.

Meanwhile, both Illinois and Louisiana are among at least 25 states that are providing less state funding per K-12 student today than was provided back in 2008, before the recession took hold, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. This data was drawn from state “formula” or “general” funds, where the bulk of state school funding comes from, leaving local school districts hard-pressed to come up with sufficient funding.

Illinois is one of 14 states with “regressive” school funding formulas that spend less money on districts with more low-income students, according to Education Law Center. Year after year, Chicago and Philadelphia, which have both suffered large numbers of controversial school closings, rank as some of the most disadvantaged school districts in the nation.

The Education Law Center reports that disadvantaged school districts don’t just deserve the same funding as their wealthier neighbors. In fact, they require more funding to attract skilled teachers with competitive salaries, and to pay for programs and resources that may not be necessary in areas where families have better job opportunities. For example, most suburban parents may be able to buy sports equipment, pay for basic health care and sign their kids up for music lessons, while parents in lower-income, urban areas may lean more heavily on public schools for such resources.

However, Brown says that cities like Chicago refuse to fund and support schools equitably across race and class lines. Then, they turn around and blame the victim when officials shut the schools down.

“They say something is wrong with those teachers or those kids … and then open the door for hustlers to basically run in,” Brown said, referring to privately-run charters that have popped up across Chicago, even setting up shop in old storefronts.

Who Benefits From School Closures?

In many cases, charters and “contract” schools run by nonprofits or private businesses replace the schools that are shut down. Nationally, experts say charters have had a mixture of problems and successes, including higher marks for some students, but also patterns of “exclusion” that force already-marginalized students out of school in order to improve the school’s performance and attractiveness. The exclusion of children with disabilities and behavioral challenges is not only discriminatory, it feeds the school-to-prison pipeline by pushing kids into the hands of police on duty at schools or out into the streets.

In New Orleans, a recent survey found that parents gave much higher “grades” to new charter schools than to the public schools that used to operate in most of the city and suffered for years from mismanagement and budget woes. Surveyors found similar trends among parents in more than a dozen other cities. However, there was a direct correlation between parents’ views of charter and public schools: The worse parents viewed their traditional, publicly run options to be, the higher the marks they gave to newer charters.

But for students of color displaced by school closures, the results have so far been disappointing. A recent Rice University study found that 27 school closures in Houston, Texas disproportionately displaced poor and Black students, and the closures were not associated with any academic gains among these students besides some small, short-term gains in math.

The Rice researchers agreed that closures would have had the potential to improve displaced students’ performance if they were moved to the city’s highest-performing schools, but this did not happen in most cases. Instead, low-performing students and students of color were moved to schools that were only slightly better performing than the schools they came from.

A 2009 study in Chicago yielded similar results, and a 2012 study on an anonymous, urban school district suggests that displacing students can actually harm their academic performance if they don’t land in significantly higher-performing schools.

Shiller points to two rival high schools in Baltimore, Forest Park and Northwestern, which are currently being consolidated into one building. Both schools are predominately Black and have similar levels academic performance, and it’s unclear how students will benefit from the merger. Parents are concerned about conflicts arising between students who, until now, have rooted and played for rival sports teams.

“It’s really going to be about whether kids feel like they can make a place there,” Shiller said. “It’s the school that’s like their enemy.”

Students, parents and alumni say the merger was pushed through with little public notice and community input as Baltimore pursues a sweeping renovation plan, leaving concerned parents pleading with school officials to slow the process down.

“They’re tearing this community up by the roots,” Michael Rose, a parent of a recent Northwestern graduate and a rising ninth grader, told the Baltimore Sun earlier this summer. “They’re going to rush it, have a little get-together and get away with it.”

In a way, Rose’s frustrations sum up the sentiment behind the Journey for Justice’s national mission and the civil rights complaints filed on behalf of parents and students in New Orleans and Chicago. Across the country, families and students of color feel pushed around when schools are closed, privatized and consolidated. Instead of receiving the support they need to succeed, Black and Brown students are punished with closures when they don’t, only to be shuffled around a public education system bearing all the marks of racial inequality.

It’s a problem that goes all the way to the top. Jadine Johnson, an attorney for the Advancement Project, a civil rights group that helped file the complaints with the Department of Education, said that the impacted communities in New Orleans and Chicago have been left out of the accountability process as the federal investigations continue with little transparency.

“The process, in terms of reaching a resolution, ends up being between the school and the Department of Education, and that’s something we need to change,” Johnson said.

