Sunday, March 29, 2015

New News On Milwaukee's "Recovery Zone" Charter School Ideas

Why is a columnist the person who's able to report on the latest ideas from State Sen. Alberta Darling and Assembly Rep. Dale Kooyenga with respect to a "turn around" district being crated by carving schools out from the Milwaukee Public Schools?

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. 

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." 
You mean the plan that pretty much divides by race things like the ability to join a union and have self-determination over neighborhoods and their community? Yeah, because that report TOTALLY didn't look like rich white suburban legislators trying to dictate to poor blacks how to live their lives.
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. 
Damn right we have been. I'm an extremely proud MTEA member and am more than willing to
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. 
So, by any common sense measure, my school will be safe. They won't take over a comprehensive high school in their first year, because they know it's ungodly expensive to do a charter high school and trying to implement reforms at the high school level means kicking out any student who doesn't fit their "mold" and bringing in new ones. It's not fertile territory.

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." 
Remember, charter school boards are not required to have any public input nor election by the community. Parent input means nothing to charter operators, as their belief is that you voice your input by putting your student into a different school. So much for building schools around a community...
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. 
You mean like the ones that were likely already in the classroom and dedicated to the students? Those same people who were just handed pink-slips by the school district because the state turned the school over to a charter operator?  Good teachers are hard to find. Good teachers who also are willing to put up with the rigors and mental stress of inner-city teaching is even harder. Retaining them for more than a few years is an even taller order yet.

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.
Wait, what?

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. 
And if they improve slightly but not significantly, which is the most likely scenario, you will see virtually nothing change. Charter operators will trumpet their successes in moving the needle any amount. Public advocates will point out how the charter operators didn't keep the same students and serve a disproportionately lower number of SPED students. But nothing will change.
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!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Money Friday

The idea of chartering a substantial portion of the Milwaukee Public Schools, opening charter schools to independent operators who have no obligation to local school boards or residents, and the idea that Assembly Education Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt seems just fine with people making a profit off of students in K-12 means only one thing.

Like the Alan Parsons Project said in 1987... Money Talks:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Charter Schools Are Exclusionary

Charter schools are exclusionary. It's just that simple, so don't let the smoke and mirrors that elected officials like Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga are trying to sell Wisconsin on the idea of charter authorizers across Wisconsin and a "Recovery" school district in Milwaukee.

I spent this afternoon at Milwaukee's High School of the Arts sitting in on listening sessions from national researchers and experts on things like New Orleans recovery school district and the anemic results that data has show. Never mind that all you see in conservative op-ed's and press-releases are phrases like "miracle."

From the New York Post (Yes, I know, but really, the quote is worth it). (Emphasis mine):
The head of the city’s largest charter-school network says she doesn’t accept midyear transfers from regular middle and high schools because their students don’t keep up with their charter counterparts. 
“Until the district schools are able to do a better job, it’s not really fair for a seventh-grader or high-school students to have to be educated with a child who is reading at a second- or third-grade level,” said Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz on WNYC radio Tuesday. 
Moskowitz says she has an “obligation to our parents in middle and high school.”
Charter foes quickly pushed back.
“That’s what we have to do in the public-school system all the time,” said City Council Education Committee Chairman Daniel Dromm (D-Queens). “We don’t throw kids out. We take everybody.”

If you want to truly be a public school, you need to not be exclusionary and accept everyone. That is exactly why you have schools like mine on Milwaukee's north-side who has students who on average are reading at a 6th grade level. Milwaukee is ripe for self-filtering through so-called "choice" between charters, vouchers, MPS, and then again within the MPS system.

Do not be fooled by the snake-oil.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fond du Lac...

Yesterday was incredibly painful because I followed along all evening with events that were unfolding in my hometown of Fond du Lac. Sadly two deaths occurred, one of whom was a young State Trooper who perished in a driveway and place that I have been through more times than I can possibly fathom having lived 24 years of my life in that city.

Black lives matter. Police lives matter. ALL LIVES MATTER.

