The Controversial Optimism of Henry Tyson

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at Marquette7 Comments on The Controversial Optimism of Henry Tyson

Henry Tyson is as controversial as he is optimistic as he articulate as he is driven. All of those traits were on view when Tyson, the superintendent of Saint Marcus Lutheran School, 2215 N. Palmer St., Milwaukee, was the guest last week in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session at Marquette Law School.

Despite what Tyson called “crazy battles” among advocates for different schools and streams of schools, the most significant trait about Tyson may well be his optimism about Milwaukee education in general, including his confidence that student achievement levels can and will rise across the city.

Since Tyson arrived in Milwaukee a little over a decade ago, he has become a force on Milwaukee’s school scene, both as an advocate for the private school voucher program and as an advocate for high expectations and the approach to urban education sometimes given the label “no excuses.”

Tyson is currently at the center of a controversy in which Saint Marcus is seeking to buy the closed Malcolm X school building at 1st and Center Sts. owned by Milwaukee Public Schools. The Milwaukee School Board has been united in opposing that, although it appears willing to consider selling other school buildings to Saint Marcus. Continue reading “The Controversial Optimism of Henry Tyson”

The DOJ’s Agenda to Shut Down School Choice

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Public4 Comments on The DOJ’s Agenda to Shut Down School Choice

First off, Dean Kearney, thank you for recommending me to be the September Alumni Blogger of the Month.  It’s much appreciated and, I’m sure, will be a rewarding experience.

For everyone else, I’m CJ Szafir, associate counsel and education policy director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (“WILL”) – a nonprofit legal organization that works to advance the public interest in law, individual liberty, constitutional government, and a robust civil society.  We have offices in Milwaukee.  The president and general counsel of WILL is Rick Esenberg, who is also an adjunct professor at Marquette Law.  Prior to WILL, I worked in the state legislature, serving as policy adviser to the Senate Majority Leader.  I graduated from Marquette Law in 2011.

As noted, I work primarily with education reform and, truly, this is about an exciting time as any to be in such a field, as evident by the state recently expanding school choice statewide.  For all the law students reading this, I never anticipated working in education law and policy; it’s a perfect example of how life can lead you to unexpected places.

My optimism and excitement aside, it’s with great trepidation that my first blog post be on a topic that will be unsettling to many – the United States Department of Justice has a political agenda to shut down school choice.  Think this is an overstatement?  Consider the following two major developments from the summer, one of which is in our backyard. Continue reading “The DOJ’s Agenda to Shut Down School Choice”

Summer Youth Institute at Marquette Law School

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A Summer Youth Institute is being held at Marquette Law School this week.

Students attending the Summer Youth Institute are spending a dynamic week learning about the law, practicing skills, and meeting with attorneys, judges, and law students. They are learning about the American legal system, notable figures in legal history, and the United States Constitution. They are reading United States Supreme Court cases and learning about case analysis and note taking.

Students are also practicing oral advocacy and will be participating in a moot court before a judging panel. They are studying negotiation strategies and engaging in a mock negotiation.

Continue reading “Summer Youth Institute at Marquette Law School”

Charter School Session: Performance, Perspective, and Passion

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Charter School Session: Performance, Perspective, and Passion

Charter schools are “the strongest wave of educational reform in the United States” and they’re not going away, one of the nation’s premier charter school researchers told a conference at Marquette University Law School this week. So what can be done to make the overall results of the movement more positive?

At the conference, titled “Charter Schools: Assessing the Present, Looking to the Future,” Margaret (Macke) Raymond, director of the Center for Research in Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, outlined policy implications of research she has led that includes data from 30 states.

“State policy matters a lot and there are specific policy variables that will get you a fair amount,” Raymond said. For example, authorizers of charter schools need to play their role well if they are to foster high performing charter schools while keeping weak operations from ever opening or closing them down if they are getting poor results. Having multiple local authorizers of charter schools (which Milwaukee has) and having a cap on the number of charter schools (which Milwaukee and Wisconsin do not have) leads to poorer results, Raymond said.

Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that operate to a large degree in independent and self-governing ways, freed from some of the rules and constraints put on conventional public schools. A little over two decades old, the charter movement has grown rapidly, with more than two million students in such schools nationwide. In Wisconsin, there are more than 200 charter schools. Authorizers, most often public school boards but sometimes other government agencies or even private non-profits, give a charter school permission to operate and at the end of a contract period, usually five years, have the power to withdraw that permission based on performance. Continue reading “Charter School Session: Performance, Perspective, and Passion”

Fining Felons and Felling Trees to Fill our Public School Libraries

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Education & Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal SystemLeave a comment» on Fining Felons and Felling Trees to Fill our Public School Libraries

Section 16 ImageLast year, a total of $32.5 million were distributed to Wisconsin’s public school libraries thanks to a land grant ordinance that predates the United States Constitution. This little known gift from the Confederation Congress has a fascinating history that reflects the high value placed on public education since our nation’s inception.

