Madison’s Lengthy K-12 Challenges Become Election Grist; Spends 22% more per student than Milwaukee

Madison 2005 (reflecting 1998):

When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before
On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

In 1998, the Madison School Board adopted an important academic goal: “that all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level”. We adopted this goal in response to recommendations from a citizen study group that believed that minority students who are not competent as readers by the end of the third grade fall behind in all academic areas after third grade.

As of 2013, the situation has not changed, unfortunately.

Madison, 2014, the view from Milwaukee:

The largest state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, gave $1.3 million last month to the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a liberal group that has been running ads critical of Walker. Two of WEAC’s political action committees have given a total of $83,128 to Burke directly.

On the other side, the American Federation for Children said last year in a brochure that in the 2012 elections in Wisconsin, including the recalls that year, it had spent $2.4 million supporting pro-voucher candidates.

Along with family members, Dick and Betsy DeVos have given about $343,000 to Walker since 2009. The Grand Rapids, Mich., couple made their fortune in the marketing firm Amway and now support the voucher school movement.

The elections are critical because in general, each candidate’s stance on the issue of vouchers is largely dictated by their political party affiliation. If Republican candidates maintain control of both houses and the governor’s seat, voucher-friendly legislation is more likely to pass.

Democrats are trying to take control of the state Senate. Republicans hold the chamber 17-15, with one GOP-leaning seat vacant. Republicans have a stronger majority in the Assembly and the election is unlikely to change that.

Senate Democrats would oppose the expansion of voucher schools until standards and requirements are established that put those private schools on the same footing as public schools, Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) said.


Walker on Wednesday also challenged Burke’s record on the Madison School Board.

He noted that the graduation rate for black students in Madison is lower than the graduation rate for black students in MPS.

Walker said Burke has had a chance to use his Act 10 law to save the taxpayers millions in Madison, and put those dollars toward alleviating the achievement gap.

“She’s failed to do that,” Walker said.

Burke responded that Madison is a fiscally responsible district that is one of the few in the state operating under its levy cap.

Madison still has a contract because the teachers union there challenged the Act 10 law in court, and a circuit court judge ruling initially swung in its favor. The teachers union subsequently bargained a contract this year and next year with the district.

Then this summer, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Walker’s Act 10 law.

Madison 2014, gazing into the mirror:

Gov. Scott Walker took the campaign against Democratic opponent Mary Burke to her front door Wednesday, accusing the one-term Madison School Board member of not doing enough to improve black students’ graduation rates in Madison.

Walker argued that the Madison School Board could have put more money toward raising graduation rates and academic achievement if it had taken advantage of his controversial 2011 measure known as Act 10, which effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, instead of choosing to negotiate a contract with its teachers union for the 2015-16 school year earlier this summer.

“Voters may be shocked to learn that the African-American graduation rate in Madison (where Mary Burke is on the board) is worse than in MKE,” Walker tweeted Wednesday morning.

Burke shot back that Walker’s comments were “short sighted” and showed “a lack of knowledge” of how to improve student academic achievement.

In 2013, 53.7 percent of black students in Madison graduated in four years. In Milwaukee, the rate was 58.3 percent, according to state Department of Public Instruction data. That gap is smaller than it was in 2012, when the 4-year completion rate among black students was 55 percent in Madison and 62 percent in Milwaukee.

Overall, the 2013 graduation rates for the two largest school districts in Wisconsin was 78.3 percent in Madison and 60.6 percent in Milwaukee.

Under Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, the district has made progress in the last year toward improving overall student achievement, Burke said in a call with reporters. School Board president Arlene Silveira also said Wednesday the district has started to move the needle under Cheatham.

“Is it enough progress? No. We still have a lot of work to go, and whether you’re talking about African-American (graduation rates) in Madison or talking about (rates) in Milwaukee, they are too low,” Burke said. “But the key to improving student learning, that anyone who really looks at education knows, is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.”

Decades go by, yet the status quo reigns locally.

A few background links:


2. Wisconsin K-12 Spending Dominates “Local Transfers”.

3. Mandarins vs. leaders The Economist:

Central to his thinking was a distinction between managers and leaders. Managers are people who like to do things right, he argued. Leaders are people who do the right thing. Managers have their eye on the bottom line. Leaders have their eye on the horizon. Managers help you to get to where you want to go. Leaders tell you what it is you want. He chastised business schools for focusing on the first at the expense of the second. People took MBAs, he said, not because they wanted to be middle managers but because they wanted to be chief executives. He argued that “failing organisations are usually over-managed and under-led”.

