Category Archives: Arne Duncan

An Also Ran — Wisconsin in the Race to the Top Sweepstakes

The news is out, Wisconsin was not among the finalists in the Race to the Top bribery to deform education con game.  Here is the list from EdWeek:

Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Most of the also rans, including Wisconsin, rushed through ill-conceived and ill-considered policy changes but didn’t get a sweepstakes ticket for the possibility of  splitting the pot (the “winners” only won a chance at a payday).  Unfortunately, there is always round two, which makes this a “long con.”  Arne Duncan is quite the grifter.

As we’ve come to expect from him, Wisconsin’s lame (duck) Governor Jim Doyle has issued a misleading statement  that seeks to avoid responsibility by blaming others.

“The train is leaving the station. But because the Milwaukee School Board continues to cling to the status quo – and because the State Legislature has so far failed to make real reforms – Wisconsin is not on that train,” Governor Doyle said. “Today’s announcement should be a wake up call to many. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made it clear. The federal government will provide significant resources to states that are serious about reform. Milwaukee needs clear, consistent, accountable leadership focused on reform.”

Last I checked the legislature enacted laws that met all the criteria.  Last I checked, neither the Milwaukee School Board nor the legislature prepared the application (that was done out of Doyle’s office in near secrecy, with school districts and others given only the choice to sign on or not and only given that choice at the last minute).  Last I checked — despite the implication in Doyle’s statement — mayoral control was not among the criteria by which the applications were judged (unless of course the fix was in).

Thomas J. Mertz

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The Fix Is In

Bob Herbert of the New York Times has been doing an admirable job of outlining the human costs of our neglected infrastructure in his weekly columns. On Saturday he highlighted the conditions in schools throughout the country. And while he noted that getting the nation’s schools up to date is a huge undertaking, it represents only a small part of the overall infrastructure challenge we face as a nation. While highlighting a school in Pennsylvania built in 1861, with asbestos encrusted walls and dodgy electrical wiring, he noted the difficulty in getting good data on the physical condition of the country’s schools.

Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s chief economic adviser, has said that 75 percent of the public schools have structural deficiencies and 25 percent have problems with their ventilation systems.

But how to pay for this? Herbert made the point that:

right now there are not enough people at the higher echelons of government trying to figure out the best ways to raise the enormous amounts of money that will be required, and the most responsible ways of spending that money. And there are not enough leaders explaining to the public how heavy this lift will be, and why it is so necessary, and what sacrifices will be required to get the job properly done.

Suggestions have included such institutions as a national infrastructure or regional infrastructure banks that “would allocate public funds and also leverage private capital for the most important projects.” His larger point was that top governmental leaders should be seeking all kinds of solutions that are both solid and creative, while quickly implementing the best of them.

Which brings us to this next item, one with twist and turns not completely understandable at this point, but certainly not held up by people like myself as a model of how to “get the job properly done” — to use Herbert’s words.

Diane Ravitch, an intellectual on education policy, difficult to pigeonhole politically (appointed to public office by both G.H.W. Bush and Clinton), but best described as an independent, co-writes a blog with Deborah Meier that some of our readers may be familiar with called “Bridging Differences.” This past week she highlighted a possibly disturbing development in the Race to the Top  competition program of the Department of Education, that dangles $4.3 billion to the states with a possible $1.3 billion to follow. Ravitch’s critique suggests that this competition is not run by pragmatists, but rather by ideologues who are led by the Bill Gates Foundation.

If this election had been held five years ago, the department would be insisting on small schools, but because Gates has already tried and discarded that approach, the department is promoting the new Gates remedies: charter schools, privatization, and evaluating teachers by student test scores.

Two of the top lieutenants of the Gates Foundation were placed in charge of the competition by Secretary Arne Duncan. Both have backgrounds as leaders in organisations dedicated to creating privately managed schools that operate with public money.

So, why should it be surprising that the Race to the Top reflects the priorities of the NewSchools Venture Fund (charter schools) and of the Gates Foundation (teacher evaluations by test scores)?

But here’s where the weirdness of this story enters.

Marc Dean Millot, a writer on education policy and someone who has not been overly critical of charter schools and their “education entrepreneurs” in the past, was contracted for 6 months to write on the Scholastic blog, “This Week in Education.” Millot had the temerity to pose some questions about those conflicts of interest at the Department of Education and had asked Sec. Duncan to nick this issue in the bud quickly.

I have now heard the same thing from three independent credible sources — the fix is in on the U.S. Department of Education’s competitive grants, in particular Race to the Top (RTTT) and Investing in Innovation (I3). Secretary Duncan needs to head this off now, by admitting that he and his team have potential conflicts of interests with regard to their roles in grant making, recognizing that those conflicts are widely perceived by potential grantees, and explaining how grant decisions will be insulated from interference by the department’s political appointees.