The department said it may use a variety of techniques to gather and examine all the relevant facts of a case before deciding whether there is enough evidence to show that federal civil rights law has indeed been broken, but Brown argues the investigations should be more “victim centered.” Once the investigation is taking place, alleged harmful activities such as school closures should stop until a final decision is made, and there should be a very clear process for appeal.

Brown said he is grateful that the federal authorities agreed to investigate educational discrimination in New Orleans and Chicago, but now that two years have passed, he’s starting to doubt that federal civil rights officials are the “crusaders for justice” that he once hoped they would be.

“The wheels of justice, they are rusted,” Brown said. “And they don’t turn.”

August 30, 2016

Can a Private Company Teach Troubled Kids?

Filed under: Privatization — millerlf @ 12:10 pm

At the Richmond Alternative School in Virginia, 97 percent of students are black and 87 percent are poor, and the city just outsourced their education.

Alexia Fernández Campbell Aug 27, 2016 The Atlantic

RICHMOND, Va.—Disruptive students are a headache for public schools. They distract from lessons, skip class, and often bring down the graduation rates. That’s why school districts across the country have resorted to opening alternative schools in recent decades, with hopes that smaller classes and individual attention might help these students get their diplomas. But even these alternative schools (which differ from charter schools in that they are still part of school districts and thus answer to superintendents) can be a burden: They’re expensive to run, and their graduation rates are still pretty low.

Desperate for help, many school districts are now hiring private companies to manage these alternative schools and educate their most troublesome students. Large, urban districts like Chicago and Philadelphia have been working with this emerging industry for several years now. Though research shows that problematic students in Philadelphia did better in alternative schools than traditional ones, there is a wide variance in school quality, and detailed information about their curricula is scarce.

The question on the table is whether a business whose job it is to make money can better educate vulnerable students than a public system with no profit motive. It’s not too different from the dynamic between the federal government and the private companies running its prisons across the country. But the Justice Department announced last week that it would stop contracting with the private sector, in part because it doesn’t seem to save that much money, and in part because the service didn’t improve either.

Richmond is one of the latest cities to experiment with outsourcing education. In July, the city hired a Texas-based company called Camelot Education to run the Richmond Alternative School, which last year served 223 students from across the city in grades 6 through 11. Nearly all of the students at Richmond Alternative are black (97 percent) and most are poor (87 percent qualify for free lunches). Some black parents once dubbed it the “colored children’s prison” and it has been criticized for contributing to what’s called the school-to-prison pipeline—Virginia is the state that refers the most students to law enforcement.

Data provided by Richmond’s school district shows that its alternative school has been floundering for years. When the school year ended three months ago, the numbers were alarming: The dropout rate had jumped to 38 percent, compared to 28 percent just two years earlier. And students’ scores in nearly every subject had fallen by 50 percent or more during that time.

“It’s at a point where we know something has to change. Trying something new is better than doing the same old thing.”

This led the school board to enlist Camelot, which has run alternative schools in 12 districts across the country. It was a quick decision that may have been too hasty, says Jessee Perry, who is running for a position on the school board, and it concerns her that it happened right before the beginning of the school year. “But it’s at a point where we know something has to change,” she says. “Trying something new is better than doing the same old thing.”

The turn to the private sector is not new for Richmond. In 2004, the city hired a private company to run a previous iteration of its alternative school, which was then called the Capital City Program. The $4.6 million agreement with a Tennessee-based company called Community Education Partners was the school district’s most expensive contract that year. Back then, the school was located next to the Gilpin Court housing projects, in one of the city’s most violent neighborhoods. The quality of the education provided by Community Education Partners turned out to be substandard, according to a Richmond Magazine investigation, which found that a third of the school’s teachers were not credentialed.

Elsewhere, schools run by Community Education Partners were not faring much better. The American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia sued the company in 2008 for allegedly providing “fundamentally inferior” education to students at an alternative school in Atlanta—an environment “so violent and intimidating that learning is all but impossible.” Atlanta canceled its contract with the company, and a year later, so did the city of Philadelphia.

