Category Archives: Arne Duncan

Is it “all about the kids” (and what that might mean)? — Take One (in relation to ULGM and Madison Prep)

Sir Mack Rice “Money Talks” (click to listen or download)

My training as a historian has taught me that all knowledge is tentative and that this is especially true when it comes to assigning motives to people’s actions.  It has also taught me to not accept self-proclaimed motives at face value , to only state an opinion  about the motives of others when there is a preponderance of evidence,  and to look  at actions and consequences as well as  rhetoric when trying to make sense of things.

With those caveats,  I think it is worthwhile to investigate the motives, actions and the consequences of the actions of Kaleem Caire and some of others associated with the Madison Prep proposal and the Urban League of Greater Madison in relation to public education.

Enemies of teachers and teacher unions have seized upon the phrase “it is all about the kids” to ridicule and attack teachers and their representatives.   With union and (almost all) others, of course it isn’t “all about the kids.”  Interestingly, those who blame unions for some or all of the ills of public education — like many of  the proponents  of Madison Prep — often offer their own versions of “it is all about the kids.”  Examples include  Michelle Rhee who named her group Students First (Valarie Strauss pointedly offered a column on Rhee’s organization titled “Rhee’s campaign is not about the kids.”) and the anti-Union political bribery has been done  in Illinois (and elsewhere) under the banner of Stand for Children ( a must-see video here).

This is the first of a series of three “takes,” distinct but related investigations of what else besides concern for “the kids” might be fueling the Madison Prep effort and some thoughts about how a sincere effort largely or even exclusively on behalf of “the kids” can lead to consequences (intended or unintended or both) that many of us see as very harmful to “the kids.”

Take One:  Why did the Walton Family Foundation spend  $157 million last year on “education reform” (and almost as much in previous years) and how this relates to Madison Prep?

The Washington Post reported that in 2010 The Walton Family Foundation gave grants totaling over $157 million to what they deemed “education” reform efforts.  The entire list is here, and you can see the previous years here.  Under “Shaping Public Policy,” you can find such groups as the Barry Goldwater Institute for Public Policy Research; the National Right to Work Legal Defense & Education Foundation;  Wisconsin’s own Right Wing Press Release machine the John K. Maclver Institute for Public Policy, Inc.; and Kaleem Caire’s former employers the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).

The Walton Foundation describes its educational policy work and goals in this manner:

For parents to be empowered to choose among high-performing schools, local and state public policy must allow for those choices to exist. To this end, we seek to build the capacity of organizations to help enact, strengthen and protect programs that empower parents to choose high-performing schools.

Investment Strategies

Within our Shape Public Policy initiative, we focus on advocacy groups promoting:

  • Public charter school choice;
  • Private school choice;
  • District reforms, particularly open enrollment and district school choice; and
  • Cross-sector parental choice, parents are empowered to choose across school.

Note that the ability “to choose” is the goal, not universal access.   I want to return to this in the context of their relationship to Kaleem Caire  and Madison Prep, but first I want to say that there is a preponderance of evidence that the Waltons’ motives have very little to do “high powered schools” or education (especially the kind of education that makes people ask questions about the doings of people like the Waltons) and everything to do with destroying the public sector.  The same can be said to a great degree about many of the other supporters of Caire’s work, with some overtly racist and segregationist dimensions for at least the Bradley Foundation, who funded The Bell Curve and the Kochs who have been active in the re-segregation of Wake County NC schools (watch this powerful video, appropriately titled ” Why do the Koch brothers want to end public education? “).

As I was working on this Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism released the first of his three part series on the Walton’s and other choice advocates’ activities in Wisconsin,  This saves me a lot of trouble preponding the evidence.  In part one you can read about the  tens of thousands of dollars in direct contributions to candidates, the uncounted indirect contributions via front groups,  the ties among individuals like the Waltons and Betsy and Dick DeVos and organizations such as the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice.    Not mentioned in part one of the Lueders piece is the relationships to American Legislative Exchange Council, another beneficiary of the Walton largesses and one that gets us closer to their public sector destroying mission.  You can also get a glimpse at some of the Walton’s federal activities via Open Secrets, here.

