Category Archives: nclb

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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On the Agenda — MMSD Board of Education, the Week of May 23, 2011 (updated, finished)

As has been the tradition this "On the Agenda Post" is illustrated with a graph highlighting inequalities in MMSD. This one is from the 2011 "State of the District Report" (click the image for the full report, this graph is on page 40 of the pdf). To be honest, I have no idea what it means. "Advanced Courses" are not defined anywhere, nor is the meaning of "rate." The graphs are accompanied by a factiod stating "The percentage of students taking advanced course in grades 9-12 increased in 2009-10 compared to the prior year from 13.7% to 15.2%." This and other graph show decreases -- see the ESL/Not ESL for the best example -- and the above graph also shows "rates "of about 50% (low income) and about 80% (not low income). The "rate" in the factiod may be the percentage of total courses taken that are "advanced" (whatever that means) and the graphs may be the percentage of students in each category who took at least one advanced course (or both maybe something else entirely, who knows?). As a presentation of data, this is incomprehensible and inexcusable.

I picked a bad week to start doing “On the Agenda” posts on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education doings.  Too much going on.   Given the amount to cover, I’m going to try to keep the comments and context minimal.  I should also note that I haven’t yet decided how regularly I will do these again.

The details for all of  the meetings are here.  Here is the rundown.

  • 4K Advisory Committee, Monday, Monday, May 23, 9:00 AM, 5 Odana Court.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked.
  • Special Board of Education Meeting in Closed Session, Monday, May 23 5:00 PM, Doyle Building, RM 103.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked,  employee non-renewal and student discipline are listed.
  • Regular Board of Education Meeting (Open Session), Monday, May 23 6:00 PM, Doyle Building, Auditorium.  Agenda linked and discussed below.
  • Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) Advisory Committee Meeting, Tuesday, May 24, 6:30 PM, MSCR Administration Building.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the documents are linked.  Some interesting things I’d like to see, especially the “2011-12 MSCR Budget Update” and “Draft 2010 MSCR Annual Report.”
  • 2nd Annual Review of MMSD Strategic Plan, Wednesday, May 25, 5:00 PM, United Way of Dane County 2059 Atwood Avenue.  The agenda is at “details for all” link, but none of the document linked here.  There is a lot here.  Way too much to absorb in any one session.  What isn’t here is much in the way of an overall summary or summaries of each area or “Action Plan.”  You have to go line-by-line to get a feeling of what is and is not going on with each action plan (I’ve made it about 1/3 of the way through).  Since the “Action Teams” are  — I believe   — exclusively made up of staff, it means that no member of the public has been in the loop.  Under these circumstances, a once year 86  page report-out followed by a feedback session isn’t going to produce much in the way of meaningful engagement.    The Board realized some of this and established “Core Measures”  (page 69).  Of the 15 of 16 with goals, 8 have not been met; the 16th is the “Advanced Course Participation” graphed and critiqued at the top, there is no goal established for that.  I should note that some of these benchmarks ramp up to ridiculous NCLB inspired 100% proficiency goals in the coming years.    Failure is assured, eventually.
  • Project Orange Thumb Garden Makeover Ribbon Cutting, Thursday May 26, 3:00 PM, Black Hawk Middle School 1402 Wyoming Way.  A very positive school (Blackhawk),  community (Community Action Coalition), business (Fiskars) partnership.

The rest of this is going to be about the Regular Board of Education Meeting (Open Session), the highlights ad lowlights, in order (unless a document is linked here, all the info available can be found at the link immediately above).

Election of Officers.  Maya Cole and Beth Moss deserve thanks for their service as President and Vice President this past year.  Whatever you think of their leadership, the jobs are difficult and time consuming, especially in a year like the one we’ve had.

PUBLIC APPEARANCES.  Word on the street is that there will be a substantial turnout of teachers seeking the restoration autonomy in the use of Monday Early Release planning time that was recently lost in the under-the-gun contract negotiations.  You can read more here and here.  It seems to me that there is a combination of real concerns and symbolic politics in play on both sides.  I don’t see the district rolling this back when they hold all the cards (thanks to Walker).  I’d suggest a compromise that changes the mandatory activities from once a month to twice.

BOARD PRESIDENT’S ANNOUNCEMENTS AND REPORTS.  Recognitions for accomplishments by students and staff and other feel good items like the project Orange Thumb garden.

