More Commentary on Proposed Wisconsin Teacher Licensing Content Requirements.

Alan Borsuk

In 1998, Massachusetts debuted a set of tests it created for people who wanted teaching licenses. People nationwide were shocked when 59% of those in the first batch of applicants failed a communications and literacy test that officials said required about a 10th-grade level of ability.
Given some specifics of how the tests were launched, people who wanted to be teachers in Massachusetts probably got more of a bum rap for their qualifications than they deserved. But the results certainly got the attention of people running college programs to train teachers. They changed what they did, and the passing rate rose to about 90% in recent years.
One more thing: Student outcomes in Massachusetts improved significantly. Coming from the middle of the pack, Massachusetts has led the nation in fourth- and eighth-grade scores in reading and math on National Assessment of Education Program (NAEP) tests for almost a decade.
Could this be Wisconsin in a few years, especially when it comes to reading?
Gov. Scott Walker and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers released last week the report of a task force aimed at improving reading in Wisconsin. Reading results have been stagnant for years statewide, with Wisconsin slipping from near the top to the middle of the pack nationally. Among low-income and minority students, the state’s results are among the worst in the country.

And the 2011 education awards go to

Alan Borsuk:

Quite the year we had in Wisconsin education in 2011, so we have lots of awards to give out in our annual recognition ceremony. Let’s get right to the big one for this year:
The “Honey, I Blew Up the Education Status Quo” Award: No surprise who is the winner. Like him or hate him (and there certainly is no middle ground), when you say Gov. Scott Walker, you’ve said it all. State aid cuts. Tightened school spending and taxing. Benefit cuts to teachers. An end to teacher union power as we knew it. No need to say more.
Book of the Year: In some school districts – and the number will grow quickly – it was the handbook issued by the school board, replacing contracts with teachers unions. No more having to get union approval for changing every nitpicky rule about the length of the school day or assigning teachers to lunch duty.
Tool of the Year: Well, it wasn’t anything small. In the Legislature, it was more like a jackhammer, as Republicans and Democrats engaged in all-out battle. As for schools, Walker talked often about giving leaders tools to deal with their situations. This is where it will get very interesting. Will leaders act as if they are holding precision tools to be used cautiously or as if they, too, are holding jackhammers? As one state school figure said privately to me, how school boards handle their new power is likely to be a key to whether there is a resurgence of teacher unions in the state. Which leads us to:

I think Borsuk’s #3 is critical. I suspect that 60ish% of school boards will continue with the present practices, under different names. The remainder will create a new environment, perhaps providing a different set of opportunities for teachers. The April, 2012 Madison School Board election may determine the extent to which “status quo” reins locally.

Wis. school districts giving merit based pay trial runs

Mike Kujak:

School districts across Wisconsin have made strides toward reforming the state’s teacher evaluation process by implementing new merit-based salaries for teachers under new powers provided by the budget repair legislation.
Under Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial legislation, bargaining units for teachers are still able to negotiate base wages, but cannot negotiate other areas, including certain funds allocated for teacher performance. The bill now gives more authority to district leaders to make changes in working conditions, hours and compensation systems for teachers and staff.
Cedarburg School District in eastern Wisconsin is one of many schools making a move toward the merit-pay system for teachers. The district’s superintendent, Daryl Herrick, said the new criteria for pay would be based on a new evaluation model.
“There would be teachers in three-year cycles,” Herrick said. “There will be varied activities in the cycles where both the evaluator and the teacher provide direct observations to indicate their performance levels. We’ll also have a goal-setting process in order to determine performance.”

Wisconsin’s school funding gets squeezed by Medicaid, studies show

Jason Stein:

The budget signed by Gov. Scott Walker makes some of the biggest cuts in the nation to education even as it makes one of the largest spending increases in the country in health care for the poor, two new reports show.
At the same time, Wisconsin has avoided large tax increases and ranks more toward the middle of the pack when looking at cuts to schools over the past four years and what the overall education spending in the state is.
Together, the new reports highlight a trend in Wisconsin – the priorities of holding down taxes and paying for rapidly growing Medicaid health care programs are squeezing school funding.
“You’re going to see everything else in the budget under stress as long as Medicaid is growing rapidly, at least more rapidly than tax revenues,” said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
Walker and Republican lawmakers closed a $3 billion budget gap over two years by relying on cuts to schools and local governments rather than tax increases. Democrats decried the cuts as harmful to students and local services, but the governor said he had protected those services by allowing local governments to find savings from union employees’ benefits.
A survey this month by the nonpartisan National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers showed that the budget as passed by Walker and GOP lawmakers made the fifth-largest cuts to state funding for education in the nation at $409 million, with Wisconsin topped only by the much larger states of New York, California, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Related: Wisconsin’s debt in the top 10 amongst US States.

Let’s get together on Madison Prep

Dave Zweifel:

The debate over whether the Madison School Board should give the final OK to the Madison Preparatory Academy is getting a bit nasty.
And that should not be.
While the passion on the part of the advocates for the school, led by the energetic Urban League CEO Kaleem Caire, is perfectly understandable given our schools’ dismal record on minority achievement, so is the questioning from those who aren’t convinced the prep idea will solve that problem.
Now, on the eve of a vote on that final approval, is not the time to point fingers and make accusations, but to come together and reasonably find ways to overcome the obstacles and reassure those who fret about giving up duly elected officials’ oversight of the school and the impact it will have on the entire district’s union contracts if not done correctly.
The union problem is not the fault of the union, but stems from Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature’s action to dramatically change public employee collective bargaining in Wisconsin. If the union or the School Board makes concessions for Madison Prep, the collective bargaining agreement for the entire district, which is to expire in June 2013, could be negated.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

Sky isn’t falling on Wisconsin public schools

Wisconsin State Journal:

Here’s the bottom line on public schools in Wisconsin after a big cut in state aid to K-12 education:
• The kids are mostly all right.
• The teachers are smarting from smaller paychecks.
• The full impact of the two-year, $750 million cut won’t be known until next school year.
That’s what a recent survey of Wisconsin school administrators suggests.
The Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators surveyed more than 80 percent of districts across the state in early fall. The results are being cited — and exaggerated — in a variety of ways. The Democrats and unions suggest the sky is falling. Republican Gov. Scott Walker pretends all is well.
And the political spin will only speed and sharpen if Walker faces a recall election next year as expected.

Madison Schools’ Administration Opposes the Proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter School

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

We are in agreement that the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners must be eliminated. The Administration agrees that bolder steps must be taken to address these gaps. We also know that closing these gaps is not a simple task and change will not come overnight, but, the District’s commitment to doing so will not waiver. We also know that to be successful in the long run, we must employ multiple strategies both within our schools and within our community. This is why the District has held interest in many of the educational strategies included in the Madison Prep’s proposal like longer school days and a longer school year at an appropriately compensated level for staff, mentoring support, the proposed culture of the school and the International Baccalaureate Program.
While enthusiastic about these educational strategies, the Administration has also been clear throughout this conversation about its concern with a non-instrumentality model.
Autonomy is a notion inherent in all charter school proposals. Freedom and flexibility to do things differently are the very reasons charter schools exist. However, the non-instrumentality charter school model goes beyond freedom and flexibility to a level of separateness that the Administration cannot support.
In essence, Madison Prep’s current proposal calls for the exclusion of the elected Board of Education and the District’s Administration from the day-to-day operations of the school. It prevents the Board, and therefore the public, from having direct oversight of student learning conditions and teacher working conditions in a publicly-funded charter school. From our perspective, the use of public funds calls for a higher level of oversight than found in the Madison Prep proposal and for that matter in any non-instrumentality proposal.
In addition, based on the District’s analysis, there is significant legal risk in entering into a non- instrumentality charter contract under our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers.
In our analysis of Madison Prep’s initial instrumentality proposal, the Administration expressed concerns over the cost of the program to the District and ultimately could not recommend funding at the level proposed. Rather, the Administration proposed a funding formula tied to the District’s per pupil revenues. We also offered to continue to work with Madison Prep to find ways to lower these costs. Without having those conversations, the current proposal reduces Madison Prep’s costs by changing from an instrumentality to a non-instrumentality model. This means that the savings are realized directly through reductions in staff compensation and benefits to levels lower than MMSD employees. The Administration has been willing to have conversations to determine how to make an instrumentality proposal work.
In summary, this administrative analysis finds concerns with Madison Prep’s non-instrumentality proposal due to the level of governance autonomy called for in the plan and due to our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers. Based on these issues, we cannot recommend to the Board that Madison Prep be approved as a non-instrumentality charter school.
We know more needs to be done as a district and a community to eliminate our achievement gaps. We must continue to identify strategies both within our schools and our larger community to eliminate achievement gaps. These discussions, with the Urban League and with our entire community, need to continue on behalf of all of our students.

Matthew DeFour:

In anticipation of the recommendation, Caire sent out an email Friday night to School Board members with a letter responding to concerns about the union contract issue.
The problem concerns a “work preservation” clause in the Madison Teachers Inc. contract that requires all teaching duties in the district be performed by union teachers.
Exceptions to the clause have been made in the past, such as having private day-care centers offer 4-year-old kindergarten, but those resulted from agreements with the union. Such an agreement would nullify the current union contract under the state’s new collective bargaining law, according to the district.
Caire said a recent law signed by Gov. Scott Walker could allow the district to amend its union contract. However, School Board member Ed Hughes, who is a lawyer, disagreed with Caire’s interpretation.
Nerad said even if the union issue can be resolved, he still objects to the school seeking autonomy from all district policies except those related to health and safety of students.
Caire said Madison Prep’s specific policies could be ironed out as part of the charter contract after the School Board approves the proposal. He plans to hold a press conference Tuesday to respond to the district’s review.
“The purpose of a charter school is to free you from red tape — not to adopt the same red tape that they have,” Caire said. “We hope the board will stop looking at all of those details and start looking at why we are doing this in the first place.”

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.
The fate of Madison Prep, yea or nea, will resonate locally for years. A decisive moment for our local $372M schools.

America’s Public Sector Union Dilemma

Lee Ohanian:

There is much less competition in the public sector than the private sector, and that has made all the difference.
Since the Great Recession began in 2008, there has been a growing criticism of public sector unions, reflecting taxpayer concerns about union compensation and unfunded pension liabilities. These concerns have led to proposals to change public sector union policy in very significant ways. Earlier this month, voters in Ohio defeated by a wide margin a law that would have restricted union powers, although polls showed broad support for portions of the law that would have reduced union benefits. In Wisconsin, a state with a long-standing pro-union stance, Governor Scott Walker advanced policy in February that would cut pay and substantially curtail collective bargaining rights of many public sector union workers. In Florida, State Senator John Thrasher introduced legislation that would prevent governments from collecting union dues from union worker state paychecks. And it is not just Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida that are attempting to change the landscape of public unions. Cash-strapped governments in many states are considering ways to reduce the costs associated with public unions.

Middleton school board president speaks out against budget cuts

Susan Troller:

Ellen Lindgren, 62, has served on the Middleton Cross Plains Area Board of Education for 17 years. She is currently the board president. Lindgren became involved with issues affecting children and schools when her oldest child — now in his early 30s and a high school social studies teacher in California — was in pre-school. All three of her children attended public elementary, middle and high schools in the Middleton area district.
A registered nurse who has experience on both sides of the bargaining table, she is now mostly retired. Even before Gov. Scott Walker announced unprecedented cuts in state funding for Wisconsin public schools last spring, Lindgren had been raising her voice to protest nearly two decades of state-imposed revenue caps that made it difficult, even in affluent communities like hers, to balance school budgets and keep up with inflationary costs.
Now she is speaking out even more forcefully on a number of topics, including the governor’s budget, which she says is balanced on the backs of teachers, his near elimination of collective bargaining and his support for voucher schools over funding for conventional public schools.
Last week, Lindgren took questions from members of the press during a telephone conference call with Mike Tate, chair of Wisconsin’s Democratic Party. Lindgren was objecting to a recent TV ad that touts the governor’s record of helping school boards balance their budgets and features Karin Rajcinek, a recently elected Waukesha School Board member who praises Walker for his efforts.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.
Redistributed state tax spending for K-12 is coming back to earth after decades of growth. It would certainly be useful to debate statewide priorities, though Wisconsin is not facing another round of budget changes, like California…

Political Protest 101: Indoctrinating fourth graders in Wisconsin

Gary Larson:

“What did you learn in school today, dear?” a mother asks her fourth grader.
“Oh, mom, it was so exciting! We learned to chant slogans and clap and sing protest songs,” says her nine-year old after a school field trip to the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin.
The field trip got mixed up somehow in the on-going political protest of Governor Scott Walker’s budget reform law. You know, that hotly-contested-by-unions law curbing certain collective bargaining privileges of entitlement-minded Wisconsin public employees? Yeah, that one. It created quite a a stir in February, causing Senate Democrats to flee to Illinois on behalf of their generous gift-giving friends in, yes, those same public employee unions igniting the protests and the recall elections.
Who knew kids from Portage, Wisconsin, 40 miles north of Madison, would be thrust into the hornets’ nest of political protesters, mostly teachers, doing battle with a duly-elected governor and those mean and nasty budget-minded Republicans? Who knew? Not parents, certainly.
Instead of a lesson in state government, the kids got an impromptu lesson in raucous, union-driven, leftist power politics at the State Capitol, still strewn with placards of the February protests against budget reforms to erase a $3.5 billion shortfall. Most of the physical damage to the Capitol done by February protesters occupying it had been repaired, at a cost to taxpayers in the low millions. Despoiling public property is apparently what they do?

