Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Abele misses key facts as he helps Republicans takeover MPS

Chris Abele is mistaken.

Milwaukee County Executive Abele's recent claim that he is "committed to making sure MPS is not harmed" during the process of the state-ordered takeover of MPS, shows he doesn't understand what's really going on in Milwaukee.  

Abele's recent op ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel followed a forceful statement by several community leaders against the MPS takeover. The No Takeover movement is clearly growing and being felt by the powers that be.

Here are four things Abele apparently doesn't  understand about schools in Milwaukee:

1) The schools that Abele's commissioner will force MPS to charter will be non-instrumentality schools. They will be run by private operators. Therefore the employees will NOT be PUBLIC employees, not be eligible to participate in the state's retirement system. Most will not have the right to just cause in discipline matters. These are NOT public schools -- at least not in terms of the people who work there.

2) The schools are not directly controlled by the democratically elected school board. The school board isn't required to approve such charters. Even more important, however, once these schools are chartered by the commissioner they can essentially do what they want. Past practice bears this out: The leadership of the non-instrumentality Carmen HighSchool has tried to take over Bradley Tech High School despite explicit opposition from the school board and the superintendent. In other words, some of these so-called "public" schools are trying to replicate themselves against the will of the democratically elected school board. These are NOT public schools -- at least not in terms of the democratic decision-making progress.

3) Data show that the 15 MPS non-instrumentality schools, with only one exception, serve significantly fewer students with special needs. Similarly these schools, with only one exception, serve fewer students who are classified as "MRP" -- most restrictive placement. The two charts below have the data from MPS for the 2013-2014 school year..

4) Abele writes in his oped that "Milwaukee County is in a unique position to provide to provide services... such as mental health, transit, and housing [to schools]." That's great. No need to do it through a commissioner or wait until the threat of an MPS Takeover, however. Community advocates and the MTEA have been promoting the notion of community schools for some years. Abele should have his staff call the community schools coordinators at James Madison High School, Bradley Tech HS, Auer Avenue and Hopkins Lloyd Community School and use those schools as a start.

The Milwaukee Public Schools is the only institution in this city that has the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve ALL students in Milwaukee. 

Chris Abele needs to understand that his participation in this Republican Takeover effort inherently damages the Milwaukee Public Schools. 

We should keep the pressure on  Able to say NO to the Takeover. If he does move forward, he should appoint a commissioner who is absolutely in support of public schools and then instruct the person to do the absolute minimum: Put a tiny school in an empty building to satisfy the state law for the first year and then create no more non-instrumentality schools in subsequent years but instead put County resources into supporting the students who attend MPS.

A final note. A huge thanks to the thousands of staff, parents, students and community members who participated in the Walk Ins last Friday. And a thanks to staff, parents and students of Highland Community School (which is a non-instrumentality charter school) for consistently standing with with MPS advocates opposing the MPS takeover.  Finally, a thanks to Jack Norman for the graphics used in this blog.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Why we oppose the takeover of Milwaukee's public schools

On Friday morning, thousands of parents, educators, students and community members gathered outside more than 100 public schools in Milwaukee. Our purpose: to stand up as a community to celebrate each individual public school in our community, and to voice our opposition to a proposed public school takeover in our city.
A public school takeover plan, passed as part of the state budget last July, looms over our schools, our children, and our city. State legislators have charged Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele with choosing a school takeover czar or "commissioner" this fall. The commissioner would then choose one to three schools to convert into privately run charter or voucher schools for the 2016-'17 school year. In each subsequent year, up to five schools could be handed over to private operators.
Milwaukee parents and community members are concerned about this plan for several reasons:
■The plan threatens the entire Milwaukee school district — not just the schools identified for takeover. More than 40% of children in Milwaukee already attend privately run charter or voucher schools. When taxpayer money is taken away from public schools to fund privately run charter and voucher schools, public school students lose funding and opportunities. Eventually, the financial burden will become too great for our public school system to bear. Similar challenges have brought school systems to their financial brink in districts from Detroit to Chester Uplands, Pa.
■The takeover plan offers no new ideas or resources to help children succeed. Milwaukee already has 25 years of experience with a failed voucher school program and privately run charter schools with a checkered history. Simply changing who runs a school does not lead to student success.
■The takeover schools will leave students without critical services. Voucher schools and privately run charter schools are not required to meet the needs of special education students or English language learners. It is an outrage that a privately run charter or voucher school could take over a public school and then refuse to educate the students who used to be enrolled there, due to their learning needs.
■School takeovers will eliminate good jobs in our city — particularly for African-Americans and Latinos. Takeovers have hurt the local economy in New Orleans, Memphis, and Detroit. They have eroded, in particular, middle class communities of color. And they have led to a less diverse teaching force.
■Most significantly, the school takeover plan eliminates democratic local control, disenfranchises black and Latino communities, and punishes mostly students of color. A recent report by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools shows that across the nation, school takeovers happen almost exclusively in African-American and Latino communities: Of nearly 50,000 students whose schools were taken over, 97% were black or Latino.
Milwaukee parents have a different plan to improve schools by turning them into Community Schools — a nationally recognized model that increased graduation rates in Cincinnati by more than 30%. State legislators who want to help should support this proven model.
Public school students in our state are under attack. From billions in budget cuts to the constant threat that your school may not be there next year, uncertainty reigns. Parents, educators, community leaders, and students are right to demand better.
Our spirits were buoyed Friday morning when we stood shoulder to shoulder with public school supporters who are ready not only to support and protect our schools, but to lift them up and strengthen them as we build the schools and communities our children deserve.
This commentary was submitted by Ingrid Walker Henry, co-chair, Schools and Communities United; Dr. Tony Baez, former director Centro Hispano; the Rev. Willie Briscoe, president, MICAH; Angela McManaman, president, Parents for Public Schools; Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director, Voces de la Frontera; Gina Palazzari, interim executive director, Wisconsin Jobs Now; Fred Royal, president, NAACP Milwaukee branch; and Kim Schroeder, president, MTEA.
Printed originally in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 18, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Walker Deserves an “F” for his attack on Milwaukee Public Schools

