Commentary on Madison’s long term Reading “Tax” & Monolithic K-12 System

Possible de-regulation of Wisconsin charter school authorizations has lead to a bit of rhetoric on the state of Madison’s schools, their ability to compete and whether the District’s long term, disastrous reading results are being addressed. We begin with Chris Rickert:

Madison school officials not eager to cede control of ‘progress’:

Still, Department of Public Instruction student achievement data suggest independent charter schools overseen by UW-Milwaukee since 1999 provide better educations than Milwaukee public schools.

And if the UW System gets the authority to create a new office for approving charter schools in Madison, it wouldn’t be the first time a local or state government function was usurped by unelected and allegedly unaccountable people at higher levels of government who are aiming to eliminate injustice. U.S. presidents sent federal authorities to the South during the civil rights era. Appointed state and federal judges have been asked to overturn local and state abortion-related ordinances and laws. Last year, a federal judge struck down Wisconsin’s voter-approved gay marriage ban.

The injustice in the Madison School District is, of course, its decades-long failure to close achievement gaps between white students and students of color and between middle class and poor students.

Cheatham told this newspaper that “we are making progress on behalf of all children.”

Apparently, the district feels it should be the only educational organization in Madison with the opportunity to make such progress.

That’s because control over education might be as high a priority for the district as improving education.

David Blaska:

It is a worthy debate, for there is little doubt that the full school board, its superintendent, its teachers union, the Democratic Party, Mayor Soglin, and probably the majority of Madisonians share Ed’s sentiments. For the festive rest of us, the white lab coats at the Blaska Policy Research Werkes have developed an alternative Top Ten, dedicated to the late Larry “Bud” Melman.

1) Attack the motives of your adversaries. “What’s tougher is buying into [the] interpretation that the Joint Finance Committee Republicans are the good guys here, struggling mightily to do what’s right for our kids,” Ed Hughes says. “My much different interpretation is that the Joint Finance proposal is simply another cynical attack on our neighborhood public schools and is motivated both by animus for Madison and by an unseemly obsession with privatizing public education, particularly in the urban areas of our state.”

Unseemly! Particularly in urban Milwaukee, where the public school district as a whole has received a failing grade from the Department of Public Instruction, and in Madison, with a yawning chasm between black and white student achievement.

2) Nobody asked our permission. Ed complains that nobody consulted MMSD about its “strategies for enhancing student achievement, promising practices, charter school philosophy, or anything else.” Um, sometimes results speak louder than pretty words on paper, Ed.

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

So we have two contrasting interpretations of the proposal. As it happens, I am right and Rickert is wrong. To help Rickert see the error of his ways, here’s a Letterman-like list of the top ten reasons why the Joint Finance proposal to establish a so-called “Office of Educational Opportunity” within the office of the UW System President is a cynical ploy to stuff Madison with charter schools for the sake of having more charter schools rather than a noble effort to combat injustice:

Mr. Hughes, in 2005:

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

Finally, then Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman, in 2009:

Zimman’s talk ranged far and wide. He discussed Wisconsin’s K-12 funding formula (it is important to remember that school spending increases annually (from 1987 to 2005, spending grew by 5.10% annually in Wisconsin and 5.25% in the Madison School District), though perhaps not in areas some would prefer.

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.