Survey finds school districts have taken hits; Walker touts reforms

Tom Tolan:

A new survey of the majority of the state’s school districts shows many of them were forced to make staff reductions and increase class sizes as a result of school aid cuts in Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget, according to the state Department of Public Instruction and a school administrators association.
But the governor’s office, briefed Wednesday afternoon on the survey to be announced at a Thursday news conference, says the Walker administration’s reforms are working and points out that the majority of teacher layoffs have been in districts that didn’t adopt the reforms – notably in Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville.
The survey, by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, was conducted in the early fall of the current school year, after the state Legislature passed a two-year budget that trimmed $749 million in aid to public school districts, in addition to reductions in the limits of what districts can levy in property taxes.
The survey was sent to administrators in all 424 state school districts, and 83% of the districts responded.

Wisconsin shed about 3,400 education positions this year, triple the number from last year. At least one-third of the state’s districts increased elementary class sizes. And at least four in 10 districts are using one-time federal stimulus funds to balance their budgets.
But there have been no widespread reductions in course offerings, and the number of students per teacher, librarian and counselor remained about the same.
Those are the findings of a statewide survey of school superintendents about their 2011-12 budgets. Two-thirds of those responding to the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators survey anticipate next year’s staff cuts will be as bad or worse than this year.
The survey didn’t ask about property taxes, but the Legislative Fiscal Bureau has projected an average increase of just 0.6 percent on the December tax bills, far less than the average 4.84 percent annual increase over the previous decade.

Wisconsin Governor Walker:

Today the Department of Public Instruction released the data for a survey done by the Wisconsin Association of Schools District Administrators. The administrators for 353 school districts responded, which accounts for 83% of Wisconsin school districts. The median student to teacher ratio in Wisconsin this year is 13.5 to 1. Attached is a copy of the survey questions, and the raw data responses.

Wisconsin Governor Walker taking schools backward

WEAC President Mary Bell:

Anyone following what’s been happening in Wisconsin’s public schools can see what Gov. Scott Walker’s $1.6 billion budget cut and extreme policies have meant for our students and communities.
Across the state, class sizes are on the rise and students have fewer opportunities — including in key areas such as reading, math and science.
Walker has taken an ax to our public schools, while at the same time increasing taxpayer funding of private schools. He’s turned his back on the Wisconsin tradition of valuing public education. As a result, his extreme policies are hurting our students.
The governor says everything is fine, but we can see for ourselves that he’s not telling the whole story. With 97 percent of local school districts receiving less state aid this year, and a promise of more cuts next year, local schools will continue to struggle.

Wisconsin Districts consider paying teachers based on evaluations

Erin Richards and Tom Tolan:

At Nicolet Union High School, science teacher Karyl Rosenberg keeps the evaluations she’s received over the past 21 years in neat files: one for each of her first three years of probationary teaching, and one every third year after that.
So far this year, she’s been observed twice briefly by a principal. But how she will be formally evaluated in years to come is still unclear.
That’s because many districts across the state, including Nicolet, are developing new systems for measuring teacher performance that aim to better distinguish superior educators from those who are average or below par. They will likely use student achievement growth as one measure of performance, and the results of the evaluation may help administrators decide whom to promote, dismiss or provide with more targeted help.
Research continues to show that the most significant in-school factor to improve student performance is teacher effectiveness, but Wisconsin districts such as Nicolet have been spurred to action by another factor: the Act 10 legislation signed by Gov. Scott Walker.
The legislation has dramatically limited collective bargaining in about two-thirds of the state’s districts so far, and it allows for pay structures and staffing decisions based on factors other than seniority. But for quality rather than years of experience to be used as a determining factor in such decisions, administrators need an accurate tool to assess it.

Popcorn, pro-charter school movie served at private Wisconsin Capitol screening

Susan Troller:

The movie event, including the popcorn, was sponsored by Vos, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee — and owns a popcorn company.
Co-sponsors were Education Committee Chairs Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, and Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake. Olsen is one of the lead sponsors of the charter authorizing bill, introduced in the Legislature last spring and currently before the Joint Finance Committee.
Panelists for the discussion included Gov. Scott Walker’s policy director, Kimber Liedl; the president of Milwaukee-based St. Anthony School, Zeus Rodriguez; the Urban League of Greater Madison’s charter school development consultant, Laura DeRoche-Perez; and a former president of Madison Teachers Inc., Mike Lipp, who is currently the athletic director at West High School.
There were also a number of panelists who were invited but did not attend, including state Superintendent Tony Evers, Madison Superintendent Daniel Nerad, state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts and a representative from WEAC, the state’s largest teachers union.

Test scores could be factor in teacher discipline under bill

Jason Stein:

School officials could use standardized tests to help decide whether to discipline or fire a teacher, under a bill passed by the state Senate Thursday.
The bill passed 17-16 on a party-line vote, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats in opposition.
Current law allows school administrators to use standardized tests as one of multiple criteria to evaluate teachers’ performance but prohibits school districts from using the test results to fire or suspend a teacher. The bill would allow such actions as long as the test results weren’t the sole reason for removing, suspending or disciplining a teacher.
Democrats urged senators to hold off on the bill and wait for an effort by GOP Gov. Scott Walker and state schools Superintendent Tony Evers to finish its work developing a system to better evaluate student learning.
“This is a very unfair position that we’re putting teachers in,” Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said.

Former Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Bert Grover sees clouds on school horizon

Dave Zweifel:

Bert Grover, a pistol of a state legislator from the ’60s who became a prominent state educator and then was elected superintendent of Wisconsin’s public schools, has been battling some health issues the past several months — not the least of which was a severe staph infection following some knee surgery — but he’s doing quite well these days, thank you.
I called Bert (actually Herbert J. Grover, Ph.D., but he has never been much for formalities) at his Gresham home last week not only to check in, but to get his take about what’s been happening to Wisconsin’s public education system now that Gov. Scott Walker and his gang have taken over state government.
“Well, let’s just say this. Public schools are supposed to be places that are bubbly, enthusiastic, optimistic, hopeful,” the 74-year-old educator remarked. “Sad to say, Walker has removed most of that.”

Related: Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad Advocates Additional Federal Tax Dollar Spending & Borrowing via President Obama’s Proposed Jobs Bill

State Senate blocks expansion of school vouchers

Todd Richmond:

The Senate approved a measure Tuesday that would curtail the expansion of school vouchers in Wisconsin, at least for now.
The voucher program provides parents in eligible school districts with state subsidies to help defray their children’s private school tuition. The subsidies have been a point of contention in Wisconsin for years. Conservatives insist the program gives children in struggling school districts an alternative, but opponents see it as vote of no confidence in public education and complain it pulls precious state dollars away from public schools.
The state Department of Public Instruction estimated it handed out $130.7 million in vouchers during the 2010-11 school year. Nearly 40 percent of that money came from a reduction in state aid for public schools in the city of Milwaukee, while the rest came from tax dollars, according to DPI.
The state budget Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed earlier this year laid out new qualifying criteria for vouchers based on a city’s size, poverty levels and per-pupil spending. The new standards made districts across Milwaukee County as well as in the city of Racine eligible.

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad Advocates Additional Federal Tax Dollar Spending & Borrowing via President Obama’s Proposed Jobs Bill

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Schools Superintendent Dan Nerad publicly touted President Barack Obama’s stalled jobs proposal Monday, saying it would help the School District pay for millions of dollars in needed maintenance projects.
“We either pay now, or we pay more at a much later date,” Nerad said at a press conference at West High School, which is due for about $17.4 million in maintenance projects over the next five years.
A School Board committee is reviewing maintenance projects identified in a 2010 study by Durrant Engineers that said the district may need to spend as much as $83.7 million over five years on projects not already included in the budget.
The committee is expected to make recommendations early next year. Nerad said the committee hasn’t decided yet whether to recommend another maintenance referendum. A 2004 referendum authorizing $20 million over five years ran out last year.

Federal tax receipts, spending and deficits, fiscal years 2007-2011, billions of dollars:







Outlays Deficit Deficit as a % of GDP
2007 $2,729 $161 1.2%
2008 $2,983 $459 3.2%
2009 $3,520 $1,416 10%
2010 $3,456 $1,294 8.9%
2011 $3,600 $1,298 8.6%

Source: Congressional Budget Office.
The most recent Madison School District maintenance referendum spending has come under scrutiny – though I’ve not seen any further discussion on this topic over the past year.
Related: Wisconsin state budget is bad for kids by Thomas Beebe:

“It’ll be OK,” Gov. Scott Walker said last winter when he announced a budget that snatched away more than $800 million in opportunities to learn from Wisconsin public school kids. “I’m giving you the tools to make it work.”
Well, the tools the governor gave local school districts are the right to force teachers to pay more toward their retirement, and the option to unilaterally require educators to kick in more for their health care. The problem is that the tools, along with any money some of them might have left over from federal jobs funds, are one-time solutions. These tools can’t be used again unless school districts ask teachers to give up even more of their take-home pay.
By law, all school districts have to balance their budgets. They always have, and always will. That’s not the point. The point is that the governor has hijacked the language. Educational accountability isn’t about balancing the budget, it’s about giving kids opportunities to grow up into good, contributing adults. That’s not what Gov. Walker wants to talk about.


The red line, here, is median real household income, as gleaned from the CPS, indexed to January 2000=100. It’s now at 89.4, which means that real incomes are more than 10% lower today than they were over a decade ago.
More striking still is the huge erosion in incomes over the course of the supposed “recovery” — the most recent two years, since the Great Recession ended. From January 2000 through the end of the recession, household incomes fluctuated, but basically stayed in a band within 2 percentage points either side of the 98 level. Once it had fallen to 96 when the recession ended, it would have been reasonable to assume some mean reversion at that point — that with the recovery it would fight its way back up towards 98 or even 100.
Instead, it fell off a cliff, and is now below 90.

At Assembly hearing, UW-Madison accused of admissions bias

Todd Richmond:

The president of a conservative group that claims the University of Wisconsin-Madison discriminates against prospective white and Asian students called on Republican Gov. Scott Walker or state lawmakers Monday to step in to end the practice.
Republicans have balked for years at what UW-Madison calls a holistic admissions policy, which calls for admissions officers to take a number of factors into consideration, including academic performance and race. GOP lawmakers believe the policy permits reverse discrimination.
The Center for Equal Opportunity in Falls Church, Va., reviewed UW-Madison admissions data from 2007 to 2008 and found black and Hispanic applicants had a better a chance of getting in than whites or Asians. Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, chairman of the Assembly’s higher education committee, had the center’s president, Mark Clegg, walk the panel through the report — a move that indicates Republicans are looking at the UW System’s admission policies again.

Bipartisan bill would block automatic voucher school expansion in Wisconsin

Susan Troller:

Ten Wisconsin senators, from both parties, have joined forces to propose legislation that would require any further expansion of voucher schools to receive a full public debate.
The state’s voucher program provides taxpayer funds for families to send their children to private schools. It has served low-income students in Milwaukee for about 20 years, but was expanded by Gov. Scott Walker in the state budget passed in June without public debate or other legislative action.
Also included was language allowing automatic expansion of the voucher program in the future to any school district in Wisconsin that meets certain financial and demographic criteria.
That mechanism isn’t sitting well with some senators, including Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah. He introduced SB 174, which ensures that any further expansion of the voucher program would include full public debate and legislative action.
“Sen. Ellis is not an enthusiastic advocate nor is he an opponent of voucher programs. But he’s long argued that policy issues should not be added into the budget process and this legislation addresses concerns about automatic expansion without proper debate,” says Michael Boerger, an aide to Ellis.

Madison Teachers union receives national recognition for organizing protests

Samuel Schmitt:

A Madison teachers union will receive a national award for its organizational work during last spring’s protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill throughout Wisconsin.
The Institute for Policy Studies, located in Washington, D.C., announced Tuesday Madison Teachers Incorporated would be honored with the Letelier-Motiff Human Rights Award on Oct. 12, said ISP spokesperson Lacy MacAuleyet.
IPS annually presents two awards to honor those who the group believes to be “unsung heroes of the progressive movement.” One award is presented domestically and one internationally, she said.
MTI Executive Director John Matthews said the union has never received an award of this caliber.
“This is a first,” Matthews said. “[The national distinction represents] significant recognition for MTI’s leadership. MTI hasn’t slowed its effort in the movement.”

