Category Archives: We Are Not Alone

Some Truth About Urban Prep and Why It Matters

The Undisputed Truth – ” Smiling Faces” (click to listen or download)

Introduction

To bolster their case and push their agendas, advocates for market-based education reform and   market-based policies in general tout “miracle schools” that have supposedly produced amazing results .  Urban Prep in Chicago is often exhibit A.

As Diane Ravitch wrote of Urban Prep and other ed deform favorites ” the only miracle at these schools was a triumph of public relations.”

Locally, backers of the Madison Preparatory Academy have incorporated much of the Urban Prep model in their plan and have repeatedly cited the “success” of that  school as evidence of the soundness of their proposal.   Just this weekend Derrell Connor was quoted as saying in relation to Madison Prep “We are using Urban Prep (in Chicago) as an example, which for the last four years has a 100 percent graduation rate and all those kids have gone on to college.”  As I pointed out in a back-and-forth in the comments on that interview, the actual Urban Prep graduation rate is far below 100% (62.6% is the correct figure, my mistakes in the comments, also there have only been two graduating classes, not four) .

While this is better than the figures for African American Males in Chicago and Madison, I tend to discount graduation rates as a metric for autonomous and semi-autonomous schools where what constitutes passing isn’t closely monitored and all involved have a vested interest in higher numbers.  Similar interests are present with the  college admissions figures that are at the center of Urban Prep’s marketing campaign.   Often a counterfactual is employed: “better at Urban Prep or college than in prison,” but there is no way to establish that without Urban Prep these particular students would be headed toward prison and given the family/self selection, many reasons to believe that they would not.  All of this distracts from a a consideration of the desirability of a model that sends under-prepared students to college where at best they receive remediation paid for by scarce family or scholarship funds or student loans.  Also lost is the fact that the vast majority of post-secondary institutions have minimal admissions requirements and that almost all motivated high school graduates (and even GED takers) can gain admission.

That back-and-forth directly prompted this post (it was one of many that have been simmering and was moved to the front burner).  As the title indicates, I want to dig  beyond the hype and look at what has and has not been achieved at Urban Prep.  I also want to explore a bit how the hype has distorted and damaged discussions and deliberations about education and education policy.

An Aside

This most definitely is not a rejoinder to Mr. Connor, but since I did mention him, I will say up front that in both the interview and the comments, I sensed from his words —  more than I have from many others  —  a willingness to acknowledge the complexity of the issues and the limitations of any one educational program.   This is important, because  —  as addressed below  —  I see much of the negative impact of the “miracle school” myth as being due to denial of complexity and limitations.

Some Truth About Urban Prep (Numbers and Charts)

First the caveats.  I don’t now and never will believe that test score data gives anything like a true or full picture of a school (or district or state).  Standardized tests are at best a limited snapshot, designed to sort students, not measure what they know; and so much else of what goes on in schools  —  both good and bad  — and contributes to or detracts from  personal development is not and cannot be quantified with any degree of confidence.   So “some truth,” from some test score data, not the whole truth.  One more caveat is that all numbers are from the Englewood Campus (the others are too new to have posted data).

Gary Rubenstein and others have done the basic work of delineating the abysmal test scores at Urban Prep.   You can view the interactive school Report Card here.  There really is no way to spin 17% of the students meeting state standards as a “success,” (nor  is there any way to look at the 29% meeting standards in the Chicago Public Schools and not demand change of one sort or another).  The idea that Urban Prep is a success to be emulated is absurd.  Further examination of the record only reinforces this conclusion.

What I  want to do here is look a deeper at the differences in achievement (gaps) between “easier to educate” and “harder to educate students  at Urban Prep, specifically around poverty.  One more caveat: looking at gaps based on broad categories like poverty, special education and race also distorts the realities of schools and students, all poverty is not the same (for a fine macro take on this see this from Bruce Baker), special education students have a wide variety of abilities and the of salience race is not simple or constant.

