State School Superintendent Candidates Differ Sharply in Law School Debate

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There are many clear divisions between the two candidates for Wisconsin superintendent of public instruction when it comes to how each would do the job over the next four years – and a good selection of those differences were visible Tuesday when the two debated at Marquette Law School.

Two-term incumbent Tony Evers and challenger Lowell Holtz, former superintendent of Beloit and Whitnall, will face off in the statewide election on April 4.

The Law School session, a week before election day, brought some heat – the two had sharp words, particularly over an exchange between candidates Lowell Holtz and John Humphries, a third candidate who lost in a February primary. In December, Humphries and Holtz met at a restaurant.  It remains murky who said what, but notes from that conversation say they talked about one of them working for the other, should the other win. The “loser” would get a high paying job that would include broad power of several of the state’s largest school districts.  In Tuesday’s debate, Evers said the exchange brought Holtz’s integrity into question. Holtz said Evers’ version was false, but did not clarify what went on between Humphries and him.

But there was light as well as heat at Tuesday’s one-hour debate. The race has been regarded by some as a referendum on the use of publicly-funded vouchers to allow students to attend private schools, including religious schools. Indeed, they do differ sharply on this, with Evers generally a critic of vouchers and Holtz a supporter.

But they differ on much more. Read more »

Amid Continuing Concerns, MPS Chief Highlights Progress in School Initiatives

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“I’m very impatient and I want everything changed overnight. But it doesn’t happen that way.”

How does it happen? I Supt takes time. It takes the involvement of pretty much everyone in the community. It takes a willingness to make changes, but then stick with them so that they can take root and grow.

Those were among the broad and important lessons Darienne Driver, the superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, offered at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Wednesday. Driver was enthusiastic about progress being made within MPS and about the prospects for success growing. But she was also realistic about MPS’s problems, and about how it will take time before the impact of current initiatives can be judged. Read more »

Two Views, One Conversation: Light Shed on School Vouchers at Law School Program

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Even in a social media world, I’m still a big backer of the notion that serious, informative, in-person dialogue about major public issues is a good thing. The more contentious and important the subject and the more level-headed the discussion, the better. When it comes to contentiousness and importance, almost nothing in the realm of education policy rivals the subject of private school vouchers for kindergartner through twelfth grade students. Milwaukee was the place where vouchers for low-income, urban students were launched in1990. And, with the election of Donald Trump as president and Trump’s selection of voucher-advocate Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education, vouchers are a hot subject.

All of this is to say that I thought the hour-long session at Marquette Law School on Wednesday was worth listening to, and the opportunity to do that remains, as you can find at the end of this blog item. In a program titled Lessons from a Quarter Century of School Vouchers: One Conversation, Two Points of View, we brought together Scott Jensen, a key figure in the voucher movement in Wisconsin and now an adviser to the American Federation for Children, a school-choice advocacy group headed by DeVos, and Julie Underwood, a professor in the education and law schools at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a long-time advocate for public schools. Read more »

Opposing Views, One Conversation at Session on Milwaukee Education

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Until Tuesday, Dale Kooyenga and Lauren Baker had never met. That alone is an argument for why their discussion before a capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall was worthwhile.

Kooyenga is a member of the state Assembly, a leader among Republicans pushing for education policies that embrace school choice, and a key figure behind a controversial new law that gives Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele powers to control what happens in some low-success Milwaukee public schools.

Baker is the executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the union that is an influential force in Milwaukee politics and MPS decision making. The union opposes almost all the plans Kooyenga supports.

Never the twain shall agree? That’s likely, given the adamancy of their positions. But never the twain shall meet? That ended at the Law School event, which was titled “The Future of Education in Milwaukee: One Conversation, Two Viewpoints.” Read more »

MATC President Describes a Tuition-Free Promise That Could Change Milwaukee

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Vicki Martin was at a national conference of community college leaders and set out to attend a workshop. But she walked into a different session than the one was looking for. That worked out well — it triggered a change in her thinking that may trigger a change in the education and job prospects for large numbers of low-income Milwaukee young adults.

Martin is president of Milwaukee Area Technical College and the session she walked into was about a program called the Tennessee Promise, which offers two years of community and technical college education with no tuition cost for high school graduates in that state.

