How Lonely Was that Walk?

Posted on Categories Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools3 Comments on How Lonely Was that Walk?

The clock in my car said 12:34 p.m. Thursday while I waited for a car to pass before I pulled out of my parking spot on N. 53 rd St. I watched as the car turned on to W. Vliet and immediately pulled in front of the Milwaukee Public Schools central administration building. The passenger in the front seat got out and slowly walked by himself to the front door of the building.

It was Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. And he was playing out a scene in what appears to have become a lose-lose political situation for him.  

The bid by Governor Jim Doyle, Barrett, and others to overhaul governance of MPS, giving the mayor dominant power over the school system, is on life support, at best. The effort is deadlocked in the Legislature. It appears to be decidedly on the unpopular end of sentiment in Milwaukee, especially among African Americans. And several days of pretty intense efforts to reach some form of compromise with backers of a less-extensive plan to shift power in MPS pretty much blew up on Wednesday.  The two sides simply and apparently irresolveably disagree on how much power a mayor should have over MPS.  Continue reading “How Lonely Was that Walk?”

The Sound and the Fury and Yadayadayada

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I regard myself (seriously) as fairly naïve when it comes to making public policy. For one thing, I have this notion, often proved wildly off-base, that what goes on in the public view – a meeting, a public hearing, a judicial hearing of some kind – is where decisions are made. I’ve covered sessions such as these for newspapers since I was a teenager. And sometimes, important things do happen. But often, it’s just show time.

I’m pondering this today in the light of Monday’s public hearing by the state Senate Education Committee on proposals to change the governance structure of Milwaukee Public Schools.  It was impressive in some ways. There was a large turnout – the auditorium at the MPS central office holds 300 people and there were clearly well more than that who came and went in the course of the day-long session. There were lots of important people there, not only a large number of legislators, but Mayor Tom Barrett, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, aldermen, School Board members, civic leaders, and activists. If you were patient (really patient, in many cases), you could get up and tell the committee members what you thought on the issue, no matter who you were or what your views – and isn’t that a great aspect of democracy?

And yet (pardon me while I sigh) — did this accomplish anything? Continue reading “The Sound and the Fury and Yadayadayada”

Political Clout and the Lack Thereof

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee Public Schools1 Comment on Political Clout and the Lack Thereof

It’s a basic tenet of American political systems that there are checks and balances, with each branch of a government unit  operating with powers that are not controlled by other branches.

Consider what is about to unfold in the Wisconsin Legislature a particularly vivid lesson in that.

Gov. Jim Doyle has called a special session of the Legislature for Wednesday to consider two proposals, one of them dealing with control of Milwaukee Public Schools, giving almost all of that control to the mayor of Milwaukee, and one dealing with what to do about chronically low performing schools in the state, giving broad power to the state superintendent of public instruction to take control of such schools and change them.  

A month ago, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to Madison to make an appearance that had a strong subtext of urging that these proposals be supported. Doyle strongly backs them, as does Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

So you have the president, the secretary of education, the governor and the mayor of the state’s largest city, all of them Democrats, asking the Democratically-controlled Legislature to take up and approve these ideas.

And what’s most likely to happen? Nothing, at least for now. Continue reading “Political Clout and the Lack Thereof”

Learning (At Last) to Value Water

Posted on Categories Environmental Law, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Learning (At Last) to Value Water

welIn 1774, Ben Franklin said, “When the well’s dry, we know the worth of the well.”

“He was wrong,” author Robert Glennon told an audience of about 100 Tuesday at the Alumni Memorial Union at Marquette University.  Even as  wells and water supplies move ominously closer to dry in parts of the United States, the public and many policy makers are not responding in ways that could avert major impacts, warned  Glennon, whose books include Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It, published last spring.

“We don’t value water in the United States,” Glennon told the session, part of the “On the Issues” series hosted by Mike Gousha, Marquette Law School Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy.