Still, much of the case being made in favor of Urban Prep and Madison Prep is based on standardized test achievement gaps, so looking at the gaps that exist at Urban Prep is reasonable.

Poverty  matters and the gaps based on poverty —  as measured by Free or Reduced Lunch status  — at the almost entirely African American Urban Prep are eye-opening and further  puncture the myth that this school has the answers.

The first chart shows composite percentage meeting (none exceeded) state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), all PSAE data from here.

As bad as the scores are for the school as a whole, they are much, much worse for the students in poverty. In the most recent year the gap is 19.7% and only 11.7% of students in poverty meet the standards.

Similar,gaps on the ACT (raw data here).

This shows the percentage of students who achieved a composite score of 20 or greater, a measure of “college readiness,” but not the official ACT version (both measures are problematic for a variety of reasons).  The poverty gap was 18.2 in 2011, with only 5.3% of students in poverty scoring a composite of 20 or greater.

One more from the ACT, this one shows composite means.

The point differences aren’t that great, but the gap is there and neither the 17.7 (for non FRL) nor the 15.5 (for FRL) inspires confidence.   When you learn that Urban Prep has partnered with a for profit ACT Prep company, these scores look even worse.

Whatever might be working at Urban Prep (by these measures), is working much better for non Free/Reduced Lunch students than it is for students in poverty.   It should also be noted that on most of these measures and for most years, with one exception, the gaps have grown.  Poverty matters.

(Some of) Why This Matters

The Big, Big Picture: Structural Inequality

The Big, Big Picture is about structural change in our society and how the myths of “miracle schools” and equality of opportunity via education work against those changes.  The”schools and schools alone can overcome inequality, ” teacher and teacher union bashing corporate reform crowd associated with the Education Equality  Projectsignatories include  Kaleem Caire, Newt Gingrich,  Michelle Rhee,  Whitney Tilson (of DFER),  Dr. Beverly L. Hall (the disgraced former Atlanta Superintendent), Eric Hanushek (of the Hoover Institute)…you get the idea  — make extensive use of the supposed miracle schools to advance their agendas.  They don’t want the myths exposed, they don’t want structural inequality examined.

I’ve spent a good deal of my life studying and working for equality of educational opportunity and strongly believe that public education is the best tool we have for combating inequality, but “social”  equality (“social” as in TH Marshall’s conception of “Social Citizenship” see Linda Gordon and Nancy Fraser for more) and even real equality of educational opportunity requires something much Broader and Bolder than school reform can bring (click the link, I’m a signatory there).

Yet it is incontrovertible  that no school or teacher can fully erase the educational advantages that the children of the educated and the wealthy have over children without books in their homes or even homes at all.  Even at a school like Urban prep, where likely no students are wealthy but many are poor, the differences are pronounced.

In more subtle ways  the myths of meritocracy and educational opportunity have worked against the fuller enactment of social provisions found in most Western nations and continue to obscure and distract from confronting the structures that reproduce inequality.

I have another post  germinating that will cover some of this, so I’m going to keep working to expand Opportunities to Learn  and set this analysis aside for now (related thoughts from Diane Ravitch here).

The Big Picture: Educational Policy

In terms of educational decision-making, a big problem with these myths is that they are false and false premises poison the process.

Because the myths are as attractive as they are false, getting past this is difficult.  People want to believe in miracles.  Add to that they are being spread via a very, very  well-funded marketing and lobbying campaigns and the problem is compounded.   A credulous media doesn’t help either; miracles make great stories ( see ” “Misinformed charter punditry doesn’t help anyone (especially charters!)” by Bruce Baker for a somewhat different take on this).

