Celebrating the Class of 2022—Old Traditions and New Elements

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Hon. Elizabeth B. Prelogar
       Hon. Elizabeth B. Prelogar

It was my privilege to be in the splendid courtroom of the Wisconsin Supreme Court yesterday (Monday, May 23) to move the admission of Marquette law graduates to the bar. They graduated this past weekend, so such admission was their privilege, by virtue of receiving our diploma, meeting the court’s curricular requirements, and satisfying its character and fitness standards. In looking for a prior such motion that I had made, I came upon the one from 2015, where I noted that it was the twelfth consecutive May that I had appeared before the court for this purpose. I seemed to expect to do this annually until I should no longer be dean. In fact, the “streak” soon ended, in 2016, when an injury prevented my appearance before the Court—and then of course, a few years later, there would be the pandemic. Even then, the Court, on paper in 2020 and in the Wisconsin Assembly chamber in 2021, went to great lengths to ensure the prompt admission of our graduates via the diploma privilege.

The 2022 end-of-year proceedings seemed more like old times, though with some new elements. We convened for our Hooding Ceremony this past Saturday evening in the elegant, historic Milwaukee Theatre, as for many years. Yet this year, it was also our Commencement Ceremony, as Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell had delegated to me the authority, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, to confer the J.D. degree on each of our graduating students. Hannah Chin, a graduate selected by her classmates, addressed the ca. 1,300 people in attendance, reminding us of all that our 2022 graduates have earned and gained throughout the past three difficult years. The commencement address was delivered by the federal government’s top lawyer before the U.S. Supreme Court: the Hon. Elizabeth B. Prelogar, solicitor general of the United States. Solicitor General Prelogar, in her first trip ever to Wisconsin, gave a substantial amount of wise counsel. Yet my own wisdom, in inviting her, you will permit me to say, seemed entirely confirmed by her unexpected but most welcome rousing endorsement of the “Oxford comma”—and her exhorting, if not quite enjoining, the graduates always to use it. Of course, Solicitor General Prelogar highlighted not just punctuation but also such (other) foundational topics as the need to put oneself in uncomfortable circumstances in order to grow professionally, the importance of being kind to those above and below oneself in any group, and the value of always carrying a notepad (see what I did there, including that last comma?). There was much to be learned from the evening’s guest addresses.

The completion of the program entitling one to a Marquette law degree is a substantial accomplishment, I always tell our graduates. This is so “in any era,” I said in my remarks this year. It did not seem necessary for me to engage in any larger discussion of the pandemic. Yet, truly, I extend particular kudos to the newest group of Marquette lawyers, and I express much gratitude to all involved in their education, graduation, and admission to the bar.

Au Revoir To Kill a Mockingbird

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A photo of the cover of "To Kill a Mockingbird"My oldest daughter teaches bilingual English in a City of Milwaukee high school, and I greatly enjoy our conversations regarding the literary works she assigns.  However, I was surprised when she told me recently that she and her fellow teachers no longer felt comfortable assigning Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird.

Published in 1960, Lee’s novel has for over sixty years garnered great admiration and respect as an American literary work.  Many have considered the novel’s Atticus Finch to be an inspiring lawyer hero and taken the novel’s law-related narrative to be one of courageous resistance to racial injustice.  As recently as ten years ago, virtually every American high schooler was expected to have read To Kill a Mockingbird Bird.

Why has the novel fallen so precipitously?  I can think of at least three developments that have hurt its standing: Continue reading “Au Revoir To Kill a Mockingbird

School districts that use pandemic funds wisely may see payoff

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This appeared as a column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on July 25, 2021.

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. It won’t really accomplish anything.

Both opinions are widely held as schools across the country plan for what to do with a huge wave of federal funding intended to boost both students and schools as a result of the pandemic.

“This is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children,” Keith Posley, superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, said during a Marquette Law School program posted online July 21 on how the money will be used. Posley added, “Our children deserve these funds and even more to make sure they are able to truly get the quality education that they deserve and live that American dream.”

But you need look no farther than the state Capitol in Madison to find opposite views. In late May, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The amount of federal money that is going to school districts is overwhelming. It’s really kind of obscene in many ways.” The new state budget kept a tight limit on school spending across Wisconsin largely because of Republican opinions of the federal aid. Continue reading “School districts that use pandemic funds wisely may see payoff”

From Diverse Standpoints, Experts Agree on the Need for Re-energizing K-12 Education

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This story about the discussion during a program of the Marquette Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy and Civic Education appeared initially in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 2, 2021.

Pedro Noguera and Rick Hess talk to many school superintendents and principals around the United States. In general, they don’t find them to be oriented toward the sharp partisan divides that dominate education debate.

“When you talk to people who lead school systems, they are less ideological,” Noguera said. “They focus on practical matters.”

