Dr Howard Fuller: Let me cite some of the specific concerns I have: First, the proposed rule to demand that charter schools partner with a local district is obviously aimed at ending their independence and forcing them under the control of the traditional public school system. Charters should be free to determine whether partnering with … Continue reading Howard Fuller on the Biden Administration’s efforts to reduce k-12 diversity
Dr. Howard Fuller, a nationally acclaimed advocate for school choice and former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent and was the featured guest at a virtual event on Tuesday, September 29, 2020. Notes and links on Howard Fuller.
Annysa Johnson: Howard Fuller announced this month that he is retiring from Marquette University, where he is a distinguished professor of education and founder and director of its Institute for the Transformation of Learning. At 79, Fuller has served in many roles in his lifetime: civil rights activist, educator and civil servant. He is a former superintendent of Milwaukee … Continue reading Howard Fuller: On education, race and racism, and how we move forward as a country
Annysa Johnson: Fuller’s co-location proposal was taken up by the school board’s Charter School Review Panel on Feb. 27, according to a notice provided Friday by MPS’ Office of Board Governance. He declined to provide a copy of his proposal, and the district has yet to make it available in response to an open records … Continue reading Howard Fuller withdraws proposal to locate charter school at Milwaukee North Division
Ariana Kiener: Everyone deserves options “I’m for whatever kind of school works. And I’m for poor parents having the same type of access that people with money have. Cause all y’all in this room know that if you’ve got money in America, you’ve got choice. If the schools don’t work for you, either you’re going … Continue reading Dr. Howard Fuller Cuts Through the Noise on Parent Choice
Alan Borsuk: He called Trump “despicable” and said, “This man and what he’s done is qualitatively different than anything else I’ve seen.” “Not to take a stand is to co-sign on the injustice,” he said. None of this was what prompted my visit to Fuller’s office at Marquette University, where he has held the title … Continue reading School choice advocate Howard Fuller’s views are shifting on what’s best for Milwaukee kids
Alan Borsuk: In his last days as superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools in 1995, Howard Fuller went to visit an elementary school on the northwest side. He pledged when he became head of the system in 1991 to visit every school in MPS and, after almost four years, this was the only one he hadn’t … Continue reading Success still evasive, but Howard Fuller remains warrior in education
Erin Richards: How long you’ve lived in Milwaukee and Wisconsin likely correlates with how you heard of Howard Fuller. As director of Marquette University’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning and board chair of charter school Milwaukee Collegiate Academy? Young, or recent transplant. As the former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools and initial champion of … Continue reading Howard Fuller memoir recounts ‘warrior’s life’
After the Louisiana Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down the financing of a far-reaching private school voucher program, Howard Fuller sent a message to his 2,855 Twitter followers:
“THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!!”
The Louisiana decision, important as it may be, is not my subject today. Fuller is. I suggest that, in a couple ways, “The struggle continues” is a great motto for Fuller’s career and an important way to get a handle on understanding the person who I suggest has been the most significant figure on Milwaukee’s education scene over the last generation.
There are two important ways to apply the word “struggle” to Fuller, and, more broadly, to Milwaukee and national efforts to improve education.
One is to look at Fuller’s continuing deep involvement in education and his refusal to give up. Like him or not – and there are long lists for each – you have to be humbled by the fact that he’s 72, still intense about education, still traveling the country frenetically as an advocate, and still deeply involved in the school he has made his special project, CEO Leadership Academy, an independent charter school at 3222 W. Brown St. Fuller knows intimately every reason to be pessimistic. But, for him, the struggle continues.
In the other definition, “struggle” means how hard it has been to make general progress, especiall
Forty years ago, Howard Fuller was an angry young man working as a community organizer for an anti-poverty program in North Carolina. He had an Afro, wore a dashiki, toyed with Marxism, and spoke disparagingly of racial integration.
He went by the name Owusu Sadaukai, which means “one who leads his people” in Kiswahili. He visited Africa and briefly took up arms with Communist-backed “freedom fighters” trying to overthrow the Portuguese colonial government of Mozambique. Back in the states, he founded a blacks-only university, as well as African Liberation Day, which for several years in the 1970s drew thousands of marchers in a variety of U.S. cities.