The reality of expanding opportunities and extending attainment is not as simple or as marketable.  Lists of “proven” policies  — like adequate funding, smaller classes, differentiated resource allocations (poverty aids); differentiated instruction; Quality  early childhood education; experienced; well prepared and compensated staff (not just teachers, but social workers, EAs. librarians, psychologists, counselors,  all in adequate numbers to assure that students get the attention they need);  high expectations and challenging academic work  for all students, quality and culturally relevant instructional materials, school and classroom diversity,  professional learning communities where educators have a respected voice in policy and practices, flexible pedagogy, well designed and frequent interventions for those falling behind, parental and community involvement  —  don’t have the same appeal.

When you add to these an acknowledged  need to attempt to address factors beyond the control of the schools, like mobility, developmental environment, peer cultures, health and medical issues (including but not limited to those like lead poisoning and fetal alcohol syndrome that directly effect learning and disproportionately impact minorities and those in poverty), food insecurity, housing insecurity,…..you’ve lost most of your audience.

If anyone is still listening or reading, you will almost certainly lose them if  you honestly end by saying  “these are some of the things we should be doing and they will help many,  but even with these we won’t achieve equality and maybe not even quality education for all.”   Complex, multifaceted, expensive and uncertain is a hard sell.

Closer to Home

As long as  the myths and narratives of advocates like those pushing Madison Prep remain largely unexamined, the false but attractive stories of simplistic miracles will have an advantage.  Even the  “if not this, what’s the alternative” response to questions and evidence leaves the public relations deck  stacked in their favor.  They have an easily marketed “tight package” but reality isn’t so tight and neither are  good education policy and practice.

Just for the record,  my answer to “if not this what” would begin with the above lists, include a call to implement the recommendations of the Equity Task Force and extend to seeking better understandings of how multiple factors such as mobility, race, poverty, disabilities, language…interact among students in MMSD, and how to and address these (one of my big complaints with the Madison Prep sales pitch is the simplistic framing of achievement as an exclusively  racial issue,  and the even more simplistic conflation of the experiences of African Americans and Latinos) .  I’d also recommend “Why Does the Gap Persist?” by Paul E. Barton as a good starting point on the state of research-based knowledge (along with the Better Bolder materials linked above and …..and….).  Not very tight or marketable, but the kind of things I think we should be talking about instead spreading or busting the myths of Urban Prep and the like.

Many people have  said that it is good that Madison Prep has forced our community to have a conversation about the education of students who are failing/being failed.  I wish we were having that conversation  but we aren’t.  There has been more heat than light and more myth than fact.

Much about the way Madison Prep has been presented has worked against the kind of deliberation I think our students and community would benefit from.  Perhaps the most basic part of this is  the fact that months into the marketing campaign and weeks before the vote on the proposal, the educational program  for Madison Prep is  still very much an outline (the basic requirements under for a “detailed” proposal” under MMSD policy have yet to be satisfied)  and it certainly has not been given much scrutiny.

The educational program should be central to the conversation.  Many communities spend months or years considering in great detail the pros and cons of single aspects of the Madison Prep plan, such as extended time, International Baccalaureate (perhaps relevant to this is the fact that despite claiming an Advanced Placement program Urban Prep students have not taken a single AP exam),  single-sex education (another Urban prep practice), “no excuses” policies (Urban Prep again), extended school day (yep, Urban Prep and like so much of this not supported by research)….With the clock ticking, we’ve spent almost no time on any of these, singly or in combination (as I’ve said repeatedly, the combination matters because the whole could be less –or more — than the sum of the parts).

The clock is ticking, but it isn’t too late.  I have faith that the Board of Education will at least attempt to deliberate based on facts and not myths, as well as some hope that a significant portion of the community, including some supporters of Madison Prep, will welcome and engage in this process.  Some hope.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Madison Prep and the Attack on Public Education

Mission Of Burma – “Academy Fight Song” (click to listen or download).