David Sirota’s “The bait and switch of school ‘reform“” brings it back to covers more of this, including the direct profit motive and the alliance of conservative and “neo-liberal” actors.  “Following the Charter Dollars” by Don Whittinghill of the Louisiana School Boards Association is also a must read (for those who want more on Louisiana, “NOLA Public Schools & School Privatization Part 1: Selected Bibliography of Articles, Books, Studies and Informed Opinions–2011 to 10/2010” is a good place to start; for the conservative movement ad the role of “think tanks” in general, this bibliography from the Commonweal Institute \\is very useful..

All these add to evidence that with the schools as well as in the workplace and for working parents, in the electoral arena,  in tax policy, on the environment and with so much more, The Waltons and there free market friends have interests that are very different than the well being of America’s children and very much geared toward weakening, undermining and destroying the good of the public sector.

Still, in a strange way if you believe that the entire American experiment in universal common schooling has been an irredeemable failure, public sector destroying may circle back to the quest for quality education .

I don’t believe that.  I’ve put in countless volunteer hours working for change and improvement in public education, but I’m more of a believer in the “Conservationist Ethic in Education”  and although it is often frustrating, Tinkering Toward Utopia has more appeal to me in public education than creative destruction, especially when the worth of what is being created in the wreckage is questionable at best.

For now though, let’s leave speculation about motives aside, take  them at their word  and assume that this is all or nearly all about the kids  and look at how that has worked out.  In essence that’s what Kaleem Caire has done and what he he is now asking the Board of Education and the taxpayers of Madison to do;  to follow the path prescribed by the Waltons and their ilk and see how it works out for the kids.

For the last decade  Kaleem Caire’s work has been funded by people like the Waltons and the Bradley Foundation, the (Milton) Friedman  Foundation and even the Koch Brothers.   It wasn’t always that way.  When he ran for the Board of Education in 1998 (the first Madison School Board campaign I was part of), the Capital Times reported

If elected, Caire says he will lead the fight against the ”very elitist conservatives who are trying to basically break the back of public education.”

Then he began working with or for these people.  Now he dismisses any objections to these alliances, as in the recent Wisconsin State Journal story:

“On the issue of vouchers, we agreed,” he said of his conservative benefactors. “On other things, we didn’t. I don’t listen to the guilt-by-association crap.”

He pointed out that other funders included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, considered more left-leaning politically.

First and as an aside, very, very few people in ed policy consider the recent work done by the Gates Foundation (or to a lesser extent the Joyce Foundation) to be “left-leaning.”  They are more right-center  in a landscape that has been shifting steadily to the right.

Second, I don’t think “guilt-by-association” is “crap.”

I understand building coalitions and working with people you might otherwise disagree with toward a common goal, but you do have to choose your comrades and I think there should be some limits on who you are willing to associate with.  Maybe that’s just me.

One reason for limits is that there is a danger of being used, of having the distinct agenda of one party to the deal advanced to a much greater degree than your common goals.   It has become common for conservatives and corporate America to use Civil Rights organizations and minorities to help advance their agendas.  It is no accident that Linda Chavez is the face of the (also Bradley Foundation backed) Center for Equal Opportunity, and their attack on affirmative action and bilingual education at UW and elsewhere.  Just this week there was a story about the Congress on Racial Equality opposing Green Jobs at the behest of their funder ExxonSupporters of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger include the NAACP, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, (yes, unions are not immune) the National Education AssociationThe national Urban League supports too.  All of these organizations have benefited from generous donations from the telecom behemoth.

I remember Caire’s mentor Howard Fuller saying “we use them, they use us,” but this seems to set the two parties up as equals in the exchange and we all know that one side has millions or billions of dollars at their disposal, while the other brings to the table little more than their energy and ability to complicate the racial politics.

So to see if the deal has been a good one, we have to return to “the kids.”  The Walton’s posit expanded choice as an end of itself;  Kaleem Caire has presented choice as a means to an end, the end being access to quality education and improved educational outcomes.  There is no question that the Waltons have been successful in expanding choice (and I’d add they have made significant progress in their less transparent goal of destroying public education).   Most of the evidence points to the conclusion that the aggregate impact of expanded choice on access to quality education has been negative.