When the firm’s contract with Richmond was up in 2013, the school board decided the district would take over the school again, saving it about $2 million a year. The school was moved away from Gilpin Court and into an old high-school building across the interstate. But student performance did not improve, as the district’s data shows. So, as of July, it has a $1.8 million contract with Camelot, and has agreed to provide additional support staff at a cost of $800,000, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

During a recent visit to Richmond, I stopped by the school and it was buzzing with activity. Moving trucks were parked outside and crews were unloading teaching materials and what appeared to be furniture. School staff didn’t want to talk about the changes, and instead referred me to the district’s spokeswoman, who also declined to discuss them. The district did, however, provide this statement:

“Camelot will staff the school with educators who are licensed in specific content areas that are trained in behavior modification, de-escalation techniques, and who are experienced at working in nontraditional environments. The expectation is that this company will assist staff at the school in setting clear performance metrics such as enhancing the school climate, reducing absenteeism, and increasing the graduation rate.”

The district’s own teachers, who have been at Richmond Alternative for the past couple school years, were not trained to handle students who are prone to violence or who are dealing with trauma. This is something Camelot’s CEO, Todd Bock, says his staff is equipped to do. That’s because the company started out as a behavioral healthcare provider for teens before branching out into education in 2003. He says the company’s expertise is working with vulnerable teens who are at risk of dropping out of school or ending up in jail. Bock says staff at Camelot schools know the parents and guardians of each student and are aware of challenges they face at home. “So our approach really is to address the social-emotional and behavioral issues of our students first, because without that you can’t access academics,” he tells me.

For example, every day at a Camelot school begins and ends with a town-hall meeting, Bock says, where teachers and staff are encouraged to talk to students on a personal level. If a student acts up in class, protocol is for the teacher to stop and address the student’s behavior, instead of automatically sending him or her to the principal’s office. The policy at Richmond Alternative will be to suspend kids only if they break the law or if there is a need to call the police. “Frankly, suspending kids that have been suspended their whole life is a failure on our part,” he says. “We need to do everything we can to support kids and keep them where they need to be, which is in school.”

Companies such as Camelot can pay teachers less if they choose to, as they are not subject to collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers’ union.

The teachers who have been working at Richmond Alternative the past few years will have an opportunity to interview for teaching positions with Camelot, Bock says, but, if hired, they will be required to undergo the company’s de-escalation and behavior modification training. Companies such as Camelot can pay teachers less if they choose to, as they are not subject to collective bargaining agreements with the local teachers’ union.

This may be the first time that Richmond will work with Camelot, but data on the company’s presence in Philadelphia provides a fuller picture of its track record. Camelot was one of half a dozen companies running Philadelphia’s alternative schools in the past decade, the largest experiment in privatizing alternative education to date.

The city first turned to the private sector in 2004, with mixed results. In 2010, researchers at Mathematica Policy Research studied the academic outcomes of students in Philadelphia’s 14 alternative schools, which were all privately run, and compared them to the outcomes of similar students who stayed in traditional schools. Their research showed that students at alternative schools were more likely to pass their classes and graduate than similarly at-risk peers at traditional public schools. But graduation rates at alternative schools were still “abysmal,” says Hanley Chiang, the report’s main author. About 29 percent of students graduated from alternative schools, compared to about 22 percent of at-risk students who stayed at traditional high schools. “There is still a lot of room for improvement in getting these graduation rates up,” says Chiang.

His research also showed that instructional quality varies greatly among providers, with Camelot performing the best among those working in Philadelphia’s schools at the time. Graduation rates at Camelot schools increased by 12 percentage points compared to similar students who stayed in their original schools, while one provider, YouFirst (run by Community Education Partners) actually had a negative impact on graduation rates, which were lower by 14 percentage points. Chiang’s research didn’t look at whether the school district could have done a better job educating these students compared to the private firms. “The evidence is silent on that,” he says.

Despite its relative success in Philadelphia, Camelot has been criticized by the ACLU for a creating a “highly restrictive and overtly confrontational environment” at an alternative school it operates in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The school, Phoenix Academy, was mentioned in a class-action lawsuit filed last month by the ACLU against the Lancaster School District, alleging that the district unfairly sends foreign-born students to the school just because they don’t speak English well.

Perry, the Richmond school-board candidate, says she’s concerned about school districts relying on a for-profit model to educate their most vulnerable students. To keep making money, these companies benefit from maintaining a system where traditional schools cannot educate their own students. “They might also be tempted to cut costs, which can definitely hurt the quality of the education,” she says.

For now, Richmond is counting on Camelot to do a better job than its school district has in getting high-school diplomas in the hands of their worst-performing students. As Camelot’s CEO says, the district can always fire the company if it doesn’t deliver results.


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:

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