When a person who is very clearly beyond disturbed murders one person and then murders a police officer, there is little that words can do to quantify what happened. In a similar vein, police officers are charged with defending themselves and the public through the social contract. It's not perfect, we have a lot of issues with it, but nobody deserves to die in that fashion.

My heart is heavy tonight, and sadly, I know my hometown's heart is heavy too.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga's Op-Ed on Charter Schools - BUNK

Want to know why I fight like I do for my public school and public education? Because with people like Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga leading the Joint Finance Committee and gunning for my employer of Milwaukee Public Schools, I have little choice.

This weekend, they published an Op-Ed in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about the "miracle" and "panacea" that charter schools are. Specifically, independent charter schools.

You can read the full column HERE. 
Charter schools in Milwaukee are dispelling the myth that economically disadvantaged kids can't learn until we "fix" poverty.
Umm, WHAT?!

You have to be kidding me?!

NOBODY is saying that economically disadvantaged kids CAN'T learn! What we are saying is that it is the most significant barrier and hurdle to ensuring access to a quality education. This is a PRIME example of how Republicans co-opt an narrative and frame logical and sound Democratic arguments in their worldview.

In other news, when did you stop beating your wife?
Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes recently found that students in Milwaukee charter schools are outperforming their peers in Milwaukee Public Schools. Without question, more growth is needed from students in both charter and district schools. However, the bottom line is that Milwaukee's charter schools prove every child can learn regardless of his or her socio-economic status. We applaud the success of our charter schools and hope it continues in the public charter sector and is replicated in classrooms across Milwaukee. 
Except, every student isn't accepted into charter schools, which is a MAJOR caveat that those who pump charters as the great savior of schools like to conveniently leave out. Poverty is a major factor, but being able to exclude students who have severe cognitive disabilities who lower test scores, being able to exclude students who are "disruptive" and "difficult to educate" works WONDERS in helping your numbers to prove that all of YOUR students can learn.

Again and again I say this, what makes public schools TRULY public is that they are open to everyone. We can't counsel you out because you are habitually truant. We can't counsel you out because we "don't offer those services here." We can't leave a distaste in your mouth because we don't have English-Language-Learner programs. We can't kick out students who are disruptive, and in fact, are almost tied too tightly at times because of how our students who have special needs are coded and how their behaviors are manifested.

It's really, really flipping easy to try and dispel the myth that poverty isn't a barrier when you have parents who are able to read and process the forms to apply to a charter school. Who are able to provide transportation to those schools, who are able to meet with teachers or face their student being kicked out. It must be just a glorious and wonderful place where you can skim students off the top.

Oh, and can we look at that survey again and remember that this is the first time this survey has shown charters outperforming public schools and that the caveats I mentioned above are all noted.
Defenders of the failed status quo will likely claim comparing charter schools to MPS is an unfair apples-to-oranges comparison. This is another tragic case of the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Rather than throwing in the towel, schools across Milwaukee should look at what effective charter schools are doing, and copy their practices to use in their failing schools. After all, serving as a model of best practices is a core reason charter schools exist in Wisconsin. 

In fact, the Governor's budget is proposing a $12 Million cut for MPS with the loss of $150 per-pupil aid. Charter schools are able to provide for students because they fund raise, have corporate sponsors who can underwrite and lets remember, not have to worry about those "expensive" special education students who require door-to-door busing, a full time aid, and other specialized services.

Public schools copy practices that are proven to work, but also do something that Sen. Darling and Rep. Kooyenga have already rejected - Root-cause analysis, and poverty with the lack of family supporting jobs and stability is a MAJOR factor in cyclical and generational poverty.

We should be expanding access to quality schools — not trying to regulate them out of business. Every child in Milwaukee should have access to an affordable, safe and effective education — not just those who can secure a seat at a quality charter school or pass the competitive admissions standards at selective schools run by MPS. Far too many children in Milwaukee are trapped in underperforming schools because the number of seats at quality schools is lower than the number of students who want to fill them. 
Umm, have you noticed how MPS is expanding it's high performing options? No. You just want to push a narrative that you feel plays well to Waukesha Co. I mean, MPS is expanding it's high school options with the high-performing Golda Meier school coming online. The language immersion programs have been growing exponentially and MPS is doing much with it's current "white papers" are reorganizing for the future.

