The Dichotomy of Madison School Board Governance: “Same Service” vs. “having the courage and determination to stay focused on this work and do it well is in itself a revolutionary shift for our district”.

The dichotomy that is Madison School Board Governance was on display this past week.
1. Board Member TJ Mertz, in light of the District’s plan to continue growing spending and property taxes for current programs, suggests that “fiscal indulgences“:

Tax expenditures are not tax cuts. Tax expenditures are socialism and corporate welfare. Tax expenditures are increases on anyone who does not receive the benefit or can’t hire a lobbyist…to manipulate the code to their favor.

be applied to certain school volunteers.
This proposal represents a continuation of the Districts’ decades long “same service” approach to governance, with declining academic results that spawned the rejected Madison Preparatory IB Charter School.
2. Madison’s new Superintendent, Jennifer Cheatham introduced her “Strategic Framework” at Wednesday’s Downtown Rotary Club meeting.
The Superintendent’s letter (jpg version) (within the “framework” document) to the Madison Community included this statement (word cloud):

Rather than present our educators with an ever-changing array of strategies, we will focus on what we know works and implement these strategies extremely well. While some of the work may seem familiar, having the courage and determination to stay focused on this work and do it well is in itself a revolutionary shift for our district. This is what it takes to narrow and eliminate gaps in student achievement.

The Madison School Board’s letter (jpg version) to the community includes this statement:

Public education is under sustained attack, both in our state and across the nation. Initiatives like voucher expansion are premised on the notion that public schools are not up to the challenge of effectively educating diverse groups of students in urban settings.
We are out to prove that wrong. With Superintendent Cheatham, we agree that here in Madison all the ingredients are in place. Now it is up to us to show that we can serve as a model of a thriving urban school district, one that seeks out strong community partnerships and values genuine collaboration with teachers and staff in service of student success.
Our Strategic Framework lays out a roadmap for our work. While some of the goals will seem familiar, what’s new is a clear and streamlined focus and a tangible and energizing sense of shared commitment to our common goals.
The bedrock of the plan is the recognition that learning takes place in the classroom in the interactions between teachers and students. The efforts of all of us – from school board members to everyone in the organization – should be directed toward enhancing the quality and effectiveness of those interactions.
There is much work ahead of us, and the results we are expecting will not arrive overnight. But with focus, shared effort and tenacity, we can transform each of our schools into thriving schools. As we do so, Madison will be the school district of choice in Dane County.

Madison School Board word cloud:

Related: North Carolina Ends Pay Boosts for Teacher Master’s Degrees; Tenure for elementary and high-school teachers also eliminated

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed a budget bill Friday that eliminates teacher tenure and–in a rare move–gets rid of the automatic pay increase teachers receive for earning a master’s degree.
The legislation targets a compensation mechanism that is common in the U.S., where teachers receive automatic pay increases for years of service and advanced degrees. Some research has suggested those advanced degrees don’t lead to improved teaching.
Although a few other states have talked about doing away with the automatic pay increase for advanced degrees, experts say North Carolina is believed to be the first state to do so.
The budget bill–which drew hundreds of teachers to the Capitol in protest earlier this week–also eliminates tenure for elementary and high-school teachers and freezes teacher salaries for the fifth time in six years.
It comes as states and districts across the country are revamping teacher evaluations, salaries and job security, and linking them more closely to student performance. These changes have been propelled, in part, by the Obama administration and GOP governors.

The challenge for Madison is moving away from long time governance structures and practices, including a heavy (157 page pdf & revised summary of changes) teacher union contract. Chris Rickert’s recent column on Madison’s healthcare practices provides a glimpse at the teacher – student expenditure tension as well.
Then Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 Madison Rotary speech offers important background on Madison’s dichotomy:

“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).

“Budget Cuts: We Won’t Be as Bold and Innovative as Oconomowoc, and That’s Okay”.

Madison’s Sherman Middle School to drop French 1 class

Pat Schneider:

The way Principal Michael Hernandez tells it, something had to go.
Hernandez decided that at Sherman Middle School, it will be French class.
With a renewed emphasis on curriculum basics in the Madison School District, the need at Sherman to double-down on math skills, and a scheduled expansion there of the AVID program that prepares low-income minority kids for college, Hernandez figures the north-side middle school will need to drop its second “world language” offering next year.
French 2 will continue for seventh-graders who took French 1 this year. The school’s Spanish-language program — including three sections of dual-language instruction — also will continue.
“Unfortunately, there are tough decisions we have to make,” Hernandez told me. “With budget cuts, I can’t have a class with only approximately seven students, when I could use that (staff) allocation for a math intervention class.”
Principals will be developing these kinds of adjustments around the margins to prepare for the 2013-2014 school year as district officials begin work on the budget and schools get projections on how many staff members they will have.
School Board members on Monday will receive a “budget briefing” instead of fleshed-out budget proposal. Penciled in is $392,807,993 in district-wide spending next school year, down a fraction from this year.
The scaled-down budget proposal is due to the uncertain prospects of a controversial proposal in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget to shift aid and expand vouchers to Madison and eight other school districts — at a projected cost of more than $800,000 to the Madison public schools. In addition, new Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham just came on the job three weeks ago and is not prepared yet to present a detailed budget.