Today, Fuller, 71, lives in Milwaukee and is a nationally known leader in the education reform movement. And while once he was a darling of the left, today he’s a hero to conservatives for challenging the teachers unions and championing the school choice movement.
Dissertations and books have been written about Fuller’s remarkable life, and he was featured in the emotionally charged documentary about failing inner-city schools, “Waiting for Superman.” He’s been showered with enough awards to paper a wall, including four honorary doctorates.
t has been said that universal education for every citizen is a cornerstone of American democracy. The importance we attach to schooling and the attention we pay to educational issues are in evidence daily–from what we tell our children when they bring home their report cards to how we vote on school funding matters. Not a day goes by without accounts of perceived successes at “model schools,” of remarkable teachers who made a difference, and of new public policy initiatives designed to deliver better results. But not a day goes by without reports about failures in education–poor test scores, questions surrounding teacher performance, and inadequate funding.
In “Education Is Fundamental,” a special three-part Academy Evenings series brought to you in conjunction with the UW-Madison School of Education, leading historians, researchers, and administrators in the field of education come together to discuss the most important educational challenges facing Wisconsin–a picture of dysfunction but also innovation–and offer their ideas for repair.
Related: Adam Gamoran interview.
c Schools, he was seen by some liberal critics as a right wing-toady who had betrayed his old ideology by getting in bed with conservative school choice supporters. That view was always simplistic, as his bold call for reform of school choice, announced last week, proved once again. His new position – which could greatly alter the politics of school choice – raises many questions.
For starters, why the seeming flip-flop by Fuller? The answer is that he’s never been an ideologue. The old Fuller, after all, was a Democrat. He worked to get Democrat Tony Earl elected in 1982 and was rewarded with a position running the state’s Department of Employment Relations. And his commitment to public schools was personified by his work as MPS superintendent from 1991-1995, which included championing an über-liberal referendum to spend some $400 million to construct new schools, which was defeated by the taxpayers.
But Fuller was more often a critic of MPS, among other things proposing (in the late 1980s) to create an all-black school district that would be carved out of MPS. (That idea, too, went down in flames.) Fuller was always a supporter of alternative schools – or any schools, really – that would provide a good education for minority and low-income students. And he was always willing to work with business leaders and politicians of either party to accomplish his ends. For at least the last 10 years, that has meant mostly Republicans, as he embraced school choice as the solution to urban education in Milwaukee.
But the latest results of the five-year study on school choice, reported last week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, showed there is no statistically significant difference in achievement between MPS and voucher schools. The schools are cheaper, but because of the partisan legislation battles over voucher funding, the program’s complicated funding formula awards most of the savings (some $82 million a year) to every place in the state but Milwaukee. This city’s property taxpayers are paying $45 million more annually for a program that appears to be having little positive impact on education.
Alan Borsuk: They make for timely reading. Among the news stories I found: Then: Sept. 7, 1976, The Milwaukee Journal. This was the first day of court-ordered desegregation of Milwaukee Public Schools. I organized the newspaper’s coverage that day. The hope was that this was “the beginning of an exciting new era in Milwaukee education,” as one story put it. Which, of course, isn’t an accurate … Continue reading That feeling when the news archives read like today’s front page
Libby Sobic: So what’s a charter school and what kind of options do parents have access to? Charter schools are public schools with significantly less red tape than their traditional public school peers. Wisconsin has several types with the most common type of charter school is a school authorized by the school district. “Instrumentality” charter … Continue reading “If you believe in charter schools, then it’s time to start asking why Wisconsin doesn’t have more.”
Laura Waters: On Monday the New Jersey Working Families protested at a New Jersey State Legislative hearing about tax breaks in cities like Camden. NJ Spotlight described the skirmish as the result of “heavy criticism from Gov. Phil Murphy and progressive activists who make up his base and have called for major reform” of the tax breaks. This … Continue reading Searching for Progressivism: Do You Look for Sue Altman or Sarah Carpenter?
George Mitchell: White opposition to forced busing scared Milwaukee’s leaders, who created a very different plan in response to a federal court order to desegregate the schools. The plan launched in 1976 allowed white students to chose integration at magnet schools with specialized programs, while putting the burden of forced busing on black students, as … Continue reading Kamala (Harris) Is Dead Wrong on Busing And the Milwaukee busing plan was a dramatic example of this.