But none of that matters to the conservatives from the suburbs who want to dictate to the city what they think it needs like they are somehow coming from "on high" to force us into their small minded box. In MPS, no student is trapped in a failing school. The students of Milwaukee have more choice than almost any other student in the nation. From the ability to obtain a voucher, to securing a seat at charter school (note how they say "secure" and not "test-in" or "demonstrate mature behaviors"), to the plethora of options and abilities to move around within MPS, there is not a single person "trapped" in a failing school in Milwaukee.

What we have is vast inequality.
We can and should learn from the success other states are having from harnessing the transformational power of charter schools. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. In particular, the schools were hit hard. An innovative approach called "Turnaround Schools" was introduced. In an effort to open up schools quickly and decentralize power, the state created a new school district that transformed local public schools into public charter schools. The change allowed more flexibility in the overall decision-making at the local level. 
The results of the experiment are encouraging. Before Hurricane Katrina, the high school graduation rate was 54% and in 2013 the graduation rate increased to 78%. Math and reading scores increased 200% from 2005. 
Oh, and have we talked about how the whole "New Orleans Miracle" has been debunked again and again?  May I also suggest looking at the scores of other cities like Baton Rouge and Houston, TX and see what happened when many of the poorest residents of New Orleans relocated there and never returned. It's just so much easier when you can avoid those students who are most challenging.
Creating a Turnaround Schools Program is a key component of our New Opportunities for Milwaukee agenda. While the details of that concept are still being developed, our plan also allows charters to replicate if their students' test scores in both math and reading exceed test scores of the local public school by 10% in the two preceding school years. Our plan rewards an outstanding school with greater autonomy and a license to continue their successful model in other parts of the city. 
We don't intend to stop there. Gov. Scott Walker included a provision in his budget plan to create an independent statewide charter school authorizer. The statewide authorizer would be empowered to grant charter schools in places that need them. 
Let's remember again, there is absolutely NOTHING that an independent charter school can do that your local school district can't do with chartering a school This is all about diverting schools to "non-profits" who take money and are essentially laundering agents who have "Charter Management Organizations" who make money.

Remember, it's your illustrious Assembly Education Chair Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt who said during his public testimony of AB 1 that he's okay with companies making money operating schools and just this weekend reaffirmed his belief that students are "customers."
Milwaukee Public Schools are among the worst performing in the state yet a black male has a better chance of graduating from a Milwaukee public school than a Madison public school. Despite the tragically low numbers, unions and politicians in Madison united to reject a charter school that would have focused exclusively on improving educational opportunities for young black males. Those adults put their priorities ahead of the success of students who desperately need a chance to succeed. 
A charter proposal that was not sound because of a lack of a financial plan that would've satisfied
what the district had to provide was rejected and the group who brought the plan forward did not like that it had to get approval for it's plan. PRIME TIME example of people who don't like local control, go to the conservatives in the state legislature and ask for local control to be removed so they can have their way without the peskiness of working with those who actually live there.
When all children have an opportunity to succeed, Wisconsin succeeds. We are working hard to make sure kids can attend great schools. When those children become adults, they will then have the opportunity for a great job. Charter schools are a way to help make sure both those things happen.
They are nothing more than a way for people to make money.

If you want to fix schools and help every student succeed fix the systemic problem of cyclical poverty.

But, when facts don't matter and conservative suburbanites are proselytising on high down to the lowly city residents, it's easy to be blinded. I mean really, Republican legislators from Brookfield and River Hills are telling people from Center and Teutonia in Milwaukee that poverty isn't an excuse?

Is it any wonder we are the most racially, economically, and opportunity segregated location in the nation?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Assembly Education Chairman Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt Wants Companies To Profit Off Kids

I didn't think it possible, but Fond du Lac area Representative, and Assembly Education Committee Chairman Jeremy Thiesfeldt just went beyond the pale. 