SUPERINTENDENT’S ANNOUNCEMENTS AND REPORTS. Much meatier.  Five is items, none starred for action at this meeting, but some may go forward without Board action.

Talented and Gifted Update and Recommendations (the Preliminary DPI Audit Findings and Administrative Recommendation to not contest are here).

Too much here for this post.  I plan to get back to this in the coming weeks or months.

The price tag is an increase in the TAG budget from $1,123,249 to $1,725,880.  This does not appear to include the $60,000 increase for Youth Options and the $70,000 for CogAT tests in the Superintendent’s  (earlier) Recommendations.  I’m not sure why not.

Both identification and follow through are problematic, both in practice and theory.  One frightening revelation from the Preliminary Audit is that MMSD was “unable to provide a list of identified students.’  Think about that.

Anecdotally (and with TAG in MMSD, the lack of data is a big problem), I’ve talked to a handful of parents this year whose children scored in the highest identified grouping on one test or another without the referral process for identification being triggered.  The DPI confirms that this has been hit-or-miss.

I remain skeptical on that there will ever be a  rigorous and equitable identification process that covers “general intellectual, specific academic, leadership, creativity, and visual and performing arts.”  I’d love to see the filings in a complaint based on the “leadership, creativity, and visual and performing arts” areas.  I’m not saying give up — at least not here (for a provocative exploration of that idea, see James H. Boreland “Gifted Education Without Gifted Children The Case for No Conception of Giftedness“) — there is clearly room for improvement.   I am saying there are some basic definitional and conceptual issues that are not going to go away.  I’ve touched on these here; for more see Carol Fertig. “Conflicts in the Definition and Identification of Giftedness.”

Then there are all the questions about what follows identification…

One last observation is that the initial complaint centered on course offerings at West, that issue is only a small part of the DPI findings, has at least tentatively been settled via the changes enacted this year and is only addressed in a very indirect way in the Compliance Plan.

Superintendent’s Goals for 2011-12

I have to say that I was impressed (and somewhat surprised) by the degree to which the past goals had been achieved.  Much more impressed here than with the Strategic Plan report.  Maybe this is a function of the drafting and interpretation of the goals, but hats off to Supt. Nerad.   I think that more specificity is needed going forward on some.

Reorganization of Public Information Department

Three quick thoughts.  First, Joe Quick and the role of Legislative Liaison will be missed.  I think this position was under-utilized recently, but valuable none-the-less.  Second, Marcia Standford is an excellent choice for the Community Engagement work.  Last, I like the realism reflected in the document in acknowledging that if you cut almost $200,000 from the budget and add new responsibilities, you can’t do everything you were doing before.  “More with less,” works better in theory than in practice.

Badger Rock Contract Changes

Some small things clarifying BRMS terms fro withdrawing from the contract.

Additional 4K Sites

I had to read this one twice to believe it.  It appears that in 2011-2012 MMSD will not be offering 4K at the MMSD Allied Drive Learning Center primarily because “Parents have raised concerns about their children being placed at the MMSD Allied Drive Learning Center for 4 programing, therefore some students (20) have been considered for transfers to other sites.”

Other reasons are given, but since Allied is still on the list for 2012-2013, they seem like window dressing to me.

MMSD could, say that the Allied kids — who have great needs and few options — should be given more consideration, they could say no to the transfer requests.

Instead they appear to be pandering to prejudice.  What lesson is being taught here? How does that fit with the Mission Statement line about “embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.”

I haven’t followed this as closely as I should have.  I know that the issue of location and access in relation to poverty was raised earlier (see this story by Matt DeFour), and that some reconsideration was promised.  I’m not sure what happened next, but you can compare maps on the District 4K site (keeping in mind the latest developments).

I think that this is worth calling attention to and protesting.

Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring

K-12 Alignment

Standards and Test, the good and the bad.  Mostly — but not all — the bad in my opinion (see these old posts for some of it and stay tuned for more).


It looks like the cost is $611,000, most (all?) of which is covered in the earlier Superintendent Recommendations.   One other note is that i don’t think meeting and records for the this group were posted regularly.  When the Board approves the creation of a body that includes more than staff, this should be done as a matter of course.

Instructional Materials Purchase Plan

$415,000 more in purchases tied to the Literacy Plan.  I don’t think this money is part of the costs above or the Superintendent’s Recommendations.