“It really caught my imagination,” Martin said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Feb. 23. She decided, “This is very doable. . . . We just have to do it.” Read more »

Justice Scalia at Marquette Law School

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Judge Diane Sykes introduces Justice Antonin Scalia at the dedication of Eckstein Hall

Judge Sykes introduces Justice Scalia

It seems to be common ground that it will be hard to imagine the United States Supreme Court without the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He was a force also in legal education more directly. That is, he was a teacher, and he taught his theories of constitutional and statutory interpretation with intellect and energy, even outside of his writings in the U.S. Reports.


Justice Scalia visited us at Marquette University Law School on two occasions. The first was in 2001 to deliver our annual Hallows Lecture, where some 500 people were with him in the Weasler Auditorium, while a group of the same size watched a video feed in the Monaghan Ballroom of the Alumni Memorial Union. For me, the more memorable moment in that visit came when the Justice first arrived to campus, where an overflowing group of law students awaited him in Room 307 of Sensenbrenner Hall. The dean at the time, Howard B. Eisenberg, told the students that I would introduce him, because “Without Professor Kearney, there would be no Justice Scalia here.” Even before I could say anything, Justice Scalia brought the house down with this interjection: “I thought that, without Justice Scalia, there would be no Professor Kearney here.”

Justice Scalia returned to deliver the keynote address at the dedication of Eckstein Hall on September 8, 2010. He relaxed his strictures on recording, and the entire ceremony can be seen here, with an account of it appearing in the Marquette Law Review. I especially recall this comment of Judge Diane S. Sykes, L’84, in introducing the Justice:

“So we are fortunate, indeed, that this history-making justice has joined us here today as we make a little history of our own. When Dean Kearney unveiled the plans for this beautiful building two years ago, he famously declared that Eckstein Hall will be ‘noble, bold, harmonious, dramatic, confident, slightly willful, and, in a word, great.’ It certainly is. And with the possible exception of harmonious—Justice Scalia has been known to say that one of his charms is that he likes to tell people what they don’t want to hear—the dean’s description of this distinguished and splendid building might likewise be applied to our distinguished and splendid visitor. So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the noble, bold, dramatic, confident, slightly willful, and, and in a word, great Justice Antonin Scalia.”

There are things to learn from the remarks of Justice Scalia and the other speakers that day, including then-Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, whether in the recording or the law review account linked above. My own recollection of Justice Scalia has appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and can be found here.

New Cristo Rey High School Has High Career Aims for Students

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For Maritza Contreras, the Cristo Rey experience began with seeing high school kids in her neighborhood on the way to school all dressed up. She was about nine at the time and the idea of going to school in your best clothes was “the weirdest thing I ever heard of.” But she was attracted to it.  She made it her goal to go to Cristo Rey High School, a private school in her Chicago neighborhood where teens were required to work part time in real jobs in real work places and to aim to go to and succeed in college so that they could become adults working in places like the ones where they did their student placements.

For Contreras, Cristo Rey meant being asked for the first time about her college plans. It meant learning a set of skills and expectations that opened avenues for her, including small but important things such as how to shake hands firmly while making eye contact with someone.

And it meant enrolling in Marquette University with major scholarship support, graduating cum laude with a degree in nursing, and setting aside her nursing ambitions “for now” to get involved in helping the community as director of administrative management services for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin.

Cristo Rey has grown also. Starting in 1996 with the school Contreras attended, there are now 30 Christo Rey schools across the country. A local school, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, opened this fall with 129 ninth graders, almost all of them low-income and benefitting from the state’s private school voucher program. The school is based in a church in West Milwaukee, just south of Miller Park. Read more »

Kettle Moraine Kids, Compared to the World

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You could expect students in the Kettle Moraine school district to do well. The communities served by the district in western Waukesha County are generally doing well economically, parents are involved and expect good results, and the school leaders and staff are talented professionals.

But what does “do well” mean? Compared to whom? Neighboring districts? Wisconsin? The nation?

How about the world?

Kettle Moraine has been an eager participant in a small, but growing movement that involves samples of 15-year-olds taking a test called the OECD Test for Schools. It yields comparisons of individual schools to students in nations around the world. The test also includes a set of questions that yield potentially insightful information for school leaders on the perspectives of students about the learning environment they find, both at school and elsewhere.