Weekly, the FDL Reporter answers reader submitted questions on local topics. This week's column featured a question about the Fond du Lac School District giving out it's directory information due to an open-records request from "School Choice Wisconsin. The whole article is a worthy read, but at the very, very end is where Rep. Theisfeldt makes an appearance and a quote is given that should be stapled to anything he every does with respect to educational matters and running for reelection: 
Assembly Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said Wisconsin School Choice is not requesting anything other than what every taxpayer has the right to have access to. 
"Wisconsin School Choice is in the education business and they are obviously interested in knowing who their potential customers are," Thiesfeldt said. "They had no intent other than to send out a postcard," Thiesfeldt said.
That's right! Rep. Thiesfeldt thinks that YOU as a taxpayer should have access to the home addresses, telephone numbers, athletic eligibility, and any matter of other data because you are a taxpayer! Doesn't it make you feel all warm and fuzzy that your child is a a piece of data that the person chairing the Assembly Committee on Education feels is a "potential customer" and your home address should be given up to any taxpayer or private entity who requests it for marketing?!

Rep. Thiesfeldt thinks that local school districts should be required to give up their lists to people who want to destroy them, and you should be okay with that because they are only giving it up to an education business who wants to send a post card.


The Revival of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin

Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Then again, sometimes history repeats itself because nature in so many ways is cyclical.

However, just because a system is cyclical, doesn't mean that past history can't be used to learn about the cycle, prepare for it, devise a plan to struggle through the low times, and devise an even better plan for revival. It is in that last phase which the Democratic Party of Wisconsin finds itself right now.

Much has been written recently about the state of the DPW. From THIS in the Journal-Sentinel a few weeks ago, to THIS discussion on WisEye with State Senator (and often time critic of the state party) Kathleen Vinehout, to the much interesting (and equally befuddling) race for DPW Chair.

Yet, so much of what I've seen written seems to be without the long-term vision of political history in Wisconsin. I've noted time and time again on this site - HISTORY MATTERS! It's imperative to understand our past as a state and it's political wills to help realize it's future. Admittedly, I'm not much of an expert on the legislature and Wisconsin politics during the 2000's. My formative years of high school and college where many people begin working and becoming interested in politics were shaped by the national scene of the Iraq War and Obama. Oh, and a fear of touching anything political as I knew it would hamper my ability to obtain a teaching job. But with the aid of time, I can begin seeing how the broad-strokes of this decade fit into Wisconsin's historic narrative.

The crossroads the Democratic Party of Wisconsin finds itself at is not a new phenomena for Wisconsin's perennial underdog party. And that's right, historically, it's a perennial underdog, long behind the Republican factions of Stalwarts and Progressives. In fact, it's only been in the last 60 years that the state Democrats have even had a consistently viable party, and it's in those origins that those who are interested in rechristening the DPW should look.

The recent meeting of county chairs and other relative "big-wigs" that took place in Stevens Point is one starting point, but change for the DPW needs to be more than just getting together and talking at each other. Put myself, Jake, Heather, Capper & Simpson, and then the cadre of writers Blogging Blue in one room and you'd likely get the same list of things wrong with the DPW, shouting matches of disagreement, and suggestions of changes to pursue. Having an opportunity for everyone to vent is fine, but the real work is much, much less sexy or exciting.

It's why I write - to vent. Actually affecting the world involves DOING things, such as my day-job of teaching. This is just a cathartic space that for one reason or another others find value in. I appreciate it, but ultimately know it's just my corner of the echo-chamber.

For the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to reorganize, it needs to use the disciplines of mathematics and history in scientific fashions.

With respect to history, they need to research in unbiased and unapologetic honesty where they have been as a party since 1946. Why 1946? Because THAT is when the modern DPW's seeds were planted. I loved reading in The History of Wisconsin Vol. VI about how the collapse of the Progressive Party and Socialist Party ignited the modern DPW. It's a worthwhile thing for young whipper-snappers like myself to realize.