It needs to be acknowledged that many individual children have benefited from expanded choice via vouchers and charters, but when the “greatest good for the greatest number” metric is employed, “choice” is found wanting, as is the Madison Prep proposal.

The latest study of the Milwaukee voucher program y by the Walton-funded University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project concluded that in terms of academic achievement of students enrolled in private schools at taxpayer expense do on average no better than similar students  enrolled in MPS schools.   The mandated report from the Legislative Audit Bureau echoed this finding.  Less sophisticated readings of Department of Public Instruction data reveals that voucher students did worse on the WKCE than MPS students; this is true even if the comparison is confined to those eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Voucher proponents interested in student outcomes (no just choice for choice sake) have been reduced to pointing to superior graduation rates (a very questionable measure given the autonomy private schools have in this area) and making a convoluted case that the competition from vouchers has improved public schools.  The latter is both the first and last refuge of the free market reformers.  Their prime directive is that the competition of the market always produces progress.  It is also in the words of sometime Caire collaborator Jay P. Green of the Arkansas Project a win/win assertion for them.  Had the voucher schools performed better this would be evidence of success, but since they did not, the failure of privatization is redeemed by the success in the public sector, success that is said to depend o the presence of the failed private sector.   That’s the political/ideological analysis; more scholarly critiques, rejoinders  and dissents from the conclusions of the Arkansas Project and related “research”  check  the publications of the always worthwhile  National Education Policy Center Think Tank Review Project (and here), as well as Vouchers and Public School Performance: A Case Study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program  from the Economic Policy Institute.

The gold standard research on charter school choice is  the 2009 “Multiple choice: Charter performance in 16 states” publication from the The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford.   Here is their summary of the findings.

The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.

17% better, 46% about the same and 37% “significantly worse.”  Choice does not appear to have worked out very well for those who choose charter schools.

I’m not sure there is a rigorous way to assess the impact of “choice”  (charter and voucher), on the public schools.  Too much variation by state and local, too many variables all over and there are some things that I think are important that are difficult or impossible to quantify.  I do want to point to two things that should be part of the equation: money and the ill-defined nexus of support, energy, faith….

In terms of public money, things vary greatly by state, local and to some degree with each individual school.  We can safely say that in recent years federal policies have used federal funding to encourage and support charter schools and that this funding comes from an inadequate pool of total federal education dollars.   At the state level, funding mechanisms and comparative funding for public, charter and voucher-type schools vary widely and one must also consider who attends and the relative costs of educating different students (this is especially important with high needs special education students, who rarely enroll in choice schools).   In some locales and with vouchers in general the public “choice”  outlay per student is lower than the public school outlay; in others it is about the same or higher.  “Choice” proponents see the lower outlays as evidence of savings; opponents point to the how the loss of small number of students from any given school or grade rarely creates opportunities for savings via staff, facilities or program reductions (if you want to offer a class in Mandarin,  the cost will be about the same whether 15 or 25 students are enrolled) and see any diversion of funds as a problem.  I lean very much in the direction of the opponents.   One thing that is very clear is that a whole lot  of private money which could be invested in public schools is going to sell and support school choice.

In the case of Madison Prep, the money piece is clear and bad.  Ed Hughes has all the gory details based on the latest information (as far as I can tell — and I have asked — there is no final proposal or budget, but this link goes to a very basic budget document that came with the announcement of the second proposed school for young women).  The cost per pupil is about $15,000 in comparison to MMSD’s marginal cost per pupil of a little over $10,000 the payments to Madison Prep over five years would total over $27,000,000 and according to Ed Hughes’ calculations funding Madison Prep for hundreds of students will require annual cuts to the programs and services that serve the 24,000 students (12,000 in poverty) in MMSD.  Hughes works out the numbers in detail for “year four” and comes up with a $1.5 million estimate for that year’s Madison Prep related cut to the district budget.