For his troubles, he was immediately sacked and the offending post removed. Fortunately, nothing is completely lost on the internet and you can read a cached version of his “Connect the Dots” piece here.

Even more chilling is Diane Ravitch’s predictions for the future, regardless of whether Secretary Duncan cleans up this apparent conflict of interest.

As hundreds and possibly thousands more charter schools open, we will see many financial and political scandals. We will see corrupt politicians and investors putting their hands into the cashbox. We will see corrupt deals where public school space is handed over to entrepreneurs who have made contributions to the politicians making the decisions. We will see many more charter operators pulling in $400,000-500,000 a year for their role, not as principals, but as “rainmakers” who build warm relationships with politicians and investors.

When someday we trace back how large segments of our public school system were privatized and how so many millions of public dollars ended up in the pockets of high-flying speculators instead of being used to reduce class size, repair buildings, and improve teacher quality, we will look to the origins of the Race to the Top and to the interlocking group of foundations, politicians, and entrepreneurs who created it.

We indeed are entering another chapter in the deepening decline in support for public education. Our looming deficit in Madison is just one example of many across the country. What we shouldn’t have to battle so vigourously is our elected and unelected “advocates.” Sadly, this also includes some of our own friends in the state capital.

Robert Godfrey

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A Starving Impulse

Sam Dillon of the New York Times has been doing some good reporting on the carrot/stick financing strategies of the Dept. of Educaction in the vortex of shrunken state budgets, stimulus money about to dry up in 2010 and Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top (RttT) funding proposal.

In a piece from January 18th, Dillon quoted Nevada’s school superintendent Keith W. Rheault, who noted that Nevada educators had initially grumbled about the RttT program but quieted their criticisms once their state’s tax revenues plummeted last year.

“When you’re starving and somebody puts food in your mouth, it’s amazing what states will do,” Mr. Rheault said.

It was obvious that any opposition was not going to derail efforts by about 40 states to compete in the first part of a two-stage competition (7 will also file for second stage applications later). This, despite the fact that many of those states had to perform last-minute legislative changes to make their proposals more in line with Dept. of Education guidelines. A big effort, for example, was made in many states to accomodate the mandate that raised the number of chartered schools or expanded the pool of students who are eligible to attend them. As well, both California and Wisconsin repealed their laws that banned the linking of student achievement data to teachers; one day, in Wisconsin’s case, after Mr. Obama’s visit to Madison.

But in their efforts to jockey for desperately needed cash, ostensibly to become a leader in education “reform,” critics have suggested that the various state’s inabilities to pay current bills should make everyone skeptical of their capacity to take on any such new initiatives. As a report noted , in the case of Illinois, if the state were to succeed in receiving RttT funding, “it might not have the ability to finance the long-term costs of any new programs once the federal money has been spent.”

“Not too long ago,” Ms. Slowik said, “everyone was encouraged to get early-childhood programs going,  but then the funding wasn’t there.”

“Then you come along and have Race to The Top, and say you’re going to give your all and put extra things on,” she added. “There’s a feeling in the education community that these are expectations some know they can’t meet.”

With Illinois, for example, already coping with $1 billion in arrears to schools, and having already used $1 billion in federal stimulus money to plug a major hole in the state’s education budget, this represents a precarious tightrope to be walking on indeed.

Some educators are skeptical that the state can meet even its current obligations for education financing, let alone support new Race to the Top initiatives.

“Not in the current financial situation — absolutely not,” said Kenneth Cull, superintendent of District 69 in Skokie and Morton Grove. “They put too much borrowing and Band-Aids on basic education. They can’t do that forever. That’s why there is really a crisis right upon us.”

Sam Dillon’s piece today explored the “funding cliff” faced by many of the nation’s schools as they begin to use up the  $100 billion that Congress included in the stimulus law last year to help schools cushion the impact of the recession.

New studies show that many states will spend all or nearly all that is left between now and the end of this school term.

With state and local tax revenues still in decline, the end of the federal money will leave big holes in education budgets from Massachusetts and Florida to California and Washington, experts said.

“States are going to face a huge problem because they’ll have to find some way to replace these billions, either with cuts to their K-12 systems or by finding alternative revenues,” said Bruce Baker, an education professor at Rutgers University.

The stimulus program “was the largest one-time infusion of federal education dollars to states and districts in the nation’s history.”

