Seriously, columnist, and fervent charter school supporter Alan Borsuk, in his column this weekend has the latest in ideas being floated by Kooyenga and Darling. In short, instead of a massive cleaver, it's going to be death by 1,000 paper cuts.
You can read his full column HERE:
Why don't we just turn all these failing schools in Milwaukee over to people who will run them better?Are we sure the issue of achievement in Milwaukee is because the Milwaukee Public Schools aren't running their schools well? I mean, jeez, way to frame the issue right out of the gate. Seems to me that when you have high schools like Ronald Reagan and Rufus King persistently in the US News and World Report "Top High Schools" you'd think they know a thing or two about how to run a school district.
Not to mention, if you look at the teacher and principal turnover at those schools, you'll likely see it's incredibly high, so I'm not sure how anyone can make a claim that it's teachers who are just "riding" it out.
Because experience elsewhere and realities in Milwaukee strongly suggest it is close to impossible that big steps like that would turn out well.DING!
That doesn't mean there won't be important action coming out of the state Legislature soon.
But it does mean that, if it comes, it will be in smaller increments. What is very likely to be put before legislators will be scaled back from ideas floated earlier to turn a bunch of low-performing schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system over to independent charter operators and create something like the New Orleans Recovery School District.Okay, this is the first of several instances in this column where new and updated information is being presented to the public about Darling and Kooyenga's plans.
Two to five schools a year for the next several years – that's what State Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) are talking about now.That's news to me. And yet, there is absolutely no evidence that such a piecemeal approach to education "reform" in Milwaukee is even going to produce results. MPS right now is in the process of implementing it's own major reform strategy that was the design of our new Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver.
Plus, the problem of bankrupting MPS will still persist because the process of removing "schools" from MPS's auspices doesn't mean that charter operators are removing those same exact students from MPS. Mark my words, they are going to go on marketing blitzkriegs to try and attack certain students they want and not those who were already in a specific school.
In late January, the influential legislators put out a policy paper called "New Opportunities for Milwaukee"that included the idea of creating a board, separate from the Milwaukee School Board, to "oversee a turnaround school initiative for all schools that fail to meet expectations in the targeted zone."
While the proposal didn't specify a targeted zone, there were more than 40 MPS schools in the state's lowest performance category ("fails to meet expectations") in the most recent round of school report cards.
Kooyenga said in an interview last week that Darling and he wanted to get feedback before they created a formal proposal. And they've gotten plenty.As opposed to having the legislators who actually represent those areas take the lead? Or eliciting feedback and input before putting out plans and position papers? The reason why there is such vehement opposition to Darling and Kooyenga's plans, aside from the horrible racial undertones, is that it is horribly dictatorial and in no way being done on the neighborhood level.
That includes adamant opposition from the Milwaukee School Board and the Milwaukee teachers' union. For example, the board brought to Milwaukee three people last week who are critics of what has happened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And the union has been making opposition to charter schools outside of MPS one of its urgent focal points.
contribute to the battle. This isn't about trying to keep kids in failing schools, it's about equal access and having schools that are open and owned by the community. Not having some random non-profit who is backed by a corporation looking to funnel money and filter it as a profit stream.
But the feedback also includes advice from some who are more favorably inclined, including some charter leaders in Milwaukee. Their message: Go slow, mostly because there isn't much alternative. The higher quality existing charter operators in town are not interested in growing rapidly and know the difficulties of doing that. And better national charter organizations are not eager to enter the Milwaukee scene, given the frustrations and difficulties such operations have encountered here already.Frustrations mostly due to the fact that the realization that extreme economic, racial, and opportunity segregation doesn't lend itself to having a ripe "market" for charters to operate in, to say nothing of the jujitsu MPS has had to do over the years to try and accommodate these issues.
"Doing it wholesale, taking every school that doesn't meet expectations, and (saying) let's flip those schools around next year, is a scaling problem," as Kooyenga put it.But remember, it's not a scaling problem for MPS. They've just failed according to Kooyenga and Darling. Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail.
But a small number of schools – that's different. Kooyenga said the goal is for legislative action before summer and to launch the "turnaround" schools in the fall of 2016. Kooyenga said he and Darling are working on what to propose when it comes to specifics, such as how schools would be picked and who would have oversight of the initiative.