Keep in mind that like all charter schools in Wisconsin, Madison Prep cannot selectively enroll based on race, poverty or academic success, so we really have no idea who these extra resources may go too.    In contrast, the district — if they have the resources — can and does target programs and services and allocations  based on a variety of factors.  I’ve advocated for the district to do this more extensively, more systematically and better.  Approving Madison Prep will further strain targeted programing and make equity based allocations harder and less likely.  Any way you look at the finances, the proposal almost certainly fails the greatest good for the greatest number test.  If it is about the kids, it is only about some of the kids, because most of the kids will see decreased investments in their futures.

I think the intangible aspects of “choice’s” and “choice” advocacy’s impact on public schools, what I called “support, energy, faith….” may be more important than the money.   I written before about the damage done by the self-fulfilling prophesy of looking to charter schools for innovation and creativity.  The big picture harm done by undermining support for public schools is touched on above (and indirectly in this post).   These are important, but I want to focus on something more immediate, the relationships between families and their schools.

An inevitable and often deliberate tactic of choice advocates is to play to and build on feelings of alienation and distrust families feel toward their schools.  The implicit and sometimes explicit messages are “you can trust us, you can’t trust them; we care, they don’t care; we know how to help your child; they don’t know how to help your child.”  A little distrust is healthy and probably justified, as is some skepticism about educational prowess.

However, when this goes too far (as it frequently does)  it strains and may break the family/school ties  of collaboration that are essential to success.   Even if  Madison Prep is approved many, many more struggling students will remain in district schools and these students need the combined and cooperative efforts of their families and the the schools.  If it is about the kids, this has to be taken into consideration.  Unfortunately, I fear that both in Madison and nationally much damage has already been done.

Pulling back a little (and circling back to innovation and creativity),  this cultivation of distrust also, further discourages dissatisfied parents and community members from getting involved in school and district issues, from demanding a seat at the table to fight for their vision of educational improvement.    In terms of helping the kids, there is much good that could be accomplished by having more diverse and dissatisfied  people working for district-wide improvement.

If there are a big take-aways or conclusions from all of this  they are 1. If access to quality educational opportunities and improved educational outcomes are the goal, if defined in this way “choice” advocacy is “all about the kids,” then it has not been a success; 2. “Choice” advocacy has been successful in damaging support for public schools; and 3.  Following the “choice” path laid out be the supporters of Madison Prep may help some, but would have a net negative impact on “the kids” of the district, who this is supposed to be all about.

I’m going to stop there (unless I go back and edit).  Kind of long for “take one.’  “Take two” will be much shorter, I promise (it is)

Note: A Public Hearing on the Madison Prep proposal has been scheduled for Monday October 3, at 6:00 PM in the Doyle Building Auditorium;

Thomas J. Mertz.

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So you want to be my Senator?

Tammy Baldwin is running for the US Senate.  I’ve been pleased to have her as my Congressperson, but her record on education is undistinguished and unlike Russ Fiengold she rarely — if ever — has stood in opposition to the “New Washington Consensus on Education Reform.”

Today’s news, with her vote in favor of H.R. 2218, the so-called “Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act” brought this to mind.  So I thought I’d push a little and see what she has to say.

This is the email I sent her:

Congresswomen Baldwin

I was disappointed to see your vote in support of H.R. 2218, the so called “Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act.”

At a time when our public schools are struggling with severe state and local funding cuts and continue to suffer from under-funded federal mandates, this bill further diverts money to schools which serve very few students and a low percentage of the most difficult to educate.

For more detailed questions and objections see this brief from the NSBA:

Plus I find the name very offensive. Public education funds should be used to educate students, not empower parents to exercise some free market fantasy. Why did you vote for this?

Thank you.


For more information, the Bill “fact sheet” is heresummary here:;  and text here.

I’ll post any response I get.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Save Our Schools Rally — Madison, July 30, 2011 — 3:00 PM

The Staple Singers -“Long Walk To D.C” (click to listen or download)

Yes, it is a long walk to D.C. and many of us who care deeply about the future of public education will not be able to join the Save Our Schools mass action there from July 28 to 3o.    Instead, some of us will be rallying in Madison.   Join us and help spread the word (download flier here and press release here).