Howard Fuller: I call on all my fellow warriors not to be deterred by those who believe that the only way to move forward is by returning to the “one best system” and therefore oppose giving poor families the power to choose, a power that so many who oppose it relentlessly use it for their … Continue reading Call It ‘Ed Reform’ or Don’t — the Fight to Make Schools Work for Our Poorest Families Must Go On. To Stop Is to Dishonor King’s Memory
Joanne Jacobs: Some inner-city families prefer “cultural homogeneity,” AP concedes. Others simply want a safe, effective school. Test scores tend to be higher at integrated schools, reports AP. Only 20 percent of students reach proficiency at traditional public schools that are racially isolated, according to the AP analysis. By contrast, 30 percent reach proficiency at … Continue reading All-minority charters: Is it segregation?
Mikel Holt & Collin Roth:: National teachers’ union president Randi Weingarten has a message for the thousands of students, parents, and teachers enrolled or teaching at private voucher schools: You are the pawns of bigots. In a recent speech to the American Federation of Teachers annual convention, Weingarten said, “Make no mistake: This use of … Continue reading Weingarten slanders Milwaukee choice program
Howard Fuller: “A bad school is our common enemy.” Those words from Cristina de Jesus of Green Dot Public Schools rang true for me the first time I read them — and they obviously had an impact on the NAACP, too. Members of the NAACP’s public education task force included this phrase in their recent … Continue reading NAACP’s attack on charter schools hurts black students
Wisconsin Reading Coalition: Milwaukee Summer Reading Project As MSRP enters its 7th year, Rep. Joe Sanfelippo has proposed legislation that would provide $1.1 million for the program over two years. The six-week summer program for Milwaukee students exiting 1st and 2nd grades has seen student scores rise significantly. Dr. Howard Fuller, who spearheaded MSRP, credits … Continue reading Reading Notes, 2016
Annysa Johnson: A Marquette University summer reading program for children developed by former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent and education reform advocate Howard Fuller would get a $1.25 million boost from the state under a bill making its way through the Legislature. The Assembly bill, proposed by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin), would require the state … Continue reading Bill steers $1.25 million to Marquette summer reading program
Can you have a public discussion on closing the achievement gap in Madison without inviting Kaleem Caire, the architect of a would-be charter school plan that pushed the issue of the Madison School District’s persistent race-based gap to the front burner of local civic debate?
Caire, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, is not on the roster for the March 13 installment of Ed Talks Wisconsin, a UW-Madison-sponsored series on current education topics, when a Madison panel will discuss “Closing the Achievement Gap: Toward a Community-Wide K12 Agenda.”
Joel Rogers, director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, the equity advocacy group that organized the achievement gap panel discussion, said Monday that the presentation was conceived as a response to Caire’s education forum featuring such lights of the “school reform” movement as Geoffrey Canada, John Legend and Howard Fuller. At that two-day event last December, people heard a lot of talk promoting charter schools and greater teacher accountability as the answer to lagging performance by students of color.
“We wanted voices of people who think that, whatever its defects, public education is important in the 21st century,” Rogers said, adding that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin urged him to organize a program.
For his part, Soglin said that Caire has organized a number of discussions, like December’s “Educate to Elevate,” and “he did not invite anyone with different opinions on charter schools to participate.”
The achievement gap presentation in Ed Talks was in response to the Urban League’s education summit, but other programs in the eight-day series were suggested by a variety of other groups as early as last fall, organizer Sara Goldrick-Rab [SIS], an associate professor in the School of Education, told me.
The final event on March 21 is part of a two-day educational policy conference that the university has hosted for years, she said.
Ed Talks is funded by some $5,000 in donations from a variety of university entities, but some $8,000 in funding for the educational policy conference includes $300 from the local branch of the American Federation of Teachers and $500 from WEAC, Goldrick-Rab said.