But the K-5 or K-8 schools? Oh, there's MONEY there folks.
Pick off two or three schools that are in MPS on the north side and take their SPED populations from 25% down to 10% or less by sending those students to other schools because "this charter isn't a good fit" and watch the segregation of special education students continue.
But, he said, "I'm still very optimistic about the momentum we have out there." He thought, given the strong Republican majorities in each house, approval was likely.Damn right I'll stand in front of that bulldozer.
Change in New Orleans
New Orleans is the main example of what a large-scale turnaround looks like. In the decade since Katrina, the traditional public school system has been replaced with an array of charter schools, many of them led and staffed by leaders and teachers who came to New Orleans as young idealists.
The changes brought new energy and a gusher of school-reform initiatives. But did they bring success?
Kooyenga says New Orleans has seen "great success," with rising achievement and graduation rates.Except, not so much. Even before I attended sessions with some of the experts who are mentioned below, I had already interacted with teachers from Baton Rouge this past fall who reported "ground truths" from their district and New Orleans. They said this whole narrative about some "miracle" would come crashing down because the fact of the matter is that parents, students, and even residents were starting to regret what happened.
The people brought to Milwaukee by the school board last week disagree. Karran Harper Royal, a parent activist in New Orleans, said few schools are succeeding and the voices of people in the community have been ignored. Raynard Sanders, a former principal, said, "What do you mean that it's better? For parents and people on the ground, it's not better."
Kristen Buras, a professor at Georgia State University, said, "What has transpired in New Orleans is not at all miraculous. Just the opposite. It has been a dismal failure and even worse. It is a project that has disenfranchised and dispossessed working-class African Americans."Oh, you mean how many of the middle class jobs held by black and African-American families are in the public sector and in education? Gee, I wonder how Darling and Kooyenga are going to have answers for this issue. Again, it's white suburban legislators who are imposing their will on the largely black and poor inner-city, just think for a minute how the optics of that look.
Sarah Carr is a journalist who has reported on New Orleans education since 2007, including writing a book. (Disclosure: She was a colleague at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from 2002 until 2007 and we remain friends.) She spoke about what has been learned last week at a Public Policy Forum luncheon at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee.
One of the lessons, she said, is to be realistic about the availability of the kind of teachers and principals that you need.
The people you need are many of the people you already have working in schools. Instead, they are being scapegoated and pushed aside instead of included as a voice in the discussion of how to affect change.
That's a crucial point for Milwaukee. You can't have quality without quality staff.
Kooyenga said he agreed with Carr's point. "That's why we're limiting this to a finite number of schools," he said.
So, you're saying those schools that aren't meeting expectations don't have quality staff in now? Talk about firing shots over my own personal bow...
I'll be the very first to admit that there are teachers who need assistance in my school. But I'll also adamantly defend many of the teachers in my school who are affecting positive change with our students in such difficult circumstances. We are not a failing school because of the staff. We are not a failing school simply because of our students. We are a "failing" school because as a community and society, we are not giving the students what they need to be successful.
It's that simple. The students at my school need small learning environments, immense resources with health, nutrition, extracurriculars, and some semblance of stability in their home life.
Considering we aren't looking at affecting positive change in those regards and not wanting to admit that it's expensive to educate economically disadvantaged children, we have proposals like the one from Darling and Kooyenga.
But that doesn't mean this isn't a big deal. It is. Taking even a handful of schools from MPS (which has about 160 in total) could be profound. It could set off more intensely heated politicking and have effects across the education landscape in Milwaukee. If the schools involved showed improvement in coming years, that would be a big deal. If they did not, that would be a big deal.
Several other cities have taken steps to create some version of a "recovery schools" plan. It's far from clear whether good will result. Just last week, developments in Memphis, one of the main examples, put problems in the spotlight. A well-regarded national charter school operator pulled out of Memphis, citing factors including obstacles to implementing its plan and a contentious political environment.Coming to Milwaukee isn't exactly coming to an apathetic political climate.
The need for change, the risks of change, the controversies over change – Carr suggested keeping in mind one lesson from New Orleans, learned the hard way, in some cases. It's the ancient medical dictum:
First, do no harm.Do no harm? Let's stop doing the harm we are!