The year 1946 was when Young Bob La Follette rejoined the Republican Party and lost in the Senatorial primary to.... Joseph McCarthy. Yes, that's right, the end of the La Follette dynasty came at the hands of the most lowly politician to ever come from Wisconsin. (Well, we shall see what history holds with respect to current office holders.) The collapse of the La Follette brothers Progressive Party split it's members between those who decided to return to the "traditional" home of the Republican Party, and those who saw the Democrats as more in-line with their social stances and fertile political ground to mold in their liking.

At the same time, a certain former Milwaukee Mayor (and current namesake of the I-794 bridge) Dan Hoan was busy working within the DPW. After his defeat for mayor in 1940, with the advent of WWII and international geopolitics making socialism a scary word, his Socialists were collapsing in Milwaukee. Hoan was looking for new ground to cultivate as a political organizer and the logical choice was the inept, backwards, and historically losing Democrats.

Wisconsin Democrats for so long were not a viable party. Sans wave years in 1932 and again back in the early 1890's (thanks Bennett Law), they had not held the Governorship and were woefully underrepresented in the legislature. In fact, they clung to traditional political conservativeness and general aloofness into the 1930's, where many state Democrats weren't even operating on the same general platform or set of ideas as President Roosevelt. (That was when the Progressive Party of Wisconsin was strongest.) By the 1940's, and with the Progressives really being a party of the La Follette's, Socialists and Progressives began realizing that the national infrastructure of the Democrats and lack of strong leadership in Wisconsin was ripe to be utilized.

Beginning in 1948 the party began revitalizing their ground-game and had a group of organizers who helped realize success with William Proxmire a decade later. (Names like Doyle Sr, Lucey, Hoan, to name a few...) The turn-around of the DPW was a decade long process, but it was one with long-range vision. Democrats still lost in 1950, 52, 54, and 56, but they kept building, and building, and building. They even had an ill-fated recall election of Sen. McCarthy.

I'm just saying, HISTORY MATTERS!!!

When the Democrats finally did put up equal challenges to the Republicans in the late 1950's and 60's, it was mostly in state and national races. Historically, Wisconsin may be a purple-state for President, but we have been a Republican state in the legislature. It's just that simple. This brings us to the next point...

In order to revitalize the DPW, we need to develop a long-range plan like those visionaries in the late 1940's, but we also need to use the data, computer analytics, and statistics of the 21st Century to develop those long-range plans. In an age of Citizens United money, we can't just throw money at our problems, which means we have to be strategic with how we budget for candidates. It also sadly means we may have to admit as a party that it takes money to win elections. That is a bitter pill to swallow.

I hate money in politics. Who doesn't?

But, money has ALWAYS driven politics. It's one of those ground-truth facts that we kind of have to admit to ourselves if we want to move on and win elections. Yes, let's fight Citizens United, but let's also recognize the system we live in and PLAY TO WIN. That means raising money. Lots, and lots of money. If we can't admit that to ourselves, we've already lost.

The only way to win is to win within the map we have, and win now to change it later. There's that budgeting again. If you're a Democrat who's in office or running for office, you unfortunately have to admit that it takes money to win, and if you're in office or running for office, it's your job to raise it.

It's politics in 2015...

I hate it. I hate it just as much as I did last year, as I did in 2010, and as I did when I was a naive high school student in 2004. But after November's beat-down and cycle after cycle of under-performing with fundraising, I've come to realize that we can't change if we don't win. How the laws are written now, winning requires ungodly amounts of money. I love the idea of a Feingold 92' style campaign, or the romantic Proxmire $1000 campaigns of the 70's and 80's, but in the post-Citizens United world, it's not happening. We need to admit it and move on.

When we finally admit we need money, we need to have a plan to raise it and a damn smart plan on how to spend it. I know we've had plans and strategies in place already, but look where we are. We need to reassess and reevaluate. Statistically, is it better to run someone everywhere or only in competitive seats? STATISTICALLY, not emotionally. I want to challenge for every seat, but what does the data say? (I honestly have no idea. Do we even have a strategy right now?) That's what we need guiding us, not our emotions. How much money should we expect our candidates/elected officials to raise? I see a wide, wide net of possibilities of areas where I'm just not sure we've done a good job as a state party keeping our emotions out of it and having data drive us.