Wisconsin Public School Advocates to Rally at the Capitol, Saturday July 30, 3:00 PM

A need for national, state, and local action”

As hundreds of thousands of public school supporters gather in Washington DC the weekend of July 28 to 30, 2011, Wisconsin advocates will hold a rally in support of the Save Our Schools agenda at 3:00 PM on Saturday July 30, near the State St. entrance to the Capitol.

“Public schools are under attack. There is a need for national, state, and local action in support of our schools. Wisconsin has been ground zero in this; the Save Our Schools demands from the Guiding Principles provide a great framework to build our state movement and work to expand opportunities to learn” said education activist Thomas J. Mertz.

The Save Our Schools demands are:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities

  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation

  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies

  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

Doing more with less doesn’t work. “The time to act is now. While phony debates revolve around debt ceilings, students and teachers across the country are shortchanged. We need real reform, starting with finally fixing the school funding formula, and putting families and communities first. What child and what teacher don’t deserve an excellent school?” said rally organizer Todd Price, former Green Party Candidate for Department of Public Instruction and Professor of Teacher Education National Louis University.

The event will feature speeches from educators, students, parents and officials, as well as opportunities for school advocates from throughout Wisconsin to connect and organize around issues of importance in their communities.

For more information, visit: and

Thomas J. Mertz

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Hypocrite of the Day — Sarah Archibald

I’ve written about Sarah Archibald before.  She joined the state payroll when Jim Doyle tapped her to head up Wisconsin’s misguided and failed Race to the Top application, a key element of which was rushed legislation opening the door to the misuse of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.  Now she is doing education policy for the FitzWalker gang as part of Senator Luther Olsen’s staff, busting unions, paving the way for  privatization via vouchers, enabling  charter school expansion, undermining local control, creating bigger class sizes in our public schools, eroding the opportunities to learn for most of the children of our state, and yes, further expanding the abuse of standardized test-based data to determine the conditions of employment for educators (via the pending SB 95 and AB 130).  You can read more about Archibald’s belief in the “need” to include “student test scores” in evaluating and determining compensation for teachers in this piece of Bradley Foundation funded pseudo scholarship.

We have a pretty good idea of what Dr. Archibald wants for your children and mine (a little more on that below), but what about her’s?  She sends her kids to Wingra School in Madison, where the tuition is $12,000 a year, the teacher student ratio is 12/1, the philosophy is “progressive,” and they don’t believe in tests, standardized or otherwise.  I’ll let Doctor Archibald explain in her own words:

…[W]hy we send our kids to Wingra school. At this school, teachers have the luxury of really recognizing and reinforcing each child. With no scripted curriculum and no standardized tests, teachers can focus on allowing the child to blossom and following the kids’ lead in terms of what they want to learn about. Who knows if they’ll really be prepared for high school or college, but they are held, and that counts for a lot.

I can’t help but close with this oft-quoted passage from John Dewey:

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy ” (The School and Society, 1899).

Sarah Archibald is a wise parent who is working to destroy our democracy.   I think she’s earned the Hypocrite of the Day Award.

Thomas J. Mertz


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Two EdTweaks for the Price of One (free)

Click on image for pdf.

Click on image for pdf.

I am easing back into blogging and what better way to start than with not one, but two new issues from our friends at EdTweak.

Thomas J.  Mertz

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Keep Russ Feingold in the Senate!

There are thousands of reasons to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate.  Hundreds of these have to do with him being one of the few voices of sanity who has gone against the Washington consensus on top down Education Policy based on underfunded sham accountability and “market forces.”

Read what he had to say about NCLB reauthorization (excerpt):

“NCLB has hamstrung state and local decision-making by establishing a federal accountability system that measures and punishes our students and our schools based on, among other things, annual high-stakes standardized testing,” Feingold said. “This is the wrong approach, and the groundswell of opposition to the NCLB – from parents, educators, and administrators alike – shows just how flawed it is.”