WEAC (Wisconsin Teacher Union): Who Benefits?

Why this area teacher chose the non-union option

If the teachers union is as wonderful as it claims, then it should have no problem attracting members, without the need to force teachers to join. How is this any different from any other professional organization that teachers, as professionals, may choose to join? It’s a question I have been pondering since I became a public school teacher in Wisconsin.
For years, I have chosen not to be a member of the union. However, this is a choice I didn’t exactly have before Gov. Scott Walker’s collective-bargaining bill became law. As a compulsory union state, where teachers are required to pay union dues as a condition of employment, the most I could hope for was a “fair share” membership, where the union refunded me a small portion of the money that was taken from my paycheck that lawyers have deemed “un-chargeable.”
Every September, after lengthy, bureaucratic and unadvertised hurdles, I would file my certified letter to try to withdraw my union membership. Then, the union would proceed to drag its feet in issuing my small refund. I often wondered why this kind of burden would be put on an individual teacher like me. Shouldn’t it be up to the organization to convince people and to sell its benefits to potential members afresh each year?
Why should I have to move mountains each fall to break ties with this group that I don’t want to be a part of in the first place? Something seemed dreadfully wrong with that picture.

Union’s efforts help all students, educators and schools

WEAC President Mary Bell:

I became a Wisconsin teacher more than 30 years ago. I entered my classroom on the first day of school with my eyes and heart wide open, dedicated to the education of children and to the promise public schools offer. I was part of our state’s longstanding education tradition.
Like many beginning teachers, I soon encountered the many challenges and opportunities educators face every day in schools. About 50% of new educators leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. New teachers need mentors, suggestions, support and encouragement to help them meet the individual needs of students (all learning at different speeds and in different ways) and teach life lessons that can’t be learned from textbooks.
That’s where the union comes in. In many ways, much of the work the Wisconsin Education Association Council does is behind the scenes: supporting new teachers through union-led mentoring programs and offering training and skill development to help teachers with their licenses and certification. Our union helps teachers achieve National Board Certification – the highest accomplishment in the profession – and provides hands-on training for support professionals to become certified in their fields. These are efforts that benefit all Wisconsin educators, not just a few, and no single educator could accomplish them all alone.

Schools need more than money to improve

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker:

Education is a key part of job creation and long-term economic growth. That’s one of the reasons why the issue is so important to me and governors across the country. It’s also why I’m excited to be participating in an extended national discussion about the future of education, how it will be the backbone of future innovation, and help grow our economy.
As part of an “Education Nation Summit” hosted by NBC on Monday, I will be talking with a bipartisan group of governors about education in America and its importance to economic competitiveness.
Although Democratic and Republican governors don’t always agree on every issue, there is broad consensus about the need to improve education in our country to keep our workforce the best in a global economy. Almost every governor has dealt with declining revenues and difficult budget decisions, but almost every governor has ideas on how to reform and improve education that go beyond spending more money.

Declining Local School District “Control”

Lyndsey Layton:

Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are scheduled Friday to detail plans to waive some of the law’s toughest requirements, including the goal that every student be proficient in math and reading by 2014 or else their schools could face escalating sanctions.
In exchange for relief, the administration will require a quid pro quo: States must adopt changes that could include the expansion of charter schools, linking teacher evaluation to student performance and upgrading academic standards. As many as 45 states are expected to seek waivers.
For many students, the most tangible impact could be what won’t happen. They won’t see half their teachers fired, their principal removed or school shut down because some students failed to test at grade level — all potential consequences under the current law.

A Capital Times Editorial:

Wisconsin has moved to take authority away from local elected school boards and parents and to rest it with political appointees who respond to Gov. Scott Walker and out-of-state groups that are spending millions of dollars to undermine public education.
Wisconsin’s best and brightest teachers — the Teacher of the Year award winners — have joined mass demonstrations to decry the assault by politicians and their cronies on public education.
What’s Walker’s response? He wants to tell the nation how to do the same.

Wisconsin Governor Walker slated for NBC News ‘Education Nation’ Summit

Susan Troller:

Gov. Scott Walker will be featured as part of a bipartisan slate of governors during a panel discussion of The State of Education during NBC News’ 2011 “Education Nation” Summit on Monday, Sept. 26. The annual summit will continue on Sept. 27 as well.
NBC News’ Brian Williams will host the discussion, which focuses on education and economic competitiveness.
In a press release sent from the governor’s office Tuesday, Walker says “I believe we have a great story to tell about our reforms and our bipartisan collaborations to further improve our schools. … Improving education is a key to ensuring we have a talented workforce that will grow and attract jobs.”
According to the release, among the topics to be discussed are some highly controversial, hot-button Wisconsin issues, including budget cuts, the role of teachers unions, teacher effectiveness, charter schools and online learning. Other issues include college and career preparation, Common Core standards, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

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

Comparing Wisconsin & Illinois Education “Reform”

Alan Borsuk:

Whoever thought before this year that Illinois would be held up as a model over Wisconsin of people – politicians, specifically – playing nicely together and making forward-thinking change?
But you hear that fairly often when it comes to education policy. It’s one of the things U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in Milwaukee on Sept. 9.
He criticized the way Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans kiboshed teachers union rights and said Illinois did much better by coming up with bold changes that were passed by the legislature with support from both political parties, business and civic leaders, education activists and many (but not all) union leaders.
What Illinois did is noteworthy, especially if you consider what would have seemed doable anywhere in the United States five years ago.
Beginning with steps taken in 2010, Illinois’ Democratically controlled legislature is now mandating that a teacher’s actual performance be a key in assignments, tenure decisions, firing decisions, and, when necessary, layoffs. How students are progressing will be central to determining a teacher’s rating.
All these actions received broad support.

Duncan energizing U.S. education scene

Alan Borsuk:

rne Duncan has the across-the-spectrum appeal to make just about everybody on the Wisconsin education scene eager to be in the room with him, and the political guts to tell Gov. Scott Walker face-to-face and in front of all those folks that he was wrong to kibosh collective bargaining in Wisconsin.
In short, he is about as interesting and significant a person as anyone in American education.
The U.S. secretary of education stopped by the Milwaukee School of Career and Technical Education (that’s the new version of Custer High School) for an hour and a half Friday, enough time for several hundred people, from big shots to students, to get a dose of the highly demanding form of optimism that is a key to Duncan.
You want to get some positive re-enforcement for the things you’re doing, Duncan is your guy. You want to hear how what you’re doing isn’t anywhere near enough, Duncan is your guy.

Wisconsin’s cuts to school aid steepest of 24 states studied

Susan Troller:

Wisconsin has the dubious distinction of reducing state aid per student this school year the most of 24 states studied by an independent, Washington-based think tank, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
According to a preliminary study released Sept. 1 by the nonprofit research organization, the dollar change in spending from the last fiscal year to this year dropped $635 per student under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget that took effect July 1. New York was in second place, cutting state school aid $585 per student. California was third at $484.
The study only reports on the 24 states where current-year data is available. Those states educate about two-thirds of the nation’s K-12 students.
In percentage terms, Wisconsin had the third sharpest state school aid cut, at 10 percent. Illinois was worst, cutting state aid 12.9 percent. Texas was second at 10.4 percent. Wisconsin now provides an average of about $9,500 per student.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding

Madison spends roughly $14,476 per student, according to the recent Madison Preparatory Academy charter school discussions.
Federal, State, and Local Expenditures as a Share of GDP at WWII Levels.
Much more on our K-12 tax & spending climate, here.
The “Great Recession” has certainly changed our tax base….

Science can lead to better (Wisconsin) readers

Marcia Henry, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

Fifteen years ago, Wisconsin fourth-graders placed third in the country in state rankings of reading ability known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. By 2009, our fourth-graders’ scores plunged to 30th, with a third of the students reading below basic levels. The scores of minority youth were even bleaker, with 65% of African-American and 50% of Hispanic students scoring in the below-basic range.
As a member of Gov. Scott Walker’s blue ribbon reading task force, I am one of 14 people charged with reversing that drop. And, as a 50-year veteran educator, I have a partial solution. Let me spell it out for you: We need better teacher preparation.
How many of you remember your very best teachers? I remember Miss Hickey at Lincoln School and Miss Brauer at Folwell School in Rochester, Minn. They taught me to read.
I travel throughout the country consulting and providing staff development for school districts and literacy organizations. I’ve met thousands of dedicated teachers who tell me they are unprepared to teach struggling readers.
This situation is not the teachers’ fault. Some teachers in Wisconsin had only one course in reading instruction. Most were never exposed to the latest research regarding early reading acquisition and instruction. In contrast, several states require three or four classes in courses that contain the latest in science-based reading instruction.

Related: Wisconsin’s “Read to Lead” task force and “a Capitol Conversation” on reading.

Wisconsin K-12 Spending Commentary

Sunny Schubert:

You may have read some news stories lately about how some school districts are doing quite well under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, despite a drastic decline in school aid.
Monona Grove is not one of them.
“We’re not great,” said MGHS Superintendent Craig Gerlach of the district’s financial situation.
Districts that have prospered under the Walker budget constraints “may have been in a better situation than we were beforehand,” he said.
The Walker budget is slightly more rewarding to school districts that have growing student populations, he said, “but we’re more in the ‘slightly declining’ enrollment situation.”
The district spends about $13,000 per student, Gerlach said, but will receive about $600 less per pupil this year than last.
MGSD will also lose about $1.2 million in other state money.
The budget is “relatively balanced” this year, partly because the district received $850,000 in federal job stimulus funds, but that is one-time money that won’t be around next year.
MGSD did save some money because teachers are now being forced to contribute to their own health insurance and retirement funds.

Peter Sobol:

Total Wi school funding in 1998 was $7,527, not the $4,956 reported by Sunny in her recent column. Corrected for inflation that’s $9899. In 2008 average spending was (correctly reported) $10,791. In real dollars that’s an 8% increase, less than 1% per year, not the whopping 64% increase reported by Sunny.
So were did that 1%/year go? Not into the pockets of teachers, who have been losing ground to inflation in the last decade, and not into smaller class sizes (average class size has been creeping up in Wisconsin.) No, any employer will tell you that health care costs have been increased by more than 50% over this period – and school districts feel the same effects. The fact that cost increases are slowly squeezing the life out of our schools is another reason we need to fix the broken health care system in this country.

Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.

Where GOP stands in war on Wisconsin Education ‘triangle’

The start of the school year isn’t normally the time for issuing report cards. But it’s been an unusual and momentous year, so as the first day of classes approaches for almost every school in the state, here’s a report card on what I’ll call the war against the triangle.
Last winter, before Scott Walker was sworn in as governor, a leading Republican told a group of people (according to a reliable person who was present) that there was a triangle that was blocking the path to educational improvement in Wisconsin and his party was going to take out each leg of the triangle.
What were the legs?
Teachers unions, particularly the Wisconsin Education Association Council. WEAC spent hugely on political campaigns and was pro-Democratic. It also was the largest lobbying force in the Capitol. WEAC represented the unwillingness of teachers organizations to change and the need to get rid of most collective bargaining matters.
The state Department of Public Instruction, which represented the status quo, overregulation of schools and how things couldn’t change if they were in the hands of government bureaucrats.
Milwaukee Public Schools, which represented – well, which represented Milwaukee Public Schools. Or, to put it another way, a money pit where there was never any positive change.

Don’t let Walker take credit for teachers’ good work

Nick Zweifel:

Now that Gov. Scott Walker’s major cuts for public schools have been enacted, my question for my fellow educators is: What do we do next? I am sick and tired of constantly reacting to bad news and bad policy and always being in the position of having to play defense. Educators and school districts should organize to go on the offensive.
Walker’s budget has significantly damaged one of the best public education systems in the country. He turned half of our community members against us using false information, and now we will be fighting a public relations battle while also working harder to educate students with fewer resources.
Through all of this, we Wisconsin educators will still stand tall and deliver a top-notch education for the children of this state, regardless of what Walker has done, because that is what Wisconsin professional educators do.
My fear is that after we deliver, Walker and his minions will use the media and their bully pulpit to take all the credit for the successes that we will achieve in our classrooms. I can see the headlines now of Walker proclaiming how well his budget cuts worked because schools are performing well under his budget.
So what do we do? What should our strategy be? Here are some suggestions:

Madison teachers union files lawsuit challenging constitutionality of collective bargaining law

Ed Treleven:

Unions representing Madison teachers and Milwaukee sanitation workers sued Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday, alleging that the controversial law severely restricting the collective bargaining rights of most public workers in Wisconsin is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, brought by Madison Teachers Inc. and AFL-CIO Local 61 in Milwaukee alleges that the state legislature passed what was originally called the budget repair bill in violation of the state constitution’s provision that governs special legislative sessions.
The lawsuit also alleges that the law places severe and unfair restrictions on what unions and their members can discuss with municipalities and school districts, and imposes severe wage increase limits that don’t apply to nonunion workers.

