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 »




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 »




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 »




Barrett: Streetcar Plan Is a Bet on the City’s Future

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“I’m betting on the future of this city, and I’m saying we have to invest.”

The specific investment Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was speaking of during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” event at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday is the proposed streetcar that would serve parts of downtown Milwaukee.

Barrett has been an energetic advocate for the streetcar plan, which has become a political controversy of a major order. The proposal appears to be coming to an important point (but not a final decision), with two votes scheduled for Wednesday by the Milwaukee Common Council that would create tax incremental districts in the area to be served. The districts would go far to make financing feasible. But supporters are saying that, even if the streetcar wins, there very likely will be a second round of voting in February, as well as other possible avenues of opposition to pursue.

Barrett told a full house in the Appellate Courtroom that downtown Milwaukee has seen a boom in development and that the streetcar would help continue that. He showed photos of major business projects underway and said 800 new residential units are being readied for the market. “I want that momentum to continue,” the mayor said. Read more »




Robb Rauh: In Pursuit of Life, Liberty, Happiness, and Educational Success

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Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – what’s more at the core of America’s identity than those words? But what do they mean if you’re living in the central city of Milwaukee?

Robb Rauh, the CEO of Milwaukee College Prep, a set of four high-performing schools with about 1,900 students on the north side, focused on those questions as he set the context for the mission of the schools during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session Tuesday in Eckstein Hall.

Life? Infant mortality rates are much higher in Milwaukee than in the nation and even in some third-world countries, Rauh said, and life expectancy is lower than elsewhere. Liberty? Wisconsin has the highest incarceration gaps between white and black people in the nation. The pursuit of happiness? “One of the things that defines happiness is being able to have choices in life,” Rauh said, and without at least a high school degree, a person’s choices are limited. The overall situation of African American children in Wisconsin has been described as the worst or one of the worst in the United States.

“We want to prove that it can be done,” to bring terms like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to life by increasing the educational success and opening the doors to better futures for children, particularly along the North Avenue corridor where all four Milwaukee College Prep schools are located, Rauh said. Among schools in Milwaukee with high percentages of African American students, all four schools are at or near the top of the list when it comes to scores in the newly-released state report cards. Read more »




The Howard Fuller You Probably Don’t Know: An Advocate’s Remarkable Life

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Fifty-five minutes into Thursday’s one-hour “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program, prominent education advocate Howard Fuller finally began talking about the last 20 years of his life. Because the conversation was dragging on? Definitely not. It was because Fuller has led such a remarkable life, with so many chapters (and so many stories to tell) that talking about earlier years was appealing and confining even a well-paced interview to an hour was hard.

Many people in Milwaukee associate Fuller with his nationally significant role as an advocate for private school vouchers and charter schools in the last couple decades. But the full story of his life offers not only a remarkable personal narrative, but provocative perspective on the development of political thinking and advocacy among African Americans in the United States since the 1950s.

Fuller, 73, provided a healthy dose of that narrative and perspective in the session with Gousha, Marquette Law School’s Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy, before a capacity audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall. In much more detail, it is what he provides in his autobiography, No Struggle, No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform, published this month by Marquette University Press. Read more »




Sounding Like a Candidate, Clarke Asks, Where’s the Plan for Milwaukee?

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He said hardly anything about running the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department or the controversies he is involved in within county government. The policy area he talked about the most was education. And he spoke a lot about the Milwaukee of his childhood and the Milwaukee of the future.

No, David A. Clarke Jr. is not a stick-to-my-own-business law enforcement agency head. Milwaukee’s sheriff since 2002 didn’t say he was going to run for mayor during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Thursday at Eckstein Hall, but he sure sounded like a candidate.

“What’s the vision for the city of Milwaukee?” Clarke asked, faulting Mayor Tom Barrett for not putting one forth. “What’s the plan” for getting better student outcomes from Milwaukee Public Schools? A $1.2 billion a year operation ought to get better results, no matter how many problems kids have due to their lives outside of school, he said. “I think they’re mass producing illiteracy,” he said. Read more »




“You Betcha” and Other Wisdom from Education Conference at Eckstein Hall

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Can we expect kids living in impoverished central cities to have the same levels of educational success as other kids?

“You betcha,” answered Michael Casserly.

I’m reluctant to reduce three hours of insightful conversation about urban education to two words, but more than a week later, that phrase is among several that sticks with me from “Lessons from Elsewhere: What Milwaukee Can Learn from Work on Improving Urban Education Systems Nationwide,” a conference at Eckstein Hall sponsored by Marquette Law School and Marquette College of Education.

Nobody among the speakers nor in the audience minimized the challenges of raising the overall achievement in schools in Milwaukee. But there was a widespread feeling of commitment to taking on the job, and even some optimism that it can be done. Read more »




Education Improvements Key to Better Opportunities for Milwaukeeans, Chetty Says

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The answer to the question of whether America is still a land of opportunity varies widely depending on where you live – and the Milwaukee area is one of the places where the answer is not so good, a prominent economist told an audience of several hundred at the Marquette University Alumni Memorial Union on Tuesday.

The answer to what Milwaukee might do to improve the opportunities of success for children from lower income homes emphasizes better education, Raj Chetty of Harvard University said.

Chetty spoke at a session that combined the Marquette University Department of Economics’ Marburg Memorial Lecture with the Marquette Law School’s “On the Issues with Mike Gousha.” Chetty spoke for about 45 minutes, followed by a conversation in which Gousha, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial page editor David Haynes, and audience members asked questions. Read more »




Milwaukee Succeeds Will Show Progress Soon, Three Co-chairs Say

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It won’t be long before the needle on Milwaukee education outcomes starts moving for the better in ways that can be measured.

The three co-chairs of Milwaukee Succeeds, the broad-based effort to improve the educational outcomes of Milwaukee children, gave that encouraging assessment Thursday during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session before a full house of more than 200 people in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall.

“I think we’re going to see success much sooner than we thought because we’re going to start to implement things,” said Jackie Herd-Barber, a retired engineer who is involved in a wide array of civic efforts.

Mike Lovell, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said that Milwaukee Succeeds has brought together large numbers of people from many of the important sectors and organizations in the area and they have been preparing fresh efforts around important goals. “A year from now, when we measure, the needle is going to be moved just because there are so many people involved,” Lovell said.

And John Schlifske, CEO of Northwestern Mutual, said, “I think you’re going to start seeing some meaningful outcomes, that we’re going to start implementing things that will start moving the needle.” Read more »