I happily this week spent $50 with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. $25 for my yearly membership, and another $25 for the convention in Milwaukee this June. I'm by no means Dan Hoan, but his spirit is in me right now as I process just how piddly my bank-account is. As I've sat back and assessed what happened in November, the spectacle of the DPW Chair race, and moves being made for 2016 and beyond, I've come to realize that now is the best time to invest in the state party.

History suggests it.

Not everyone agrees with me I'm sure. Trust me, I get it. But when I look at the history and math in broad-strokes, it's the conclusion I've come to.

Either way, let's start rebuilding. *Caution - Persons Working Above*

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Yesterdays Joint Finance Committee Public Hearing

So, yesterday's public hearing at Alverno College in Milwaukee was certainly interesting.

Considering nobody ever announces when speaker-slips will begin being accepted, it was a day mostly filled up with people who signed up to speak before the 10am hearing began.

For example, I had a surrogate put my name in at 9:17, and it was finally called at 4:53. Mind you, plenty of people were skipped because they had already left. Some of the more glaring issues with these hearings are that people who come to speak don't realize just how short 2 minutes are, just how many people actually show up, and how out-of-touch the conservatives who organize them are when they only put one hearing in the entirety of Southeast Wisconsin.

Oh, and the police presence was fun too. I mean, it's not like that existed at all in Brillion a few days earlier. There were photos and comments from Sen. Lena Taylor, but at one point there were no fewer than 24 police officers I personally counted.

To say nothing of the voucher school spectacle that wasted a day of having students be pawns in a political game that many I'm sure had no clue why they were there. It's one thing if you are a student who decides to speak up. It's quite another when the school makes you take a "field trip" as a political stunt:

So, what did I use my time for? A group of students of course! Students from Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) came after school to speak their views, and I happily deferred my 2 minutes to one of them:

As for what I was prepared to say, it was by no means as powerful. However, I submitted copies of it for members of the committee to (possibly) read:
Good Afternoon, 
As a young professional educator, I implore you to consider alternatives to the proposals of a K-12 funding cut, expansion of independent charter schools, expansion of school vouchers, and cut to the UW System. 
As I did two years ago, I request that you restore $150 in per-pupil funding for our local school districts. You have already heard about the necessity of these funds. 
The proliferation of independent charter schools across Wisconsin will do little to improve the academic achievement of all students. In Milwaukee, the data has not born out any significant advantage of these schools for students who are the toughest to educate. Furthermore, the approval of operators to make a profit has been expressed recently by the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee during the public hearing of AB 1. How this improves education for students with needs and holds harmless local school districts whose sole interest is providing a free and appropriate education for all students, is hard to grasp. 
There are presently hundreds charter schools across Wisconsin that provide opportunities to students through a specific focus or program. The fact that these schools are given a charter by their local district is an important “check” of local control that citizens are able to practice. Parents and taxpayers are able to review the finances of these schools, demand high results, and have input to courses and curriculum through the public forum and election process. Mind you, this is not true of independent charters, who accept taxpayer money but are not subject to such public forum or open records rules. 
With respect to vouchers, Sen. Olsen has consistently said the unlimited expansion of vouchers across Wisconsin creates dual systems. The inability to adequately fund the system we presently have will not be rectified by siphoning money into a whole new educational stream. 
Lastly, as an extremely proud alumni of UW-Fond du Lac, I cannot make a more heartfelt plea to spare the UW Colleges two-year schools from the extreme blows of this budget. The Governor has said the deletion of the “Wisconsin Idea” was a drafting error. It becomes a defacto reality should the colleges be eviscerated by these cuts as proposed. To keep access to higher education equitable to all, please consider the special role the UW Colleges play in keeping the Wisconsin Idea alive. 
Thank You
Luckily, Sen. Alberta Darling heeded the words of Rep. Mandela Barnes and others, who called for an extended hearing, and proceedings were continued until 8:45pm so everyone who stuck around during the day could be heard.