The bad news: A Harvard Study using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) finds that Wisconsin ranks 38th out of 41 states in progress in reading and math between 1992 and 2011. Both low and high performing states from 1992 have outperformed us, and they tend to be states where serious reforms were made in instructional content and pedagogy. The top 10 show up on many lists of states with improved reading instruction: Maryland, Florida, Delaware, Massachusetts, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Virginia. Some of these states served as models for our recent Wisconsin legislation on early reading screening and a new reading exam for teacher licensure. A logical next step is to look at what they are doing for professional development for their in-service teachers of reading. Which leads to . . .
The good news: A committed group of 38 teachers and tutors will spend 12 Saturdays in 2013 being trained in LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling). LETRS is a comprehensive professional development program created by Louisa Moats, the primary author of the foundational reading standards of the Common Core State Standards. LETRS is quite common elsewhere in the country: in some states it is the official state-funded development tool for teachers of reading, and in some cases it is required for certain teaching licenses. Despite its popularity and proven value, it has not been available in Wisconsin. The current opportunity is being sponsored by the Milwaukee Summer Reading Project, an initiative of Howard Fuller’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. UW-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education is hosting at their conference facilities in downtown Milwaukee. The training is being presented by Alicia Sparks through the Rowland Reading Foundation, which is a LETRS affiliate site. Participants include teachers from public and charter schools in Milwaukee and Wausau, as well as tutors from a variety of literacy programs for children and adults in Milwaukee and Madison. This training is at capacity, but other communities interested in sponsoring LETRS training can contact the Rowland Reading Foundation in Middleton.
McShane’s point is one I heard Howard Fuller, former MPS school board member John Gardner, and others make many years ago. It’s a point that initially attracted me to the cause of education reform in Milwaukee. However, it’s also a difficult point to make sense of if you are not familiar with Milwaukee’s education system.
Consider the experience of Teach for America. Naturally when they came to town they were only interested in public schools (defined as MPS and charter), because their mission is to serve primarily low-income children. However, when MPS layoffs left many of their teachers searching for a school they discovered that Milwaukee private schools, by virtue of their participation in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), serve an overwhelmingly low-income population. Today many Teach for America teachers are placed in private Milwaukee public schools.
So what are the differences between MPS and the charter and choice sectors? In recent op-ed a wide group of Milwaukee advocates argued that “MPS is the only educational institution in this city that has the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve all of Milwaukee’s children.”
Capital Times: What’s the most important issue facing the Madison Metropolitan School District today?
TJ Mertz: Trust. There’s a lot of distrust in the community on all sides — between community and the school district, within the school district between administration and classroom staff, between the board of education and the administration. If we’re going to have effective initiatives on the achievement gap, it requires trust.
CT: What can be done about that lack of trust?
TM: The district should be honest about what it can and can’t do, what is working and what isn’t working. It needs to be more open in decision-making and should be more transparent, welcoming and inclusive. There’s some collaborative work going on that’s good, but community leaders need to be more honest, too. If you are bringing in John Legend and Howard Fuller and Geoffrey Canada and say they have the answer, you’re lying to the audience. Look at how they are achieving their “success.” It’s being achieved largely through attrition, and even with that the test scores aren’t that good. Let’s talk about state school finance reform. Let’s not talk about firing teachers — every bit of research shows that as a tool for school improvement, it doesn’t work. People should stop looking for miracles. Hard work, incrementalism — it isn’t sexy — but that is what works.
CT: It was the Urban League of Greater Madison that brought Legend, Fuller and Canada to town recently for a fundraiser and education conference. You were strongly opposed to Urban League CEO Kaleem Caire’s Madison Prep proposal for a charter school aimed at students of color. Why?
TM: The proposed programs of that school did not target the kids who are being failed by the district. Ask anyone who knows curriculum if the international baccalaureate is a way to address students who are grades behind, and they’ll laugh. But that was what he was selling — so who was he targeting? Students below proficiency were the ones used in the PR campaign, which made it harder for them and a lot of other people to work with the school district. It was a bait-and-switch.
My friends Howard Fuller and Andrew Coulson started a needed discussion regarding the direction of the parental choice movement. Dr. Fuller has been quite outspoken in his opposition to universal choice programs in recent years, and Coulson raised a number of interesting and valid points in his redefinED piece. The parental choice movement has suffered from a nagging need to address third-party payer issues squarely. It’s a discussion that we should no longer put off. The example of American colleges and universities continues to scream a warning into our deaf ear regarding the danger of run-away cost inflation associated with education and third-party payers.