[Note;  This post is adapted from an article I wrote over a week ago for the Progressive Dane Newsletter (as of this writing PD has not taken  a position on the Madison Prep proposal).  I’ve only changed minimally for posting here;  one thing I have added is some hyperlinks (but I did not link as thoroughly as I usually do), another is a small  “For Further Reading” set of links at the end,”  and of course the song.  This is intended to be  a broad overview and introduction to what I think are some of the most important issues concerning the decision on the Madison Preparatory Academy presented in the context of related national issues.  Issues raised in this post have been and will be treated in more depth  — and with hyperlinks —  in other posts]

For decades free market advocates such as the Bradley Foundation, the Walton Foundation and the Koch brothers have a waged a multi-front campaign against the public sector and the idea of the common good.  Public education has been one of the key battlegrounds.  In the coming weeks the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education will decide whether to approve a proposal for the Madison Prep Charter School.  This proposal and the chief advocate for it – Kaleem Caire of the Urban League of Greater Madison – have their roots in the Bradley/Walton/Koch movement, and like much of that movement they offer false promises of educational progress in order to obscure the damage being done to every child in our public schools.

A Public Hearing on the Madison Prep proposal has been scheduled for Monday October 3, at 6:00 PM in the Doyle Building Auditorium;  The Madison Prep proposal is on the agenda of the PD General Membership Meeting  (Wed , 9/28 , 6:00 p.m, Hawthorne Branch Library, guests welcome).

The campaign to undermine public education, nationally and in Madison, has been very sophisticated politically and simplistic educationally.  Caire and other “choice” advocates zero in on the failings of public schools, while dismissing the successes or often even the possibility of success within a public school context.  This attention to the failings of public schools, especially for poor and minority students, is welcome.  However instead supporting the difficult and uncertain work of finding ways to expand educational opportunities and improve attainment for those being left behind, the self-proclaimed “reformers” offer only unfounded market-based panaceas.

This not only ignores the essential educational work that is needed, it obscures the growing inequalities of wealth and power that are at the core of many of educational struggles.

Madison Prep is a classic case.  The proposals (there have been multiple versions) and the extensive media campaign have centered on a narrative based on selected statistics illustrating gaps in achievement between African American (and to a lesser extent Hispanic) males and other students.  No attempt is made to locate the sources of those gaps, no attention is given to student-related factors such as poverty (Madison Prep advocates prefer to talk about race, not poverty) or mobility (in 2009 173 of the 435 African American 10th graders were in their first year at the school they attended); or to school-based factors such as curriculum, pedagogy, grouping practices, class-size, resource allocations….Instead the one and only “solution” offered is the ill-conceived Madison Prep Charter School.

A big part of this campaign has been directed at unionized public school teachers who are blamed for all the ills of schools.  Charters like Madison Prep promise to address these ills by stripping teachers of their rights and job security, forcing them to work longer hours for less pay and fewer benefits, while expanding administrative supervision via a top heavy structure peopled by multiple well compensated  administrators, a “President” and a “Head of School” and a “Development Director.”  The transfer of wealth and power of the market based economy is mirrored in the structure of the school.

The Madison Prep educational plan itself is an incoherent and contradictory mélange of trendy and unproven elements.  Some of what is being proposed is promising (intensive tutoring, perhaps longer school days and years), some of it educationally empty (uniforms), and some of it likely damaging to creativity and authentic learning (the militaristic discipline of the “No Excuses” models).  None of the elements in-and-of themselves have been shown to make a significant impact on academic achievement and because of the contradictions there is a good chance that the whole will be less than the sum of the parts.

One model being held up by the Madison Prep advocates is the “No Excuses” disciplinary approach of schools such as Chicago’s Urban Prep and the KIPP chain.  These schools often have high attrition rates and/or test scores appreciably lower than schools serving similar students (despite spending more per student, requiring a longer school day and serving a less impoverished population in comparison to the Chicago Public Schools as a whole, on the most recent tests only 11% of Urban Prep’s 11th graders met state standards in mathematics, well below the – still unacceptable – 29% for CPS).  Serious abusive disciplinary practices have characterized some KIPP schools and when these have come to light, because of their Charter status local Boards of Education have been frustrated in their efforts to intervene (some would say the entire KIPP model is abusive and these are not anomalies, but simply “No Excuse” taken to its logical conclusion).

