Scott Walker: Break Up MPS

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The Milwaukee Public Schools system should be replaced with ten to twelve smaller school districts, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker said Thursday in an “On the Issues” session at Marquette Law School.

Asked by host Mike Gousha, the Law School’s Distinguished Fellow in Law and Public Policy, what he would do about problems facing MPS, Walker said, “I’d legally eliminate it and start all over. . . . Wipe it out, start over again, legally redefine the school district.”

Walker, Milwaukee County Executive since 2002, said his two children attend schools in Wauwatosa and a district of that size or smaller is better managed, can better focus on students, and can benefit from more of a sense of community supporting it. The existing MPS structure is too big, and it is too difficult to make effective improvements, he said.  Continue reading “Scott Walker: Break Up MPS”

Gonna Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour

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Three slices of this week’s education pie being served around here:

Slice one: It’s one thing if Milwaukee School Board members want to go all night talking about the matters in front of them – it might not be a very good way to do business, but it only affects Board members, some MPS administrators, and a handful of others. It’s another thing when they have public hearings that go deep into the night. On Tuesday night, a Board committee considered fifteen requests to open new charter schools, renew contracts with existing charter schools, or close existing charter schools. The 6:30 p.m. meeting didn’t end until around 1 a.m. The committee was still taking up new requests after 11:30 p.m. There were people from out of town who waited for more than five hours while entirely different business was considered. Hundreds of people were present, including parents and students, and many endured lengthy waits before the item they cared about was brought up. This is a chronic problem. It’s rude. It discourages public participation. And it could be changed so easily – how about spreading discussions across several evenings? How about issuing a schedule with set times (7p.m. for this item, 7:30 for that item, etc.), and making an effort to stick to it?  If you’re not going to take up something for hours, it would be far more respectful of people to allow them to spend their time better.

Slice two: This hasn’t been the most satisfying time for people who are eager to change the status quo in education in Wisconsin. Continue reading “Gonna Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour”

Bad Omens for Wisconsin in the Race to the Top

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The U.S. Department of Education is expected to announce by the end of this week the finalists for the Race to the Top grants that have been dominating national talk about education lately. Forty states, plus the District of Columbia, put in proposals to get some of the huge pie of $4.35 billion to be awarded for the what federal officials conclude are the most potent proposals for raising achievement in schools and cities where results until now have been poor.

Don’t expect Wisconsin to be among those tapped to move into the next stage of the first round of grants.  

At least two national bloggers who keep eyes on the process made predictions this week on who will stay in the running, and neither picked Wisconsin. Bloggers on the widely-read Education Week Web page picked Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Illinois, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Delaware, Indiana, Minnesota, and Colorado as finalists, and projected Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Tennessee, as the states that would get first round grants that could run to $100 million or more.

Thomas W. Carroll, who blogs for the City Journal Web site, picked seven states as the most likely to win shares of the Race to the Top money. They are Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia, Delaware and Michigan.

There will be a second round of grants later this year, but Wisconsin is not likely to be in the center of contention then either, unless something happens that makes the state’s proposal appear like it’s going to change the status quo in more dramatic ways than the current proposal suggests. Continue reading “Bad Omens for Wisconsin in the Race to the Top”


Posted on Categories Legal Education, Milwaukee Public Schools8 Comments on Train…

twinsTrain a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6

Serena Williams, Justin Timberlake, Yo-Yo Ma, Shirley Temple, Tiger Woods, the Olsen Twins, Michael Jackson, and many others are all examples of people who have done noteworthy things in their lives. They were all well on their way to a sucessful career, if not already in one, before reaching the age of majority. Few were necessarily child prodigies —  someone who at an early age masters one or more skills at an adult level. They were simply children who learned early what they were to do with their lives.

I wonder whether it is good for parents to steer their child toward a career at an early age. Continue reading “Train…”

One-Upping Beyonce

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BeyonceHere are a few moments of upbeat hopefulness for those (count me in) who find keeping an eye on Milwaukee’s education scene to be pretty somber going much of the time. 

There are three Hope Lutheran schools in Milwaukee, each serving low-income north side students, each part of the private-school voucher program, and each with high aims when it comes to academics and character traits. The schools have a variety of contests across the year. In the fall, they had a “Hope Idol” contest.

The winning entry was a video made by sixth-grade students from the Hope Fortis school, 3601 N. Port Washington Rd. It’s a take-off on Beyonce’s hot song and video, “Single Ladies.” This is one is called “Scholar Ladies.” The students’ effort  is picking up steam as a YouTube video — there have been more than 100,000 hits on it, it’s been featured on CNN, and the student are determined to find ways to promote it  until they get at least 1,000,000 hits.

In the students’ version, the goal is not to “put a ring on it” but to get high grades by working hard, and to keep your eye on 2016 — the year their class will graduate high school.  Continue reading “One-Upping Beyonce”

How Lonely Was that Walk?

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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

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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”

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”