While states were warned by Sec. Duncan and others to not spend the money in ways that could lead to damaging budget holes once the federal money ended, most took to heart the other message, to stimulate the economy by saving, or creating, some 250,000 education jobs. In short, many states used the balance of their money for 2009-10 school year leaving little or no money available for 2010-11. Wisconsin was one of 20 states that said when applying for their stabilization funds that they would spend the entirety of the endowment through the 2008-10 school years. Many states ended up spending a considerable amount of their Title 1 funds to save jobs that previously would have been paid through state and local funding that were about to be dissolved due to cuts in that funding.

Yet another train wreck hurtling down the tracks for education. Who is left to turn to for answers of how the bleeding of public education will be staunched?

Robert Godfrey

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On the Agenda — MMSD Board of Education, Week of February 8, 2010

Week two of the agenda rundown experiment.  The big important things are the La Follette Area attendance info (now including East Area and West Area) and the Budget Timeline.

As explained in the first post in this series, the Madison Metropolitan School district Board of Education first sees most agenda items when meeting in committee and then meets the following week as the Board of Education to reconsider and take action.  Last week was a committee week and this week is a Board week.  I’m not going to repeat the commentary from last week — I suggest reading that post if you haven’t already —, but will give some updates — big updates on the La Follette Area assignments, ones that stretch into the West and East Areas —  and add a few things.  There are also some new items to cover (and one In missed).

List of all meetings for the week is here, Monday’s Board meeting is here.

The Board will meet at 5:00 PM in closed session to consider an extension of Superintendent Dan Nerad’s contract and student disciplinary matters.  The contract extension will be voted on at the open meeting.

The open meeting will begin at 6:00 Pm, Monday February 8, 2010, Doyle Administration Bldg. 545 W. Dayton Street Madison, WI 53703 in the Auditorium.  There will be public appearances at the beginning.   Like almost all Board meetings, these will be carried by MMSD-TV.  Here it is.


  • The Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools Employee Giving Campaign is underway
  • The Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation calls for applicants for its College Access Champion Award for teachers
  • Eleven Madison students have qualified as Presidential Scholar Finalists
  • The Schools of Hope 5th Annual Multicultural dinner will be held on March 3, 2010


*A Proposed Board Policy Modification regarding Public Appearances at School Board Meetings (Board Policy 1222)—Appendix LLL-8-26.

Two minor changes.  One specifically bars people from ceding time to other people.  All speakers are allotted 3 minutes, so this says that you can’t get a group of 10 and have one person speak for a half hour.  The other encourages people who have written testimony to summarize and submit.   Last time there were proposed changes, I protested vociferously.

These seem reasonable, but I do have two observations.  Even worse than last time, these changes will be voted on with little or no opportunity for the public to weigh in.   The first hint was the posting of the agenda after 5:00 PM on Friday and the vote is Monday….if you wonder why people feel alienated from the district, consider what it says to change the way public input is taken without giving the public a real chance to have their say.  Second, it would seem to me that A) These have not been big problems in the past and the B) The administration should have much more important things to do than mess around with this (like the Equity Report, which has now been informally promised for March, 21 months late and right in the middle of the budget mess).

Student Achievement Data: Value Added Analysis (Report Only).

I said a lot about this last week, so I’m just going to offer a video on the use of Value Added in teacher compensation from Prof. Daniel Willingham and two semi related links on “standards” and “accountability.”  Here is the video:

Teacherken’s (Ken Bernstein) essay “students should graduate with a résumé, not a transcript” at Daily Kos is a must read for anyone who thinks “transform, not reform” should be more than a slogan.

Over at the Educational Policy Blog, Nancy Flanagan has a good consideration of Richard Rothstein’s Grading Education Getting Accountability Right.   She also has a smile inducing “New Rules” column at EdWeek.

Update on Fine Arts Task Force Recommendations (Report Only) and (later in the agenda) Fine Arts Task Force budget amendments (separation requested at committee level) the budget stuff has been revsied, the previous recommendations are here.

Let me start by saying that having these two items at different points in the meeting may appear orderly, but makes no sense.

Lots of discussion last Monday.  The big change I see is that there is no longer $20,000 for support staff time.

2009 Summer School Report and 2010 Summer School Recommendations and Budget Proposal.

Usage of the Infinite Campus Electronic Student Information System.

Following up the comments from last week, I’ll note that I checked again and none of my son’s teachers at West have anything but grades up.

Evaluation of District Reading Programs.

This comes with a recommended timeline and process that begins with hiring a consultant, continues with further outside services and ends with a report.

Five-Year Education for Employment Report.

MMSD Strategic Plan Mid-Year Report.