Related: Status Quo Costs More: Madison Schools’ Administration Floats a 7.38% Property Tax Increase; Dane County Incomes down 4.1%…. District Received $11.8M Redistributed State Tax Dollar Increase last year. Spending up 6.3% over the past 16 months.

A Critique of the Wisconsin DPI and Proposed School Choice Changes

Chris Rickert:

Chief among them has been this notion from state superintendent Tony Evers that the state’s new accountability system, known as state report cards, shouldn’t be used to determine which districts get vouchers.
Under Walker’s plan, districts with at least 4,000 students and two or more schools getting a D or an F under a new rating system would be eligible for vouchers. Evers — no fan of vouchers anyway — says the report cards were not intended for such use and need more refinement over several years.
But what was the purpose of spending more than a year working with a diverse group of education and business groups and state elected officials to create the report cards — which replaced the widely panned No Child Left Behind system — if not to use them to make consequential decisions about education?
On Thursday, Department of Public Instruction director of Education Information Services John Johnson called the report cards a “work in progress” that aren’t an appropriate tool for making a “major policy decision.”
Among their current limitations are that they are based on tests that are expected to change two years from now, they can’t show growth in high school student achievement, some schools weren’t rated, and there’s too little data to reliably identify trends in school performance.
Adam Gamoran, director of the UW-Madison-based Wisconsin Center for Education Research and a skeptic on voucher programs, agrees that the tool isn’t perfect and may well change, but “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them now” to rate schools.
It’s also not as if DPI itself didn’t expect to use the report cards. Its budget request — which Walker didn’t include in his budget — included about $10.3 million over the next two years to replicate best practices from schools deemed high-performing by the report cards, as well as to help schools deemed low-performing by the report cards get better.

John Nichols appears to support the present DPI approach. Status Quo K-12 vs a Little “Reform” Rhetoric at a Wisconsin Budget Hearing.
Related: The Wisconsin DPI in 2008:
“Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.
http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2013/03/wisconsin_educa_14.php
A citizen, parent, voter and taxpayer might ask what the DPI has been
with state and federal taxpayer dollars since 2008?
Meanwhile, Alabama (!), Minnesota, Florida and Massachusetts are
continuing to aim high and compare their students to the world.
http://nces.ed.gov/Timss/benchmark.asp
And, Vietnam is teaching computer science concepts in primary school.
http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2013/03/primary_school_.php

Common Core education standards sweeping Wisconsin schools

Alan Borsuk:

Vouchers, charters, public school spending, treatment of teachers – isn’t there something we’re not fighting about when it comes to education?
Why, yes, and last week’s quiet end to a boring race for state superintendent of public instruction underscores one of the biggest examples of that: The Common Core learning standards initiative.
The Common Core is the biggest thing in Wisconsin education that you hardly ever hear about, unless you’re employed in the school world. Then you hear about it all the time. For a lot of schools, teachers and students, it’s bringing clear, significant and, let us hope, ultimately productive changes in what goes on daily.
Take a tour of a school or talk to school leaders about what they’re up to anywhere in the state and two out of every three sentences you hear include the phrase “Common Core.” At least it feels that way.
In many classrooms, each student now has explicit goals to work on daily (“Use place value understanding to round whole numbers to the nearest 10 or 100,” for example, from the third-grade math standards) and will gladly tell you what standard they’re focused on at the time you ask (I’ve asked). Or perhaps show you the standard and their work on it on their iPad. If this hasn’t come to your child’s school yet, look for something like this soon.
The Common Core movement has swept across the nation in the last five years. It arose largely from among governors, state education chiefs, corporate leaders and education advocates who believed the nation as a whole was not aiming high enough in education and that the wide variation from state to state in defining good achievement and what it takes to get a high school diploma was a problem.

“Pet peeve of the day: Oregon is trying to make it harder to have exceptional public schools. Which kind of sucks.”

Linus Torvalds:

Background for non-Americans: the US school system is a disaster, with very uneven quality. You have some good school districts, and you have some really bad ones, and it’s all just pretty crazy. Very different from back in Finland, where education isn’t just good, it’s fairly reliably good. You don’t have to worry too much about which school you go to, because while there are certainly differences, they simply don’t tend to be all that marked.
In the US, if you care about education, you end up having to make sure you live in a good school district. Or you do the whole private school thing, or try to make sure you can transfer, or whatever. The one thing you do not do is to just take it for granted. You work at it.
I’m not a huge believer in private schools, and I actually wanted my kids to be able to walk to their friends houses, so we made sure to move to one of the better districts in Oregon.
Now, living in a good school district means that you end up paying a lot more for housing, so it’s not actually necessarily really any cheaper than sending your kids to a private school. But you do also end up being in a community where people care about education, so it’s not just the school: it’s the whole environment around you and your kids.
But it’s unquestionably unfair, and it unquestionably means that people who can afford it get a better education in the US. Despite the whole “public” part of the US public school system, it’s like so much else in the US: you don’t want to be poor. The whole “American Dream” is pretty much a fairy tale.
So the Oregon legislature is trying to fix the unfairness. Which I very much understand, because I really do detest the whole US school system – it was always one of the things that we talked about being a possible reason to move back to Finland when the kids needed to go to school. We ended up learning how the US system works, and made it work for us, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like the situation. Because I’ve seen better.
So why is trying to make things fairer a peeve?
The way the Oregon legislature is trying to fix things isn’t by making the average school better, it’s by trying to make it hard to have the (fairly few) bright spots around.
In particular, let’s say that you do have a good school district, where people not only end up paying for it in the property taxes (which is what largely funds the school), but also by having special local tax bonds for the school in addition to the big fund-raisers every year. Because the public US school funding just isn’t that great, so the local community ends up fixing it – to the point of literally raising much of the money to build a new building etc.