Test scores same at Milwaukee public, voucher schools, auditors say; Vouchers Spend 50% Less Per Student

Dinesh Ramde:

State auditors on Wednesday confirmed a report that found little difference in test scores between students in Milwaukee’s school voucher program and those in the city’s public schools.
Wisconsin lawmakers had asked the state Legislative Audit Bureau to evaluate a study, conducted by privately funded education researchers, that analyzed test scores from both groups of students. The study had found no significant difference, a conclusion that state auditors also reached.
The researchers studied the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a voucher program that allows low-income children in Milwaukee to attend private schools at taxpayers’ expense. The two-year budget signed by Gov. Scott Walker in June repealed the enrollment limit for voucher schools in Milwaukee and expanded vouchers to schools in suburban Milwaukee and Racine.

View the 950K PDF report, here.
Milwaukee Voucher School WKCE Headlines: “Students in Milwaukee voucher program didn’t perform better in state tests”, “Test results show choice schools perform worse than public schools”, “Choice schools not outperforming MPS”; Spend 50% Less Per Student.

WEAC issues layoff notices to 40% of staff

Erin Richards:

Layoff notices have been issued to about 40% of the Wisconsin Education Association Council workforce, a total of 42 employees who work for the state’s largest teachers union, Executive Director Dan Burkhalter confirmed Monday.
Burkhalter said that the layoffs and other budget cuts at WEAC are a result of Gov. Scott Walker’s “union-busting” legislation.
“Right now we’re engaged in membership continuation campaigns,” Burkhalter said in a statement. “We’ve made steady progress in signing up members and we anticipate further progress will be made as the school year resumes. Despite budget cuts and layoffs, our goal remains the same: to be a strong and viable organization that represents the voices of Wisconsin’s public school employees.”

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

Scott Bauer:

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.
Much of its lobbying in 2009 was in support of removing caps on raises for teachers during contract negotiations, a move supported by Doyle and approved by the Legislature.

Glenn Grothman – Wisconsin State Senator or Walker Education Policy Puppet?


In a letter to constituents, and Wednesday on “Sly in the Morning“, Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) extolled the education-saving virtues of Act 10, saying it was “…the best thing we could do for our public schools.” Grothman went on to say that “Wisconsin Schools are just not that great right now,” citing recent test scores as signs of an education emergency that only eliminating collective bargaining could remedy. Specifically noting that the “…most recent test scores show that black kids have the worst scores in the country…” and “…white kids scored lower than the national average.” Grothman stated his belief that collective bargaining is a roadblock to student achievement that had to be removed – for the sake of the kids. According to Grothman, there are too many “bad teachers” protected by unions that are “too hard to get rid of,” and that “people shouldn’t need an Education degree to teach.”
After speaking with Senator Grothman today two things are very clear – first, he was not very familiar with the full data from the scores, admitting that Governor Walker seemed to have “cherry picked” the scores he cited. The Senator was merely repeating the information he was given by Scott Walker, trusting its accuracy – even out of context. The other issue that was perfectly clear is that he (and the other Republicans) are behaving as puppets to Scott Walker and the Corporatics pulling HIS strings – believing every bit of misinformation being fed to them to demonize teachers and their unions. The best thing for Wisconsin and our children is for this propaganda to be exposed and debunked, so that a real debate about education can take place. For the record, this information was shared with Senator Grothman today.

Can’t blame WEAC for not trusting Walker on school accountability

Chris Rickert:

I feel you, Wisconsin Education Association Council; I don’t trust Gov. Scott Walker, either.
But so far as I know, he’s not trying to kill me.
This might be the key distinction in judging WEAC’s decision to skip out on a Walker-associated effort to devise an accountability system for Wisconsin schools; one would think the state’s largest teachers union would want to be a part of that.
Last week, WEAC president Mary Bell seemed to indicate it all came down to trust.
“How can we trust the governor to be a credible partner on education issues when they just passed laws to make massive cuts to school funding and silence our voices in schools?” she asked.

7.28.2011 Wisconsin School Accountability Conference, with Video

Matthew DeFour:

An effort to develop a statewide school accountability system marks a turning point in Wisconsin, education experts said last week as a public effort to design the system got under way.
When the modern school accountability movement began in the 1990s, several states such as Massachusetts, Kentucky and Florida developed their own systems for measuring how well schools helped students learn. Wisconsin created a statewide test in 1993, but deferred to local districts on what it meant for schools.
“Some states have embraced (school accountability) more than others,” said UW-Madison education professor Doug Harris. “Wisconsin hasn’t.”
Gov. Scott Walker and State Superintendent Tony Evers, who otherwise have clashed on education issues, have agreed to change that. A task force they formed began collecting information at a symposium last week organized by Walker, Evers and the La Follette School of Public Affairs and will soon meet to begin designing the system.

Susan Troller:

When it comes to developing a system for accountability for Wisconsin’s schools, including ways to measure whether students are meeting the ultimate goal of being ready for a career or college, Betebenner says, “My advice to you is to go slow … and be deliberate.”
John Johnson, director of education information for DPI, was encouraged by the standing-room-only crowd and the attendance by a number of policymakers, including key legislators, at Thursday’s meeting.
“Maybe by wading into school reform rather than diving into the deep end of the pool with Race to the Top, we’ll actually be able to swim, instead of drowning,” he says.

Watch the “Building a New School Accountability System for Wisconsin” conference, here.
Wisconsin’s academic standards have long been criticized for their lack of rigor.

Can unions reboot for the 21st century?

Marc Eisen:

One can only marvel at how masterfully Gov. Scott Walker gutted Wisconsin’s public employee unions. This was deft work, surgically precise in its neutering of 50 years of collective bargaining rights.
Walker tightly limited bargainable items, made union dues voluntary, ended the lifeblood of payroll deductions for dues collection and mandated yearly certification votes for unions trying to represent public workers.
The last item is particularly devilish. To be certified, the union must receive not just a simple majority of the votes, but 51% of the entire workforce, including those who don’t bother to vote at all.
Reality check: Walker himself wouldn’t be governor today if he had to meet that threshold. Candidate Walker won 52.3% of the vote last November, but that was just 25.8% of the voting-age electorate. David Ahrens, a labor activist, studied the legislative numbers and found that only two of 132 lawmakers reached the 51% threshold and just one in a contested election.
For a lot of people, the Republican crackdown reeked of unfairness. This is a major reason Walker and the GOP legislative majority are nervously playing defense today: They seemed downright thuggish, to use a favorite conservative pejorative, in beating down the unions.

WEAC wrong to pass on panel

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

It’s hard to frame the decision by the state’s largest teachers union to not participate in a unique task force to improve our schools as anything other than disappointing.
Sure, leaders of the Wisconsin Education Association Council are angry and frustrated to the extreme with Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers for requiring more financial contributions from all public sector employees – including teachers – while strictly limiting collective bargaining.
Go ahead – be angry and frustrated. But don’t just withdraw from a great opportunity to improve our schools

The upside and downside of Wisconsin Governor Walker’s education vision

Alan Borsuk:

A heat dome has settled over much of American education. Is Gov. Scott Walker just going to add to the stifling atmosphere? Or is Walker right that there are cool breezes in his ideas for how to increase school quality overall?
First, the national perspective: You would think by now, the heat would have been drained from some of the debate about what works in education, especially when it comes to serving urban kids. People have been working on this for decades. Haven’t we figured out answers yet?
In most ways, no. Even a lot of things that seem like answers haven’t been brought successfully to wide use. Things that look good on paper (or in a political speech) have often accomplished little in reality. The profoundly troubling march to perpetuating educational failure, for the most part, continues.
As disappointment grows, the debates between “education reformers” and those who think the “reformers” are going in the wrong directions often have been contentious. If you follow the tweets and postings and such, you’ll find occasional light but a lot of heated rhetoric. Add in this year’s wars over the pay, benefits and unions of public employees, combined with the hyperpartisan nature of the times, and you have an atmosphere that should carry health warnings.

Wisconsin Teachers Union won’t participate in statewide task force on school accountability reform

Matthew DeFour:

The state’s largest teachers union will not participate in discussions led by Gov. Scott Walker and State Superintendent Tony Evers to develop a new statewide school accountability system.
Instead, starting in September, the Wisconsin Education Association Council will collect input from teachers and communities around the state about their priorities related to school accountability, WEAC president Mary Bell said in a conference call Friday.
Bell said her organization supports Evers, but doesn’t trust Walker or Republican legislators on the task force.
“How can we trust the governor to be a credible partner on education issues when they just passed laws to make massive cuts to school funding and silence our voices in schools?” Bell said.
Bryan Kennedy, president of AFT-Wisconsin, said he also declined an invitation to participate.

Most Wisconsin school districts, for now, dodge layoffs, cuts

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools laid off 519 employees after losing about $80 million in the state’s new two-year budget – which dramatically reduces education spending statewide – but most other Wisconsin districts have avoided layoffs and massive cuts to programs.
School districts’ ability under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair legislation to obtain greater contributions from employees toward health care and retirement costs, and to work outside of collective bargaining agreements, appears to have generated the necessary savings to balance most budgets.
Some districts are even hiring new teachers for the 2011-’12 academic year.
Critics say that a good financial picture now for schools will be short-lived, and that most districts will nose-dive next year because the recently acquired savings are a one-time fix.

States Test NCLB: Officials Frustrated With No Child Left Behind Try to Substitute Their Own Plans

Stephanie Banchero

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been at odds with state schools chief Tony Evers over budget cuts, vouchers and teachers’ collective-bargaining rights. But they have found common ground in their aggravation with No Child Left Behind.
Messrs. Walker and Evers formed a joint committee this month that will write a new state policy to replace the federal law requiring schools to ensure all students are passing state math and reading exams by 2014. No Child Left Behind is “broken,” they have said.
“We are not trying to get around accountability,” Mr. Walker, a Republican, said in a phone interview. “But instead of using the blanket approach that defines a lot of schools as failures, we will use a more strategic approach so we can replicate success and address failure.”
Wisconsin and other states say No Child Left Behind unfairly penalizes schools that don’t meet rigid requirements. Tired of waiting for Congress to overhaul the law, some states have taken matters into their own hands.

Wisconsin Governor Walker instructs us on future of schools; Notes on Teacher Content Knowledge Requirements

Alan Borsuk:

Scott Walker, the governor who set the stage for a burst of educational excellence? The guy who helped teachers make their work more successful and more rewarding (at least intangibly)?
Goodness, turning those question marks into periods is going to be a project. It’s hard to imagine how Walker’s standing among teachers could be lower.
But Walker thinks that will be the verdict several years from now.
By winning (as of now) the epic battle to cut school spending and erase almost all collective bargaining powers for teachers, as well as other educational battles, Walker has changed the realities of life in just about every school in the state, including many private schools.
The focus through our tumultuous spring was on money, power and politics. Now the focus is shifting to ideas for changing education itself.
So what are Walker’s ideas on those scores?
In a 40-minute telephone interview a few days ago, Walker talked about a range of education questions. There will be strong criticism of a lot of what he stands for. Let’s deal with that in upcoming columns. For the moment, I’m going to give Walker the floor, since, so far this year, the tune he calls has been the tune that the state ends up playing. Here are some excerpts:

Much like our exploding federalism, history will certainly reveal how Walker’s big changes played out versus the mostly status quo K-12 world of the past few decades. One thing is certain: the next 10 years will be different, regardless of how the present politics play out.
I found the interview comments on the teacher climate interesting. Watching events locally for some time, it seems that there is a good deal more top down curricular (more) and pedagogy (teaching methods) dogma from administrators, ed school grants/research and others.
Other states, such as Minnesota and Massachusetts have raised the bar with respect to teacher content knowledge in certain subjects.
Wisconsin teacher license information.
Related: 2 Big Goals for Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Governor Walker, education leaders seek new school evaluation system System would replace federally imposed system viewed as a failure

Alan Borsuk:

A system for providing clear, plentiful and sophisticated information for judging the quality of almost every school in Wisconsin, replacing a system that leaves a lot desired on all of those fronts – that is the goal of an eye-catching collaboration that includes Gov. Scott Walker, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, and leaders of eight statewide education organizations.
Walker and Evers said Friday that they will seek approval from the U.S. Department of Education to allow the new school accountability system to replace the decade-old, federally imposed one they labeled as broken.
They want at least a first version of the new system to be ready by spring, and to apply it to outcomes for schools in the 2011-’12 school year.
The new accountability program would include every school that accepts publicly funded students, which means that private schools taking part in the state-funded voucher program would, for the first time, be subject to the same rules as public schools for making a wealth of data available to the public. Charter schools and virtual schools would also participate.