OK, I will repeat some things.  I think the Core Measures are pretty good and it doesn’t look like there will be much more than conceptual guidance from the Strategic Plan process come budget time.  This is good, bad and inevitable.  Next year there will be some data on the Core Measures and other things, but this data will not give easy answers (see more here).  I generally think this is good, data shouldn’t “drive.”  The bad is that some will feel that it is a promise betrayed and tat it would be nice if there were easy answers, whether from data or elsewhere.

La Follette Area Schools Long Range Planning Recommendations to address the Facility/Enrollment and Programmatic Needs of these Schools.

There was a lot of dissatisfaction with this at last week’s meeting, much of it for reasons similar to those I expressed.  Here and elsewhere it was very heartening to hear Board Members cite Equity principals from the policy and event some concepts  from the Equity Task Force that did not make it directly and explicitly into the policy.  Lucy Mathiak deserves special mention and praise.

The two big equity things here are technology allocations and attendance assignments.  The one real plan brought forward last week involved moving 155 students with 115 of those being low income.  That’s 74% of the kids moved (the low income % for the area is 55%).  Most of the low income students involved are from the Moorland and that area was to be split between two schools.  No resident of that area serves on the committee.  They had no voice in the recommendation to move their children.  I say again, is it any wonder people feel alienated from the district.

We now have plans 17-24 (last week we only had plan 14).  It isn’t clear if these have been reviewed by the committee.  It is clear that there has been no opportunity for community input on these yet.

Plan 17 moves Nuestro Mundo to Lowell.  I like that at least they are “thinking outside the attendance area.”  Does next to nothing for socioeconomic disparities.  About 1,100 students would change schools in this plan (that’s a lot); about 600 are low income.  I don’t believe the Lowell (or any East Area school communities have been privy to this process).

Plan 18 is labeled “Balance Low Income”  and it does that, greatly narrowing the disparities.  728 students would be reassigned of whom 342 are low income.

Plan 19  is “Pair Lowell Emerson, Move Nuestro Mundo.”  Obviously this would mean huge changes for Lowell, Emerson and Nuestro Mundo.  Not the kind of thing you rush into and unfortunately we seem to now be at the rush stage (unless they do another year of band aids). 1,078 students are reassigned; 653 low income.  Overall, little or no change in income disparities among schools.

Plan 20 goes into the East and West Areas. In general I like the district-wide approach for exploring options, but you have to do these things transparently, publicly and with all parties at the table.  This hasn’t happened.  None of it.

On the table in addition to La Follette area schools are, Franklin-Randall, Marquette-Lapham, Emerson and Lowell.  Some minimal changes to income disparity (with Franklin-Randall — one of the lowest low income school communities in the district — in the mix, I would have hoped for more, like maybe keep the Bay View kids in the pair and move some non-low income areas to the Lincoln-Midvale pair). 492 students are reassigned, 272 low income (quick note, I have not been listing English Language Learner numbers because availability of services can shape decision-making in ways that I’m not clear on).

Plan 21  is similar to Plan 20, with a choice component and some tweaks.  It too involves moving Bay View from Franklin-Randall to Marquette-Lapham, current Allis students would go to Franklin-Randall, some Marquette-Lapham to Emerson and some Kennedy to Elvehjem.   242 stdenst involeved; 163 low income.  Again, little change in low income disparities.

Plan 22 moves Schenk students to Emerson and Lowell and Nuestro Mundo to Schenk.  573 students involved; 387 low income; no real change in disparities (I’m tired of writing that).

Plan 23 moves Whitehorse to Sennett, Nuestro Mundo to the Whitehorse/Schenk Building.  That looks like closing a Middle School to me.  893 students moved; 511 low income, no real changes in disparities.

Plan 24 is all within the La Follette Area.  166 students moved; 96 low income, some, but no much change in the disparities.

To be honest, I have only glanced at these plans, but I plan to study them and hope others will do the same.

There is no nice way to say this, but Supt. Dan Nerad has made a mess of the process part of his first Boundary change.  It hasn’t been transparent, it hasn’t addressed equity, it hasn’t been thorough, it hasn’t been public and now that these matters are starting to be considered, the timeline is out the window.  Any way you look at it this is going to be happening in the middle of an ugly budget season, unless there is a restart.  That did not have to happen.  The results may end up being very good, but much work is left to be done and the first steps were bad.

One last thing is that with the probable budget cuts, class size will surely be on the table (along with the allocation of SAGE contracts).  I see no awareness of this in the planning and projections.  Another mistake.

My summation thus far is first too little;  now too much, too late and all too top down.