 Just days before children started the new school year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker leveled charges against the Milwaukee Public Schools and exposed a level of ignorance about the conditions of African Americans that surprised even his most ardent critics.

Chuck Todd of Meet the Press interviewed Walker for the August 30 show, and in a segment available only in the on-line version, he asked Walker:
“There is a higher incarceration rate for African American men in Wisconsin than anywhere in the country, … a study that said African American children in Wisconsin ranked 50th in the nation when it comes to opportunity, and the African American unemployment is double the national average. Why is it?”
Walker’s response: 
“It’s the sad truth. It’s been true for decades. Part of it, I think, is some of the poor policies in the city of Milwaukee. We pushed back on it. You look at the Milwaukee Public School system has a real challenge and one of the big disparities… has been there. That’s part of the reason why I’ve been such an advocate long before I was governor for school choice….”

A few moments later Chuck Todd interrupted Walker, “Like this is on Milwaukee – there’s not much more you could have done.”
“Right now… we’ve done all sorts of things. We put out hundreds of millions of dollars to help rebuild the economy out there but again you have to have leaders who are willing to use the tools we have given them…. As president I am going to try empower cities, towns, and villages of all different sizes to have more freedom and more liberties to do things without the restrictions from Washington and without some of the restrictions you see one of the biggest areas of big government and union control as commonplace has been Milwaukee.”
As his sole example, Walked talked about the case of Megan Sampson, a high-school English teacher who was laid off from Milwaukee Public Schools in 2010. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted, “Walker has used her as the face of Act 10, his signature bill that curtailed collective bargaining for most public employee unions. Since Walker referenced her in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2011, Sampson has asked Walker to stop using her story and renewed her calls this year when Walker began using it in presidential campaign appearances.”

What’s wrong with Walker’s statements?

Walker asserts that Milwaukee Public Schools is the main reason for Wisconsin’s high incarceration rate of black males, the high black unemployment rate, and the fact that our state is worst in the country in protecting the well-being of African American children, based on 12 key indicators. Really?

Keep in mind that Wisconsin’s incarceration rate of African American males is 12.8% – the highest of any state in the nation, twice the national average – in a country with the highest incarceration rate in the world.

As Schools and Communities United pointed out in its document Fulfill the Promise: The Schools and Communities Our Children Deserve, these statistics are only part of what it called the New Jim Crow. Metropolitan Milwaukee is the most residentially segregated metropolitan area in the nation between blacks and white and between rich and poor. It has second highest black poverty rate (39.2%, 4.9x great than white) among the 40 large benchmark metropolitan areas. It has the lowest percentage of Hispanic-owned businesses among the top 36 metropolitan areas. And just this week the New York Times reported that Milwaukee has had the greatest percentage increase in homicides among all cities in the nation.

Walker made no reference to these daunting problems, nor to any serious plans to address these issues of increasing inequality and racial injustice.

Walker, has offered two "solutions” to these problems. 1) Dismantle the public schools and provide taxpayer dollars to private, unaccountable schools. 2) Strip the right to collectively bargain on a range of issues from most public sector unions and local democratically elected governmental bodies.

For a quarter of a century vouchers have been a conservative’s dream – no unions, no school board, no state-mandated curriculum or regulations – and what has been the result? Vouchers schools on the whole perform worse than the Milwaukee Public Schools. Milwaukee has had the largest city-based private school voucher program. If it is as great as Walker implies why hasn’t it improved school outcomes for children or solved these larger social problems? One thing it has done, is transfer more than $1.2 billion tax payer dollars to private schools.

Moreover, Walker’s scapegoating of educators, public schools, teacher unions and local school boards distracts people from the serious conversations and actions needed to address these complex problems.

Milwaukee Public Schools is the only institution in the city that has the capacity, commitment and legal obligation to serve all students. Like other public institutions it reflects our nation’s historic problems of institutional racism, and class and gender bias. And like most large school systems it is dealing with many problems not of its own making: homelessness, children and families lacking health care, poverty, stable housing and family sustaining jobs. 

What’s refreshing about MPS is that the school board, administration, the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association and most of its dedicated staff are committed to addressing and overcoming these school-related problems and being part of community-wide efforts to help solve the larger social problems that affect us all. The recent initiative between MPS, the MTEA, United Way and community groups like MICAH and Schools and Communities United  to build the community school model at four MPS schools is one such example.

The fundamental question for presidential wannabes like Governor Walker, is whether they will join with the broader community to improve and fully fund our public schools, or continue down the failed path of abandoning the public schools while spending hundreds of millions of dollars of tax payers money on private, unaccountable entities.

Until we see that change, Governor Walker continue to receive an “F” in my grade book.