The US outspends and underperforms. More
Portland schools’ 2012-2013 budget is $687,513,063 for 47,000 students or 14,627.93/student. Madison will spend $14,527/student during the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
US teacher content knowledge requirements are lag other countries.
Oregon HB 2748
Notes and links on Sweden’s voucher system and Finland’s schools.
Linus Torvalds

Status Quo K-12 vs a Little “Reform” Rhetoric at a Wisconsin Budget Hearing

Matthew DeFour’s tweets tell the unsurprising story (Wisconsin Schools Superintendent Tony Evers is testifying before the State’s “Joint Finance Committee”):



Related:


Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.
Madison’s per student spending is $14,547 for the 2012-2013 school year (the number ignores differences in pre-k per student costs – lower, vs “full time” students).
Watch the committee hearing.

Questions abound Wisconsin Governor Walker’s education agenda

Alan Borsuk

So let’s ask some detailed questions as a way of getting a glimpse of the education decisions that will be made between now and June. Walker has spoken only in generalities so far, including in his “state of the state” address last week. It’s clear that supporters of charter, voucher and virtual schools are going to be a lot happier than a lot of folks involved in public schools. And Walker has talked a lot about creating ways to include the success (or lack thereof) of a school in decisions about how much money it gets. But talking points aren’t policy.
So here are a dozen policy questions:
1: What will the governor propose for the revenue cap on public school students? Two years ago, the cap was cut by 5.5%, or $550 per student, in the first year of the budget, with most schools getting a $100 increase in the second year. That was dramatic after years in which the cap went up $200-plus each year. Walker appears on track to increase the cap this time. Will he go along with the $200 per year figure some, including some Republicans, are suggesting?
2: How much will state aid to schools go up? The revenue cap covers generally money that comes from the state and local property taxes combined. The more state aid, the less pressure on property taxes. Again, Walker has indicated he will support increasing state education spending. How much? And what portion will be in general aid increases and what portion in special funds such as money to reward high performing schools?
3: Walker said in the “state of the state” address, “We will lay out plans to provide a financial incentive for high-performing and rapidly improving schools.” What does he mean by that? There’s not much evidence nationally on what is really effective on this front. And Walker has been urged by people such as influential Republican Sen. Luther Olsen not to count on the new state report cards on schools as a basis for decisions. Olsen is among those saying it may be several years until the grades will be useful that way. Will Walker use the grades anyway as the basis for rewards and punishments?
4: What will Walker propose for the per-student payment for voucher and charter school students? The voucher payments have been held flat for four years at $6,442, while independent charter schools get $7,775 per student. (Depending on how you figure it, Milwaukee Public School gets something around $13,000 per student overall.) Charter and voucher leaders are pushing hard for sizable increases in the payments, and for high school vouchers to be worth more than grade school vouchers, just because high school is more expensive. Walker is clearly sympathetic.

Related: Comparing Milwaukee Public and Voucher Schools’ Per Student Spending. I’m glad Mr. Borsuk compared per student spending.
www.wisconsin2.org

Milwaukee school choice beats the alternative

Patrick J. Wolf & John F. Witte:

Education expert Diane Ravitch wrote in a Jan. 11 op-ed that Milwaukee should abandon its long-running school choice programs involving private and public charter schools and instead concentrate all education resources on a single, monopolistic public school system.
The actual research on school choice in Milwaukee argues against such a move. At the request of the State of Wisconsin, we led a five-year study of school choice in Milwaukee that ended last February. We found that school choice in Milwaukee has had a modest but clearly positive effect on student outcomes.
First, students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.
Second, the addition of a high-stakes accountability testing requirement to the voucher program in 2010 resulted in a solid increase in voucher student test scores, leaving the voucher students with significantly higher achievement gains in reading than their matched MPS peers. Ravitch claimed in a Nov. 5 blog post that private schools no longer have to administer the state accountability test to their voucher students and post the results, but that assertion is and always was false.

Notes and links on school choice in Milwaukee. Comparing Milwaukee Public Schools and Voucher school per student spending.

“We are not interested in the development of new charter schools”



Larry Winkler kindly emailed the chart pictured above.

Where have all the Students gone?