Operational Support

Prepayment of District Debt
I discussed this here (the Fund Balance, surplus material).  My position is that some for escrow is good, but let’s spend to improve our district now.

March Financial Statements

All things considered, lo0ks good.

Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men Future Direction regarding Funding Levels

Seeking some clarity on how MMSD’s contribution to the Madison Prep budget will be calculated and handled if this comes to fruition.  Everyone needs to know how this would impact existing schools and programs and that isn’t clear, at all.

Proposed MMSD Energy Policy and Administrative Guidelines

Just what it says.

Plan for Use of Title I and Flow-Through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Funds (IDEA-ARRA Funding Memo, Title I ARRA Budget Revisions memo, IDEA ARRA Funding Plan spreadsheets)

There have been a lot of changes in plans along the way, with money allocated, not spent and reallocated.  Last year when a similar set of documents should about $7 million allocated, but not spent I made an informal bet with Erik Kass that they wouldn’t get it all spent by the deadlines.  I think Erik is going to win.

Proposed Revisions to Board Policy 8005-Employment

It looks like some new language around consistency in interviews and follow-up questions.


All the items with linked documentation are on the main agenda.  Nothing jumped out at me.

Legislative Liaison Report
*1 Senate Bill #95—Mandate Relief
*2 State Budget Bill/Revised Revenue Projections/Save Our Schools Proposal
*3 Reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act
*4 School Voucher Proposals
*5 Children At Risk

I’ve written about SB 95 twice before (here and here).  I’m not all that impressed with the “Save Our Schools” proposals which accede to at least $300  million in state aid cuts, do nothing about local control and generally accept the “we can’t afford to adequately fund education” paradigm.

The use of some of the increased revenue projections for schools is good, as is the shift of the Levy Credits from misdirected property tax relief to education.  More on this later in the week.

The ESEA thing is interesting.  It is from the national school administrator’s group and asks for full local flexibility in moving money among Title programs.  I don’t like it.  the regulations may be unduly cumbersome, but I don’t trust many local officials to not divert money for kids i poverty to other uses.

I don’t see anything on the Children at Risk Program or the Voucher legislation here.  Vouchers, yech.

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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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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The Conservationist Ethic, or “You don’t know what you got (till it’s gone)”

John Muir

Joan Jett “You Dont Know What You Got” (click to listen or download)

With the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on the table, Race to the Top continuing, the Investing in Innovation (I3) rules set, a reorganization of Madison schools (scroll for links) and local budget choices that may privilege new initiatives over existing programs and services; it is a good time to repost one of my favorite essays on education reform: David Tyack’s  “A Conservationist Ethic in Education?.”

I think this is a must read for all would-be-education-reformers and all School Board members.

Here is an excerpt:


Believers in progress through rapid education reform often want to reinvent schooling. The dead hand of the past has created problems for these rational planners to solve, preferably quickly. A conservationist takes a different view of experience, asking what needs to be saved as well as changed.

The word progress pops up everywhere in educational discourse, even in the rhetoric of critics who want to blame schools for just about any problem. During the Reagan Administration, the official American report on education for UNESCO was called “Progress Education in the United States,” while the major tool for measuring our national achievement bears the optimistic name of National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In reform circles enamored of change and inclined toward Utopian solutions to improve schooling, a belief in progress can obscure the task of conserving the good along with inventing the new. In mitigating one set of problems, innovations may give rise to new discontents. In each major period of reform in the history of American public education, different plans for progress and different discontents emerged.

Wise thoughts.  Locally we only need think of the Ready, Set, Goals conferences to see the applicability of Tyack’s caution for the need to balance “progress” and “conservation.”

For more, see David Tyack and Larry Cuban’s Tinkering Toward Utopia:  A Century of Public School Reform.

Larry Cuban has also been blogging and his site is now on my regular read link list.

The other reason I posted this is it gave me a chance to link Joan Jett and John Muir.

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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Starve them into submission (with some corrections and an update)

[corrected material crossed out; new material in italics, update at bottom]

Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction has officially embraced a policy of starving Milwaukee Public Schools into submission by exercising his power to withhold Federal funds from the district.

Here is the Press Release in it’s entirety (official notice here).

Evers issues notice to Milwaukee Public Schools

MADISON — State Superintendent Tony Evers issued a statement regarding the notice he signed today that will allow him to use his authority to withhold or direct federal funds allocated to Milwaukee Public Schools.