The Year of School Choice No fewer than 13 states have passed major education reforms

The Wall Street Journal:

School may be out for the summer, but school choice is in, as states across the nation have moved to expand education opportunities for disadvantaged kids. This year is shaping up as the best for reformers in a very long time.
No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011, and 28 states have legislation pending. Last month alone, Louisiana enhanced its state income tax break for private school tuition; Ohio tripled the number of students eligible for school vouchers; and North Carolina passed a law letting parents of students with special needs claim a tax credit for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker made headlines this year for taking on government unions. Less well known is that last month he signed a bill that removes the cap of 22,500 on the number of kids who can participate in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, the nation’s oldest voucher program, and creates a new school choice initiative for families in Racine County. “We now have 13 programs new or expanded this year alone” in the state, says Susan Meyers of the Wisconsin-based Foundation for Educational Choice.

Teaching and Learning in the Midst of the Wisconsin Uprising

Kate Lyman:

It all started when my daughter, also a Madison teacher, called me. “You have to get down to the union office. We need to call people to go to the rally at the Capitol.” I told her I hadn’t heard about the rally. “It’s on Facebook,” she responded impatiently. “That’s how they did it in Egypt.”
That Sunday rally in Capitol Square was just the first step in the massive protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s infamous “budget repair bill.” The Madison teachers’ union declared a “work action” and that Wednesday, instead of going to school, we marched into the Capitol building, filling every nook and cranny. The excitement mounted day by day that week, as teachers from throughout the state were joined by students, parents, union and nonunion workers in the occupation and demonstrations.
Madison teachers stayed out for four days. It was four exhilarating days, four confusing days, four stressful and exhausting days.
When we returned to school the following week, I debated how to handle the days off. We had received a three- page email from our principal warning us to “remain politically neutral” as noted in the school board policy relating to controversial issues. We were to watch not only our words, but also our “tone and body language.” If students wanted to talk about the rallies, we were to respond: “We are back in school to learn now.”

WEAC sues over law giving Wisconsin Governor Walker power over DPI rules

Jason Stein:

Members of state teachers unions sued Thursday to block part of a law giving Gov. Scott Walker veto powers over rules written by other state agencies and elected officials.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal skirmishes between the GOP governor and public employee unions.
In the case, parents of students and members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and Madison Teachers Inc. challenge the law for giving Walker the power to veto administrative rules written by any state agency. That law wrongly gives Walker that power over the state Department of Public Instruction headed by state schools superintendent Tony Evers, the action charges.
“The state constitution clearly requires that the elected state superintendent establish educational policies,” WEAC President Mary Bell, a plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement. “The governor’s extreme power grab must not spill over into education policy in our schools.”
The measure, which Walker signed in May, allows the governor to reject proposed administrative rules used to implement state laws.

Letters to the WiSJ on Madison Teachers’ John Matthews

Merle Lebakken:

Following the exploits of Madison Teachers Inc. leader John Matthews in the State Journal makes it obvious that he is a negotiator extraordinaire.
He’s managed to have his people on one side of the “negotiating table” and at least some he helped elect on the other side, so it is not a “bargaining table” but a “collaboration table.”
Maybe, however, he has gone too far in not enthusiastically promoting measuring teacher performance, as encouraged by President Barack Obama. Now it seems Wisconsin’s taxpayers need to take back some of the functions, like measuring employee performance, usually ascribed to management but, through negotiation, given to the employee.

Thomas Kavanagh:

I appreciated the respect for John Matthews’ achievements conveyed by Madison labor mediator Howard Bellman’s comment in Sunday’s article, and his concern about the possible effect of Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to destroy the Madison teachers union and public employee unions throughout Wisconsin:
“It would be like somebody watching all their paintings burn up… What he’s accomplished over the years would have been just a memory.”
However, that analogy fails to give consideration to the value of his work beyond creating a robust and effective union. For the artist, the joy of the creation might be lasting, but the product of his efforts would be gone. That would not be the case for what Matthew’s efforts have produced.

Bob Hartwig

fter encouraging Madison teachers in February to stage an illegal sick-out, which robbed children of educational opportunities and caused disruption for many parents, he now says teachers are “ready to do whatever it takes” to continue the protest of state budget reductions. He was also quoted as saying; “It’s going to get down and dirty.”
Wow! This kind of rhetoric coming from a 71-year-old man who receives about $310,000 in annual income and benefits from union fees. Makes you ask the question: What is his priority?

State budget will force most Wisconsin school districts to cut property taxes

Jason Stein and Karen Herzog:

The state budget bill now in Gov. Scott Walker’s hands would leave schools with roughly $900 million less in state aid and property tax authority over the next two years, state figures show.
Going beyond simple cuts in state aid to schools, the budget bill would also end up requiring many districts – perhaps two-thirds of them statewide – to cut their property tax levies, according to one analysis by a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor.
Now that the 2011-’13 budget bill stands on the verge of becoming law and the protests have died down, schools – and taxpayers – can start to digest the changes in store for them. Those range from new savings on teachers’ benefits to expansions of private school voucher programs in Milwaukee and Racine.
“We’re really entering a new phase in school funding,” said Dan Rossmiller, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. “It suggests huge challenges.”
The cuts to schools are the single biggest item in the Republican budget toward closing a two-year, $3 billion budget deficit without relying on tax increases. The controversy about the cuts is likely to continue, with at least one district saying it’s considering a lawsuit.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.

5 reasons to believe progress is being made to address Wisconsin reading crisis

Alan Borsuk:

What if, despite everything else going on, we were able to put together a strong, multi-faceted campaign that made progress in fighting the reading crisis in our midst?
The optimist in me says it might happen, and I point to five things that are going on to support that. (Don’t worry, the pessimist in me will show up before we’re done.)
One: I attended the second meeting of Gov. Scott Walker’s Read to Lead Task Force recently. Unlike most anything else going on in the Capitol, this was a civil, constructive discussion involving people of diverse opinions. The focus of the afternoon-long session was how to improve the way teachers are trained to teach reading.
Walker and Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, disagree strongly on some major school issues, but they sat next to each other, facing university professors, teachers, reading advocates of varying philosophies, and others. There even seemed to be some emerging agreement that the state Department of Public Instruction and university leaders could and should take steps to ensure that teachers are better trained before they get into classrooms and, once there, get more effective help in continuing to develop their skills.
The broad goal of Walker’s task force is to get almost all kids reading on grade level before they leave third grade – a wonderful goal. But reaching it raises a lot of issues, including how to deal with sharply contending schools of thought on how to best teach reading.
Nonetheless, at least for an afternoon, important people were engaged in a serious discussion on a huge issue, and that seemed encouraging.

Related: Wisconsin Reading Coalition.
Madison School District Literacy Program; 2011-12 Proposed Budget Hearing Remarks.
Advocating a Standard Graduation Rate & Madison’s “2004 Elimination of the Racial Achievement Gap in 3rd Grade Reading Scores”. Well worth revisiting.

Wisconsin Governor Walker plans to link job training money, local education reform

John Schmid:

Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday will announce a new policy to disburse hundreds of millions of dollars in federal job training funds each year – and will link the funds to reforms of local education curriculums.
The disclosure came Wednesday morning from Tim Sullivan, chief executive officer of Bucyrus International and the chairman of the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment, a state advisory panel. Sullivan spoke at a meeting of the Milwaukee 7 economic development group.
Under the current system, federal job training funds, disbursed by multiple federal agencies, are paid directly to five state agencies, which in turn have established formulas to spend their share.

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.

Madison Teachers, Inc. head: Time to get ‘down and dirty’

Matthew DeFour:

“They’re ready,” Matthews said afterward, “to do whatever it takes.”
After 43 years as executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., Matthews is in the spotlight again after encouraging a four-day sick-out that closed school in February. The action allowed teachers to attend protests at the Capitol over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to curb collective bargaining by public employees. The matter remains in the courts, but it prompted a hasty contract negotiation between the district and union.
Teachers aren’t happy about some of the changes, and Matthews is preparing for a street fight.
“It’s going to get down and dirty,” Matthews said, alluding to the possibility of more job actions, such as “working the contract” – meaning teachers wouldn’t work outside required hours – if the School Board doesn’t back off changes in the contract. “You can’t continually put people down and do things to control them and hurt them and not have them react.”
Moreover, the latest battle over collective bargaining has taken on more personal significance for Matthews, whose life’s work has been negotiating contracts.

Much more on John Matthews, here. Madison Teachers, Inc. website and Twitter feed.

Voucher schools to expand amid questions about their performance

Susan Troller:

If Gov. Scott Walker’s budget is passed with recommendations approved Thursday by the Joint Committee on Finance, there will be more students in more voucher schools in more Wisconsin communities.
But critics of school voucher programs are hoping legislators will look long and hard at actual student achievement benefits before they vote to use tax dollars to send students to private schools. They also suggest that studies that have touted benefits of voucher programs should be viewed with a careful eye, and that claims that graduation rates for voucher schools exceed 90 percent are not just overly optimistic, but misleading.
“The policy decisions we are making today should not be guided by false statistics being propagated by people with a financial interest in the continuation and expansion of vouchers nationwide,” wrote state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, in a news release Friday.
Pope-Roberts is particularly critical of statistics that school choice lobbyists and pro-voucher legislators are using that claim that 94 percent of school voucher students graduated from high school in four years.
It’s good news, she says, but it tells a very selective story about a relatively small subset of students who were studied. That graduation rate reflects only the graduation rate for students who actually remained in the voucher program for all four years: Just 318 of the 801 students who began the program stayed with it.


Per student spending differences between voucher and traditional public schools is material, particularly during tight economic times.

What does the future hold for education in Wisconsin?

Alan Borsuk:

Mr. Educational Landscape Watcher here, with his jaw hanging open while he thinks about a few questions that boil down to this: What next?
In January, Gov. Scott Walker told a convention of school board members and administrators from around Wisconsin that he was going to give them new tools to deal with their financial issues. Naïve me – I thought he meant bigger hammers and saws.
It turned out Walker was thinking along the lines of those machines that can strip-mine most of China in a week.
Goodness gracious, look at where things stand less than five months later, with more earth moving and drama ahead. Every public school in Wisconsin will be different in important ways because of what has happened in Madison. The private school enrollment in the Milwaukee and Racine areas will get a boost, maybe a large one. The decisions many people make on schooling for their kids are likely to be changed by what has happened in Madison. And then there’s the future of Milwaukee Public Schools (he said with a shudder).
As the Legislature’s budget committee wraps up its work, let’s venture thoughts on a few questions:

Walker should take bulls-eye off the backs of teachers

Paul Fanlund:

Gesturing like a conductor, the Van Hise Elementary teacher exhorted her third-graders for answers while deftly involving a special-needs youngster.
I was in class as part of the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools’ “principal for a day” program, and I recall thinking: This would be a really tough job to do well day after day.
Teachers have always impressed me, apparently a lot more than they do Scott Walker.
The Republican governor continues to wage his cynical campaign against labor unions representing teachers and other public employees. The conflict rumbles on, with a judge ruling last week that the legislative vote to extinguish collective bargaining rights violated the state’s open meetings law.
The collateral damage to the morale and reputations of Wisconsin’s 60,000 or so classroom teachers seems of no concern to Walker and his allies inside and outside the state.
In fact, based on recent Walker press releases, teachers and teachers unions remain a prime target. In terms of there being a bulls-eye on teachers’ backs, just consider last week.

The story behind the Milwaukee school choice study: The results are more complicated than they are sometimes portrayed.

John F. Witte and Patrick J. Wolf:

The past few weeks have seen a lively debate surrounding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and Gov. Scott Walker’s various proposals to expand it. It is time for researchers to weigh in.
For the past five years, as mandated by state law, we have led a national team in a comprehensive evaluation of the choice program. Our study has applied social science research methods to carefully matched sets of students in the choice program and in Milwaukee Public Schools. Whenever possible, we have used measures that are applied consistently in the public- and private-school sectors, generating true apples-to-apples comparisons.
This is what we have learned:
Competitive pressure from the voucher program has produced modest achievement gains in MPS.
The three-year achievement gains of choice students have been comparable to those of our matched sample of MPS students. The choice students are not showing achievement benefits beyond those of the students left behind in MPS.
High school students in the choice program both graduate and enroll in four-year colleges at a higher rate than do similar students in MPS. Being in the choice program in ninth grade increases by four to seven percentage points a student’s prospects of both graduating from high school and enrolling in college. Students who remain in the choice program for their entire four years of high school graduate at a rate of 94%, compared with 75% for similar MPS students.