Aligned with the “No Excuses” model is a reactionary and discriminatory call for single-sex education and an implicit rejection of the theory and practice of special education services designed to address the needs of a significant portion of our students.  The initial exclusion of young women from Madison Prep has been addressed, but the issues concerning potential discrimination against gay and transgender students have not been part of the discussion thus far and the outdated models of masculinity and femininity reinforced by this version of single sex education have not been examined.  Like all Charter Schools, Madison Prep will be required to admit special education students, but the “No Excuses” model is antithetical to the best practices in this area.

Madison Prep also promises to offer the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program and employ the “Harkness Method”of Phillip Exeter Academy to cultivate creative thinking and collaborative learning.  As attractive as these are in theory, they hold little promise as a means of addressing the needs of those students featured in the Madison Prep media blitz and call for practices that are at the opposite end of the pedagogical spectrum from the KIPP model.

The presence of IB and the “Harkness Method” in the proposal also highlights an important disconnect between the problem identified — MMSD is failing minority students and the solution offered – a Charter School.  By law, Charter Schools cannot discriminate in admissions (on the basis of race, poverty, academic achievement, or anything else).  Madison Prep cannot target those who are failing/being failed.  IB and Harkness style teaching will likely be very attractive to the families of students who are thriving in MMSD, the top 10%, meaning that if this proposal goes through the majority of the applications may come from students who are about as far from those featured in the sales pitch as possible.

In contrast, the school district and district schools can and do target programs and services to students who are failing and being failed.  That the district needs to be doing more of this and a better job of it is beyond question, but the expense of the Madison Prep proposal will force cuts to all district programs and services, including these.

According to the latest figures available, the five-year cost of Madison Prep will be about $27,000,000 and the cost per student  to the district will be about $15,000 (MMSD’s marginal cost per student is a little below $11,000).  The district will experience some savings because students in Madison Prep will mean fewer students in district schools, but because of the distributed nature educational budgeting, these savings – mostly in the form of fewer teachers – will be minimal (about $500,000 annually) and also come at the cost of more limited course and schedule choices in district schools. Estimates are that the funding Madison Prep for the hundreds of students who will enroll will require cutting an additional $1.5 and $2 million annually from the programs and services that serve 24,000 district students, 12,000 of whom live in poverty.

This will of course make it harder, if not impossible for the public schools to meet the needs of the students in their charge by offering the opportunities to learn they deserve, which will further undermine support for public schools and make market-based solutions and privatization appear superficially more attractive.  This vicious cycle is exactly what the Bradleys, the Waltons and the Kochs want.  Show up at the hearing or write the Board of Education (board@madison.k12.wi.us😉 and let them know that you don’t want this happening in Madison

Thomas J. Mertz

Chair, Progressive Dane Education Task Force

For Further Reading:

Kevin G. Welner, “Free Market Think Tanks and the Marketing of Education Policy.”

Diane Ravitch, “The Myth of Charter School.”

David Sirota,  “The bait and switch of school ‘reform.”

Don Whittinghill, “ Following the Charter Dollars.”

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

Note: This image is not from either of the films mentioned, but from another charter school lottery. For reasons that should be clear from the post, I selected a picture where the indiividuals are difficult to identify.

Frankie Beverly & Maze, “Joy and Pain” (click to listen or download)

This is Take Two in a series.  Take One, with a fuller introduction,  can be found here.   Briefly, the idea of the series is to counter anti-teacher and anti-teachers’ union individuals and “reform” groups appropriation of the phrase “it is all about the kids”  as a means to heap scorn and ridicule on public education and public education employees by investigating some of the actions of these individuals and groups  in light of the question “is it all about the kids?”  In each take, national developments are linked to local matters in relation to the Madison Prep charter school proposal.