Howard Fuller and Andrew Coulson also indirectly raise a more fundamental question: where are we ultimately going with this whole private school choice movement? Dr. Fuller supports private choice for the poor and opposes it for others. He has concerns that the interests of the poor will be lost in a universal system. I’m sympathetic to Howard’s point of view. I view the public school system as profoundly tilted towards the interests of the wealthy and extraordinarily indifferent to those of the poor. We should have no desire to recreate such inequities in a choice system.
In other words, MPS had a surplus of teachers because older teachers were not retiring so as not to lose state pension benefits. Hence, a second pension to offset any loss was created. However, since 1982 the early retirement penalty for teacher has been reduced or eliminated, turning the second pension into an additional benefit which MPS states it had “no intent to establish.”
The survival of the second pension long past its justifiable usefulness is a result of a collective bargaining process that rarely gives back established benefits (see, for example, MTEA’s 2011 rejection of concessions that would have saved teacher jobs). Former MPS superintendent Howard Fuller, school choice advocate George Mitchell, and former WPRI staffer Michael Hartman did a good job documenting in a 2000 book chapter (see figure one) the dramatic growth of the MPS/MTEA contract from an 18 page document in 1965 to a 232 page document in 1997. The most recent published contract? 258 pages.
Much more, here.
Of Milwaukee’s 187 elementary schools, only a dozen exceeded the statewide average in reading on Wisconsin’s standardized test last year, according to statistics compiled on the whole range of schools in the city by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. When it comes to math, only 22 of those schools made that grade.
Shouldn’t parents have easy access to this information? Shouldn’t they know which schools didn’t make the grade?
We think so, and so does the MMAC.
MMAC and an array of education experts, including Howard Fuller of Marquette’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning, and UW-Madison’s Value-Added Research Center, are developing a community “report card” for all city schools. The “report card” would include schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system but also voucher and charter schools outside of the traditional district. While a wealth of data is available for all public schools on the state Department of Public Instruction website, creating an easily accessible, easily digestible common report makes sense to us. Look for that new “report card” sometime after the first of the year.
“It’s one thing to talk about these issues on high,” says Howard Fuller, who has done that often as one of the nation’s most eloquent and best known education activists.
“But when you get over here on 33rd and Brown . . . ” His sentence trails off. That’s where CEO Leadership Academy is located, and that’s where Fuller has come face to face with how tough it is to achieve high results among exactly the students he most wants to help.
Howard Fuller: Former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent. Leading advocate for Milwaukee’s private school voucher program. Local and national leader in charter school issues.
Howard Fuller: Hands-on chair of the board of a small high school where test scores for 10th-graders last fall were awful and where the record of success has been plainly disappointing.
A couple years ago, Fuller told me that, as much as he thought he knew about how hard it is to achieve educational success in a high-poverty, urban setting, he didn’t know how hard it really was until he got involved at CEO.
The children of Milwaukee deserve a quality education regardless of whether they attend Milwaukee Public Schools, a charter school or a private school through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
A key element to support quality is transparency. Clear, easy to understand and readily available information, including test score results, helps parents and the public evaluate their schools. Traditional public and charter schools throughout the state have been using publicly reported test score results and other data to drive school improvement for years. This transparency was extended to the voucher program through laws enacted in the 2009-’11 budget.
This fall, for the first time, students attending private schools through the state’s voucher program had their academic progress assessed with the same statewide tests as their public school peers. Results reported this spring showed that some public, charter and private schools in Milwaukee are doing very well, but too many are not providing the education our children need and deserve.
We believe that students in the voucher program, receiving taxpayer support to attend private Milwaukee schools, must continue to take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination. Standardized tests, including the WKCE, do not paint an entire picture of a student, and many private schools participating in the voucher program take other quality tests. We need to put all the schools in MPS, charter and choice programs on a common report card.
It was not easy for me to stand before the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and threaten to withdraw my support from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which I have supported for more than 20 years. But if lawmakers approve Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to lift the income requirement that has maintained the program for children from low-income families, that is exactly what I will do.