It isn’t clear at all what the next steps are.  I think there needs to be tweaks to get through next year (if the class size stuff with the budget doesn’t take care of that) and a post-budget restart.  Not a continuation, but a restart; everybody possibly involved at the table, very public, very transparent.

Update on Funding Priorities for the MMSD Technology Plan

I missed this in last week’s agenda post.  About $10,000 million over 4 years.  For next year $700,000 comes from the last year of the referendum, which means mostly local tax dollars and $500,ooo each year comes from general operating budget (more local tax dollars).  The rest is ARRA and other dedicated outside sources (including a Microsoft settlement!).

This is good stuff that needs to be done.  There are other good things that also need to be done.  We are going to find it difficult to do all the good things that need to be done.

Insert obligatory Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and Penny for Kids links along with discretionary School Finance Network link.

I want also point out that Lucy Mathiak again raised issues of equity in the priorities and allocations.  The answer was that all schools would be taken care of.  A good answer, maybe not the best…the best would have been that we have prioritized some of our neediest schools.

Proposal for Naming Book Room at Stephens Elementary School under Board Policy 6701.

Attachment of Three Parcels of Property located off of Sugar Maple Lane to the MMSD under Wis. Stat. §117.13.

2010-11 Projected Budget Gap, Tax Impact, and Efficiencies to Address the Gap and a later agenda item 2010-2011 MMSD Budget Development Timeline and Process.

The first is mislinked off the agenda, so I linked to last weeks and don’t know if there were any changes; the second is revised.  Also of interest is this tax projection document, discussed at length in this post, and there is a little more on the context here.

Here is the proposed remaining schedule.  It may be changed Monday by the Board, it may change for other reasons as things go forward.  Sorry about the multiple images, it was the quickest way to include it in the post itself and I think that this is important enough to justify the aesthetic issues.

I’m not seeing much public outreach in the first phases, and I can’t help but notice that both “final Board approval of reductions” and layoff notices go out prior to the mandated public hearing.  I don’t like it as policy and I don’t think Madison will like it as reality.  At best, the meetings prior will be filled with very confused and angry public testimony.  The anger is inevitable, but the confusion can be minimized if things are done right and the timing of the public input can be such that it maximizes consideration and interferes minimally with Board’s efficiency.  I don’t see those with this schedule.

This is very bad and different budget.  The revenue authority is there to keep cuts to a minimum, but the reductions in state aid mean doing that brings property tax increases that are hard to swallow.  Consequently there will be up to $25 million in cuts on the table and likely cuts made in the $5 to $10 million range (this is guess work on my part).  The results will not be good, but the process can be.

Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.

Energy Management Services Contract

Structuring the borrowing of funds in connection with the refinancing of the district’s WRS unfunded pension liability and, potentially, to assist with funding the implementation of Four-Year-Old Kindergarten, Revised and Charts.

There was some good discussion last week about how to structure this and the balance between maximize savings and when that savings will do the most good.  I expect that to continue this Monday.  Hard choices and complex matters.

Authorizing the Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, on behalf of the Board, to grant written permission to allow Robert W. Baird & Co. to…

This allows Baird to consult with the district, do the bond/debt issues and bid on the bond/debt issues.  I can see what is in it for Baird, not sure what is in it for us, unless the increased competition of one more potential bidder gets us better rates.

Proposal for a Welcome Center and Educational Credit Union Branch at La Follette High School.

It is recommended that the Board approve all three applications pursuant to the terms of the Administrators’ Retirement Plan

Consideration of approval of a one-year extension of Daniel Nerad’s employment contract as Superintendent of Schools as contemplated under Section 2.02 of the Contract, said extension to result in a new two-year contract commencing on July 1, 2010 and expiring on June 30, 2012.

I’ll repeat that I think Dan Nerad more than deserves a renewal (yes I criticize, but the job is hard and criticism doesn’t mean I don’t like and respect him).  I’ll also repeat that I think a pay freeze should at least be considered.  And I’ll add that I would like to see at least portions of the Superintendent evaluation attached to this and discussed with this (I may well have missed it, but I don’t recall much public on that).

Consent Agenda Items

Evaluation of Learning Materials Committee purchasing adoptions.

Also graduations and HS Equivalency Diplomas,  Playground sign, Cooperative Gymnastics and Hockey Teams, Server Upgrade, the allocations for the Desktop Instructional Technology Purchases and the Scholastic System 44 (reading remediation) Pilot Project and grants and donations.

Human Resource Transactions.

Student Senate

Elections, Strategic Plan, Technology and more elections.