Take Two: A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words: Public Lotteries and  the Exploitation of Families and Children

The narrative arcs of the highly publicized films The Lottery and Waiting for Superman similarly follow families as they seek admission to charter schools via lotteries.  Both films paint  a picture of public schools as failures and present charter schools as the only means for the families to access quality education.   The words “desperate” and “desperation” are used frequently in reviews to describe the families’ desire to escape public schools (more here and here and here and here…that’s enough).  They are very effective propaganda.

Rick Ayers called Waiting for Superman “a slick marketing piece full of half-truths and distortions.” In a review for the National Education Policy Center’s always wonderful Think Twice” project, William Tate wrote of The Lottery

Unfortunately, in terms of substantiating its narrative argument, The Lottery is at times more like another game of chance—three-card monte—in that it relies far too much on skillful sleight of hand and misdirection. While there is much that is very real and poignant about this film, it fundamentally misdirects viewers away from the actual evidence about the results achieved by charter schools.

A large part of this misdirection is achieved by placing real families and children at the center of the films, by putting human faces on the complex issues of education and using their stories to make things appear simple.  The families plights are employed  in the service of advancing the cause of market-based educational “choice” policies.   The whole enterprise is exploitive, but some aspects are worse than others.

The iconic images of both films are the contrasting  joy and pain of the respective lottery winners and losers; the smiles and hugs contrasted with the tears and hugs.    Among the things kept hidden in the films is the extensive and expensive marketing campaign that produced those images.   Juan Gonzalez reported:

In the two-year period between July 2007 and June 2009, Harlem Success spent $1.3 million to market itself to the Harlem community, the group’s most recent financial filings show.

Of that total, more than $1 million was spent directly on student recruitment. The campaign included posters at bus stops, Internet and radio ads, mass mailings of glossy brochures to tens of thousands of public school parents in upper Manhattan and the Bronx and the hiring of up to 50 community residents part-time to go door-to-door in Harlem soliciting applicants.

All of this was done to fill a mere 900 seats.

I fail to see how spending $1.3 million to market 900 slots can be in the interests of the kids.

But it is the exploitation of the pain and tears that I find most disturbing.  It is the exploitation of the pain and tears that makes me question if it is “all about the kids” because I can see no way that the cause of those particular lottery-losing families quest for a quality education is served by having their moments of disappointment made a public spectacle.

I’m sure choice advocates would argue that the larger cause is being advanced and that in the name of that cause some sacrifices must be made.  As I detailed in a previous post, the idea of the larger cause of “school choice” being worthy of such a sacrifice in the name of “the kids” does  not stand up to scrutiny.  In the aggregate, neither those who enroll in “choice schools” nor those who remain in public schools have experienced a net benefit from this government-funded free-market experiment.   Exploiting some families for the benefit of other families is bad enough, exploiting them for purely ideological reasons is indefensible.

Indefensible, but common.  A search of news sites reveals countless media events staged around charter school lotteries and each one features a mini-version of the Lottery and Waiting for Superman narrative: desperate families, exultant  winners, and defeated losers.  In each case the take away is that — despite all evidence to the contrary — attending public schools instead of a charter school dooms children to brutal and hopeless future.  With each media event that narrative becomes stronger and the evidence recedes more from the public consciousness.  The kids, like everyone else, would be best served by full and honest portrayals of educational options.

Of course that’s not the idea.  The  Walton, Gates, Joyce and Casey Foundation funded National Association of Public Charter Schools publishes a “Lottery Day Event Tool Kit.”  According to the kit:

This event presents a wonderful opportunity to:
• draw media attention to the demand for high-quality charters,
• grow awareness among families of the availability of quality schools of choice, and
• create an opportunity for charters to communicate their quality and
success.

All about the kids?   The most extensive section of kit concerns attracting and communicating with the media.  The families of applicants are treated as little more than props.  In fairness, the kit does suggest that school officials:

Write thank-you notes to parents and students who were not selected. You appreciate the time and effort and know they are disappointed. You are disappointed too, hope that they will apply again, and wish them the very best.