Check the rest of his positions and actions on his Education page.

Then go to his campaign site and sign on to help help re-elect Russ. If you can’t fit volunteering into your schedule, hit the phone and email and Facebook and whatever else to contact everyone you know in Wisconsin and remind them how important it is to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate.

For inspiration, here is one more commercial from 1992 (amazing how little the issues have changed).

Thomas J. Mertz

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Quote of the Day — School Turnarounds

“The study suggests that people who say we know how to make failing schools into successful ones but merely lack the will to do so are selling snake oil. In fact, successful turnaround stories are marked by idiosyncratic circumstances. The science of turnarounds is weak and devoid of practical, effective strategies for educators to employ. Examples of largescale, system-wide turnarounds are nonexistent. A lot of work needs to be done before the odds of turning around failing schools begin to tip in a favorable direction.”

Intro to The 2009 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?

So much of the discussion of a “lack of will” devolves into blaming teachers, unions and “the Education Establishment” and is characterized by false promises of “the market” or unspecified “innovation” that reminders of the reality like those found in the Brown Report are drowned out in the blather.  The vast majority of public schools serve their communities well; the vast majority of those employed in education want students to be successful and do their best to make that happen.

Related and timely:

teacherken, “The problem with NBC’s Education Nation – where are the voices of parents and teachers?”

Leigh Dingerson, “”The Proving Grounds: School “Rheeform” in Washington, D.C..”

Rick Ayers, “An Inconvenient Superman: Davis Guggenheim’s New Film Hijacks School Reform.”

Diane Ravitch, “Why Civil Rights Groups Oppose the Obama Agenda.”

Thomas J. Mertz

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How low can you go? Obama, EduJobs and Food Stamps

Eddie Bo, “Lets Limbo” (click to listen or download)

The latest on the Obama Administration’s ridiculous priorities, from an interview with Rep. David Obey:

We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. … Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.

Can’t cut the military, can’t raise taxes on the rich and corporations, need to bail out Wall Street; Race to the Top’s destructive policies are popular with the Newt Gingrich’s we want to apeal to…let’s cut food stamps.

The answer to the titular question is “lower than a pregnant snake’s belly.”

Thomas J. Mertz

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Democrats the New Republicans? Education Policies and Much More

Let me preface this by saying that I am dues-paying member of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (as well as Co-Chair of Progressive Dane) and don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.  Yet the trends and developments  I see everywhere (and have been seeing for sometime) are too disturbing to ignore.  Democrats are repeatedly championing destructive conservative policies in the service of economic elites while pushing aside both common sense and social justice.  The current GOP extremist obstructionism is beside the point, except that it enables the Democratic moves to the right because with the major parties the choice becomes one of very bad (Dems)  versus unbelievably insanely bad (GOP).

Let’s start with the “EduJobs” Bill.  I think last time I mentioned it, Senator Tom  Harkin and Rep. David Obey were pushing for $23 billion in aid to states to prevent teacher layoffs.  After it was killed, President Obama gave it a push.  This is a classic example of the kind of selective use of Presidential power that Glenn Greenwald has been documenting at Salon.  The progressive positions get the rhetoric, but the conservative policies get the muscle.

The deficit hawks managed to get the the allocation whittled down to $10 billion, but rather than pay for it via more progressive taxation or the kind of deficit spending that Keynesian economics has demonstrated  to be effective in these kind of economic times, there was insistence that cuts elsewhere in education be part of the package (makes me think of the Madison Metropolitan School District budget madness where cuts were justified because  “people are reluctant to pay higher taxes”).

The good news is that those cuts were to be taken from the Race to the Top education deform con game.  The bad news is that all the Education DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) and their allies, are up in arms protesting the cuts to their favored scheme of more Charter Schools, and more tests used for more things (and here and here and here).  This follows their typical union bashing over the distracting issues of which teachers are slated to lose their jobs.  What a spectacle, “Democrats” and self- proclaimed education reformers more interested in destroying organized labor and expanding Bushian policies than in keeping teachers in the classrooms.