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin:

We are not interested in the development of new charter schools. Recent presentations of charter school programs indicate that most of them do not perform to the level of Madison public schools. I have come to three conclusions about charter schools. First, the national evidence is clear overall, charter schools do not perform as well as traditional public schools. Second where charter schools have shown improvement, generally they have not reached the level of success of Madison schools. Third, if our objective is to improve overall educational performance, we should try proven methods that elevate the entire district not just the students in charter schools. The performance of non-charter students in cities like Milwaukee and Chicago is dismal.
In addition, it seems inappropriate to use resources to develop charter schools when we have not explored system-wide programming that focuses on improving attendance, the longer school day, greater parental involvement and combating hunger and trauma.
We must get a better understanding of the meaning of ‘achievement gap.’ A school in another system may have made gains in ‘closing’ the achievement gap, but that does not mean its students are performing better than Madison students. In addition, there is mounting evidence that a significant portion of the ‘achievement gap’ is the result of students transferring to Madison from poorly performing districts. If that is the case, we should be developing immersion programs designed for their needs rather than mimicking charter school programs that are more expensive, produce inadequate results, and fail to recognize the needs of all students.
It should be noted that not only do the charter schools have questionable results but they leave the rest of the district in shambles. Chicago and Milwaukee are two systems that invested heavily in charter schools and are systems where overall performance is unacceptable.

Related links:

I am unaware of Madison School District achievement data comparing transfer student performance. I will email the Madison School Board and see what might be discovered.
Pat Schnieder:

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has some pretty strong ideas about how to improve academic achievement by Madison school children. Charter schools are not among them.
In fact, Madison’s ongoing debate over whether a charter school is the key to boosting academic achievement among students of color in the Madison Metropolitan School District is distracting the community from making progress, Soglin told me.
He attended part of a conference last week sponsored by the Urban League of Greater Madison that he says overstated the successes elsewhere of charter schools, like the Urban League’s controversial proposed Madison Preparatory Academy that was rejected by the Madison School Board a year ago.
“A number of people I talked with about it over the weekend said the same thing: This debate over charter schools is taking us away from any real improvement,” Soglin said.
Can a new committee that Soglin created — bringing together representatives from the school district, city and county — be one way to make real progress?

The City of Madison’s Education Committee, via a kind reader’s email. Members include: Arlene Silveira, Astra Iheukemere, Carousel Andrea S. Bayrd, Erik Kass, Jenni Dye, Matthew Phair, Maya Cole and Shiva Bidar-Sielaff.

St. Marcus model offers hope for Milwaukee schools

Alan Borsuk;

He thinks Milwaukee has advantages in shooting for success, including its size, the overall value system of the city, strong business and philanthropic support of education, and three streams of schools – public, charter and private (including many religious schools) – that each want to improve. He says he is more convinced than ever that the model being pursued by St. Marcus works and can be replicated.
These are controversial beliefs – for one thing, anything involving voucher schools remains highly charged. Tyson says politicians should focus less on such disputes and more on how to offer quality through whatever schools offer it.

Related: Interview: Henry Tyson, Superintendent of Milwaukee’s St. Marcus Elementary School.
and
Comparing Milwaukee Public and Voucher Schools’ Per Student Spending.

Madison School District Strategic Plan Update

Madison School District 600K PDF:.
I recently attended the third annual update to the 2009 Madison School District Strategic Plan. You can follow the process via these notes and links.
I thought it might be useful to share a few observations on our local public schools during this process:

  • General public interest in the schools continues to be the exception, rather than the norm.
  • I sense that the District is more open to discussing substantive issues such as reading, math and overall achievement during the past few years. However, it does not appear to have translated into the required tough decision making regarding non-performing programs and curriculum.
  • MTI President Kerry Motoviloff recent statement that the District administration has “introduced more than 18 programs and initiatives for elementary teachers since 2009”.
  • Full teacher Infinite Campus use remains a goal, despite spending millions of dollars, money which could have gone elsewhere given the limited implementation. Unfortunately, this is a huge missed opportunity. Complete course syllabus, assignment and gradebook information would be a powerful tool when evaluating achievement issues.
  • The implementation of “standards based report cards” further derailed the Infinite Campus spending/implementation. This is an example of spending money (and time – consider the opportunity cost) on programs that are actually in conflict.
  • The District continues to use the oft criticized and very low benchmark WKCE as their measure. This, despite starting to use the MAP exam this year. Nearby Monona Grove has been using MAP for some time.
  • Three Madison School Board members attended: Mary Burke, James Howard and Ed Hughes.
  • UW-Madison school of Education dean Julie Underwood attended and asked, to my astonishment, (paraphrased) how the District’s various diversity programs were benefiting kids (and achievement)?

The only effective way forward, in my view, is to simplify the District’s core mission to reading, english and math. This means eliminating programs and focusing on the essentials. That will be a difficult change for the organization, but I don’t see how adding programs to the current pile benefits anyone. It will cost more and do less.
Less than 24 hours after I attended the MMSD’s Strategic Plan update, I, through a variety of circumstances, visited one of Milwaukee’s highest performing private/voucher schools, a school with more than 90% low income students. The petri dish that is Milwaukee will produce a far more robust and effective set of schools over the next few decades than the present monolithic approach favored here. More about that visit, soon.

Here’s What’s So Bad About School Choice

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

This week’s Isthmus includes an opinion column by Larry Kaufmann entitled “What’s So Bad About School Choice?” Mr. Kauffmann is identified as “an economic consultant based in Madison.” I bet Mr. Kaufmann is really smart in a lot of ways. But this column of his seems strikingly misguided.
In a nutshell, Kaufmann argues that our public schools have failed. Public education “is one of the most unproductive and underperforming sectors in America.” Spending on schools has gone up but “students’ combined math and reading scores have been flat.” Hence, our educational productivity “has fallen by 50% since 1970.”
If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Kaufmann apparently is an economist and his preferred solution to what he sees as the underperformance of the educational-output industry is to unleash the magic of the market.
Specifically, his answer is unfettered school choice. Instead of shoveling money down educational sinkholes, parents should be given vouchers to purchase educational services from whomever they choose. Kaufmann assumes that parents as consumers will choose wisely; innovative and efficient schools will flourish; less effective schools will exit the market; and math and reading scores will soar.