The founding fathers believed that public education was the surest way to prepare citizens to exercise the freedoms and responsibilities of our “republican form of government.” As such, the Land Ordinance of 1785 granted every new state one square mile of land within each township (specifically designating “section sixteen” on each township’s newly surveyed thirty-six section plat map) “for the maintenance of public schools . . . .” The sentiment behind this grant was reiterated in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which announced that “schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Despite their enactment prior to the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, these two landmark ordinances continued to govern the process of states’ accession into the Union for many years to come. As such, when Wisconsin was in pursuit of statehood over seventy years later, the Wisconsin Enabling Act contained a provision that the “section numbered sixteen, in every township . . . shall be granted to said state for the use of schools.” This resulted in nearly 1.5 million acres of federal land being handed over to a young State of Wisconsin for the creation of its public school system. Although much of this land was quickly sold to new settlers, Wisconsin’s schoolchildren still enjoy its dividends today.

Continue reading “Fining Felons and Felling Trees to Fill our Public School Libraries”

Sessions on politics and character wrap-up a big year for policy programs

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Sessions on politics and character wrap-up a big year for policy programs

A central goal of the public policy initiative at Marquette University Law School has been to provide and encourage serious, level-headed, and provocative consideration of major issues. As we come to the end of 2012, it doesn’t seem presumptuous to say that this has been a very successful year in pursuing that goal.

The Marquette Law School Poll provided insightful, in-depth, and accurate readings on public opinion in Wisconsin throughout a historic year of election after election. The candidates for governor and senator held debates in Eckstein Hall that were televised live across Wisconsin. “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” offered a rich series of programs, free and open to the public, in which newsmakers and consequential figures shared their thoughts. Academic conferences, major lectures, conferences on mental health law and Milwaukee’s future in the Chicago “megacity,” the annual Restorative Justice Initiative conference on civility in public discussion, and two education policy events were all components of a year of thoughtful forays into major issues.

Let us end the year with some highlights of the last two major public policy events of 2012 which we have not reported on this blog previously:

Wisconsin 2012: The voters have spoken. What did they tell us?

December 6, the Appellate Courtroom, Eckstein Hall

To wrap-up an epic year in Wisconsin politics, an array of experts gathered to talk about what happened, with Mike Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, moderating.

Charles Franklin, visiting professor of law and public policy and director of the Marquette University Law School Poll, presented a county by county analysis showing dramatic differences in the voting in the June recall election for governor and the November presidential race. The map was predominantly red in June, strengthening arguments that Wisconsin was becoming a more Republican state. But in November, the map was much bluer, and many deep-red counties had turned light red. “That’s just stunning in five months to see that much difference,” Franklin said. The biggest shifts between the two elections came in counties that voted Republican each time, but with much smaller margins for presidential candidate Mitt Romney than for Gov. Scott Walker. The smaller margins amounted to a gain for President Barack Obama of 158,000 votes, Franklin said. In other words, Obama’s stronger performance in Republican areas, compared to the showing of Democrat Tom Barrett in the governor’s race, was a central aspect of Obama’s victory in Wisconsin. In counties that voted Democratic both times, Obama ran up a margin that was 135,000 votes larger than Barrett had. Continue reading “Sessions on politics and character wrap-up a big year for policy programs”

Inherently Subversive Pedagogy

Posted on Categories Constitutional Law, Education & Law, Legal Education, Legal Writing, Public, Race & Law4 Comments on Inherently Subversive Pedagogy

In 2010 the Arizona legislature created a law designed to deter the teaching of a Mexican American Studies course in Tucson schools by cutting State funding to districts with courses that, among other things, “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.”  After a finding by the state court in 2011 and under the threat of a $15 million fine, the Tucson district was forced to stop utilizing a course that was available to all students, was effectively closing the achievement gap, and was successful in helping Latino students attend college.  One aspect of enforcement that the district decided on was banning the use of many books that were a part of the Mexican American Studies program from schools.

I was introduced to the Tucson curriculum issue in Professor Mazzie’s first semester Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing 1 class last fall.  Our assignment was to write a brief memo on whether the Tucson course was in violation of A.R.S. § 15-112.  The constitutionality of the Arizona law itself has since been called into question under the purview of a federally appointed special master who is overseeing the Tucson School District’s mandated desegregation.  It was satisfying to see, earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agree with my position in Professor Mazzie’s class that the curriculum was not necessarily a per se violation of A.R.S. § 15-112 anyway. Continue reading “Inherently Subversive Pedagogy”


Posted on Categories Education & Law, Public4 Comments on iCivics

A year ago, the ABA featured an article titled “Flunking Civics: Why America’s Kids Know So Little.”

The article starts out with some alarming results from a survey that assessed the teaching of civics across the country:

Only one state deserved a rating of A when it came to teaching its students American history, according to a recent study. Most states fall in the category of ‘mediocre to awful.’

The study ranked history standards in 49 states and the District of Columbia (Rhode Island has no mandatory history standards, only suggested guidelines) for ‘content and rigor’ and ‘clarity and specificity’ on a scale of A to F. Only South Carolina got straight A’s.