Mr Bennis believed leaders are made, not born. He taught that leadership is a skill—or, rather, a set of skills—that can be learned through hard work. He likened it to a performance. Leaders must inhabit their roles, as actors do. This means more than just learning to see yourself as others see you, though that matters, too. It means self-discovery. “The process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being,” he said in 2009. Mr Bennis knew whereof he spoke: he spent a small fortune on psychoanalysis as a graduate student, dabbled in “channelling” and astrology while a tenured professor and wrote a wonderful memoir, “Still Surprised”.

2009: The elimination of “revenue limits and economic conditions” from collective bargaining arbitration by Wisconsin’s Democratically controlled Assembly and Senate along with Democratic Governer Jim Doyle:

To make matters more dire, the long-term legislative proposal specifically exempts school district arbitrations from the requirement that arbitrators consider and give the greatest weight to revenue limits and local economic conditions. While arbitrators would continue to give these two factors paramount consideration when deciding cases for all other local governments, the importance of fiscal limits and local economic conditions would be specifically diminished for school district arbitration.

A political soundbyte example:

Candidate Burke’s “operating under its levy cap” soundbyte was a shrewd, easily overlooked comment, yet neglects to point out Madison’s property tax base wealth vs. Milwaukee, the District’s spending levels when state revenue limits were put in place and the local referendums that have approved additional expenditures (despite open questions on where the additional funds were spent).

I hope that she will be more detailed in future comments. We’ve had decades of soundbytes and routing around tough choices.

Madison’s challenges, while spending and staffing more than most, will continue to be under the political microscope.

I hope that we see a substantive discussion of K-12 spending, curriculum and our agrarian era structures.

The candidates on Education:

Mary Burke:

Education has always offered a way up to a good job and a better life. It’s the fabric of our communities, and it’s the key to a strong economy in the long term.

As co-founder of the AVID/TOPs program, a public-private partnership that is narrowing the achievement gap for low income students, Mary knows that every Wisconsin student prepared to work hard can realize their dreams if given the support they need. By bringing together area high schools, the Boys & Girls Club, technical colleges, businesses and the University, Mary made a real difference for students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college. The first class graduated last spring, and in September, over 90% of those students enrolled in post-secondary education.

Mary believes Wisconsin schools should be among the best in the nation—and she knows that making historic cuts isn’t the way to do it. She’ll work every day to strengthen our public education system, from K-12 to our technical colleges and university system. Mary strongly opposed the statewide expansion of vouchers—as governor, she’ll work to stop any further expansion, and ensure that all private schools taking public dollars have real accountability measures in place.

Scott Walker:

“We trust teachers, counselors and administrators to provide our children world-class instruction, to motivate them and to keep them safe. In the vast majority of cases, education professionals are succeeding, but allowing some schools to fail means too many students being left behind. By ensuring students are learning a year’s worth of knowledge during each school year and giving schools the freedom to succeed, Wisconsin will once again become a model for the nation.” — Scott Walker

For years, Wisconsin had the distinction of being a national leader in educational reform. From the groundbreaking Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to policies aimed at expanding the role of charter schools in communities across the state, Wisconsin was viewed as a pioneer in educational innovation and creativity.

Wisconsin used to rank 3rd in fourth grade reading, now we’re in the middle of the pack at best with some of the worst achievement gaps in the nation.

Fortunately, Wisconsin has turned a corner and is once again becoming a leader in educational excellence by refocusing on success in the classroom. This has been done by pinpointing the following simple but effective reforms:

  • Improving transparency
  • Improving accountability
  • Creating choice

We are working to restore Wisconsin’s rightful place as an education leader. Our students, our teachers, and our state’s future depend on our continued implementation of reform.

A look at District spending:

Per student spending: Milwaukee’s 2013-2014 budget: $948,345,675 for 78,461 students or $12,086/student. Budget details (PDF).

Madison plans to spend $402,464,374 for 27,186 students (some pre-k) this year or about $14,804/student, 22% more than Milwaukee. Details.

And, finally, 2010: WEAC: $1.57 million for four senators.