Wisconsin is not standing at the precipice of a water crisis to the same degree as  metropolitan Atlanta and much of the western United States, but it would still be wise to undertake public education efforts here and to make more effective water use decisions, Glennon said.  Continue reading “Learning (At Last) to Value Water”

Leading More Parents to Be Teachers’ Allies

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Media & Journalism2 Comments on Leading More Parents to Be Teachers’ Allies

teacherEvery now and then someone says something that really sticks with you. About a year ago, I had a conversation with Harriet Sanford, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the huge, nationwide teachers union. The foundation has made Milwaukee a major focus in recent years, giving more than $2 million to Milwaukee Public Schools, generally for developing the skills of teachers in low-performing schools.

Sanford was describing how things were going in other cities where the foundation was involved. She was enthusiastic about the impact in Seattle of a program in which teachers worked to get parents more involved in schools.  It was having documentable positive effects on how kids were doing.

I said that I thought a lot of teachers do what they can in school to meet kids’ needs, but basically throw up their hands when it comes to doing something about kids’ lives at home or motivating parents to do a better job of being allies of their children’s success in school.

Sanford said she was convinced that things could be done, that they didn’t cost a lot, and they could be as simple as having teachers pay visits to children’s homes, just to establish rapport and give some tips on what helps get a kid ready for school.

It may make me sound naive, but this really had an impact on my thinking about teacher-parent relations. I just had kind of written that off. But maybe we don’t need to despair about this, and maybe schools in Milwaukee that have been too passive about reaching out positively and firmly to parents.

All of which is to say I was very pleased to see the Journal Sentinel series this week, “Beyond the Bell: Making the Home-School Connection.” Continue reading “Leading More Parents to Be Teachers’ Allies”

MPS Politics: Visits to Two Different Decks

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Two sessions bearing on the future of Milwaukee Public Schools took place simultaneously Tuesday night, and each drew about 75 people who care about education in the city.

Beyond that, it’s hard to think of much the two events had in common. At one, pretty much everybody thought that the way MPS is run is a big part of the problem and that it is time to make major changes.  At the other, the emphasis was on forces beyond MPS that affect schools, and everyone agreed the existing governance system should be defended.  Continue reading “MPS Politics: Visits to Two Different Decks”

Another Down Year for MPS Enrollment Predicted

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The past and present foretell the future – at least that’s the case when it comes to the forecast by Milwaukee Public Schools officials for enrollment for next year.

Look for another down year for the main roster of MPS schools and for more city kids to attend school in the suburbs and charter schools not staffed by MPS teachers, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos says in a new report to the School Board.

A third of all Milwaukee children receiving publicly funded education are doing so outside of the main roster of Milwaukee Public Schools, a fact that sheds important light on the educational landscape of the city. I looked at the current figures for this year in my weekly column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sunday.

That figure is likely to go up a notch — maybe from 33 to 34 percent, maybe a bit higher — next year.  Continue reading “Another Down Year for MPS Enrollment Predicted”

Constitutional View, Not Catholicism, Behind Scalia’s Opinions on Abortion

Posted on Categories Constitutional Interpretation, Marquette Law School, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court1 Comment on Constitutional View, Not Catholicism, Behind Scalia’s Opinions on Abortion

scaliaAs a Catholic whose views are in line with those of Pope Benedict XVI, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia personally opposes abortion.

But what explains his opinions in every abortion-related case that has come to the court since Scalia became a justice in 1986 is not his Catholicism but his “originalist” interpretation of the US Constitution, the author of a new biography of Scalia said Monday.

Speaking at an “On the Issues” forum at Marquette Law School, Joan Biskupic told host Mike Gousha that Scalia has “parallel passions,” Catholicism and the law.

”You just cannot forget that he’s so darned conservative on the Constitution, independent of his Catholicism,“ Biskupic said. Scalia simply does not see anything in the text of the Constitution that supports giving a woman a right to have an abortion.

Biskupic said she found in researching Scalia’s life that his views on the Constitution have been consistent for all his adult life. People she talked to from each stage of his life described him as an originalist.