Selling out public schools: Millions of dollars are changing face of education

Bill Lueders:

“School choice” is a broad term that refers to a wide range of alternatives, including themed charter schools that are entirely under the control of their home school districts. Forty states and the District of Columbia have those in place, according to the American Federation for Children, a national school choice advocacy group.
But it is the voucher programs, in which public funds are used to send children to private schools, that are the focus of much of the energy around the choice movement. Seven states and the District of Columbia have those, and Milwaukee’s voucher program is the first and largest of its kind in the country. That makes Wisconsin a key national battleground.
“Wisconsin has a high level of value to the movement as a whole,” says Robert Enlow, president of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a nonprofit group that advocates for school choice. The state, he says, is notable for “the high level of scholarship amounts that families can get.”
Milwaukee’s voucher program had 20,300 full-time equivalent voucher students at 102 private schools in 2010-11, compared to about 80,000 students at Milwaukee’s public K-12 schools. The total cost, at $6,442 per voucher student, was $130.8 million, of which about $90 million came from the state and the rest from the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Critics see the school choice program as part of a larger strategy — driven into high gear in Wisconsin by the fall election of Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans — to eviscerate, for ideological and religious reasons, public schools and the unions that represent teachers.

It would be interesting to compare special interest spending in support of the status quo, vs groups advocating change, as outlined in Bill Lueders’ article. A few links:

  • WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators

    How much do election-year firewalls cost to build? For the state’s largest teachers union, $1.57 million.
    That’s how much the Wisconsin Education Association Council said last week it will spend trying to make sure four Democratic state senators are re-elected – enough, WEAC hopes, to keep a Democratic majority in the 33-member state body.
    Although there are 15 Democratic candidates running for the state Senate, and 80 Democrats running for the state Assembly, the latest WEAC report shows that the teachers union is placing what amounts to an “all in” bet on saving just four Democratic senators who are finishing their first terms.
    In an Oct. 25 report to the Government Accountability Board, the 98,000-member union reported that it will independently:

  • Wisconsin teachers union tops list of biggest lobbying groups for 2009-10, report shows

    The statewide teachers union led in spending on lobbying state lawmakers even before this year’s fight over collective bargaining rights.
    The Wisconsin Education Association Council spent $2.5 million on lobbying in 2009 and 2010, years when Democrats were in control of all of state government, a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Board showed.
    WEAC is always one of the top spending lobbyists in the Capitol and they took a central role this year fighting Gov. Scott Walker’s plan curbing public employee union rights, including teachers.
    Back in 2009, when Democrat Jim Doyle was governor and Democrats controlled the Senate and Assembly, WEAC wasn’t helping to organize massive protests but it was a regular presence in the Capitol.

  • Spending in summer recall elections reaches nearly $44 million

    Spending in the summer’s recall elections by special interest groups, candidates and political action committees shattered spending records set in previous elections, with $43.9 million doled out on nine elections, according to a study released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
    Spending by six political action committees or special interest groups topped the $1 million mark. We Are Wisconsin was the top spender.
    The union-backed group spent roughly $10.75 million, followed by the conservative-leaning Club for Growth at $9 million and $4 million in spending from the Greater Wisconsin Committee.

  • Kansas City School District Loses its Accreditation

The Cheap Schools Plan

Bruce Murphy:

e are rapidly on course to create a dual-level school system for Wisconsin students. In smaller cities and rural and suburban areas, school systems will continue to spend about $10,000 per pupil. That is a bit less than the national average of $10,499, as a recent Census Bureau report found.
But in big cities such as Milwaukee and Racine, and perhaps in Green Bay and Beloit, more and more students will be educated at choice schools that spend about $6,400 per pupil. These school systems tend to have students who are poorer, more likely to have learning disabilities, and they are typically the most challenging to teach. Yet Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators propose to spend less than two-thirds of the average per-pupil spending in other schools in the state and nation.
This situation, I might add, is not simply the fault of Republicans. Many Democrats, in hopes of killing school choice, have adamantly opposed spending more on vouchers in the past, so the per-pupil rate has always been absurdly low. On the other side are Republicans who can’t lose with school choice: It undercuts public schools and lowers the number of teachers union members in cities such as Milwaukee. And it allows them to portray themselves as reformers trying to do something about failing schools.