The governor’s plan would dramatically change the program’s social justice mission and destroy its trailblazing legacy as the first and still one of the few in the nation that uses public dollars to help equalize the academic options for children from low-income and working-class families. I did not join this movement to subsidize families like mine, which may not be rich but have resources and, thus, options.
When I got into this battle in 1989, standardized test scores showed Milwaukee was failing to educate poor black children. That’s when state Rep. Annette Polly Williams courageously stepped forth to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children. She shepherded the pioneering voucher program through the Legislature.
Years of overspending in a system that gives principals autonomy over their buildings’ budgets has put more than 80 Milwaukee schools into significant debt, to a district total of almost $11.2 million.
The most recent budget documents show Bradley Tech High School with the highest accumulated deficit of more than $750,000, and the Marshall High School building with a deficit of more than $557,000. Even elementary schools that are cheaper to operate have run up debt, such as Brown Street Academy, which had a fiscal deficit of more than $350,000.
The concept of giving Milwaukee Public Schools principals more autonomy over their individual budgets, initiated during Howard Fuller’s term as superintendent and moved into place around the 1996-’97 school year, was intended to free principals from the slow-moving bureaucracy at the central office and give them more discretion over how their money was spent.
Everyone knows there are major problems with America’s public schools and that many children are not even receiving a passable education. Even President Barack Obama admits that his daughters could not get the high quality education they’re currently receiving at a private school in a Washington D.C. public school.
That is why Waiting for ‘Superman’ has hit such a nerve with the public and the education establishment. Teacher’s unions claim the film is an attack on teachers and in the weeks leading up to its premiere, a Facebook page was created in opposition to the movie. Meanwhile school reformers say ‘Superman’ is a wake up call, saying that the film comments on the failures in public schools and possible solutions.
Both sides came together following the film’s Milwaukee screening at an educational forum. Local education leaders — Terry Falk of the Milwaukee School Board; Dr. Howard Fuller, former MPS Superintendent and Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University; Mike Langyel,President of the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association; Cherise Easley, Campus Director, Milwaukee College Preparatory-Lindsey Heights; and Garrett Buck, Milwaukee director of Teach for America — discussed the film and more importantly the pros and cons of our current educational system.
Over the past few days, four former MPS superintendents have met in two public forums to share the lessons they have learned about running the state’s largest school district. In both forums a recurring theme was Howard Fuller’s contention that: “I was in charge, but I wasn’t in control.”
His meaning, with which the other former superintendents generally agreed, was that the labor contracts with the teachers and principals unions constrained his ability to make dramatic changes in the district. The implication was that the district’s new superintendent, Gregory Thornton, would find it similarly difficult to improve outcomes under the current labor-management dynamic.
Whether this perception is accurate or not with regard to MPS, a new, still tentative, labor agreement in the Washington D.C. school district provides an example of a superintendent turning labor negotiating on its head. The D.C. superintendent, Michelle Rhee, has received much national press over the past two years as she pushed for a new paradigm of how, and how much, teachers are paid in D.C.
Milwaukee Public Schools can be turned around, but it will need a strong, visionary leader to chart a course of action and stick to it despite the pressures of special interests, the School Board and political forces, several former MPS superintendents said Monday night.
During a public forum hosted by the Marquette University Law School, four former leaders of the state’s largest public school system spoke with relative candor about their past leadership experiences and the challenges they see ahead for the district at a time when MPS is about to accept a new superintendent.
Panelists Robert Peterkin (superintendent from 1988 to ’91), Howard Fuller (1991-’95), Barbara Horton (1997) and Spence Korte (1999-2002) broke tradition with the silence on MPS issues that those who leave the top post generally adhere to and shared frustrations they encountered with a bureaucracy that too willingly accepts mediocrity and makes it hard to reward success.
They also made clear that Milwaukee should look to cities and states that have had success over the past 10 to 15 years in raising achievement levels for students.
“You cannot tell me it can’t be done – there are no unteachable children,” said Fuller, who after his superintendency became an advocate for choice schools as leader of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette.
Eleven organizers who planned to open new voucher schools this fall but were rejected by the recently formed New Schools Approval Board have sued State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and Marquette University.
In a lawsuit filed this month, the organizers contend that Evers and Marquette University violated the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment by turning over the legislative authority to approve voucher schools to a private party, the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette.