In fact, a small group of teachers and other public education advocates met up at 6am BEFORE the hearing to make a plea:

Maybe we should go back to having more than just four hearings around the state? Is that not a good idea? The citizens of Wisconsin want to be heard on so many issues! From Family Care, to education, BadgerCare, UW System organization, there were a host of different voices yesterday.

I'm just thrilled at the fact that I was able to be there for half of the day and witness it myself. As much kabuki theatre as it is, I still enjoy it and think it's a wonderful process we have.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Some Days Others Say It Better - PR Watch On The Biennium and Drafting Files

So, PR Watch did some EXCELLENT work today and dug up the drafting files used to create the 2015-17 Biennium Budget. In there, they found pretty much every reason under the sun as to why I can't possibly understand why you would think Gov. Walker believes in strengthening public schools.

I can't even do justice to their article. (Another one of those days today, and the week looks to only get busier.) So, I IMPLORE YOU to read the whole thing HERE. 

From the article comes this picture:

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Where Has The Soapbox Been? Answer - Actually Doing Things

If you haven't noticed, you're probably like the vast, vast, vast majority of the world that doesn't know I exist and could care less about what I have to say.

I envy them.

Well, over the last two weeks, I haven't written very much in this space. For those of you who consistently remark about my ability to post, I apologize, and yet again than you for the compliments that I feel undeserving of.

Sure, I've had some general life situations cloud my time, but the vast, vast majority of it has been occupied or connected in some way to serving public school children in Milwaukee. Only after that comes time building personal/professional relationships, and enjoying the good company of colleagues. Even in such a digital and connected world, there's nothing like sharing a carbonated beverage with other people.

The realities of working and serving in an urban school district are ones of stress, exhaustion, and perseverance. You need that ability to persevere because that is what gives the hope and lights the way to affecting positive change. Aside from the usual planning, grading, and parent teacher conferences of March, I've been attending several "white paper" sessions held by MPS about how to best organize, redefine, and chart the future of our district's policies. Mind you, these are all held in the evening to allow parent/student/staff input.

I'm very hopeful for these sessions, and have time and time again said that I absolutely LOVE that there is a Superintendent who is in her mid-30's. If you want to help us in MPS and don't live in Milwaukee, help by expressing that we are already in the throws of making positive changes!

That is outside what I've been working on with our school's "Commitment School" grant. Working with other long-time educators in MPS to help our school utilize resources and bring community partners is much tougher than one may expect. To say nothing of sitting in a meeting with individuals who work at Central Office who are light-years smarter than you are and hoping you don't say something dumb.

Let's just say I wish I had taken a statistics course at some point when going over all the data.

Lastly, this week the Joint Finance Committee will be having their hearing in the Milwaukee region at Alverno College. I fully expect to testify and let the committee understand the negative aspects of unlimited charter/voucher expansion, the abject horror of a $150 per-pupil funding cut, and valiant plead to help the UW Colleges.

So, forgive me if I'm not writing very much right now. I'm outside of the echo-chamber that is the Internet.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Friday's Events In Madison - No Good Answers

I see so much, and yet, there is so much confusion I have.

The shooting death of a 19 year old unarmed black man in Madison by a police officer leaves so many questions and so much confusion.

From Black Lives Matter, to I support MPD, everyone is rushing to judgement, coalescing onto sides, and advancing their own beliefs. I guess I'm no different on here, but I would be willing to bet many of the people who just jump to conclusions don't have to walk into an inner-city high school on Milwaukee's north side. That's where the confusion will really come to fruition.

The young man who was shot in Madison had a troubled past. Yes, he was convicted of a Felony only last year, but does that mean he should be labeled a bad person for life? Should that shadow cast over his every action? Perhaps, but perhaps that is the easy way to jump to conclusions.

The Madison Police Officer who made the decision to shoot at an unarmed person also has a history, and has been in the position of firing his weapon and taking a life before. Yes, the person he was shooting was carrying a pellet gun, and the officer was cleared of any wrong doing, but does that mean he should be labeled as a premier example of bad policing and policies that target blacks in Madison? Perhaps, but perhaps that is the easy way to jump to conclusions.