Legislative Liaison Report

“Possible Litigation on State-Wide School Funding Being Considered in Other Local School Districts”

I’ve been meaning to write about this but haven’t had a chance.  West Bend is talking with lawyer about a lawsuit a la Vincent v. Voight.  You can read more here:  West Bend Considering Suing State.  For more, check out the friends of AMPS at Support West Bend Schools.

Interesting and illustrative of how desperate things are, but I don’t see it going anywhere.  Despite all the roadblocks, I still favor a legislative strategy.  Here are those links again: Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Penny for Kids, School Finance Network and the AMPS “Take Action” page.

It is recommended to establish an ad hoc committee of the Board of Education to review the School Board Ethics policy.

I have no idea what this is about.  I guess it can’t hurt to review, but it doesn’t seem pressing.  With the district’s role in TIF’s some lobbying rules might be in order.

That’s all folks.  Heck of a lot for one meeting.  Diverse, complex and important work for the Board.

Last week one Board member thanked me for doing this.  After saying you are welcome, I told him I thought that since most of this week’s agenda paralleled last week’s it would be an easy week for me to get the post done.  I was wrong.  Many changes that needed attention and explication.  I hope next week is easy.

Tomas J. Mertz

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WAES School-Funding Reform Update, Week of January 25, 2010

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.  Table of contents below — related items on AMPS linked –, full update here.

Visit the Penny for Kids website, to learn more, sign the petition and ask others to do the same.  You can also check in with WAES and the Penny for Kids effort on Facebook.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Honesty from a Department of Education Official — Policies Are “Harming the Education of Students”

Diogenes searching with his lamp.

From Caroline Grannan, a report on a radio appearance by Peter Cunningham, (assistant secretary of communications for the U.S. Department of Education), where he “readily agreed with the views of another program guest that overreliance on standardized testing is detrimental to students, and that “many” charter schools, a model being promoted as a solution for troubled schools, are not successful” (listen here).

Also on the program was Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute.  As Grannan reports:

Race to the Top, Rothstein charged, is “accentuating the harm that NCLB did.” NCLB’s emphasis on testing only for math and reading is unchanged in RTTT.

“A major consequence of No Child Left Behind that’s done major harm to American education is the narrowing of the curriculum,” Rothstein said. Sciences, history, social studies, music, the arts and physical education are neglected or abandoned as educators struggle to adhere to NCLB’s emphasis on math and reading, Rothstein explained, and “Race to the Top doesn’t change that.” Abandoning other subjects “does the most harm to disadvantaged students,” Rothstein added.

Moderator Warren Olney followed up Rothstein’s comments with the question to Cunningham: “Are standardized tests a good measure of teacher performance and ultimately of school performance?”

“No, they’re not,” Cunningham admitted bluntly. “Education has been corrupted. In addition to narrowing the curriculum by abandoning other topics, what this kind of system does is create incentives to game the system. We’re actually harming the education of students in this country.” He mentioned, without more specifics, the “hope” of reauthorizing NCLB to include testing in more subjects. The prospect of increasing testing is likely to raise more concerns, but the discussion didn’t pursue that issue.

On the subject of charter schools, Rothstein disputed the view promoted by both the Bush and Obama administrations that charters are a solution for troubled schools. “The research is pretty consistent,” he said. “Charter schools on average don’t have better student performance than regular schools.”

Rothstein got no argument from Cunningham, who responded, “We 100 percent agree with Mr. Rothstein that many of them are not good” and called for more accountability for charter schools. [emphases added].

These flashes of honesty are nice, but it is sad that administration official simply acknowledging what both informed  common sense and the weight of research say is cause for hope or cheer.

There really is no excuse for the misrepresentations we have come to see as the norm and the knowing pursuit of harmful policies should be criminal.

Wisconsin, like 40 other states is so desperate for money that it has thrown away common sense and hard won research-based knowledge to twist our laws in a manner that buys us a ticket to a lottery where the prize is money that must  be spent to a great degree on testing policies that do more harm than good.  What is wrong with these people?  What is wrong with us?

Thomas J. Mertz


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Why a Charter School? and Related Questions

The Ramones, “Questioningly” (click to listen or download)

I often find the rhetorical device of “asking questions” annoying.  However there are times when the conventional wisdom becomes so pervasive that it is necessary to step back and ask some of the most basic questions.   This has happened with Charter schools.  The most basic question is “Why a Charter School?.”

This hit me while I was watching the discussion of the Badger Rock Charter School proposal at last Monday’s Madison Board of Education meeting (video here).  At one point Beth Moss said something along the lines of (paraphrasing), “This is the kind of innovative thing that we can’t do with district schools.”  Marj Passman says something similar in an Isthmus story.  This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you believe that innovations are beyond the district’s capabilities,  then they will be beyond the district’s the district’s capabilities.  One of my related questions is “why not, why can’t the district do innovative things like Badger Rock in the absence of a Charter?”.