I like the “apply again.”  The media event will need  props again next year.

It isn’t surprising that Madison Prep is planning on following this script.   In response to questions from the Madison Metropolitan School District on admissions , the Urban League of Greater Madison wrote:

If the school receives more than 45 enrollment forms for either grade level in the first year, or enrollment forms exceed the seats available in subsequent years, Madison Prep will hold a public random lottery at a location that provides enough space for applicant students and families. (emphasis added)

What possible good would a public lottery do the winners?  Has anyone considered the harm a public lottery could do the losers?

This lack of attention given to vulnerable lottery losers stands in contrast to the supposed concern the Urban League paid to the confidentiality of parents in their recent “no media (except those friendly to Madison Prep)”  media event.  Here is how Madison.Com reported Urban League CEO Kaleem Caire’s reasoning prior to the meeting:

“This is about the parents first,” he said. “Oftentimes we don’t put them first. And we have to do that this time.

I guess after losing a lottery isn’t one of the times you “have to” put parents or children first.

By-the way,  I’m still waiting for the promised joint statement from Superintendent Dan Nerad and Kaleem Caire “about the meeting.”  If it ever comes (don’t hold your breathe), maybe that will help me understand.   I’m sure that in some fashion they will say “it is all about the kids.”  Forgive me if I don’t believe them.

For further reading (in addition to things linked in the text):

Diane Ravitch, “The Myth of Charter School.”

Michelle Fine, “Memo from Lois Lane” on the Not Waiting for Superman site.

Liana Heitin, “What About the ‘Lottery’ Losers?”

Kevin Drum, “Winners and Losers in the Charter School Lottery.”

Alan Gottlieb, “Life Lottery.”

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: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/ and http://saveourschoolswisconsin.wordpress.com/

Thomas J. Mertz

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Meet The Billionaires Who Are Trying To Privatize Our Schools And Kill Public Education

For most of you reading this, dear advocates of public education, none of this that I am about to mention will be very new information for you. But given Sam Dillon’s report on the front page of the New York Times today, I think perhaps momentum is building in reexamining the emerging role of the wealthy in this country in re-writing the assumptions of what public education is, and should be in the future. This post was also prompted by an excellent piece by our own Ruth Conniff, writing in the Isthmus this week.

Dillon has performed a yeoman’s task of putting together, in a short article, the convoluted inter-workings of the Bill Gates education philanthropy’s strategy for overhauling the nation’s education policies. In some cases the Gates Foundation is immediately engaged in financing educators to offering direct challenges to teacher unions on such issues as the seniority system and and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. In other cases, Mr. Gates has actually created entirely new advocacy groups, while at the same time financially supporting many Washington education analysts with contacts with journalists, even giving grants to some media organizations.

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who said he received no financing from the foundation.

“It’s easier to name which groups Gates doesn’t support than to list all of those they do, because it’s just so overwhelming,” noted Ken Libby, a graduate student who has pored over the foundation’s tax filings as part of his academic work.

The impact of the foundation’s role in education policy is immense. Dillon reported that it had developed and promoted common core academic standards that have been adopted in 45 states in recent months.

While the foundation has nominally supported the AFT and the NEA, it was also a supporter of a campaign focused on the “Waiting for Superman” film, a piece of agit-prop that was quite critical of the AFT head, Randi Weingarten. Two other Gates-financed groups, Educators for Excellence and Teach Plus, are focussed on giving non-union voices to newer teachers.

In Wisconsin, as Ruth Conniff has so eloquently stated:

There is something horribly fascinating about watching Wisconsin Republicans discuss their plans for our state’s school system.