This story is one of nuance, and that is the story of life... Nuance.

My students have a natural distrust of the police. That's something many people where I come from and who are my age don't understand, and breeds feelings of racial tension. Likewise, my students assume that all white people trust the police and are always given a break. That also breeds feelings of racial tension.

We don't know what transpired in that house in Madison on Friday night. We know that a young person was acting in a way that had many people call the socially accepted answer of keeping order, law enforcement. Understanding what triggered those actions that prompted the initial calls is what interests me. Society and socially acceptable answers are not always mutually exclusive.

What we do know is this - There are no good answers.

There are no good answers as to why a young person decided to make poor decisions in the past and have a charge on their record. There are no good answers as to why he had to perish from a bullet fired by a law enforcement officer. There are no good answers as to why the officer had to fire that bullet. There are no good answers about what criteria should merit the discharge of a weapon. There are no good answers as to why the officer had to be involved with a previous shooting.

There are no good answers. Only the world we live in. A world that is still divided with different perspectives and a lack of understanding the perspectives of others. When we work towards not always agreeing with, but understanding other's perspectives, maybe we will advance just a little bit further ahead.

But even still, there are no good answers.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Off Friday

It's been a CRAZY week for the Soapbox. Lots of meetings, conferences, and a well deserved evening out with colleagues last night. Then this morning, I was awoken by my beastly kitty and decided to tune into the final three hours of the "Wage Theft" session in the Assembly.

More on that later as I have to day to finally write.

But it got me thinking back to a song that I've featured on here before and I know holds meaning for many:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Busy, Busy Day

Today was the day from hell.

Because of an error that I took part in, several students have to retake their ACT test in the spring. It made me feel like hell that I helped cause such an error. I beat myself up over those things.

Then, after that, I was able to grade papers and watch some Wisconsin Eye. Some people grade to music, I grade to Joint Finance Committee agency hearings. The one that really was worth watching was today when Sup. Tony Evers went back and forth with the legislators about the budget. There were occasionally some shouts from my room of, "DUH!" and the occasional scream as well.

Hey, these things happen.

But after getting home at 8:30pm from a listening session held by MPS on re-imagining high schools, I'm pooped and just can't bang more out tonight.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Public School Funding Hope?

In 2013, I gave testimony to the Joint Finance Committee about the need to increase per-pupil funding by $150. Luckily, they obliged, in no small part because of Sen. Luther Olsen's lobbying. The man is a Republican, and yes, he's a conservative on many items. However, he's last hope those of us who support public education have in the Senate.

That's why, when I see tweets like this, I have hope:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sickness Weekend - Short Takes

Having an enraged ear infection is not fun. Hence, the lack of posts this weekend, not lack of things to discuss.

I'm off to bed again, but short takes:

- It was amazing seeing everyone on Saturday in Madison who came out to protest the Wage Theft bills. It was truly wonderful to see so many people whom I've had the absolute privilege of interacting with over the last four years both in person and online There WILL be a much more long-form piece on this. (Tomorrow and this whole week look to be MIGHTY busy, so we'll see when.)

- "Up Front w/Mike Gousha" had an epic episode this weekend. First, Rep. Peter Barca actually managed to take down Rep. "Boss" Vos on so many points he was attempting to make on Wage Theft. It was truly magical. You can watch it HERE. 

- Also on "Up Front," was a conversation about a topic I've been preaching about since the biennial budget came out - the UW Colleges. Chancellor Cathy Sandeen was a guest on the show, and you can watch her interview HERE. 

- The committee hearing on "Wage Theft" happening Monday should be mighty interesting. Rep. Jacques? Need I say anything more?

- Thursday's Assembly session should be one of note as well. It will be interesting to see what, if any Republicans vote against it. Who's this term's Dean Kaufert? With that in mind, how to Democrats effectively leverage this for 2016, but 2018 and beyond? (Much more on my thoughts of how this all ties in as well.)