Fresh Thoughts on How to Close the Pre-Kindergarten Learning Gap

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(This is a lightly-edited version of a column I wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that ran in the Dec. 8, 2019, print edition.)

Dana Suskind is a surgeon at the University of Chicago whose specialty is providing kids who have little or no hearing with high-tech cochlear implants that allow them to hear much better. But she noticed about a decade ago that some of her young patients had much better outcomes than others after receiving the implants.

Dana Suskind
Dana Suskind

“It was a really painful experience to watch” kids who now could hear but weren’t thriving. She worked to find the reason. Her conclusion: The problem “had less to do with their hearing loss and more to do with the environment into which they were born.” Generally, their lives were shaped by poverty, instability, high stress and limited exposure to experiences that are intellectually and emotionally beneficial.

Much the same is true for millions of children who are born with normal hearing. By the time they reach kindergarten, they are nowhere near as ready for school as children who with better lots in their early years.

Suskind became founder and co-director of a project called Thirty Million Words. The name came from a study from several decades ago that concluded that, by the time they reached school age, low-income children had heard 30 million fewer words in every-day conversation than children from higher income homes. This limited their educational readiness. Continue reading “Fresh Thoughts on How to Close the Pre-Kindergarten Learning Gap”

Conference Gives Milwaukee a Good — But Not Great — Progress Report as a Water Hub

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Ten years ago, Marquette Law School sponsored a conference, “Milwaukee 2015: Water, Jobs, and the Way Forward.” Speakers at the conference, including Wisconsin’s then-Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, put forward a vision of Milwaukee becoming a world leader in water expertise with a Milwaukee area economy boosted by an influx of water-based jobs and companies.

On Nov. 5, 2019, a decade later almost to the day, the Law School convened a follow up conference (titled “Milwaukee 2025: Water, Jobs, and the Way Forward”) with some of the same speakers, as well as others, to ask how things have been going and what lies ahead.

How would you rate Milwaukee’s record on becoming a water hub? Mayor Barrett responded that the area has moved in the right direction. “I won’t give us an A plus, I’ll give us a solid B for moving in that direction,” he said. “We have changed the perception of Milwaukee in a significant way in the last 10 years.”

Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell, a major proponent of the emphasis on water, said the goal in 2009 was to make Milwaukee a global center of excellence for all things related to water, “something like the CDC for water,” a reference to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Lovell said, “We have not gotten there yet; we are still striving to do so.” Milwaukee should be proud of what has been done, including the creation of The Water Council, the Global Water Center, and the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Lovell said. Continue reading “Conference Gives Milwaukee a Good — But Not Great — Progress Report as a Water Hub”

Tommy Thompson Told His Daughter to Try Being a Public Defender –and It Launched Her Career

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Kelli Thompson admits she wasn’t entirely eager to become a lawyer, particularly the kind involved in courtroom work. As a student at Marquette Law School, “I probably did a very, very good job of staying far, far away from any kind of trial advocacy or litigation type of class. I think my thought was I would get the J.D. behind my name and just do something else. The something else, I have no idea what that was going to be.”

But, she said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on October 15, 2019, “In my third year of law school, I think it was killing my father that I was not even considering going into a courtroom.”

Her father, by the way, is Tommy G. Thompson, who, at that time in the mid-1990s, was governor of Wisconsin.

Kelli Thompson recalled, “At that point in time, he certainly wasn’t pushy, but he said, ‘Before you decide you hate it (courtroom work), you at least have to try it.’ . . . He said Marquette has wonderful clinical programs.” He told his daughter to pick one. “I said, ‘OK, you pick for me because I don’t know what I want to do’ . . . He said, ‘There’s no doubt, public defender, you should go there.’

So she did. “I can say quite honestly, after my first couple of days, I was hooked,” Kelli Thompson said. Continue reading “Tommy Thompson Told His Daughter to Try Being a Public Defender –and It Launched Her Career”

Bradley Foundation Chief Describes Its Conservative Philosophy and Grant Making

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As Rick Graber sees it, the Bradley Foundation operates “in a world of ideas, and we fund people who are in the world of ideas.”

That’s one way to describe the work of the Milwaukee-based foundation. But it is important to add a few things to that description: The Bradley Foundation is huge – it has an endowment of about $900 million and it makes grants of $40 to $50 million a year. It is influential – it has provided funding sparking big changes in American policy since it was launched in the mid-1980s. And it is conservative – its leaders have never hesitated in using that label to describe its support of limited government, free markets, traditional values, and other conservative causes. One of its signature issues is support of programs allowing parents to send their children to private and religious schools using public money.

Graber, president and CEO of Bradley since 2016, told an audience at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Thursday, October 17, that the foundation tries to do what two brothers, Harry and Lynda Bradley, would want them to do. The two were founders of the Allen-Bradley Co., and they were supporters of conservative causes. Both died more than a half century ago and the foundation is funded out of some of the proceeds of the sale of Allen-Bradley in the 1980s. Continue reading “Bradley Foundation Chief Describes Its Conservative Philosophy and Grant Making”

Speakers Call for Criminal Justice Reform, Starting with Prosecutors

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Paul Butler refers to himself as “a recovering prosecutor.” A native of the south side of Chicago, he graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked for a judge, and went into private practice. He became a federal prosecutor with the hope he would part of solving problems in the criminal justice system that lead to so many people being incarcerated, especially African American men. He concluded that, as a prosecutor, he was part of the problem and not the solution. He left the job and is now the Albert Brick Professor of Law at Georgetown University and an advocate for major reform of the criminal justice system.