The school organizers are asking for an injunction restraining Evers from enforcing the new provisions passed by the Legislature this summer that tightened regulations on schools within the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, or voucher program.
Those provisions required that plans for new voucher schools be approved by the New Schools Advisory Board, part of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, which is led by voucher and charter school advocate Howard Fuller.
Over the years, I’ve often expressed my reluctance to join Howard Fuller in embracing the private school voucher program.
Fuller is a longtime Milwaukee educator and a nationally known leader of the school choice movement. He’s been involved in efforts to improve the education of black children since long before the program’s inception in 1990.
I have tremendous respect for Fuller but never really agreed with his advocacy of this particular educational policy due to my suspicions of where it would ultimately lead. There are a handful of solid private voucher schools in town, but I’ve seen too many examples of failed schools run by well-meaning adults – and in some cases by charlatans and hustlers – that eventually have left students with their studies temporarily interrupted.
There’s also the corrosive political atmosphere that has turned support for school choice into a partisan litmus test – Republicans for, Democrats against. I’ve often wondered why this community spends millions of dollars in taxpayer money to fund two separate school systems when it’s clear there’s not enough money to fund one properly.
Fuller always had a ready answer. For him, the main issue was giving low-income children a quality education. If the public schools couldn’t do that, he reasoned, why not give voucher schools a chance?
Last week, the debate over school choice reached another level after a long-awaited report – based on several studies of Milwaukee’s parental choice program and Milwaukee public schools – found essentially no major difference in the academic success of students in both systems. Fuller said those conclusions, along with recent proposals by Gov. Jim Doyle to increase accountability of choice schools, represented a significant moment for his movement.
Calling this a potentially historic moment in Milwaukee education, a key leader of the private school voucher movement called Thursday for major increases in regulation of the participating schools and for a new focus on quality across all the channels of schooling in the city.
Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent who is now a central figure nationally in advocating for school choice, said he wants school leaders to join with Gov. Jim Doyle, legislative leaders and others in working out new ways to assure that students of all kinds have quality teachers in quality schools.
“We can’t just keep wringing our hands about these terrible schools,” Fuller said. “We have a moral responsibility to our children to not accept that.”
He said that he believes Doyle is seeking higher quality and more accountability and transparency for the 120 private schools in Milwaukee that have more than 20,000 students attending, thanks to publicly funded vouchers. Fuller said he was in general agreement on those goals.
Doyle has presented “an opportunity to come together and do something that is truly constructive for our children,” Fuller said. “I think it is one of those historic moments that don’t come all the time.”
Fuller was reacting both to a new set of studies of the voucher program and to a dramatically different situation for voucher supporters in the state Capitol.
I am not a liberal, but I’m starting to think that decades of tinkering with MPS just may be a smokescreen to ignore the real problems with the system: that in the end, our schools do nothing more than reflect the nature of the city itself.
We’ve spent generations pretending that isn’t the case. I graduated from Pulaski High School just in time to have Howard Fuller present me my diploma. You remember Fuller, right? He was the man who was going to reinvigorate the “troubled” school system and bring hope to Milwaukee.
I walked across that stage in 1992. Exactly what has changed since then? Sure, it’s not all bad. Some schools have high attendance, great parental participation and students who perform well.
But that just bolsters my point. If MPS as an entity was the problem, wouldn’t all schools fail? Wouldn’t all students have to exert an incredible amount of self-determination and willpower just to succeed academically?
Some people, such as School Board member Terry Falk, continue to believe that fiddling is best. Falk’s latest theoretical fix? Potentially scrapping K-8 schools – themselves a recent idea – in favor of grades 6-12 facilities.
Enough already. The fault lines seem clear. MPS is operating in a city with dire problems, where some geographic areas continue to prosper while others operate in a climate of poverty and crime. School performance appears often to follow those socioeconomic trends.
For the record, I’m not excusing the poor performance of students who should realize that education is a path to greater prosperity. And I don’t have any bright solutions either. Except one: If we’re going to keep the questionable practice of throwing money at the problem, quit wasting it on the wrong problem.
A group of community leaders who disagree on a lot of other things about education were in general agreement Monday night on one important issue:
They don’t think much of the idea of turning control of Milwaukee Public Schools over to somebody other than the School Board.