By “practical matters,” Noguera meant the daily things that lead to kids getting good educations, things like good teachers, good learning practices, and school cultures that offer warmth, safety and stability. Those are things he hopes will be given renewed priority as education recovers from the COVID pandemic.

“If there’s a silver lining to come from this experience with respect to education, I hope it’s a return to a focus on education that stimulates and inspires kids,” Noguera wrote in a book, co-authored with Hess, that came out several weeks ago. Continue reading “From Diverse Standpoints, Experts Agree on the Need for Re-energizing K-12 Education”

In Support of the Humanities

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The seal of the National Endowment for the Humanities showing an eagle holding both arrows and an olive branch in its claws.Given the Trump Administration’s denunciations of various Americans and numerous manufactured crises, we might easily overlook its attack on the humanities.  For the third consecutive year, the Trump Administration has proposed closing down the National Endowment for the Humanities.  It has also proposed major cuts for the National Archives Administration and the complete elimination of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

The justifications for these kinds of cuts are predictable.  The endangered programs are said to be too costly, although the projected savings of only $28 million for National Endowment grants is not even a drop in the bucket compared to military and defense spending.  More generally, supporters of the cuts are prepared to echo the public’s growing skepticism about the value of the humanities, particularly because they purportedly do not result in marketable skills.

What we really need, some might insist, is more funding for STEM programs or, at least, a greater commitment to programs that develop roll-up-your-sleeves practical approaches to problem-solving.  These are the types of programs, it is claimed, that best prepare people for life and especially for work and employment in the context of the proverbial market economy.

Holding to the side the fact that STEM and skills funding already greatly exceed grants for teaching and research in the humanities, denigrators of the humanities overlook what might be gained from teaching and learning in such disciplines as art, classics, foreign languages, history, literature, music, philosophy, and religion.  Each of these disciplines in its own way invites us to reflect on the most fundamental of questions:  What does it mean to be human? Continue reading “In Support of the Humanities”

Minimizing the Risk of Lead Intake at Schools

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It might come as a surprise to learn that federal law does not require public or private schools to test their drinking water sources for lead or for any other contaminant. Instead, the Safe Drinking Water Act operates by regulating the “public water systems” that deliver water to the schools. Too often, this broad focus on public systems overlooks the potential contamination sources on private (or school) property, such as lead service lines and indoor lead plumbing “fittings”—valves, bends, and the like. This gap in federal law presents an important opportunity for state intervention.

Indeed, the loophole has already led to some disturbing results. In Detroit, for example, officials found unsafe lead and copper levels at 57 of 86 schools tested. Testing in Vermont recently revealed lead contamination in over a dozen schools. And here in Milwaukee, testing showed high lead levels at 183 of Milwaukee Public School’s 3,000 drinking fountains, and at 28 of 425 water outlets tested at charter schools. Worse yet, a recent federal report shows that more than half of public school districts don’t test their water for lead at the point of delivery. Those that did test often found elevated levels of lead, as illustrated in the report’s summary figure:

Graphic showing lead testing by public school districts

Continue reading “Minimizing the Risk of Lead Intake at Schools”

Speakers Differ at Lubar Center Program on Whether Success in School Can Increase Social Mobility

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Lubar Center, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Speakers Differ at Lubar Center Program on Whether Success in School Can Increase Social Mobility

When you say “social-emotional learning,” you’ve said something that prompts wide-ranging and provocative conversations about kindergarten through twelfth grade education.

That was the case Wednesday at a morning-long conference in the Lubar Center of Eckstein titled “What K-12 Students Need: Striking a Balance between Social-Emotional and Academic Learning.” The session included moderated conversations with two nationally-known education commentators and a panel discussion with Wisconsin educators who are working on increasing the success of schools in helping children deal with their personal needs as a step toward improving their success in school in beyond.

The conference, a program of the Law School’s Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education and the Marquette University College of Education, attracted a capacity audience of more than 200, with other people watching it on a livestreamed internet broadcast. Continue reading “Speakers Differ at Lubar Center Program on Whether Success in School Can Increase Social Mobility”

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. Continue reading “State School Superintendent Candidates Differ Sharply in Law School Debate”

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. Continue reading “Amid Continuing Concerns, MPS Chief Highlights Progress in School Initiatives”

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

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on Two Views, One Conversation: Light Shed on School Vouchers at Law School Program

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. Continue reading “Two Views, One Conversation: Light Shed on School Vouchers at Law School Program”

Opposing Views, One Conversation at Session on Milwaukee Education

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette2 Comments on Opposing Views, One Conversation at Session on Milwaukee Education

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.” Continue reading “Opposing Views, One Conversation at Session on Milwaukee Education”

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.” Continue reading “MATC President Describes a Tuition-Free Promise That Could Change Milwaukee”

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