Biskupic described Scalia as a “many-layered” person. Continue reading “Constitutional View, Not Catholicism, Behind Scalia’s Opinions on Abortion”

An Academic Expert Weighs in for Mayoral School Control

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee1 Comment on An Academic Expert Weighs in for Mayoral School Control

Professor Kenneth K. Wong of Brown University and several associates put out a book two years ago titled “The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools,” which immediately became the book to read if you were interested in mayoral control of public schools. And Wong is probably the number one figure in academic research about how mayoral control works.

The book was the most thorough examination of the results of efforts to give mayors control – or at least strong roles – in schools in dozens of cities across the United States. And there was something in it for pretty much everybody – supporters of mayoral control focused on conclusions about greater administrative effectiveness in such systems, critics pointed to conclusions that the impact on academic achievement had been generally small in most cities.

But Wong was in Milwaukee this week and, in a presentation to about 25 people at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, came down firmly on the side of mayoral control, including in Milwaukee. In his talk and in an interview following his talk, Wong said data that have come in since the book was written has been increasingly encouraging for mayoral control advocates.  Continue reading “An Academic Expert Weighs in for Mayoral School Control”

Feingold: Sept. 11 Prosecutions Will Advance Justice and American World Standing

Posted on Categories International Law & Diplomacy, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court8 Comments on Feingold: Sept. 11 Prosecutions Will Advance Justice and American World Standing

The decision to prosecute five people accused of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in federal court in New York drew support Friday from US Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in comments at a one-hour discussion at Marquette University Law School.

“That’s the way to go,” said Feingold, who has been highly critical of the long confinement, without trial, of the suspects at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At the same time, US Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. announced that several other suspected terrorists will be tried in military courts. That group includes Ad Al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly planned another major attack, the bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000 in Yemen.

The decisions to go the two different routes in the cases will provide an interesting opportunity to compare civil and military handling of cases of this kind, Feingold told Mike Gousha, who moderated the session and who is a distinguished fellow in law and public policy at the Law School.

Feingold said bringing the Sept. 11 suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Muhammed, who has claimed he masterminded the attacks, into civil courts and allowing the justice system to proceed to a verdict on their cases is the appropriate course, said Feingold, a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. “This advances not only our legal system, but our credibility in the world,” he said.

Continue reading “Feingold: Sept. 11 Prosecutions Will Advance Justice and American World Standing”

$250 Million Worth of Fuss

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee, President & Executive BranchLeave a comment» on $250 Million Worth of Fuss

The U.S. Department of Education released the final rules Thursday for the high-stakes competition called the Race to the Top. That’s the $4.35 billion in grants to be given out in the next year to spur states to take major steps aimed at improving a host of aspects of schooling, including the quality of teachers and the quality of education options open to children, especially those in historically low performing communities.

How much is at stake? Included in the material was a list of how much each state could potentially receive. For Wisconsin, the figure was $150 million to $250 million.

It is unlikely Wisconsin actually will get that much. It appears there are some points where Wisconsin will score well (atmosphere for creating charter schools), and other points where Wisconsin will not do well (track record on closing achievement gaps, such as the one between white and black students). Continue reading “$250 Million Worth of Fuss”

“I’m a Dominating Bully”

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Speakers at Marquette2 Comments on “I’m a Dominating Bully”

“I’m a dominating bully” — how often do you hear sentences like that? For that matter, how often do you hear the voices of teens, no matter what they are saying, at conferences aimed at dealing with issues involving young people?

The involvement of high school students as presenters at the sixth annual Restorative Justice Conference at the Marquette Alumni Memorial Union Tuesday was one of the reasons the day-long event, attended by a capacity crowd of about 350, was a success. The conference was sponsored by the Marquette Law School Restorative Justice Initiative.

Three students from Milwaukee’s Custer High School, two girls and a boy, didn’t offer research evidence or a PowerPoint presentation. They just described incidents they have been involved in as bullies and as victims, gave their thoughts on why students act the way they do — and held the rapt attention of the audience.

All three are part of the Violence Free Zone project at Custer, run by Running Rebels, a local organization that aims to direct teens away from violent behavior.  Continue reading ““I’m a Dominating Bully””