Nine states’ standards earned a grade of A- or B. But a majority of states—28 in all—had standards ratings of D or F, the study found.

To test your knowledge of civics, take this sample practice civics test.

Continue reading “iCivics”

A Bold, but Optimistic Call for Higher Educational Achievement

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on A Bold, but Optimistic Call for Higher Educational Achievement

David P. Driscoll, who started his career as a math teacher, says that when it comes to improving education, he likes addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division.

Driscoll, now chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which runs the testing program often called “the nation’s report card” for elementary and high school students, brought a message to a conference at Marquette University Law School on Tuesday that was premised on that. He said Wisconsin faces major challenges as it raises the bar on student achievement, but he was optimistic and supportive in saying the challenge can be met.

With a capacity audience of education leaders filling the Appellate Courtroom in Eckstein Hall and with a roster of influential education figures also speaking at the conference, it sometimes seemed that Driscoll was the most optimistic person in the room when it came to prospect for great educational success in Milwaukee and across Wisconsin.

The heart of his message was that, whatever the political picture in Wisconsin and the challenges and problems, it is time to set aside what he called sideshows in education and come together to do the work of improving overall student achievement. He called for pursuing bold gains in achievement while staying away from the” subtraction” and “division” that often shapes education politics and policy making.

Continue reading “A Bold, but Optimistic Call for Higher Educational Achievement”

Stirring the Education Policy Pot

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at Marquette3 Comments on Stirring the Education Policy Pot

Can you change the world with a conference? Patch things up with a few panel discussions? The answer, of course, is rarely yes. So I don’t make any huge claims about what was accomplished at the conference, “Fresh Paths: Ideas for Navigating Wisconsin’s New Education Landscape,” on Nov. 17 in Eckstein Hall. (I say that as a person who worked on organizing it.)

But stirring the pot can move the cooking process forward. Spreading important and provocative thoughts can get people thinking along lines they might not have considered previously. Bringing a wide range of committed people together can lead to conversations – informal, as well as formal – that start something rolling.

I hope, and I’m even a bit optimistic, that we served some of those purposes at the conference, sponsored by Marquette Law School and the Marquette College of Education and attended by almost 200 people. The audience included key education policy figures across the spectrum, from union leaders to an advisor to Gov. Scott Walker.

I thought of the conference as a musical piece in four movements: What can be learned from what has been done in developing a new school system in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005; getting a handle on the rapidly developing movement nationwide to overhaul teacher evaluations as a key to improving teacher effectiveness; a look at community efforts to improve educational outcomes overall in Milwaukee; and general assessments of what is needed in educational thinking to move Wisconsin forward. That meant we had three keynote speakers, all of them figures of national standing who were fresh faces to Wisconsin’s educational debate, and more than a dozen panelists, including important  figures in state and local education policy.

Feel free to sample the nearly five hours of video that we have posted online from the conference. And let me share with you a few moments that stick out for me:

Continue reading “Stirring the Education Policy Pot”

Ellen Gilligan: Optimism Amid Big Problems

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on Ellen Gilligan: Optimism Amid Big Problems

A wave of new leaders is one of the reasons to believe a new initiative to improve Milwaukee’s overall level of educational success can bring progress, one of the most influential of those new leaders said Tuesday at Eckstein Hall.

“I think it’s huge” that people who weren’t part of past events are now stepping into key roles, Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, told Mike Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy in the last “On the Issues” session for this semester.

Gilligan is the key figure behind the recent launching of Milwaukee Succeeds, an effort that has brought together more than 40 key leaders and organizations with the goal of improving Milwaukee’s record in moving children successfully “from cradle to career,” to use the effort’s subtitle. Continue reading “Ellen Gilligan: Optimism Amid Big Problems”

Abby Ramirez: Believing in What’s Possible for Milwaukee Schools

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Abby Ramirez: Believing in What’s Possible for Milwaukee Schools

Abby Ramirez wants other people to come to – and act on — the same beliefs she has: That a large majority of low-income children can become high-performing students and that the number of schools where such success is widespread can be increased sharply in Milwaukee.

In an “On the Issues” session with Mike Gousha at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday, Ramirez described the work of Schools That Can Milwaukee, a year-old organization that has the goal of increasing the number of students in high-performing schools to 20,000 (more than twice the current total) by 2020. Ramirez is executive director of the organization.

“If you haven’t seen a high-performing school, go visit one because it will change your belief in what’s possible,” she told about 150 people at the session hosted by Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy. She said you can tell in such a visit that the program is different – more energetic, more focused, more committed to meeting ambitious goals – than in schools where there is an underlying belief that the students aren’t going to do well because of factors such as poverty.  

“Expectations are huge” as a factor in putting a school on the path to high levels of success, she said. She also said the leadership of the school is a crucial factor.

Continue reading “Abby Ramirez: Believing in What’s Possible for Milwaukee Schools”