In two programs at Marquette Law School on Sept. 25, 2019, Butler called for major changes in the system. In an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program, he and John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County district attorney, focused particularly on the role of prosecutors. Continue reading “Speakers Call for Criminal Justice Reform, Starting with Prosecutors”

Education Is Key to Broader Economic Success for Milwaukee Hispanics, Speakers Say

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Consider three pieces of data that shed light on the economic potential and the challenges of Milwaukee’s Hispanic population:

The population of the Milwaukee area has been generally unchanged since 2000 – except for the significant growth of the Hispanic population in the area.

Hispanic people are over-represented in low-paying jobs and under-represented in high-paying jobs in greater Milwaukee.

By a variety of measures, there have been positive trends in educational success for Hispanics in the Milwaukee area, but it continues to be the case that smaller percentages have college degrees than people from other demographic groups. Continue reading “Education Is Key to Broader Economic Success for Milwaukee Hispanics, Speakers Say”

Insights and Anecdotes from an American Sports Legend, Bud Selig

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Do Milwaukeeans – or at least enough Milwaukeeans  – appreciate what an amazing figure Bud Selig is? Not only in terms of changing baseball, but in terms of changing things that are now big parts of the fabric of American culture?

As Selig often says, baseball is a social institution. It’s a key part of American culture. The game is not called the national pastime without good reason.

Major league baseball today is a far different game than it was, say, 40 years ago. And Selig, who grew up on the west side of Milwaukee and took a hard-to-imagine route to become the commissioner of baseball from 1992 to 2015, has been at the center of just about every change. Continue reading “Insights and Anecdotes from an American Sports Legend, Bud Selig”

Franklin Says Poll Results Show Shift Toward Republican Identification

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There’s something happening here, and what it is is becoming clearer: A shift in the overall partisan make-up of Wisconsin’s voting population toward Republicans.

It’s not a huge shift – a couple percentage point increase in the number of people who identify as Republicans or as leaning Republican, a similar decrease in the number who identify as Democrats or as leaning Democratic. The result is a near tie in partisanship, compared to several years ago when the Democrats held a slight advantage. But it is enough of a change to suggest that the polarized political make-up of Wisconsin is becoming more polarized, and the state’s propensity to have elections with very close outcomes may be getting stronger. Continue reading “Franklin Says Poll Results Show Shift Toward Republican Identification”

Chief Justice Roberts: Biskupic Describes Her Insightful Look at a Reserved Figure

Posted on Categories Federal Law & Legal System, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Chief Justice Roberts: Biskupic Describes Her Insightful Look at a Reserved Figure

Joan Biskupic says her fourth book about a member of the United States Supreme Court involved “my most difficult subject” – Chief Justice John Roberts. But, perhaps in good part for that reason, it is also attracting much attention.

Roberts is “a very reserved individual,” Biskupic said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program in the Lubar Center at Marquette Law School on Tuesday. “There’s a lot that you see, but much more that’s held back.” She had the benefit of eight interviews, covering more than twenty hours, with Roberts, but she said she wonders still about what is not known about him.

However, Biskupic’s newly-published biography, The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts, does offer a lot, some of it not reported previously, about Roberts, who has been chief justice since 2005.

And in addition to a richly detailed description of Roberts’ life, the book breaks new ground in describing how Roberts came to be the decisive vote in upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, in 2012. Biskupic describes how he initially took positions opposing the constitutionality of the law during the court’s work on the case, then switched his views.

“I think he definitely did not want the whole law to go down,” she said. “I’m fine with saying I don’t know why, for sure.”

Continue reading “Chief Justice Roberts: Biskupic Describes Her Insightful Look at a Reserved Figure”

Conference on Youth Mental Health Strikes Hopeful Notes

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Coupled with an understanding of the seriousness of the issues, there was a sense of overall hopefulness at a conference on March 22 at Marquette Law School on youth mental challenges, including bullying and suicide.

An audience of about 200, many of them people who work with young people with mental health issues, heard that hopefulness not only from the professionals who spoke, but from a panel of four students who deal personally with mental health issues.

The students, ranging from one working on a graduate degree in counseling to a middle school student, described how they have made progress with their own issues, even as their challenges continue. And they emphasized the benefit of being open about mental health. Continue reading “Conference on Youth Mental Health Strikes Hopeful Notes”

Soledad O’Brien and the Girl with a Broken Front Tooth

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Soledad O’Brien remembers a girl in her high school on Long Island, New York, who broke a front tooth and went for many months without getting it fixed.

O’Brien grew up in a stable, comfortable home and never had to worry about shelter, food, medical care, or other valuable parts of stable living. And she never gave much thought to why the girl didn’t get her tooth fixed.

But the girl and her front tooth are still on her mind decades later. That girl makes her think about all the young women, then and now, who live unstable lives, who can’t meet daily needs that are met without much thought in other homes. “I was so naive and stupid about those things,” O’Brien said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday.

“What sixteen-year-old girl walks around (with a broken front tooth). Think about her family circumstances, and think about what this girl was going through that that was completely normal. I don’t think I ever thought about poverty, I don’t think I ever thought about access to health care, or all these things as a journalist I would really dig in to.” Continue reading “Soledad O’Brien and the Girl with a Broken Front Tooth”

You Want Less Violence? Build Stronger Communities, Speaker Says

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Maybe it’s not fair to reduce to a few points an hour of conversation with Reggie Moore, director of the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention, at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Feb. 6. But let’s hope it’s a way to drive home a few of his major points and perhaps to encourage you to watch the video of the program.

Moore’s effort is best known for the document it produced, “The Milwaukee Blueprint for Peace.” It offers goals and strategies aimed at reducing violence in the city, many of them dealing with community development and investment. “Every strategy in the blueprint is evidence based,” Moore said.

Here are eight short take-aways  from  Moore, a Milwaukee native with a long history of working with young people in the community: Continue reading “You Want Less Violence? Build Stronger Communities, Speaker Says”