Category Archives: No Child Left Behind

So you want to be my Senator?

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

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

This is the email I sent her:

Congresswomen Baldwin

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

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

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

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

Thank you.


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

I’ll post any response I get.

Thomas J. Mertz

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

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

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

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

A need for national, state, and local action”

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

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

The Save Our Schools demands are:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities

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

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

  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

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

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

For more information, visit: and

Thomas J. Mertz

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Hypocrite of the Day — Sarah Archibald

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas J. Mertz


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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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WAES: “Governor’s budget plan for education gets a bad grade on basic mathematics”

Click the graphic for more information on WAES.

From the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES)

Governor’s budget plan for education
gets a bad grade on basic mathematics

As long as the cost of education does not increase, the tools Governor Scott Walker “gave” districts to offset his devastating cuts to school aids might work, theoretically, for some communities. In the real world, however─where costs increase and children need opportunities to succeed, the coming years look pretty bleak.

That was the assessment following Tuesday’s credentialed media only press event behind locked doors where the Governor rolled out his version of the 2011-13 budget for public education. Not everyone was as optimistic as Walker.

Superintendent of Schools Tony Evers called the budget “a crushing challenge,” while the School Finance Network said the budget is “shortsighted and counterproductive” and “the simple fact is that (it) will result in cuts to programs and services and increases in class sizes.”

In general, the Governor’s budget that cuts aid and reduces districts’ revenue authority doesn’t take into account 18 years of cuts to programs and services and basic inflationary cost increases. WAES maintains that sooner or later, the result of the cuts─small, large, and cumulative─will be or already has jeopardized the future of Wisconsin’s children and communities.

Wisconsin’s School Administrator’s Alliance (SAA) said its members are united in their opposition to Governor Walker’s agenda of privatizing public education.” “According to John Forester, the group’s director of government relations, “The school aid cuts in the Governor’s proposed budget plan are of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression.”

Find out what you can do to stop these devastating aid cuts to our public schools at

Read more:

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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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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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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