It’s time for schools to focus on quality, not politics or structure

Alan Borsuk:

I’m tired of talking about systems and governance and structures for education. If we’ve proved anything in Milwaukee, we’ve proved that these things make less difference than a lot of people once thought.
Since 1990, Milwaukee has been one of the nation’s foremost laboratories of experimentation in school structures. This has been driven by hope (some national experts used the word panacea) that new ways of creating, running and funding schools would bring big progress.
A ton of data was unloaded during the last week, including test results from last fall for every school in Wisconsin, a new round of studies comparing performance of students in Milwaukee’s publicly funded private school voucher program with Milwaukee Public Schools students and – for the first time – school-by-school test results for those voucher schools.
And what did I learn from all this?
1.) We’ve got big problems. The scores, overall, were low.
2.) We’re not making much progress overall in solving them.
3.) Schools in all three of the major structures for education in Milwaukee – MPS, voucher schools and charter schools – had about the same overall results.
4.) Some specific schools really did much better than others, even when dealing with students with much the same backgrounds as those in schools that got weaker results.
In my dreams, all of us – especially the most influential politicians, policy-makers and civic leaders – focus a lot more on the fourth point than we have been doing.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 speech to the Madison Rotary Club:

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).

Wisconsin Budget cuts $834 million from schools

Amy Hetzner and Erin Richards:

State and local funding for general Wisconsin public school operations would drop 5.5% in 2011-’12 while Milwaukee’s private-school voucher program could be poised for a massive expansion under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal, one that slashes $834 million in state K-12 education spending over the next two years.
The governor’s 2011-’13 budget proposal would phase out the income requirements of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, eliminate the enrollment cap on student participation, and allow Milwaukee families to use their publicly funded voucher to attend any private school in Milwaukee County that wished to participate in the program.
Walker also hopes to remove a requirement that students in the choice schools take state tests, possibly scuttling new efforts to gauge whether the private school choice program has meaningful impact on academic achievement.
“We’ve been saying for a month now that the second shoe was going to drop,” said Tom Beebe, executive director of Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, referring to Walker’s recent push for major concessions on benefits from teachers and other public employees. “It wasn’t just dropped. It was thrown at the head.”

Public School Districts – Return on Educational Investment: Madison Has a “Low ROI”

The Center for American Progress, via a kind reader’s email:

The Wisconsin school systems of Oshkosh and Eau Claire are about the same size and serve similar student populations. They also get largely similar results on state exams-but Eau Claire spends an extra $8 million to run its school system
This report is the culmination of a yearlong effort to study the efficiency of the nation’s public education system and includes the first-ever attempt to evaluate the productivity of almost every major school district in the country. In the business world, the notion of productivity describes the benefit received in exchange for effort or money expended. Our project measures the academic achievement a school district produces relative to its educational spending, while controlling for factors outside a district’s control, such as cost of living and students in poverty.
Our nation’s school system has for too long failed to ensure that education funding consistently promotes strong student achievement. After adjusting for inflation, education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades. But while some states and districts have spent their additional dollars wisely–and thus shown significant increases in student outcomes–overall student achievement has largely remained flat. And besides Luxembourg, the United States spends more per student than any of the 65 countries that participated in a recent international reading assessment, and while Estonia and Poland scored at the same level as the United States on the exam, the United States spent roughly $60,000 more to educate each student to age 15 than either nation.
Our aims for this project, then, are threefold. First, we hope to kick-start a national conversation about educational productivity. Second, we want to identify districts that generate higher-than-average achievement per dollar spent, demonstrate how productivity varies widely within states, and encourage efforts to study highly productive districts. Third–and most important–we want to encourage states and districts to embrace approaches that make it easier to create and sustain educational efficiencies.
This report comes at a pivotal time for schools and districts. Sagging revenues have forced more than 30 states to cut education spending since the recession began. The fiscal situation is likely to get worse before it gets better because the full impact of the housing market collapse has yet to hit many state and local budgets. At a time when states are projecting more than $100 billion in budget shortfalls, educators need to be able to show that education dollars produce significant outcomes or taxpayers might begin to see schools as a weak investment. If schools don’t deliver maximum results for the dollar, public trust in education could erode and taxpayers may fund schools less generously.
While some forward-thinking education leaders have taken steps to promote better educational efficiency, most states and districts have not done nearly enough to measure or produce the productivity gains our education system so desperately needs. Some fear that a focus on efficiency might inspire policymakers to reduce already limited education budgets and further increase the inequitable distribution of school dollars. To be sure, our nation’s system of financing schools is unfair. Low-income and minority students are far more likely to attend schools that don’t receive their fair share of federal, state, and local dollars. But while the issue of fairness must be central to any conversation about education finance, efficiency should not be sacrificed on the altar of equity. Our nation must aspire to have a school system that’s both fair and productive.
Our emphasis on productivity does not mean we endorse unfettered market-based reforms, such as vouchers allowing parents to direct public funds to private schools. Nor do we argue that policymakers should spend less on education. Indeed, we believe neither of these approaches can solve the nation’s pressing education challenges. Transforming our schools will demand both real resources and real reform. As Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said: “It’s time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise. It’s time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress.”

Madison’s results can be seen here. I asked Superintendent Dan Nerad what benefits citizens, students and parents received from Madison’s greater per student spending, then, for example, his former Green Bay school district in this recent interview.
Madison spent $15,241 per student according to the 2009-2010 Citizen’s Budget. I’ve not seen a 2010-2011 version.