“As the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I have a legal responsibility to the children of Milwaukee. Today, I issued a notice that will allow me to speed up change in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) through the use of my authority regarding federal funds. Using the only tool allowed under state law, I am acting to ensure federal funds are used effectively to improve MPS.

“No one can or should be satisfied with the current progress in MPS to improve. I look forward to full cooperation to implement all required changes, with an increased sense of urgency, as I continue to work with MPS leaders.”

Evers had previously sought the power to  — unilaterally and  with no defined criteria —  declare any district “in need of improvement,” issue directives on almost all aspects governance and education and “withhold state aid from any school district that fails to comply to the state superintendent’s satisfaction with any of the above directives.”  That effort, Assembly Bill 534, failed.

Bribing Milwaukee into submission with uncertain Race to the Top funding also failed.  The carrot is gone now, what is left is starvation and the stick.

The last thing Milwaukee needs is more program cuts.  Just this week, the lack of resources led the distinct to discontinue SAGE class size reduction in 11 schools.  Federal dollars total about 18% of the MPS budget, Title I  — the funds targeted for poor children in play here — probably about 2/3 or more of that, call it over 12% (I’m not sure if Evers can also withhold the ARRA flow-through “state stabilization funds that his buddy Jim Doyle and others dishonestly tried to spin as “state aid”).  It isn’t clear what Evers is going to do and how he is going to do that with by cutting 18% a significant portion of the budget.

At this time there are no details, no plan, just the starvation.

Although not referenced in either the notice or the Press Release, there is a “Corrective Action Plan” that was issued in 2008 and a draft and  update from 2009.  Here is the report on the response by the Milwaukee Public Schools (I will post more relevant documents as I find them).

The lack of plan is foolish anyway you look at it.  From a policy point of view, there is no policy to look at.  From a political point of view, no positive case for the action is being made, no “this has to happen,” only “this can”t go on.”  That’s not the way to win over the undecided or convince anyone that this isn’t a political stunt.

There may be a good case to make that this is a reasonable and justified action, but the case has not been made.  That case would require more than the “No one can or should be satisfied with the current progress in MPS” in the Press Release, it would entail a detailed documentation of how MPS has failed in the Corrective Actions and why Evers thinks that withholding this money will produce better results.  My guess is that we will see some of this in the coming weeks.

Without a governance or educational case being made, this looks like a political stunt.

Since Evers has been linked at the hip to Doyle and Mayor/Gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett on MPS issues, one calculation may be that Barrett will win votes outside of Milwaukee based on this.  I wouldn’t count on that off-setting the votes lost in Milwaukee or those lost around the state from people who actually know a thing or two about education.  My first reaction is that Barrett just lost the election.  Probably an over-reaction (really too early to tell), but not an outrageous conclusion.

The timing is bad too.  Unless this is direct reaction to the Superintendent hire, it makes no sense to not give Gregory Thornton a chance to at least get settled.  It certainly makes his job more difficult, if not impossible

It is ironic that the standards invoked (and required by statute ) are the NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress standards that Superintendent Evers has never been a fan of.   When power overcomes sense, any tool at hand looks good.

This kind of  bullying  was (mostly)  not part of what candidate Tony Evers promisedMany of us thought better of him, or at very least that he understood that a lack of adequate resources was part of the problem, not the way to a solution.  Time for second thoughts.


Wisconsin Radio Network had a story linking this to the Mayoral Control fight that brought a reaction from Tony Evers:

Update: Evers says the statement to MPS is about the district’s failure to improve in specific areas which are spelled out in the notice, and NOT about mayoral control, and that my attempt to connect the two in this post was “reprehensible.”

Good to have that information, but if you haven’t made the case on education and governance — and they haven’t —  then it seems reasonable for people to speculate about political reasons (I did, not Mayoral Control directly, but politics).

Under the circumstances “reprehensible” seems much too strong.

Whatever the combination of motives, for good and ill, politics will be part of this.

Responses from the MPS Board and Supt. William Andrekopoulos are linked here.

Update #2

Just some links.

Bob Hague at Wisconsin Radio Network has his full interviews with Evers and Andrekopoulos up here.  Worth a listen.

The main Journal Sentinel story is here.

Michael Mathias at Pundit Nation has a long and interesting post.

Gretchen Schuldt at Blogging MPS has a nice roundup (better than this one and she will no doubt be following developments more closely then AMPS, put her on the must-read list).

