“Flexibility” = Decline = Ugly

Remember warnings about your face getting stuck in some ugly expression? I think the champions of “flexibility” in Wisconsin and elsewhere need loud and repeated warnings that their “flexibility” in educational policy (along with privatization, cuts in funding, destruction of local control…) in fact constitutes a possibly permanent acceptance of declining educational quality  and is an ugly betrayal of our traditions and our responsibility to our children.  They are bending our schools out of shape and our children will be stuck with it.

Here is the latest iteration from the Chairs of the Assembly and Senate Education Committees (it is being fast tracked and will be the subject of a hearing in the Assembly Education Committee on Monday May 16).:

TO: Legislative Colleagues

FROM: Representative Steve Kestell & Senator Luther Olsen

DATE: May 12, 2011

RE: Co Sponsorship – K-12 Mandate Relief Legislation

We are introducing legislation to provide public schools more flexibility and mandate relief in several areas: 

  • In the semester in which a student is a participant in a high school sport, that sport can count as the student’s phy ed credit.
  • Explicitly authorizes a school district to contract for a variety of services, including orientation and mobility training, educational interpreters, audiologists, speech therapists, pupil transition services, and any services approved by the state superintendent of public instruction; and makes the costs of such a contract eligible for special education aid.
  • Under current law DPI must prorate state aid payments to school districts for transportation costs if the amount appropriated does not cover all eligible costs. Under this bill, if funds remain after DPI pays all approved claims, DPI must distribute the balance to school districts on a prorated basis.
  • Current law allows a school district to use up to 25 percent of the moneys it receives from the common school fund in a fiscal year to purchase school library computers and related software. This bill eliminates the 25 percent limit.
  • This bill allows a school board to use the results of standardized examinations to evaluate teachers without the presence of the conditions described in current law.  Under current law, the results of standardized examinations may not be used to discharge, suspend, or formally discipline a teacher or as the reason for the nonrenewal of a teacher’s contract.  This bill provides that the results of standardized examinations may not be used as the sole reason to discharge, suspend, or formally discipline a teacher or as the sole reason for the nonrenewal of a teacher’s contract. 
  • This bill eliminates the requirement that no more than 200 teaching days be scheduled in the regular day school period in any school year for Milwaukee Public Schools. 
  • This bill permits SAGE flexibility for a school board that has entered into or renewed a SAGE contract to choose not to comply with the class size limitation requirements in one or more grades covered by the contract in one or more schools in the school district and in one or more years of the contract term.  Offering this flexibility will help maintain SAGE in schools that might otherwise be forced to drop out of the program for financial reasons. 
  • This bill authorizes a school board to refuse to enroll a pupil during the term of the pupil’s expulsion from a public school in another state if the grounds for the pupil’s expulsion would have been grounds for expulsion in this state.  
  • This bill permits a school district to use such law enforcement records as the sole basis for taking action against a pupil under the district’s athletic code. 
  • This bill provides that, in years in which a November general election is held, the school levy certification date is moved from November 6 to November 10.

An LRB copy of the legislation will follow.

The deadline for co-sponsorship is TOMORROW Friday, May 13 at Noon. Please contact Representative Kestell’s office at 6-8530 or Senator Olsen’s office at 6-0751 to be added as a co-sponsor, or reply to this e-mail to sign onto the bill.

Some of these are OK — allowing  a longer school year in Milwaukee, some transportation adjustments, even the school levy certification date change appears to be about a real issue with scheduling referenda.  Others are ugly.

Number 1 appears to be a way to limit the need for Phys Ed classes and teachers.  Number 2 brings the privatization mania into the public schools.  Number 4, like the ARRA shifts from investments in people and books to investments in technology.

I think number 7 is the biggest betrayal here and the most telling example of the acceptance of decline.  The SAGE class size reduction targeted to early grade children in poverty is just about the only source of state education funds that recognizes and addresses economic inequality.  It has been underfunded for years, placing a burden on local districts to make up the difference.  Last session the Democrats — in the name of flexibility — raised the class size limits.  Now the Republicans want to add more “flexibility” allowing districts to ration class size reductions year-to-year and grade-to-grade.   Now we are saying to poor children that we can’t do for you what we know is right, what we did for your older brothers and sisters.  Can we at least get a “sorry’?