Wisconsin Education: Sounding the Alarm: A Wakeup Call With Directions

Frederick Hess & Oliva Meeks

There was a time when Wisconsin was a leader in school reform, and it wasn’t that long ago. All you have to do is go two decades back, and the state’s performance on reading and math assessments put its students in the nation’s upper tier. The 1990 Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was heralded as a watershed for school choice, and today, it is the nation’s largest school voucher program. Wisconsin was also an early adopter of charter schooling, and its SAGE class-size-reduction program gained national attention in the 1990s.
In the current education landscape, those days of innovation seem a long way off.
Wisconsin is no longer mentioned as an education innovator in the same breath as states like Louisiana, Tennessee, or Colorado. Wisconsin has also seen a tremendous erosion of its once-impressive math and reading performance. In 1990, Wisconsin outperformed 76% of the states in eighth-grade math scores. Today, Wisconsin has fallen to the middle of the pack. In reading, the decline has been even more precipitous.1 And all of this has happened in spite of the fact that statewide per-pupil spending has risen from $7,749 per student in 1990 to $10,041 in 2007 (in constant 2007 dollars), proving that just throwing money at a problem will not solve it.2
Perhaps the most vexing statistic is the racial divide – 93% of white students graduated high school in 2009 statewide, compared to only 66% of African-American students.3 This is a divide that no state or country can tolerate if it intends to remain functioning, let alone successful. The situation is most grim in Milwaukee, where only one-third of African-American tenth-graders–34%–are proficient in reading compared to 67% among their white classmates; in math, 19% of African-American students are proficient compared to 56% of white students.4

Change and Race to the Top

Robert Godfrey:

Which brings us to this next item, one with twist and turns not completely understandable at this point, but certainly not held up by people like myself as a model of how to “get the job properly done” — to use Herbert’s words.
Diane Ravitch, an intellectual on education policy, difficult to pigeonhole politically (appointed to public office by both G.H.W. Bush and Clinton), but best described as an independent, co-writes a blog with Deborah Meier that some of our readers may be familiar with called “Bridging Differences.” This past week she highlighted a possibly disturbing development in the Race to the Top competition program of the Department of Education, that dangles $4.3 billion to the states with a possible $1.3 billion to follow. Ravitch’s critique suggests that this competition is not run by pragmatists, but rather by ideologues who are led by the Bill Gates Foundation.

If this election had been held five years ago, the department would be insisting on small schools, but because Gates has already tried and discarded that approach, the department is promoting the new Gates remedies: charter schools, privatization, and evaluating teachers by student test scores.

Two of the top lieutenants of the Gates Foundation were placed in charge of the competition by Secretary Arne Duncan. Both have backgrounds as leaders in organisations dedicated to creating privately managed schools that operate with public money.

None of this is terribly surprising (See the Sunlight Foundation’s excellent work on the Obama Administration’s insider dealings with PhRMA). Jeff Henriques did a lot of work looking at the Madison School District’s foray into Small Learning Communities.
Is it possible to change the current K-12 bureacracy from within? Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman spoke about the “adult employment” focus of the K-12 world:

“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).

I suspect that Duncan and many others are trying to significantly change the adult to student process, rather than simply pumping more money into the current K-12 monopoly structures.
They are to be commended for this.
Will there be waste, fraud and abuse? Certainly. Will there be waste fraud and abuse if the funds are spent on traditional K-12 District organizations? Of course. John Stossel notes that when one puts together the numbers, Washington, DC’s schools spend $26,000 per student, while they provide $7,500 to the voucher schools…..
We’re better off with diffused governance across the board. Milwaukee despite its many travails, is developing a rich K-12 environment.
The Verona school board narrowly approved a new Mandarin immersion charter school on a 4-3 vote recently These citizen initiatives offer some hope for new opportunities for our children. I hope we see more of this.
Finally, all of this presents an interesting contrast to what appears to be the Madison School District Administration’s ongoing “same service” governance approach.

Education: Too Important for a Government Monopoly

John Stossel:

The government-school establishment has said the same thing for decades: Education is too important to leave to the competitive market. If we really want to help our kids, we must focus more resources on the government schools.
But despite this mantra, the focus is on something other than the kids. When The Washington Post asked George Parker, head of the Washington, D.C., teachers union, about the voucher program there, he said: “Parents are voting with their feet. … As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we’ll have teachers to represent.”
How revealing is that?
Since 1980, government spending on education, adjusted for inflation, has nearly doubled. But test scores have been flat for decades.
Today we spend a stunning $11,000 a year per student — more than $200,000 per classroom. It’s not working. So when will we permit competition and choice, which works great with everything else? I’ll explore those questions on my Fox Business program tomorrow night at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern time (and again Friday at 10 p.m.).
The people who test students internationally told us that two factors predict a country’s educational success: Do the schools have the autonomy to experiment, and do parents have a choice?

Locally, the Madison School District has 24,295 students and a 2009/2010 budget of $418,415,780. $17,222 per student.

‘Duplicitous and Shameful’ Democrats vote to send poor kids to inferior schools.

Wall Street Journal:

The waiting is finally over for some of the District of Columbia’s most ambitious school children and their parents. Democrats in Congress voted to kill the District’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides 1,700 disadvantaged kids with vouchers worth up to $7,500 per year to attend a private school.
On Sunday the Senate approved a spending bill that phases out funding for the five-year-old program. Several prominent Senators this week sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid pleading for a reconsideration. Signed by Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman, Democrats Robert Byrd and Dianne Feinstein, and Republicans Susan Collins and John Ensign, it asked to save a program that has “provided a lifeline to many low-income students in the District of Columbia.” President Obama signed the bill Thursday.
The program’s popularity has generated long waiting lists. A federal evaluation earlier this year said the mostly black and Hispanic participants are making significant academic gains and narrowing the achievement gap. But for the teachers unions, this just can’t happen. The National Education Association instructed Democratic lawmakers to kill it.