From teachers union president Dennis Oulahan to school voucher advocate Howard Fuller, from liberal School Board member Jennifer Morales to business leader Tim Sheehy, it was hard to keep the people involved in a panel at the Marquette University Law School on the topic of whether there should be mayoral control of schools, or something in that vein, as they kept turning to other issues.
None expressed hope that a step of that kind, at least in itself, would change the rate of success in MPS.
“No matter who takes it over . . . if you don’t change anything that’s going on within the body itself that prevents good practice,” it will be an illusion to think things will get better, Fuller said.
“Any kind of governance can work if it has the right support.”
Oulahan said there was a long history of reforms in MPS, such as the Neighborhood Schools Initiative launched in 2000 and the small high school reform in recent years, that really were about buildings or programs and not about kids. Unless the focus is on teaching children using practices that actually work, nothing will change, he said.
ast week all hell broke loose regarding the fate of Milwaukee Public Schools. Mayor Tom Barrett proposed an outside audit of the system. As a candidate for mayor, Barrett floated the idea of a mayoral takeover of the schools, so this looks like a first step toward establishing control – and a clear message the MPS ship is sinking.
Meanwhile, a new group called Milwaukee Quality Education was formed, led by Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy and former MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller. Reforms tried in other cities were supposed to be discussed, with the obvious aim of dramatically changing MPS. “We have urgency coming out of our ears,” Sheehy declared.
Add to this the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s three-part series suggesting MPS wasted most of a $100 million effort to cut back busing, and the takeaway message is that a dysfunctional school system needs rescue.
Meanwhile, the Greater Milwaukee Committee has been engaged in an ongoing effort to improve MPS, creating a plan of “corrective action.” One insider tells me Sister Joel Read, former Alverno College president, was very influential in formulating the plan.
A new group calling itself the Milwaukee Quality Education Initiative has joined the accelerating, behind-the-scenes conversations about the future of the city’s schools, and is hosting a retreat this weekend at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine.
The group’s goal is to brainstorm ways to improve K-12 education in the city, including public, voucher and charter schools, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy said Friday.
“We didn’t come down here to blow up MPS,” he said Friday when reached at Wingspread. “We came down here to figure out what action steps we might take to reach a starting point to a broader conversation in the city.”
Sheehy, voucher school advocate and former MPS superintendent Howard Fuller and former state Secretary of Commerce Cory Nettles launched the group several months ago but hadn’t made their efforts known to the larger public, Fuller said. He added that their work hasn’t been particularly influenced by events this week such as Mayor Tom Barrett’s call for an independent audit of MPS or a Journal Sentinel investigation of the district’s Neighborhood Schools Initiative.
April 21-22 at the Madison Concourse Hotel [map].
Wisconsin State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster will open the conference with her keynote presentation on Monday morning.
Dean Kern, Director of the Charter Schools Program at the U.S. Department of Education will also be speaking on Monday.
Speakers and Schedule.
Howard Fuller, Founder & Director at the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University will provide a keynote presentation Monday during lunch. See an on-line video interview with Howard Fuller by Alan Borsuk of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Be sure not to miss these presentations.
Remember to Register!
Wisconsin Charter Schools Association
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2007 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference WEBCAST Support for Construction Careers-Focused Charter School & Successful Evolution of RENAISSANCE School for the Arts and ODYSSEY-MAGELLAN Charter School Links to 40+ Green Charter Schools Green Charter Schools in Wisconsin www.GreenCharterSchools.org New Financing Helps Milwaukee Charter School Expand HOWARD FULLER, President of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, … Continue reading Wisconsin Charter School Update
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial: Looking for the path to effective education, leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools have long slogged through the wilderness of school reform only to end up where they started. All used to be centralized at MPS. Then decentralization became the watchword. Now centralization is again in. This lunging between two opposite approaches … Continue reading More Notes on Milwaukee’s Plans to Re-Centralize School Governance
David Reinhard: Fuller, for his part, now believes school choice is the most important civil rights issue for African Americans today. That’s no small claim, considering he started as a “Black Power” advocate in the 1960s. But he didn’t get there by applying a market-oriented philosophy to the problem of underperforming inner-city schools. He got … Continue reading Inner City School Choice