Now the biggest Education DINO, President Obama, has threatened to veto the bill if the cuts to Race to the Top remain.

A little break for sanity.  This week the Journal of Education Controversy posted a new critique of the Obama/Arne Duncan education policies from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA.  Here is an excerpt:

We reject the language of business for discussing public education.

Not only has the language of the marketplace entered discussions of school governance and management, but we also notice that the language of business accountability is used to talk about education, a human endeavor of caring. The primary mechanism of the No Child Left Behind Act has been annual standardized tests of reading and math for all children in grades 3-8, followed by punishments for the schools that cannot rapidly reach ever increasing test score production targets. We worry that our society has come to view what is good as what can be measured and compared. The relentless focus on testing basic skills has diminished our attention to the humanities, the social studies, the arts, and child and adolescent development. As people of faith we do not view our children as products to be tested and managed but instead as unique human beings, created in the image of God, to be nurtured and educated.

I want to point out that although comes from a perspective of faith, the values espoused are also in the humanist tradition.

A  side trip away from education to note that the White House and the  Democratic leadership choose to court Scott Brown (R. MA) and  other Republicans by making the financial regulation bill more Wall Street friendly and rejected Russ Feingold’s (D. WI) efforts enact legislation that the banks and the hedge fund managers didn’t like, losing his vote.  This same “leadership” has failed to enact an extension of unemployment benefits.

The links between Wall Street and Education DINOS are many.  Kenneth Libby has started a new site — Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) Watch —  to document these and other aspects of the deform effort.  Some of this has to do with an elitist, technocratic, market based worldview, a desire to tear down a non-market based system of public education that works very well for most American students and communities,  destroy organized labor and a related desire to inculcate students with these values.  Some of it also has to do with the profit motive.  As Juan Gonzalez has reported, the semi-privatization of education via Charters and Vouchers offers wealthy donors significant tax credits (leading to further starvation of the public sector).  Here is a clip from his appearance on Democracy Now explaining how it works.

I can’t leave this topic without checking in again on my favorite Education DINO poster boy, Whitney Tilson.  He’s a DFER leader who also manages investment funds.  The fees from this “work” support a lavish lifestyle, generous political contributions and his extensive education policy advocacy.  Unfortunately for his investors, his funds lose money.  Let’s go to the charts:

Since inception, the Tilson Dividend fund has done slightly better than the NASDAQ and the  Tilson Focus fund slightly worse; both have lost money.  After taxes and fees are accounted for, investors are out even more.  As I said before, you would have done better stashing your money in an old sock than giving it to Whitney Tilson to invest.   As I asked at the same time, why would anyone trust our education system and our children’s futures to the people responsible for the economic disaster, people who have wrought havoc on our society and can’t even show a profit for their clients in the free market they love so well? I don’t have an answer, but like so much else that is wrong with politics it might have something to do with those campaign donations.

I’ll close by noting that closer to home Tom Barrett — the leading Democratic Candidate for Governor — has expressed has more concern for property taxpayers than enthusiasm for fixing Wisconsin’s broken school funding system.

Thomas J. Mertz

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On the Agenda, MMSD — May 10, 2010

This is late and is going to be quick.

The meeting schedule is a little confusing.  It begins in open session at 5:00 PM (Doyle Bldg. Auditorium) with “2010-11 Layoff of Employees in the Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) Teachers Collective Bargaining Unit,” then goes into closed session for two items — Superintendent Employment Contract Modifications and Compensation, pursuant to Wis. Stat. §§19.85(1)(c) and (e) and  Conferring with legal counsel concerning strategy and legal options with respect to litigation in which the District may become involved regarding contracts held by the Board, pursuant to Wis. Stat. §19.85(1)(g) — then back to open session at 6:00 for the remainder of the agenda.  The Superintendent contract issue is intriguing.  It is also the last item on the open meeting agenda.

I assume that like most meetings, both portions of the open session will be carried by MMSD-TV.   There will be public appearances.

The first item is the election of officers.  The President and Vice president have in practice been decisive in setting the agendas, so this is important.  Although I don’t like the way the Budget work evolved into cutting this to add that, if she is willing I’d like to see Arlene Silveira continue as President.