Before going forward I should say three things.  First, our older son attended the Charter (in name only) JC Wright Middle School.  The only relevance that I see in relation to this is that the experience  informed my thoughts, others may think it makes me a hypocrite or something so I thought I’d put it on the table.  Second, this isn’t directly about “why not a Charter?  That’s another topic and one that I’ve hit pieces of in other posts.  Third, I want to say that I agree with many who have expressed admiration for the Badger Rock proposal.  There is much that is creative, innovative, thoughtful and good.  As the discussion on Monday made clear there are still unanswered questions and some issues that will be difficult to resolve.   I do not oppose the recommendation to seek the planning grant on the agenda 12/11.  This is only indirectly about that proposal.

What it is directly about is re-starting a discussion or consideration of the advantages of Charters as a policy choice and extending that discussion or consideration to include ideas about what districts can and cannot do.  The current assumption that thoughtful innovation requires Charter Schools bugs me.  It bugs me even more that the the preferred path for community partnerships like the one envisioned by the Badger Rock group has become Charters.

There was a time when districts, communities and even corporate partners initiated exciting educational work in the context of traditional district schools, district magnet schools, district laboratory schools, embedded programs and other non-Charter ways.  In Madison Shabazz and Spring Harbor are obvious examples that this can be done.  I attended a district Magnet, Laboratory School in Evanston Illinois, where more recently they have created embedded Dual Language Immersion and Afrocentric programs.  It can still be done.

The “we can’t do it without a Charter” attitude seems lazy.  First I’d like to know in some detail why it supposedly can’t be done without a Charter.  If that proves to be the case,  than in most instances wouldn’t the best policy be to figure out why and change things so that the benefits of innovation could be achieved through district programs?  It is sad that so many have given up on the reforms that would benefit all students in order to pursue those that will only touch very few (even the staunchest Charter advocates understand that for the foreseeable future the vast majority of American children will attend district schools).

I’ll offer one answer to the titular question: Money!  Unfortunately Federal policy-makers, foundations and many others are all acting on the unexamined assumption that innovation or even diversity of educational programing requires Charters.   I have a friend who is a Superintendent of a small district.  He is justly proud of an environmental Charter school he helped create.  We’ve never talked about it much, but a  couple of months ago he started describing how the only reason to have it be a Charter was the money.   This is pragmatic, but it only shifts the question to “Why is money available for Charters and not district-based creative programs?”

Let’s ask the questions and examine the assumptions and do what we need to expand creativity and energy in districts and district schools.  Let’s also make sure they have the resources to do this.

As I was finishing this I saw a great post on a related topic from Richard Kahlenberg (hat tip Jim Horn, Schools Matter).  Among other things Kahlneberg contrasts the segregative  impact of Charters with the  desegregative history of magnet schools.  Worth reading.

Also worth reading is Madison Board Member Lucy Mathiak on the Badger Rock proposal (welcome to the Madison EduBlogoSphere Lucy).

Thomas J. Mertz

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WAES School-funding Reform Update, January 5, 2010

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.  Table of contents below; pdf of full update here.

* Sign petition urging legislators to consider “A Penny for Kids”
* Governor’s school-funding reform … raise property taxes?
* UW education dean wonders if a “Race to the Top” is what is needed
* Neenah, Stevens Point deal with school budget deficits
* School-funding formula is moving the pain around the state
* New school but old funding problems for Greenfield
* Greenfield joins WAES, but your help is needed
* School-funding, education reform forum set in Middleton, Jan. 28
* Rep. Mark Pocan talks funding reform in the Lions’ Den
* Gazette surprised Wisconsin spends less than average on schools
* IWF, WTA note drops in Wisconsin’s spending and taxing ranks
* New report says better early education would benefit the economy
* Correction to an earlier story
* Help WAES correct e-mail update glitch
* School-funding reform calendar

You can now connect with WAES on Facebook!  If you haven’t yet, take a few minutes to learn about Penny for Kids and sign the Petition here.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Ain’t that Special? — Doyle Calls Legislative Session (Updated)

Louise Max, 'Blue Plate Special" (click image for more).

Lame Duck, pretend “Friend of Education” Governor Jim Doyle has called a special legislative session to consider his Race to the Top lottery inspired Mayoral Control proposal and the insane proposal to give the State Superintendent the power to take control of any district for any reason he deems sufficient.  The executive order is here; press release here.

The Wisconsin Sate Journal is reporting that Democratic leaders in both the Senate and the Assembly are not enthusiastic.