Wisconsin Governor’s Read to Lead Task Force 5/31/2011 Meeting

via a kind reader’s email:

Notice of Commission Meeting
Governor’s Read to Lead Task Force
Governor Scott Walker, Chair
Superintendent Tony Evers, Vice-Chair
Members: Mara Brown, Kathy Champeau, Steve Dykstra, Michele Erikson, Representative Jason Fields, Marcia Henry, Representative Steve Kestell, Rachel Lander, Senator Luther Olsen, Tony Pedriana, Linda Pils, and Mary Read.
Guests: Professors from UW colleges of education
Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:00pm
Office of the Governor, Governor’s Conference Room
 115 East State Capitol 
Madison, WI 53702
Welcome and opening remarks by Governor Walker and Superintendent Evers.
Introductions from task force members and guest members representing UW colleges of education.
A discussion of teacher training and professional development including current practices and ways to improve.
Short break.
A discussion of reading interventions including current practices and ways to improve.
A discussion of future topics and future meeting dates.
Governor Scott Walker
Individuals needing assistance, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, should contact the Governor’s office at (608) 266-1212, 24 hours before this meeting to make necessary arrangements.

Wealthy don’t need vouchers for private school

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Giving children in poverty private-school vouchers to escape failing public schools in Milwaukee is one thing.
But Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to hand vouchers to wealthy families in Milwaukee and other cities isn’t justified or affordable for taxpayers.
This is especially true given the state’s budget problems and cuts in aid to public schools. Walker’s proposal could result in beleaguered taxpayers having to subsidize private school tuition for wealthy families who never intended to send their kids to public schools in the first place.
The Republican-run Legislature should keep Milwaukee’s private school choice program as it is: focused on needy, urban children.

A Race to the Top Wisconsin could win, if it tries

Susan Troller::

It will be interesting to see if Gov. Scott Walker’s office, the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Children and Families join forces to make what could be a very strong Wisconsin proposal for federal funding to help young children get prepared for school and life.
On Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a $500 million program aimed at improving and coordinating preschool programs around the country.
This new Early Learning Challenge is the third round of the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” education competition among the states; this time the money is an incentive to encourage states to create or enhance innovative programs that will boost early learning, especially for low-income children.

Priority should be kids’ reading, not politics

Tony Pedriana :

Since being named to Gov. Scott Walker’s Read to Lead Task Force, I have come under some political scrutiny by those who oppose the governor’s conservative agenda, most notably his attempt to disenfranchise teachers of their right to bargain collectively. Evidently, there are some who feel that it is acceptable to thwart an initiative that seeks to remedy the deplorable state of reading achievement in our state and use it as a weapon to extract some measure of political redress.
I am willing to take political heat for my participation on the panel, but the fact that I must is symptomatic of why we have been stymied in our efforts to address a public health issue of pandemic proportions and leave countless children as collateral damage in the process.
Having been both a teacher and administrator, and having served several stints as my school’s union representative, I am naturally opposed to any action that would reduce teacher benefits and marginalize due process protections. But such issues have no place in any discussion that seeks to address how we set about the task of building competent readers. While we have much to accomplish in that regard, there are those who would claim otherwise even though:
Two-thirds of state fourth-graders cannot demonstrate age-appropriate reading ability.
Wisconsin’s rank for that same cohort has dropped precipitously over the past decade – from 3rd to 30th among all states and the District of Columbia.

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Evers calls voucher expansion ‘morally wrong’ in memo to legislators; Tony Evers Needs a Reality Check on School Choice

Karen Herzog:

State Superintendent Tony Evers [SIS link] in a memo Monday urged the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to restore funding for public schools and work collaboratively to improve the quality of all Milwaukee schools before considering any voucher expansion.
“To spend hundreds of millions to expand a 20-year-old program that has not improved overall student achievement, while defunding public education, is morally wrong,” Evers said in the memo.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed eliminating the income limits on participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, eliminating the enrollment cap and has proposed opening up private schools throughout Milwaukee County to accept vouchers from Milwaukee students. Walker has spoken of expanding the voucher program to other urban areas in the state, such as Racine, Green Bay and Beloit.
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was created to improve academic performance among low-income students who had limited access to high-performing schools. Low-income students use taxpayer money to attend private schools, including religious schools. Each voucher is worth $6,442. The program now is limited to 22,500 students; 20,189 are in the program this year.
However, after 20 years and spending over $1 billion, academic performance data and the enrollment history of the school choice program point to several “concerning trends,” Evers said in his analysis of voucher student enrollment, achievement, and projected cost for long-term expansion.
Low-income students in Milwaukee Public Schools have higher academic achievement, particularly in math, than their counterparts in choice schools. Evers cited this year’s Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts exams and the legislatively mandated University of Arkansas study, which showed significant numbers of choice students performing below average on reading and math.

Aaron Rodriguez:

At a press conference in Racine, DPI Superintendent Tony Evers gave his harshest criticism of school vouchers yet. Well beyond the typical quibbles over test scores and graduation rates, Evers claimed that school vouchers were de facto “morally wrong.” It’s not every day that a State Superintendent of education accuses an education-reform program of being immoral. In doing so, Tony Evers may have bitten off more than he could chew.
Calling a school voucher program morally wrong inculpates more than just the program, it inculpates parents, teachers, organizations, lawmakers, and a majority of Americans that endorse it. In fact, one could reasonably argue that Evers’ statement makes himself morally culpable since Milwaukee’s voucher program operates out of the Department of Public Instruction of which he is the head. What does it say about the character of a man that knowingly administers an immoral program out of his own department?
In short, Evers’ argument goes something like this: voucher programs drain public schools of their financial resources; drained resources hurt children academically; hurting children academically is morally wrong; ergo, voucher programs are morally wrong.

Will Wisconsin, teachers union have smarts to act in kids’ interest?

Alan Borsuk:

Who loves the baby?
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett asked that at a forum of civic leaders last week.
In the biblical story, two women claiming to be the mother of the same baby take their dispute to King Solomon. He calls for a sword so he can split the baby in two and give each woman half. One woman tells him to go ahead. The second tells him to give the baby to the first so the child can live. Solomon, of course, awards the baby immediately to the second. A true mother would sacrifice just about anything, even maternal rights, to let her child live.
What does this have to do with the next couple of years for students in Milwaukee Public Schools?
This: If people act with wisdom, maturity and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of kids, there could be significant relief from cuts that will negatively affect just about all 75,000-plus students. The list could start with easing the looming big jumps in average class size.
The sacrifice part would fall largely on MPS teachers. But it would put them in line with what is almost surely going to happen to the large majority of teachers across the state.
The wisdom part would have to start with Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders. Willingness to budge on ideological points hasn’t been one of their most visible traits in recent months.

Racine School officials: vouchers ‘morally wrong’

Lindsay Fiori:

Public school officials called vouchers “morally wrong” and potentially “crippling” for Racine at a press conference Thursday.
A school choice voucher program in Racine would cost taxpayers money while hurting the academic chances of public school students, officials said during the afternoon press conference at Walden middle and high school, 1012 Center St. The press conference was held in response to a proposal from Gov. Scott Walker to expand Milwaukee’s school choice voucher program, which allows low-income Milwaukee students to receive state-funded vouchers to attend participating private schools. Walker has proposed removing the low-income requirement while also expanding the program to other cities.
Public school officials who spoke in Racine Thursday think that’s a bad idea.
“School vouchers have been called ‘a dagger in the heart of public education’ and I think there’s some truth to that,” Racine Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw said at the conference. He explained vouchers take needed funds away from public schools — when a child leaves a school with a voucher about $6,000 in per pupil state aid to that school leaves with them to pay for private school tuition.

How to destroy a school system

Ruth Conniff:

There is something horribly fascinating about watching Wisconsin Republicans discuss their plans for our state’s school system.
First, they swing the bloody ax:

  • The biggest budget cuts to our public schools in state history, nearly $900 million. Kerchunk.
  • A bill to create a statewide system of charter schools whose authorizing board is appointed by Scott Walker and the Fitzgeralds, and which will funnel resources out of local schools and into cheapo online academies. Kerchunk.
  • Lifting income caps on private-school vouchers so taxpayers foot the bill to send middle- and upper-income families’ kids to private school. Kerchunk.
  • Then comes the really sick part. They candy-coat all this with banal statements about “reforms” that will “empower” parents and students and improve education.

Last week, Walker went to Washington, D.C., to give a speech to school-choice advocates at the American Federation for Children. He started off by reading a Dr. Seuss book, and talking about how “every kid deserves to have a great education.”

Related: Problems in Wisconsin Reading NAEP Scores Task Force and Wisconsin needs two big goals.

School board member Ed Hughes wants to give some docked pay back to Madison teachers (Proposal Withdrawn Later in the Day)

Matthew DeFour:

Hughes is making the proposal [56K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment] as an amendment to the district’s budget.
Funding would come from the $1.3 million windfall the district will get from docking the pay of 1,769 teachers who were absent without an excuse on one or more days between Feb. 16-18 and 21.
The district closed school during those four days because of the high number of staff members who called in sick to attend protests over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed changes to public sector collective bargaining.
“Under the circumstances it seemed to me the school district shouldn’t necessarily profit from that, because the teachers agreed to make up the time in a way that took away planning time for them,” said Hughes, who is considering a run for school board president when new officers are elected Monday.
Hughes is also proposing increasing the district’s proposed property tax levy for next year by about $2 million to pay for maintenance and technology projects and any costs associated with the district’s implementation of a state-imposed talented-and-gifted education plan.
“It seems goofy that we give away $1 million and then raise property taxes [50K PDF Ed Hughes Amendment],” board member Lucy Mathiak said.

Jay Sorgi:

If a school board member in Madison gets his way, the district would used money it saved when teachers forced schools to shut down during the budget debate to award end of the year bonuses to teachers.
WTMJ partner station WIBA Radio in Madison says that teachers in Madison would receive $200 gift cards as year-end bonuses.
“Whenever we can, we need to show some kind of tangible appreciation for the extremely hard work our teachers and staff do,” said Ed Hughes, a member of the Madison school board.
“They’ve had a particularly tough year as you know, given that they kind of became political footballs in the legislature. We’re ending up slashing their take home pay by a substantial amount, pretty much because we have to.”

Additional links:

Related: 5/26/2005 MTI & The Madison School Board by Ed Hughes.

School choice advocates spend freely on politics, WEAC Spending

Susan Troller

A rural legislator who received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from out-of-state school choice advocates took flak back home for supporting expansion of a Milwaukee voucher program when his own school district is struggling financially.
According to a story in the Sauk Prairie Eagle last week, an aide to Rep. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, had to use a gavel to bring order back to a budget listening session at Sauk Prairie Memorial Hospital on May 6.
Marklein, a freshman Republican legislator, was asked if campaign contributions were influencing his support for two pieces of recent school choice legislation which provide public tax dollars for families to spend in private schools in Milwaukee. This, at the same time that the River Valley School District, which Marklein represents, has been forced to cut programs and staff and is facing more cuts in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget.

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators by Steven Walters:

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.

Wisconsin Teachers Union Tops Lobbying Expenditures in 2009, more than Double #2

Wisconsin Voucher expansion is threat to public education

Appleton Post-Crescent:

here’s a train coming, folks. And, unlike the proposed Madison-to-Milwaukee rail, this train really is high-speed.
If we’re not paying attention, it could end up crippling public education in Wisconsin.
Gov. Scott Walker had already included in his 2011-13 budget proposal a plan to change the Milwaukee school voucher program, which allows low-income students to attend private schools on the taxpayers’ dime.
It would eliminate the enrollment caps; expand it to include schools in all of Milwaukee County, not just the city; and phase out income limits, opening the program to middle- and high-income families.
The Assembly last week passed a separate bill that eliminated the caps and the Milwaukee-only school requirement.

On “Parents with Options”

Patrick McIlheran:

A “dagger,” said the well-meaning man, “in the heart of public education.” That man, who superintends Green Bay’s public school system, was reacting to word that Gov. Scott Walker proposed letting parents statewide have the same option poor Milwaukeeans now have – to take their state school aid to a private school, if they choose it.
Parents with options: That was the violence that Greg Maass, that superintendent, was talking about. I don’t mean to single out Maass. He colorfully phrased the apocalyptic view that many others had toward Walker’s idea. A writer for The Progressive, the left-wing Madison magazine that figures we peaked in about 1938, tiresomely said it was “war on education.”
Right: To increase options is to war on education. Actually, though, that is the heart of the complaint of the public school establishment. Giving families more control over where they can get a publicly funded education necessarily means less control for those in charge of what had been the only place you could get one.
But will Walker’s idea kill off public education? Unlikely: Incumbent school systems already live with publicly funded competition.

