Pending Senate Bill 76 is another volley in the war Wisconsin Republican legislators have unleashed on local control. The bill would further undermine the authority of locally-elected school boards to determine the number of charter schools that operate within their school districts.
Senators Darling and Olson introduced an amendment to the bill on October 31. The amendment provision making it easier for a school district to convert all of its schools to charter schools has already drawn attention. What seems to have escaped notice so far is that Senators Olson and Darling may have mixed up their holidays – their Halloween amendment provides yet another Christmas present for their well-heeled friends at K12 Inc. and the for-profit virtual charter school industry.
The poor performance of virtual charter schools in Wisconsin has resulted in few if any negative consequences for their operators. But this past year, a slight dose of accountability has slipped into the mix with the advent of school district report cards issued by DPI. Senators Olson and Darling’s amendment nips that positive trend in the bud by stripping virtual charter schools out of the home school district for report card purposes. It is hard to see this as anything other than a sell-out to K12 and their virtual charter chums. Continue reading
This update on School Board activities comes from my column in the October 23 MMSD Family Newsletter:
Here is what your school board has been up to the last couple of weeks:
At special meetings on October 7 and 14, the Board unanimously approved agreements with each of our bargaining units for the 2014-15 school year. As Superintendent Cheatham explained, these agreements help establish a stable environment that enables our teachers and staff to focus on the critical day-to-day work of teaching and learning.
The agreements include a very modest wage increase of .75%. This was all that we felt we could prudently agree to at this point, prior to our undertaking any work on our budget for the 2014-15 school year. The district did reserve the right to unilaterally increase wages beyond the .75% prior to or during the term of the contract.
The district also retains the right to require teachers and staff to contribute up to 10% of the cost of their health insurance. At our school board meeting on October 14, we began discussion of a wellness policy for district employees that might entail a sliding scale of health insurance contributions, tied to the employee’s participation in preventative practices and activities that contribute to good health. Continue reading
Mary Burke’s past activities are coming under increased scrutiny now that she is an active candidate for governor. Mary has generously supported different educational initiatives for many years. Her primary focus has been the AVID/TOPS partnership between the Madison School District and the Boys and Girls Club. But her pledge of support for the Madison Prep charter school proposal has drawn the most attention. Since I was more involved in the Madison Prep saga than most, I thought it might be helpful if I provided a summary of what I know about Mary’s involvement.
In December, 2010, the Urban League of Greater Madison presented an initial proposal to the Madison School Board to establish a charter school called Madison Prep. The Urban League described the school as “a catalyst for change and opportunity among young men, particularly young men of color.” The school was intended to inculcate a culture of hard-work and achievement among its students through a host of practices, including single-sex classrooms, an International Baccalaureate curriculum, longer school days and school years, intensive mentoring, and obligatory parental involvement.
Madison Prep was controversial from the start and the initial proposal was adjusted in response to various concerns. By the fall of 2011, Madison Prep was planned to be an instrumentality charter school, like our existing charter schools Nuestro Mundo and Badger Rock. As an instrumentality, all teachers and staff would have been union members. Continue reading
As I hope someone might have noticed, I have not been posting much lately. Part of the reason is that I have another outlet. I have been writing a column in the school district’s bi-weekly family newsletter.
My latest column focused on a recent School Board retreat where we learned more about the Common Core State Standards. Even though the family newsletter is a district publication, I should point out that the views I express in the column (as well as in this blog) are my own and do not necessarily represent the views, positions or policies of the Madison Metropolitan School District. But however unofficial my words may be, here is what I wrote:
On Saturday, September 28, the Madison School Board held the first of our quarterly board retreats. We get together on a Saturday for an extended discussion of a few topics of particular interest. Our focus this time was on the much-misunderstood Common Core academic standards for literacy and math.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the product of an initiative undertaken by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The groups assembled a team of teachers, school administrators, and other experts to work out a set of English and math standards for students from kindergarten through high school. (The plan calls for eventually developing similar standards for other subjects, like social studies and science.) Wisconsin was one of the first states to adopt the Common Core State Standards for math and English. Continue reading
Rick Esenberg has responded to my last blog post, which was critical of a short article he had written about the difference between supporters and opponents of school vouchers.
I wrote that Esenberg’s analysis was superficial and his characterization of voucher opponents insulting. While decrying the unflattering terms I employed, Esenberg writes that my analysis of his piece is sophomoric, cartoonish and simplistic. Okay, fine. Let’s move on.
Esenberg writes that I overlooked his principal point, which is that people’s views on vouchers are heavily influenced by their predispositions. That seems to me to be obvious. What I found more interesting about his article is that it suggested the challenge of discussing whether vouchers represent sound public policy without resorting to arguments about whether public schools or voucher schools lead to better learning outcomes or which end up costing taxpayers more. It’s not that these aren’t important considerations, but the various rhetorical thrusts and parries along these lines have been repeated almost ad nauseum and neither side is going to convince the other on either basis. Let’s explore some other arguments.
In the spirit of expanding the discussion, I then offered a six-step argument that voucher expansion represents bad public policy that I attempted to base primarily on empirical assertions rather than professions of faith. Continue reading
Conservative groups always seem to have plenty of money, don’t they? One is the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI), which, among other endeavors, produces a slick magazine, Wisconsin Interest. The latest issue includes an article by Richard Esenberg on school vouchers that is short but sweeping in its scope and ambition. It’s also smug and wrong-headed.
Esenberg sets out to identify the fundamental differences between voucher advocates and opponents. His thesis is that views on vouchers derive from deeper beliefs than objective assessments of how well voucher schools perform or concerns about vouchers draining funds from public schools. To him, your take on vouchers depends on how you view the world.
Esenberg asserts that voucher advocates are united by their embrace of three fundamental principles: that a centralized authority is unlikely to be able to decide what is best for all; that families should be trusted to select their children’s schools since ordinary people are capable of making choices for themselves without paternalistic direction; and that “government does not do diversity, experimentation and choice very well.”
By implication, he asserts that voucher opponents think that a centralized authority will be able to decide what’s best for all, that families shouldn’t be trusted to make choices for their children, and that government control is the best way to foster innovation. Continue reading
For the 2012-13 school year, the Madison Metropolitan School District received $58.5 million in general state aid. DPI informed us on July 1 that we’re in line to receive $49.6 million in aid for the 2013-14 school year, a drop of 15%.
Overall, the state is doling out a bit more in general state aid this year compared to last — $4.22 billion rather than $4.17 billion. So, tempting as it is, we can’t really blame Governor Walker for the decrease.
Instead, the decrease is kind of a boomerang effect from the increase in state aid we received last year. At this time last year, we expected to receive about $42 million in state aid and we passed a preliminary budget that was projected to result in a 4.95% increase in the property tax levy. This preliminary budget called for levying $8.2 million less in property taxes than our revenue limits would allow.
Much to everyone’s surprise, we learned last October that we would actually receive $16 million more in state aid than had been estimated in July – a total of $58 million. Continue reading