First, they swing the bloody ax:

  • The biggest budget cuts to our public schools in state history, nearly $900 million. Kerchunk.
  • A bill to create a statewide system of charter schools whose authorizing board is appointed by Scott Walker and the Fitzgeralds, and which will funnel resources out of local schools and into cheapo online academies. Kerchunk.
  • Lifting income caps on private-school vouchers so taxpayers foot the bill to send middle- and upper-income families’ kids to private school. Kerchunk.

and then goes on to document the slow drip-drip of multiple camel noses under the tent, as local authority is usurped and for-profit charters and vouchers begin to gather size and influence within the system from a slow trot to a gallop, balkanizing and dismembering public education as we currently know it.

Despite the public outcry and some nervous chatter from the sidelines from some Republicans, as Conniff as so astutely pointed out,

… this is a sideshow. As Wisconsinites are becoming increasingly aware, the real money in state politics is streaming in from a nationally financed campaign to destroy public schools and privatize education. Olsen’s second-biggest individual contributor, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign data, is Richard Sharp of the Richmond, Va.-based Alliance for School Choice.

The American Federation for Children, which hosted Walker in Washington, D.C., is a spin-off of the Michigan-based group All Children Matter, which has poured millions into phony issue ads in state legislative races and been the defendant in multiple campaign-finance lawsuits, including one here in Wisconsin.

Both groups were founded by Michigan billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos, who brought Walker out to be a star speaker in Washington.

While he was there, Walker gave a shout-out to disgraced former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who now works for the American Federation for Children, along with Brian Pleva, who used to run the powerful Republican Assembly Campaign Committee here in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, James Bender, former chief of staff for now-Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, is now a lobbyist for School Choice Wisconsin.

In fact, school choice groups are poised to become the single most powerful lobby group in the state, edging out bankers and realtors; who would thought such a thing was possible just a few short years ago?

As a new report by Think Progress’ Zaid Jilani has pointed out, Wisconsin is, of course, not alone in being inundated with billionaire’s money to undermine, undercut and to privatize public education.

For over 45 years vouchers were up for a vote in states 25 times, and were rejected by voters 24 of those times. As I noted a couple of years ago on AMPS, these same set of billionaires that Jilani cited (he noted that the American Federation for Children alone spent $820,000 in Wisconsin during the last election) have the money and the organizational power to reach their ultimate goal, unless we begin to stop them in their tracks.

Jilani noted that:

While the goals of the figures in this movement are varied, their assault on our public education system is one and the same. Joseph Bast, the president and CEO of the Heartland Institute, explained his own thinking about vouchers once, saying, “The complete privatization of schooling might be desirable, but this objective is politically impossible for the time being. Vouchers are a type of reform that is possible now, and would put us on the path to further privatization.” It’s up to Americans to protect their schools, teachers, kids, and communities from that fate.

Robert Godfrey

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Best Practices, Gimme Some Truth, National News, School Finance, We Are Not Alone

Dane County Parent Organizing Meeting set for this Sunday

Parents in Dane County have scheduled an event to update the public on Governor Scott Walkers’ devastating cuts to their children’s educational opportunities and to plan what they can do, together, to form advocacy groups and work for a better way. The event follows closely on the heels of a similar meeting in Greenfield, March 5, that saw over 400 people come together to plan the next step.

March 27, members of the Dane County School Board Consortium and WAES will host a community meeting — “The Future of Public Education and A Call to Action” — at the Monona Grove High School Commons, 4400 Monona Drive, Monona. The hoped-for outcomes of the event, which runs from 3 to 4:40 p.m., include an increased understanding of school funding in Wisconsin, alternatives to cuts in funding, and formation of community advocacy groups. For more information, call 608-217-5938 or go to here.

Robert Godfrey

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Filed under "education finance", Accountability, Budget, Scott Walker, Take Action, We Are Not Alone

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 http://www.excellentschools.org/events/2011/budget/toolkit.htm..

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Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, education, Equity, finance, Gimme Some Truth, Local News, No Child Left Behind, School Finance, Scott Walker, Take Action, We Are Not Alone