Wisconsin Voucher plan for other cities creates fears, cheers

Erin Richards:

Gov. Scott Walker didn’t offer details about how private school voucher programs could work in Green Bay, Racine and Beloit, but on Tuesday, advocates in those cities said they envisioned systems similar to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
Or, perhaps, similar to Walker’s future vision for the Milwaukee program, which Walker has pushed to modify by lifting the cap on enrollment, phasing out income limits for participants and expanding the program to Milwaukee County so suburban private schools can accept publicly funded voucher students from the city.
“Why reinvent the wheel all over again when we can learn from the benefits and mistakes of the Milwaukee program?” asked Laura Sumner Coon, the head of a nonprofit in Racine that currently provides scholarships for 13 area low-income students to attend private schools.
Public-school leaders in all three cities Tuesday vehemently opposed the idea of channeling taxpayer money out of their systems and into private schools.
Green Bay Superintendent Greg Maass said he hadn’t read any research that showed vouchers benefited kids more than maintaining or improving the education they receive in traditional public schools. And research on academic achievement showed voucher-school students haven’t performed at much higher levels than their public-school counterparts, he said.

Wisconsin Governor Walker: Budget could expand school choice to other cities

Patrick Marley and Jason Stein:

Gov. Scott Walker wants to bring voucher schools to urban areas beyond Milwaukee, and predicts lawmakers will approve that expansion by the end of June.
“I think one of the things between now and the time we finish this (state) budget off at the end of June, we’re going to be able to add and go beyond the boundaries of the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. We’re actually going to be able to add communities like Racine and Beloit and even Green Bay . . . because every one of those communities deserves a choice as well, and with this budget that’s exactly what they’re going to get,” Walker said in a Monday speech to school choice advocates in Washington, D.C.
The proposal comes at a time when Walker is proposing cutting public schools by $841 million over two years and injects a new campaign issue into attempts to recall nine state senators.
A day after Walker made his comments, the Assembly planned to eliminate the cap on the number of children who can participate in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The 20-year-old system allows low-income children to use taxpayer-funded vouchers worth $6,442 each to attend private schools in Milwaukee, including religious schools.

Wisconsin Gov. Walker takes fight to privatize education to D.C.

John Nichols:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continues to court national support for an extreme agenda of attacking public employees and public services while diminishing local democracy and shifting public money to private political allies. Despite the fact that Walker’s moves have been widely condemned in his home state, the hyper-ambitious career politician has repeatedly suggested that he will not moderate his positions because he wants to shift the tenor of politics and policymaking far beyond Wisconsin.
Walker’s stance has earned him talk as a possible dark-horse contender for a chance at the 2012 Republican nod, and the governor has not discouraged it.
To that end, Walker was in Washington Monday night to deliver a keynote address at the innocuously named American Federation for Children’s “School Choice Now: Empowering America’s Children” policy summit. It’s actually a key annual gathering of advocates for privatizing public education, and of some of the biggest funders of right-wing political projects nationally.
The appearance comes at a time when education cuts are becoming a front-and-center issue, as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stirred an outcry in the nation’s largest city by proposing to lay off thousands of teachers.

Wisc., Pa. governors to address pro-school voucher nonprofit; union leaders plan protest

Associated Press

Two Republican governors are scheduled to speak at a Washington conference hosted by a nonprofit that pushes for private school vouchers and charter schools.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania will address the American Federation for Children’s second annual policy summit Monday.
Both are expected to talk about school choice. Walker has proposed expanding a school voucher program in Milwaukee. Corbett is proposing cutting $1.6 billion from public education while also pushing for vouchers, which would allow students in poor-performing public schools to transfer to private schools.
Union leaders and other activists are planning a rally outside the summit, which will also feature former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Opponents say the federation is trying to “dismantle public education.”

More, here.

Choice plan isn’t about the wealthy

Patrick McIlheran:

Millionaires do screw up everything, don’t they? They’re hovering even now, ghostlike, haunting the working class amid the talk of expanding Milwaukee’s school choice program.
Right now, if you’re poor in Milwaukee – earning $39,000 or less for a family of four – you can take your state aid to any of a selection of superb private schools. Earn any more, as your typical machinist or firefighter would, and it’s either endure the Milwaukee Public Schools, see if you can get into a charter school or pay thousands in tuition.
Gov. Scott Walker proposes lifting the income limit, and letting machinists and firefighters in on the deal. Critics are aghast with the thought that millionaires might benefit, too. Your tax dollars, they gasp, could pick up the $6,442 tab for some millionaire’s son at some private school.
The horror. Not that a $6,442 voucher will take even a millionaire’s kid very far at, say, the University School of Milwaukee, where tuition is $20K a year, should University School decide to take part. Nor will it suddenly relieve any millionaire of the tuition he’s now paying at the more humble St. Parsimonious. Walker’s reform phases in, and parents currently paying tuition can’t get the state aid.

Gov. Walker’s plan: ‘a slew of absurdities’

WEAC President Mary Bell:

For generations, Wisconsin has taken pride in the opportunities we offer children through our public schools. When students or schools are struggling, we work together to find solutions.
Wisconsin is at the top when it comes to ACT and Advanced Placement scores and graduation rates, and just last month, significant gains on test scores were reported along with a narrowing of achievement gaps between minority groups. That’s a foundation that should be built upon, not dismantled.
Gov. Scott Walker’s education plan included in his state budget proposal will move our students and state backward. Whether you have children in a public school or not, whether you are Democrat, Republican or somewhere in between, children are counting on the state to do what’s right. Public education must remain a top priority.
For months, Wisconsinites have been telling their legislators that we believe there is a better way – a balanced way – to respond to tough fiscal times without throwing away our tradition of high-quality public education. Linda Copas of Plainfield pointed out to the Joint Finance Committee that in her small school district, the number of students who live in poverty has more than doubled, but the governor’s education plan ignores that. Kim Schroeder, a Milwaukee teacher, said his students are losing opportunities such as gym, art and music.

We must put kids before adults

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

I’ve read Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” quite a bit over the past few weeks as I visited schools in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Stevens Point to read to second- and third-graders and meet with teachers and school officials. I’ve been visiting schools to promote our Read to Lead Task Force, which is finding ways to make sure all Wisconsin students can read before they complete the third grade.
As a parent with two boys in public schools, it has been great to see the passion our teachers have for showing children how education can take them to amazing places. Like the teachers I met, I believe strongly in the power of education to open new worlds of opportunity, break the cycle of poverty and empower those searching for hope with a sense of purpose and self-determination.
All too often, people focus on the negatives in our education system. We are trying to focus on our strengths – particularly in reading – and then replicate that success in every classroom across our state.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:

“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).

Would improved TAG program hurt other Madison School District Programs?

Chris Rickert:

Just when you thought the Madison School District had enough on its plate — perennially tight budgets, teachers incensed at Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting, minority achievement gaps — it’s under a gun of a different sort:
Get your program for talented and gifted, or TAG, students in order, the state told the district in March, after a group of parents complained their kids were not being sufficiently challenged in the classroom.
I am dubious of efforts to devote additional time and money to students who already have the advantage of being smart — and often white and upper-middle class — and who have similarly situated parents adept at lobbying school officials.
Money, time and effort generally not being unlimited commodities in public school districts, the question over what is to be done about Madison’s TAG program strikes me as one of priorities.
Improving TAG offerings would seem to require an equal reduction in something else. And maybe that something else is more important to more students.
Not that it’s likely anyone on the School Board would ever acknowledge any trade-offs.
It’s a “false dichotomy,” said School Board member Ed Hughes, and “not an either/or situation.” Can the district be all things to all people? I asked. “Sure,” he said. “Why not?”

Much more on the Talented & Gifted Wisconsin DPI complaint, here.

School Choice and Urban Diversity: Many more middle-class parents would live in big cities if they could pick the schools their kids attend.

John Norquist:

With several new GOP governors taking power, shock if not awe pervades the Midwest, particularly among those of us who are Democratic urban dwellers. Perhaps the wave of corporate tax breaks, service cuts to the needy, and transfer of school aid from poor to wealthy districts will be undone with the next swing of the political pendulum. Yet there is one GOP budget provision in Wisconsin that I hope survives.
For 20 years there’s been debate about parental school choice, but only a few places actually have it. Milwaukee has had choice since 1991. At first it was very limited–no religious schools, the program restricted to families with very low incomes, and a cap on total enrollment of 1,000. But parents are now able to choose religious schools, the income limit has been raised to 175% of the federal poverty line ($39,113), and the cap has increased to 22,500 students.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed allowing any Milwaukee parent, regardless of income, to enroll their children in private and parochial schools. This will address two problems with the current choice program. One, the cap on total enrollment has forced parents onto waiting lists and into lotteries. Two, the income limit has the effect of isolating low-income students from other more affluent students.
Other jurisdictions, including Florida, Arizona and Cleveland, have choice programs. In Washington, D.C., choice was implemented under President George W. Bush and frozen under President Barack Obama. But Florida’s program requires a public school to fail, with failure measured by the state, not by parents. And all choice programs have limitations that undermine the desire of parents to have their children attend a school in which they have confidence. Yet if you think about it, America already has a school choice program in large metro areas. It’s a system that segregates the poor from the rich and works against Americans who want to live in cities. Here’s how it works.

Clusty Search: John Norquist.

The more things change: School finance edition

Steve Prestegard:

Several media outlets, including the Grant County Herald Independent in Lancaster (the first newspaper I worked for, back when Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush were president) and the Wisconsin State Journal, are reporting an unprecedented number of teacher retirements as the latest consequence of Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to defang public employee unions.
The Herald Independent’s story (to which I can’t post since the Herald Independent is not online, so you’ll have to trust me) includes a number of teachers from not just my days at the Herald Independent, but from my wife’s days as a Lancaster High School student.
That is big news. It would be unprecedented big news if your memory includes only years that begin with the number 2. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s (and possibly before that), the state would occasionally encourage early retirements as, yes, a way to reduce spending on employee compensation, since the teachers in the classroom the longest were the highest paid given how teachers’ pay is set.
In those days, the “rule of 85” applied — if your age and years as a teacher (or other government employee, although I don’t recall covering other government employee retirements) totaled 85 (for instance, you were 55 years old and you had taught for 30 years), you could retire with full benefits. The “rule of 85” appears to have been replaced by “the rule of 30” — full retirement benefits kick in for anyone in the Wisconsin Retirement System with 30 years’ service, although retiring employees younger than 57 have reduced benefits until their 57th birthday.

Two-thirds of Madison teachers joined protests, district says

Matthew DeFour:

Two-thirds of Madison teachers participated in at least one day of a coordinated four-day absence in February to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to curb collective bargaining, according to information released by the school district Friday.
According to the district, 1,769 out of 2,655 teachers took time off during the four days without a legitimate excuse. The records also show 84 teachers submitted fraudulent sick notes; 38 received suspensions for failing to rescind the notes by April 15, a deadline set by the district.
The exact number of teachers who caused school to shut down on Feb. 16-18 and 21 was unknown until now. The numbers “validate our decision to close our schools,” Superintendent Dan Nerad said in a statement.
“We realize the challenges that our students’ families experienced as a result of these school closings,” Nerad said. “So we appreciate that we have been able to return since then to normal school schedules and that students have returned to advancing their learning through the work of our excellent staff members.”
Madison Teachers Inc. Executive Director John Matthews acknowledged Feb. 15 that the union was encouraging members to call in sick to attend protests at the Capitol. It was the union’s first coordinated work stoppage since 1,900 out of 2,300 teachers called in sick to protest contract negotiations in September 1997.
On Friday, Matthews emphasized that teachers accepted the consequences of their actions by agreeing to docked pay for the days missed. He called the suspension letters “a badge of honor for standing up for workplace justice.”

Wisconsin School districts’ health plans cost more than businesses’ plans

Rick Rommell:

School districts in southeastern Wisconsin pay significantly more for health insurance than do private businesses – as much as 76% more – and their employees bear much less of the overall cost, an analysis released Wednesday shows.
The relatively small contribution teachers in general make to their insurance coverage drew considerable attention during the superheated debate over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill and his bid to sharply limit collective bargaining by most government employees.
Less discussed has been the cost of the insurance plans, which significantly outweigh those offered by private-sector employers, according to an analysis by HCTrends, which describes itself as “a market-oriented forum” on health care issues.
For single coverage, southeastern Wisconsin school districts paid 76% more than private businesses in 2009-’10, according to HCTrends.

MacIver Institute:

School districts in southeastern Wisconsin are paying twice as much for health insurance as private sector companies in Milwaukee, according to a new study by HCTrends. That’s just the beginning of what the group found in its study of school district health insurance expenses in 2010.
“Health plan costs for the region’s teachers are 63 percent higher, on average, than the plans offered at private-sector companies with some union representation, and 80 percent higher than the average single-coverage cost for all private-sector plans,” according to the study.
“This combination of above-average plan costs and below-average employee contributions significantly increases the school district’s health care costs. While the average teachers’ plan costs 80 percent more than the average private-sector plan, the per-employee cost borne by the school district is twice as much as the cost borne by the average employer.”