I was asked by editors of Education Next, a widely-followed national magazine and Web site, to write about Kettle Moraine’s involvement with the OECD Test.

The story can be found by clicking here and will be in  the issue of Education Next to be published in coming weeks.

And the answer  to the question of how Kettle Moraine kids are doing? The answer, in short, is quite well, but there’s room for improvement.





Sampling the Strong Stew of Thoughts at Eckstein Hall Education Conference

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Given the long list of controversial and major decisions to be made soon as the process of setting Wisconsin’s state budget for the next two years comes to a head, it was remarkable how much agreement there was among speakers at the wide-ranging conference on kindergarten through twelfth grade education policy Monday at Eckstein Hall.

“Pivotal Points: A Forum on Key Wisconsin Education Issues as Big Decisions Approach” brought together key figures involved in politics, schools, and education policy before a full-house audience in the Appellate Courtroom.

Yes, there were differences. But speakers covering a spectrum of views found a lot in common, including the need for stable, adequate funding of schools and stable, effective approaches to dealing with assessing students and tackling the challenges of schools where success is not common.

The four-hour conference opened with welcoming remarks from Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell and ended with something close to agreement by a Republican and Democrat involved in State Assembly education policy that “low performing” schools need support and help more than they need to be closed. Read more »

Katie Maloney Perhach Discusses Her Leadership Role at Quarles & Brady

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Marquette Law alum Katie Maloney Perhach discusses her leadership role at Quarles & Brady in this interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  She is managing partner for the Milwaukee office and the chair of its Financial Institutions Litigation Group.

Law and the Horse

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Horse and RiderIf you’ve spent much time around me, you know that I’ve got horse-crazy daughters.  My oldest is fourteen, and she’s just starting her tenth year of riding.  Her sisters joined in the fun a couple years after she started.  That has meant all sorts of things for our family, one of which is that I’ve spent an awful lot of time watching riding lessons.

It’s no surprise that spending that much time watching my daughters being taught a set of skills has led me to reflect on my own teaching.  There are, I’ve concluded, lots of connections, and so in this post I’m going to try to persuade you of two things:  The first is that learning to be a lawyer is in meaningful respects similar to learning a skill like how to ride a horse.  (Or, for that matter, figure skating.)  Both processes involve not merely the acquisition of information, but also a somewhat ineffable sense for how to engage in an activity.  The second is that those similarities can help provide some interesting perspectives on what we do in law schools.

I am breaking no new ground in making the first point.  Karl Llewellyn, for example, wrote of the value to lawyers and judges of “situation sense” and “horse sense” and of understanding that – and even more, understanding how – legal rules will often tell a tale that is incomplete or even wrong when applied to certain fact patterns.  This is a view of law as a craft.  Doing it well requires cultivating an often inarticulable sense of what sorts of responses are appropriate to which situations.  We might call it judgment.  Some of this is doctrinal knowledge, the content of the “law.”  But, Llewellyn admonished new law students, as memorialized in The Bramble Bush, “it does not make so very much difference whether you remember the specific rules.  Good, if you do.  But even if you do not, there remains a deposit, formless, curious—but one which informs your hunches in the future.”  Few of us remember much in the way of doctrinal specifics from our first semester in law school, but none of us could claim that we didn’t learn much.

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MPS Is at a “Tipping Point,” Driver Tells Law School Audience

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The Milwaukee Public Schools system is “at a tipping point” where improvements in how the system is run and a strong base of community support need to lead to better overall academic achievement for students, the new superintendent of MPS, Darienne Driver, said Wednesday.

Speaking at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall, Driver said, “We have to get results.” But she said MPS is going through a lot of transitions that are helping make schools poised to do that.

But Driver, who became superintendent Oct. 1, spoke a short time after two influential Republican legislators in Madison released the outlines of a plan to deal with poverty in Milwaukee that could see control of some low-performing schools taken from MPS and given to independent charter schools. The ideas floated by Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga suggest the tough time MPS is likely to have in the current legislative session.

Driver said the ideas from Darling and Kooyenga “really get away from the investment we should be making in our public schools.” She said it could be “devastating” to schools that would be closed and re-opened. The idea of creating something similar to the Recovery School District in New Orleans, which the legislators suggested, is a distraction that would not yield good results overall, Driver said. Read more »