Teacher Unions vs. Poor Kids

Nat Hentoff:

The “education president” remained silent when his congressional Democrats essentially killed the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) in the city where he now lives and works.



Of the 1,700 students, starting in kindergarten, in this private-school voucher program, 90 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic.



First the House and then the Senate inserted into the $410-billion omnibus spending bill language to eliminate the $7,500 annual scholarships for these poor children after the next school year.



A key executioner in the Senate of the OSP was Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat. I have written admiringly of Durbin’s concern for human rights abroad. But what about education rights for minority children in the nation’s capital?



Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Institute (where I am a senior fellow) supplied the answer when he wrote: “Because they saw it as a threat to their political power, Democrats in Washington appear willing to extinguish the dreams of a few thousand poor kids to protect their political base.”

Congress vs. Washington DC Kids

Andrew Coulson:

Congressional Democrats succeeded this week in crippling a school choice program operating in the nation’s capital. For the last five years, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships have made private schooling affordable to 1,700 poor children. Rather than reauthorizing the program for another five-year term, Democrats have all but ensured it will die after next year.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, has asked D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to prepare for the return of voucher students to the city’s broken public schools.
Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office claims the senator opposed the voucher program from the start because it “takes funds from very needy public schools to send students to unaccountable private schools.” (The House Budget Committee holds hearings today on the U.S. Education Department budget).
But just how needy are D.C. public schools? To find out, I added up all the K-12-related expenditures in the current D.C. budget, excluding preschool, higher-education and charter school items. The total comes to $1.29 billion. Divide that by the official enrollment count of 48,646 students, and it yields a total per-pupil spending figure of $26,555.

Obama and the Schools

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that poor children receiving federally financed vouchers to attend private schools in Washington, D.C., shouldn’t be forced out of those schools. Bully for Mr. Duncan. But the voice that matters most is President Obama’s, and so far he’s been shouting at zero decibels.
His silence is an all-clear for Democrats in Congress who have put language in the omnibus spending bill that would effectively end the program after next year. Should they succeed, 1,700 mostly black and Hispanic students who use the vouchers would return to the notoriously violent and underperforming D.C. public school system, which spends more money per pupil than almost any city in the nation yet graduates only about half of its students.
The D.C. voucher program has more than four applicants for every available slot. Parental satisfaction is sky high. And independent evaluations — another is scheduled for release later this month — show that children in the program perform better academically than their peers who do not receive vouchers. This is the kind of school reform that the federal government should encourage and expand.

Obama & McCain on Federalism & Schools

Sam Dillon:

Senator Barack Obama learned how hard it can be to solve America’s public education problems when he headed a philanthropic drive here a decade ago that spent $150 million on Chicago’s troubled schools and barely made a dent.
Drawing on that experience, Mr. Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, is campaigning on an ambitious plan that promises $18 billion a year in new federal spending on early childhood classes, teacher recruitment, performance pay and dozens of other initiatives.
In Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, Mr. Obama used his education proposals to draw a contrast with Senator John McCain, his Republican opponent, and to insist to voters that he, more than his rival, would change the way Washington works.
Were he to become president, Mr. Obama would retain the emphasis on the high standards and accountability of President Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind. But he would rewrite the federal law to offer more help to high-need schools, especially by training thousands of new teachers to serve in them, his campaign said. He would also expand early childhood education, which he believes gets more bang for the buck than remedial classes for older students.

Sam Dillon:

Among his short list of initiatives, Mr. McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, includes bonus pay for teachers who raise student achievement or who take jobs in hard-to-staff schools, an expansion of after-school tutoring, and new federal support for online schools and for the voucher program in Washington, D.C.
The brevity of Mr. McCain’s plan reflects his view that the federal government should play a limited role in public education, and his commitment to holding the line on education spending, said Lisa Graham Keegan, a McCain adviser and former Arizona education commissioner.
“Education is obviously not the issue Senator McCain spends the most time on,” Ms. Keegan said, adding that his plan’s limited scope should not be interpreted as a lack of commitment to education and school reform. “He’s been a quiet and consistent supporter of parents and educators who he thinks are making a difference.”

School choice has saved $444 million

Friedman Foundation; Dr. Susan L. Aud: A landmark new study finds that school choice programs throughout the country generated nearly $444 million in net savings to state and local budgets from 1990 to 2006. Contrary to opponents’ predictions, the analysis also finds that instructional spending per student has consistently gone up in all affected public … Continue reading School choice has saved $444 million

“How to Manage Urban School Districts”

Stacey Childress, Richard Elmore and Allen Grossman writing in the Harvard Business Review: One of the biggest management challenges anywhere is how to improve student performance in America’s urban public schools. There has been no shortage of proposed solutions: Find great principals and give them power; create competitive markets with charters, vouchers, and choice; establish … Continue reading “How to Manage Urban School Districts”