Don’t cry for teachers who choose early retirement

Chris Rickert:

One indication of how disingenuous the world of public education has become is the sympathy some of us apparently feel for veteran Madison teachers who feel compelled to retire early.
As this newspaper detailed Sunday, early retirements have spiked over concerns about what Gov. Scott Walker’s bid to curtail public sector collective bargaining rights will mean for teachers’ retirements.
It’s clear teachers beginning their careers today could be subjected to lots of things the private sector has had to endure for a long time (e.g., merit evaluations, higher health care costs). What puzzles me is what veteran teachers risk by working a few more years — especially given the love they express for the job.
Take, for example, teachers’ ability to parlay unused sick days into health insurance coverage or other benefits after they retire.
District spokesman Ken Syke said the district’s legal team has not produced an opinion on this. But teachers union president John Matthews was certain it was a benefit long-time teachers would retain.

Must We Protect Our Schoolkids from Bunnies?

Sunny Schubert & Jack Craver:

It’s not that I don’t care about K-12 education in Wisconsin. I DO care, very much.
But I have a hard time getting my undies in a bundle over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed education spending reductions because I have this fantasy that maybe if school administrators have less money, they’ll have less time to come up with dumb stuff in the name of political correctness.
Take the Seattle public school administrators who decided that the term “Easter egg” is culturally offensive,” and substituted the term “spring spheres” instead.
How much do I hate this? Let’s start with the fact that eggs – at least the ones used in conjunction with Easter — are NOT spheres: They’re ovoids. I learned that in eighth-grade geometry. I object most strenuously to people who should know better teaching children something that simply is not true.

Jack Craver has more.

Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts: Walker’s budget numbers for schools flawed

Sondy Pope-Roberts:

In the weeks ahead the biennial budget will be the dominant focus of the Legislature. Gov. Scott Walker has introduced his budget plan for Wisconsin, and while there are a number of troubling provisions, perhaps one of the most troubling is the drastic changes to public education that he proposes.
According to the Department of Public Instruction, school districts are expected to lose $1.68 billion in revenue authority and $835 million in state school aids over the next biennium. The governor has repeatedly touted the savings, tools and other reform measures that he says would soften the blow and even enhance education.
However, reducing the levy authority of school districts mandates a reduction in total spending, and changes to health insurance and pension contributions alone won’t suffice to cover the difference. That means layoffs, a decision made by Walker and not by local school districts.
The governor recently went to great lengths to highlight projected savings and other ways school districts would benefit under his budget. My office compiled a spreadsheet that outlines the inaccuracies in the governor’s projections. To outline the serious budgeting flaws, we relied on numbers from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau and the governor himself.

Important voice missing in blue ribbon reading discussion

Susan Troller

While working on another story this morning, I kept checking Wisconsin Eye’s live coverage of the first meeting of Gov. Scott Walker’s blue ribbon task force on reading.
Sitting next to the Governor at the head of the table was State Superintendent Tony Evers, flanked by Sen. Luther Olsen, chair of the Education Committee and Rep. Steve Kestell. Also on hand were representatives from organizations like the Wisconsin State Reading Association (Kathy Champeau), teachers and various other reading experts, including a former Milwaukee area principal, Anthony Pedriana, who has written an influential book on reading and student achievement called “Leaving Johnny Behind.” Also on hand was Steven Dykstra of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition.
Dykstra, in particular, had a lot to say, but the discussion of how well Wisconsin kids are learning to read — a subject that gets heated among education experts as well as parents and teachers — struck me as quite engaging and generally cordial.
There seemed to be consensus surrounding the notion that it’s vitally important for students to become successful readers in the early grades, and that goal should be an urgent priority in Wisconsin.
But how the state is currently measuring up to its own past performance, and to other states, is subject to some debate. Furthermore, there isn’t a single answer or widespread agreement on precisely how to make kids into better readers.


Preserving the bargain on Milwaukee School Choice

Patrick McIlheran:

State taxpayers are getting a fantastic bargain this year on the education of about one in six Milwaukee children. But how long will they go on getting it?
The bargain is what we spend when a family takes its school aid in the form of a voucher to a private school in Milwaukee’s choice program. Taxpayers shell out $6,442 per child, about 45% as much as the $14,183 per-child cost in the Milwaukee Public Schools, by the latest state figures.
The question is how much longer that can go on. Choice schools cannot charge poor families any more than the voucher, but researchers with the five-year study of school choice report that 82% of such schools have higher per-pupil costs. In the most recent figures, the average choice school spent $7,692 per child.
The voucher just isn’t enough to run a school, said the University of Arkansas’ Brian Kisida, one of the researchers: “How can you hire the best people on half the money?” He said that if he had Gov. Scott Walker’s ear, he’d tell him to keep the rule requiring state tests, flawed as they are, and to raise the grant.
That isn’t happening. Walker’s two-year budget through 2013 freezes the voucher at $6,442, since the state is $3.5 billion in the hole. Walker also cuts how much public schools have, reducing their per-child revenue limit, their most fundamental number, by 5.5% in the first year and freezing it in the second.

Milwaukee Public Schools: Open For Business?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

With a proposed $74 million in cuts expected for Milwaukee Public Schools next school year, district officials are going to need help in filling some gaps. That’s where the business community should step up, both with money and other support.
Businesses generally have been strong supporters of MPS, but at this critical time, MPS needs more of that. If nothing else, naked self-interest should compel businesses to pitch in.
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget calls for $74 million in cuts for the district. This will have a huge impact, especially with no new federal educational dollars coming in next school year.
There are a number of ways businesses can help.
The GE Foundation stepped up in January when it announced that it would give MPS $20.4 million over five years to help the school system develop a rigorous math and science curriculum and provide professional development to teachers.
This is an investment in future MPS graduates, who GE hopes will be a part of Milwaukee’s workforce. GE says it will be very visible in MPS. This is important because children need to see business leaders involved in education. Children need good role models.

Three who are politically ‘all in’

Steven Walters:

In poker, there are gasps when players go “all in,” pushing all their chips forward to bet on the next card. By the end of that hand, they either bust and leave the table broke or sit there much richer.
This season, at least three Wisconsin leaders are “all in”: Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn “Biddy” Martin.
Ryan: When he developed and got his fellow House Republicans to back his version of a federal budget, Ryan became Washington’s flavor of the month.
It’s the biggest risk of his career, however, because it would privatize and defund Medicare for anyone under 55; turn states’ Medicaid programs that help the elderly, poor and disabled into a block grant program; cut corporate tax rates; and continue tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.
“It’s my obligation to offer an alternative” to the debt-and-spending cycle that threatens to choke America’s future, Ryan told constituents at a Wisconsin listening session last week.
But, with his plan, the seven-term Republican from southeastern Wisconsin became target practice for Democrats, starting with President Barack Obama, and pundits.

Teaching reforms get lost in Wisconsin budget tumult

Amy Hetzner:

Early in February, leaders of the state’s largest teachers union took what was for them a major step – endorsing a series of reforms they had previously resisted, including performance pay, dividing up Milwaukee Public Schools and tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.
Within a week, however, Gov. Scott Walker released a plan to sharply curb the collective bargaining rights of most public-sector workers, and little more was heard from the Wisconsin Education Association Council about its reform initiatives.
Amid the debate over public workers’ rights in Wisconsin, school reform has gotten lost in recent months, especially changes related to one of the most promising ways to improve academic achievement: focusing on teacher effectiveness.
Walker and his supporters have said that by prohibiting teachers unions from bargaining for anything other than inflation-tied wage increases, school boards are free to implement reforms that WEAC has been unwilling to embrace in the past.

Teachers retiring at high rate, many because of collective bargaining changes

Matthew DeFour:

More than 130 Madison teachers — many of them worried that Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law could lead to changes in post-retirement benefits — are retiring in June, a big increase over recent years.
As of the April 15 deadline, 138 Madison teachers have decided to retire, Superintendent Dan Nerad said. That’s a 62 percent increase over the average number of retirements over the previous five years.
The district plans to fill all of the positions, Nerad said, though the loss of so many more veteran teachers than usual could have a more noticeable effect on students and novice teachers.
“A lot of these people have been working with generations of students and influencing people for a long, long time,” Nerad said. “Our intention is to replace them with knowledgeable people, but as a rule they will be less experienced.”
More than 60 teachers indicated they were retiring earlier than anticipated because of concerns about the collective bargaining changes, said John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc.

Keep intact the mission of choice program

Howard Fuller:

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.

Wis. teachers respond to challenges of budget repair bill

Taylor Nye:

The big news back in my small, rural southeast Wisconsin hometown is that the high school and middle school have a few new teachers. Every time I run into someone from back home, they have to tell me, “Did you hear about the new science/math/Spanish teacher?” Unfortunately, teachers in my hometown and around Wisconsin are not retiring because it’s their time. What we are seeing are effects from Gov. Scott Walker’s Budget Tyranny Bill, and small and large school districts alike will continue to face large turnover in the foreseeable future.
When Walker tried to slash union’s bargaining rights, he opened a legal can of worms. With all the actions that are being brought against his administration over the legality of his moves, it’s difficult to remember that Wisconsin’s teachers are left between a rock and a hard place as long as his measures stand. The educators who are now retiring likely didn’t consider leaving their school systems until it became clear that he was going to put his bill into effect. They have two choices: Take whatever they can get out of early retirement now, or stay on and wait to see what retirement benefits, if any, the unions will be able to bargain for in the future. In addition, there is another worry about continuing to teach — no one knows how expansive future layoffs will be.

Full speed ahead for school reforms

Wisconsin State Journal: If Wisconsin is to improve its public schools, it needs leaders willing to think and act boldly, kick sacred cows and innovate. State and local officials should keep that in mind as they consider complaints that Gov. Scott Walker’s move to restrict collective bargaining for most public employees risks cutting an essential … Continue reading Full speed ahead for school reforms

Transforming the School of Education?

Joe Carey:

In 2008, Molly Rozga went back to school just shy of her 27th birthday.
Rozga wanted to work in a field where she could give back to the community and have the added comfort of job security. So, she chose education, thinking teaching was one of the most stable careers out there.
But in the current political environment, Rozga, now a 29-year-old junior education major at Alverno College, sees teaching as something “a little scary to be going into.”
“It’s giving me a little bit of anxiety,” Rozga said.
With Gov. Scott Walker proposing to cut state aid to public schools and restrict collective bargaining for public school teachers as part of a plan to close a $3.5 billion state budget deficit, students like Rozga are stepping into a new world in their chosen field.

Uncertain about future benefits, many veteran teachers are retiring early

Erin Richards & Amy Hetzner:

Two days before the April 1 teacher retirement notification deadline in Milwaukee Public Schools, Karen Scharrer-Erickson drove to the district’s human resources office on her lunch break.
The teacher of 43 years entered the room. Then she burst into tears.
“I am totally not ready,” Scharrer-Erickson, a literacy coach at the Academy of Accelerated Learning, said this week. “I never thought about retiring until the (Gov.) Scott Walker situation, because this school is so special and I am working with the most incredibly caring teachers I have ever known.”
At a time when the governor’s plan to eliminate most collective bargaining for teachers and increase state employees’ payments for health care and pension costs looms overhead, some school districts are seeing record numbers of senior teachers such as Scharrer-Erickson turn in their retirement paperwork.
Although their pensions are beyond the reach of lawmakers and local officials, many teachers fear that changes could mean they soon could lose early retirement benefits such as health insurance that helps support them until they are eligible for Medicare.

How to Ensure School Failure

Bruce Murphy:

I got my start as a journalist freelancing stories for the old Milwaukee Sentinel about problems with achievement test results at Milwaukee Public Schools. Throughout the 1980s, the media’s increasing focus on problems at MPS helped to lay the groundwork for a radically different alternative – a voucher system where low-income families could choose to send their children to private schools. The case for school choice could not have been made without years of achievement test data showing the below-average performance of MPS schools.
So it is highly ironic – and quite alarming – that Gov. Scott Walker is proposing to end the requirement that choice schools participate in the state system of standardized testing. I can’t think of a better way to guarantee these schools are failures.
Last week the media reported the results of state tests for MPS and choice schools. The average scores were astoundingly bad for some choice schools. The proportion of students who were proficient in reading and math was just 12 percent and 14 percent at Texas Bufkin Christian Academy; 17 percent and 6 percent at Travis Technology High School; 20 percent and 7 percent at Washington DuBois Christian Leadership Academy; 23 percent and 9 percent at Right Step, Inc.; 18 percent and 0 percent (Did no one take the math test?) at Dr Brenda Noach Choice School; 16 percent and 9 percent at Destiny High School. You get the feeling some of these schools worked harder on creating their name than educating the students.

Much more on the Milwaukee school choice program, here.