Of course the biggest betrayals and sources of decline overall are the pending Biennial Budget’s  reduction of state school aid by $843 Million in combination with a hard 0% growth  cap on the power of school boards to generate revenues.

Like with SAGE, this backwards trend began with the Democrats.  It was Governor Jim Doyle who in his first term dumped the 2/3 state support guarantee.   It was Democrats who in the last Biennial Budget cut general school aids by about $300 Million.  And all of this against a backdrop of 17 years of bi-partisan refusal to fix a broken school funding system which even when “fully funded” required annual cuts to programs and services in most districts.

The thing about going backwards is that simply getting back to the starting point becomes harder and harder and returning to a forward direction almost impossible.    After the last Biennial Budget UW Public Budgets Scholar Andrew Reschovsky did some calculations  on how much it would take to return state school aid to the growth levels of the previous decade. If Wisconsin wanted to completely offset the cuts done in 2009-11 it would require $1,552.4 Million in additional state aid; to simply return to the old trend line without making up for the cuts would take $664.4 Million in additional state aid.

Suck in reverse.  Decline is the new new normal; almost nobody is talking about getting back to where we were and even fewer are trying to move the state forward (the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools — WAES —  is just about the only consistent voice reminding people of the possibility of a truly better way).

We’ve heard a lot from Governor Walker and the Republicans about how we need to cut budgets in order to not burden our children with public debts and deficits (they absolutely refuse to consider revenue reforms which could address these).    But their supposed concern for the  next generation doesn’t extend to providing them the same level  of educational opportunities that their older brothers and sisters had.   This, like “flexibility” is a betrayal.  They don’t care about our children’s future; they care about dismantling the public sector.

Walker is also big on “tools” except when it comes to giving our children the tools they need to be prosperous and successful.

Just this week, they have made it clear that their program goes beyond “no new taxes” when  despite pleas from WAES, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards State Superintendent Tony Evers and others, they refused to consider the use of any of the projected revenue increases to diminish cuts to education (and here).  They seem to be happily stuck in reverse, in decline.

There is one piece here that I need to touch on before closing and that’s number 5, the expanded use of standardized tests for teacher evaluation, discipline, suspension, nonrenewal,  and dismissal.    I’ve written about what’s wrong with this many times before (see here  and and the video here posted by Robert Godfrey).  There is so much more to say, but for now I’ll just quote a recent column from  John Ewing, president of Math for America (read the whole thing!).

Making policy decisions on the basis of value-added models has the potential to do even more harm than browbeating teachers. If we decide whether alternative certification is better than regular certification, whether nationally board certified teachers are better than randomly selected ones, whether small schools are better than large, or whether a new curriculum is better than an old by using a flawed measure of success, we almost surely will end up making bad decisions that affect education for decades to come.

That last line about sums it up with this whole “flexibility” package: “bad decisions that affect education for decades to come.”  Stuck with ugly.

Thomas J. Mertz.


Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Budget, Contracts, education, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, National News, School Finance, Scott Walker, Uncategorized

4 responses to ““Flexibility” = Decline = Ugly

  1. The hearing is at 10:00 AM on Monday, yet at 3:30 PM on Friday there is no draft of the omnibus bill posted on line. Nice.

  2. Am I reading the SAGE paragraph correctly? An individual school can simply “choose not to comply” with class size limitations? For whatever reason?

    I think they have figured out that the quickest, easiest way to cut education spending is to have less teachers. Instead of saying, “we are going to fire 25% of the teachers in WI,” they are going to come up with all these back-door “reforms” that just happen to decrease the number of teachers: raising class sizes, evaluating teachers using standardized test scores, opting students out of courses due to extra-curricular activities and the rest.

    Last year, when the Democrats raised the SAGE class sizes from 15-18, I got responses back from all my democratic legislators telling me that class size doesn’t matter. I am not hopeful that the Republicans will be more receptive. But I’ll start writing the letters again….

    (have any good links with research on small class sizes for me to peruse?)

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