Thomas J. Mertz

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Reform Is In The Air


Mike Rose at Truthdig has noted that following the extensive and unprecedented federal reach of No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration is attempting to extend this iniative further by putting some some serious money behind a number of education initiatives that invite states and districts to compete for federal dollars. In the K-12 education world, they want, in part, to stimulate better state standards and tests, including the better measurement of teacher effectiveness, while turning around failing schools. One way they want to accomplish this is through an increase in the number of charter schools. At the same time, a third initiative wants to spark innovation and scale up the best of local academic programs.

As Mr. Rose acknowledges, this is a moment of real promise for American education, from kindergarten through college. But he also sounds a note of caution.

Reform is in the air. But within many of these reforms are the seeds of their undoing.

He pointed out that the Education Department has put a lot of stock in charter schools as “engines of innovation,” while noting, importantly, that DOE will not consider a state’s funding proposal if that state has a cap on charters.

Yet a number of research studies — the most recent from Stanford — demonstrate that charter schools, on average, are no better or worse than the regular public schools around them. To be sure, some charters are sites of fresh ideas and robust education, but so are magnet schools, and, lest we forget, so are our regular public schools, ones with strong leadership and a critical mass of good teachers. For the “reformers’” however, charter schools are the recipients of the highest accolades, the rest – not so much.

The Stanford University study shattered the myth of charter school superiority. According to Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, students at only 17 percent of charter schools do better on math and reading tests than their demographic peers in regular public schools. Thirty-seven percent do worse, while 46 percent of charter school kids, almost half, perform at approximately the same level as their traditional public school counterparts.

The author of the report concludes:

This study shows that we’ve got a 2-to-1 margin of bad charters to good charters.

The results are especially significant, given that charter schools have built-in advantages – starting with parents that are engaged enough in their children’s education to put them there, in the first place. Yet the actual outcomes, in most cases, fail to live up to the hype.

President Obama and his administration are committed to charter schools. In no small part this policy is driven by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was a cheerleader for charters when he ran the Chicago school system, and has threatened to withhold federal education money from the 10 states that don’t yet have charter schools and the 26 other states that put limits on enrollment in charters. Such raw coercion, especially given the results of the Stanford study, seems strongly misguided. This comes in spite of the acknowledgement of the Stanford study on the part of Sec. Duncan, which, he suggests, merely points to the need for greater vigilance. “Charter authorizers need to do a better job of holding schools accountable.”

This administration has said that charter schools are key to educational “reform,” and provide “competition” for traditional schools. But that’s utter nonsense if the educational outcomes are no better, and in many cases worse, than in the regular public schools.

Speaking of “holding [charter] schools accountable,” one would of thought that that was a central argument for the need for charter schools in the first place, an institution free of those ill-principled and wretched teacher unions. Unionized teachers are blamed for much of the ills of education; it’s not a reasoned argument, but a matter of faith – and political prejudice. Charter schools are not private (at least not entirely, if you consider they are chartered by the state), but they are the privatizers’ foot in the door, a wedge issue to demonize unions. And that third leg of the reform movement, so to speak, measurement of teacher effectiveness, is also front and center (see the latest continued plea from the Wisconsin State Journal).

One approach being piloted in a number of education systems around the country is by the non-profit Hope Street Group, and developed by a team of teachers across the U.S., who have proposed recommendations for a smarter evaluation system, imploying more ‘objective’ measures of student achievement, ones that aim to attract and retain teachers, and put America’s schools back on top internationally.

“Policy 2.0: Using Open Innovation to Reform Teacher Evaluation Systems” suggests that in K-12 education, any teacher evaluation system should have the input of teachers and administrators and not solely come from researchers and policymakers. Their specific recommendations include the suggestion that evaluation systems should be frequently revised, that teaching advocates need to be involved in this process, and that any in-class observations for assessment must be done by teachers with sufficient experience.

Lets hope the coming “seeds of change” are not broadcasted, with great hope, onto marginal soil. There is too much at stake for education in this new century.

Robert Godfrey

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Education Tweak #12 – Arne Duncan: “You Lie” (+ Bob Dylan Bonus)

Click on image for pdf.

Click on image for pdf.

Previous EDTweaks can be found at

And thanks to my brother for making the connection between the Joe Wilson “You lie” outburst and this classic Bob Dylan performance.

Thomas J. Mertz

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