However, Senator Jeff Plale is in the bag.

Ed Garvey hits the right notes in his reaction.

The timing of this special session will limit public input on the proposal to limit public input (Kafkaesque?),  With that in mind,  I’m posting some public comment.  Here are two videos from a recent anti-Mayoral Control protest:

For much more, see this recent roundup on AMPS.


Representatives Grigsby and Colon also issued press releases.  I liked this from Grigsby:

At this point, it goes without saying that the governor’s proposed mayoral takeover is not the only option for reforming Milwaukee Public Schools. I am working to ensure that the “RACE for Success” receives consideration at any Special Session in which mayoral takeover is pushed upon the legislature. Of course, I would prefer that any legislation related to the future of MPS go through the normal legislative process, a process which would ensure public input, but Governor Doyle seems intent on avoiding that opportunity. Any legislation on the future of Milwaukee Public Schools deserves a public hearing, but both proposals for education reform should be heard if the legislature enters into a Special Session.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Mayoral Control Links and Thoughts

I haven’t had much time to blog lately and the items are piling up, so it is time to catch up a little.  Here are some links to and comments on some relatively recent items on Mayoral control.

From the Chicago Tribune, Chicago school board begins 2nd internal investigation.”

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s handpicked Board President has committed suicide, his handpicked Board is under investigation for misuse of funds for the second time and has refused to release documents requested by the media.  That’s good management and open governance Chicago style.  That’s the model that Arne Duncan and Jim Doyle want to bring to Wisconsin.

Advocates for Mayoral control keep telling us that the change increases accountability by giving ultimate responsibility to a single elected individual –  the Mayor.  I have yet to hear of an instance or see a poll that indicates any Mayor in a Mayoral control district’s election has been decided by their management of the schools; I know that Mayor Daley will continue to be re-elected no matter what happens with the schools.   That’s not accountability.

A lot is happening with the resistance to mayoral control in Milwaukee.  Here’s a video on some of it:

Henry Hamilton of the NAACP Executive Committee and Christine Neumann-Ortiz — executive director of Voces de la Frontera — had a good recent column in the Journal-Sentinel: “In takeover, your vote silenced.”

Friend of AMPS and former candidate for State Superintendent Todd Allan Price has a long piece at CounterPunch that is worth the time: “Milwaukeeans vs. the Privatization Pandemic: Milwaukee League Comes to the Defense of Public Schools.”

Todd and I also co-wrote a Jerry Bracey inspired piece for FightingBob that includes some things on Mayoral control: “Bracey’s last stand

Dominique Paul Noth’s lengthy “Barrett’s ‘cynical’ decision puts city Dems in bind” at the Milwaukee Area Labor Council is also worth the time spent.

Meanwhile the education DINO elite insider organization Democrats for Education Reform (DEF) has opened a Wisconsin office staffed by political lifer, convicted thief (see the Wisconsin State Journal, August 20, 2002), former strip club and school voucher PR flack Katy Venskus.

Alan J. Borsuk has a post up contrasting a recent DER event with the unanimous testimony against mayoral control at a recent public hearing.

Borsuk also covered Mayoral control researcher turned advocate Kenneth K. Wong’s recent visit to the state.  At the event and in the interview on WPT’s “Here and Now” below Wong offers a lot of double talk about elections and accountability, simplistically equating higher turnout at Mayoral elections with greater accountability on education matters.  This is only true if education is a decisive issue, otherwise it is nonsense.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
I think this quote from the Borsuck piece is revealing on how much Wong cares about keeping the public in public education:

It is best to have public support for mayoral control, he said, but it can still work even if it’s passed over major opposition.

“Nothing is easy,” he said. As for Milwaukee, he said, “It has to happen fast. . . . They should make it effective January 1.”

This crisis mentality is dangerous, especially when we are talking about a reform that by Wong’s own calculations will have a minimal impact on education in Milwaukee.  In his book The Education Mayor the achievement gap between Milwaukee and the rest of the state is pegged at 2.4 standard deviations; his research shows that “strong” mayoral control has produced gains of .2 to .33 standard deviations.  Accepting his data and the causality, that means that the best case Mayoral control scenario leaves Milwaukee students over 2 standard deviations behind the state.  As Wong himself states, “This is not a silver bullet.” So why the hurry?

In a not unrelated matter, people concerned about accountability should be talking about DINO Reform poster girl and DC Superintendent Michelle Rhee’s effort to intervene in an Inspector General’s investigation of her fiance, the charter school operator and now Mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson.  The IG was subsequently fired by the accountability loving Obama administration.  Links here and here.

Thomas J. Mertz

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