Next are the President’s announcements:

  • The Student online election for Student Representative and Alternate Student Representative to the Madison Board of Education will take place from May 19 through May 21, 2010.
  • West High School and Hamilton Middle School both won state titles in the Wisconsin State Science Olympiad.
  • Sherman Middle School has been chosen to receive funding for a new 21st Century Community Learning Center program at the school.

The Superintendent’s Announcements include:

Quick takes, one at a time.

Literacy Evaluation

The Hanover Report isn’t much more than a literature review, with some references to other districts that have done evaluations.  I hope we didn’t pay much for this (I can’t find an expenditure).

As to the next steps, there is much that is worrisome here.  First, the primary assessment tool recommended is the WKCE, with a classroom level Value Added Analysis employed.  Leaving aside the limits and inappropriateness of the WKCE, the numbers just aren’t there to do a meaningful classroom level analysis of anything.  The noise to signal ratio is too high because the data sets are too small.   This would be a waste of resources.

More generally, I hope the Board has a thorough discussion of what they want from this report and clearly state their desires before authorizing anything in the way of concrete next steps, particularly if the direct cost is in the $100,000 range and the indirect cost in staff time is also large.

My advice would be begin by looking at the districts mentioned in the Hanover Report, find out what they did and what was useful and what wasn’t.  That would be a great starting point.

Strategic Plan Update

Scheduled for May 26 before something called the Strategic Plan Steering Committee.  I can’t find any listing of members of that committee.  I do hope that the community is well-represented, because sine the second phase things seem to be all staff all the time.

Global Academy

A good program.  There is a reference to a budget document that is not included.  Since we are counting our pennies these days, it would be good to have that.

Race to the Top

The memo is interesting, like a train wreck is interesting.  Wisconsin isn’t going to win and if we did MMSD won’t be able to fulfill the terms (nor should we want to).  Time to drop out of this race; past time.

There are a few things worth mentioning on the Consent Agendas.

From Organizational Support:

It is recommended that the Board approve contracts with UW Sports Medicine and Capitol Lakes for the use of the warm water and/or lap pools on their premises for MSCR Goodman Rotary 50+ Fitness Aquatic programming. The total expenditure at UW Sports Medicine shall not exceed $34,000, and at Capitol Lakes $21,000, for a grand total for both contracts of not more than $55,000. . Funding for these contracts shall be collected through participant fees during FY2010-11.

At a time when money is so tight that the Board is cutting left and right, $55 Grand seems like  a lot.

Many moves, retirements and separations in the Human Resources report, the biggest being the separation on Building Services honcho Doug Pearson.  Also of interest is that the Substitute contract is up for approval.  there is no copy linked and I can’t find anything on the MTI site.  I’m curious whether this is a 0% increase contract?

I always like the legislative advocacy, here are the items:

Legislative Liaison Report
1 MMSD Representation on WASB Policy Committee for Fall 2010
2 Focus of MMSD Lobbying Efforts to the Madison Area Legislative Delegation
3 Future Middle and/or High School Visit by Madison Legislative Delegation

In light of MMSD quitting WASB, I’m not clear what the representation item is about.

The last item is “Modifications to the Superintendent’s 2009-11 employment contract and establishment of the Superintendent’s salary for the 2010-11 contract year.”   Again, there is nothing linked.  Supt Dan Nerad was given an extension and a raise recently.  By my tally, the reorganization shrinks his responsibilities to some degree.  I don’t believe an annual evaluation has been completed in the almost two years he has been here; I know none has been made public.   I’m interested to see what this is about.

One other meeting this week.  The Educational Services Advisory Council(another group that I can’t find a membership list for) is meeting Wednesday at 3:30 at Urban League of Greater Madison (2222 S. Park St.).  The agenda includes Professional Development, work on various grants, Dual Language Immersion and assessment initiatives.  I’d like to know more about who this is and waht they are charged with.

I’ve got both SAGE and Budget posts in the works, but very little time at the moment for blogging.  Check back.

Thomas J. Mertz

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