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. Continue reading “Sounding Like a Candidate, Clarke Asks, Where’s the Plan for Milwaukee?”

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

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. Continue reading “Education Improvements Key to Better Opportunities for Milwaukeeans, Chetty Says”

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.” Continue reading “Milwaukee Succeeds Will Show Progress Soon, Three Co-chairs Say”

The New Orleans Miracle: A Blueprint for Milwaukee?

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rsz_3texas-schools-border-wide-horizontalRecently, I had the good fortune of attending a presentation by Patrick Dobard, Superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District. It focused on the Louisiana Recovery School District program and how it helped to transform the poor, failing New Orleans schools – decimated by Hurricane Katrina – into one of the highest performing districts in the state. Given its success, it may serve as a blueprint for reforming the struggling Milwaukee Public School system.

In 2003, tired of having some of the worst schools in the country, the Louisiana state legislature created the Recovery School District. This was a special school district that would contain underperforming or failing schools throughout the state. A public school in Louisiana would be put in the Recovery District if it was underperforming for four consecutive years. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the state legislature put the majority of New Orleans’ schools in the Recovery District. The District’s superintendent, Dobard, is appointed by the state.

The concept of the Recovery School District is actually relatively simple – a superintendent is given wide-ranging powers with the goal of improving education in the District. The superintendent, with relative ease, can close schools, merge schools together, and turn traditional public schools into charter schools. For their part, parents and children in the Recovery District have more freedom to decide where to attend school.

The policy rationale behind the Recovery District is that school accountability, reduced red tape, and parental empowerment will appropriately incentivize educators to perform. Continue reading “The New Orleans Miracle: A Blueprint for Milwaukee?”

The Controversial Optimism of Henry Tyson

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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”

Charter School Session: Performance, Perspective, and Passion

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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”

A Bold, but Optimistic Call for Higher Educational Achievement

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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”

Don’t Be Afraid to Go to Law School, Minority Students Told

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee Public Schools, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Don’t Be Afraid to Go to Law School, Minority Students Told

Lovell Johnson recalls a guy he looked up to in high school, a guy he thought could really succeed in life. Several years later, he ran into the guy. The guy was driving a cab. Nothing wrong with driving a cab, Johnson said as he counted the anecdote. But the guy said to him he could have gone to law school and made more of himself. And he didn’t.

Johnson decided he didn’t want to be like that guy. That guy was afraid to apply to law school; he was afraid to fail. So was Johnson. But Johnson overcame that, took the plunge, became a lawyer, and has been a well-known and successful Milwaukee County assistant district attorney for years.

“Don’t be afraid,” Johnson told about 150 Milwaukee high school students Thursday at a Youth Law Day conference at Eckstein Hall. “Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it.”

That was one of the strong underlying themes as the students from a half dozen schools got a dose of knowledge about what it’s like to be a lawyer and a lot of encouragement to pursue that possibility. Continue reading “Don’t Be Afraid to Go to Law School, Minority Students Told”

Stirring the Education Policy Pot

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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

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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

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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”