Issue #37- December 11, 2011
In this issue: Recall, Media News, Get Rid of Citizens United, Public Education Attacked, School Choice and Madison Prep
Why Recall Walker (and Kleefisch, and 4 GOP Senators)?…
Man arrested by West Bend Police on 2 Felony Counts of Defacing Recall Petitions in Washington Count
Recall News and Volunteer Opportunities…
Because of the importance of this struggle for the future of our state, it is vital that each of us do everything that we can to support the recall effort. No matter what you're opinion of recalls might have been, now that the process has started it is imperative that we carry it through to completion. Failure now will set the tone for the foreseeable future for all groups in Wisconsin who don't enjoy Republican protection. Find a way to get signatures, display signs, enter data, talk to friends/neighbors/etc. but, get involved.
When I saw this article I had to smile. My grandparents had a home just outside of Trego and I spent many a summer running through the northern forests of Wisconsin.
We can also find ways to support fellow workers in the private sector.
There are more places to get news than ever before, why is it that we are so confused about what is really happening? Could it be that the proliferation of news channels hasn't been accompanied by a corresponding growth in information released to the public?
Back before all this political action started I was a huge sports enthusiast. I watched lots of games, lots of sports highlight and talk shows and listened to sports on the radio. However, as much as I loved sports I came to realize that the amount of coverage wasn't justified by the amount of information that actually existed. Most of the coverage was about possibilities, not actual events. In fact at times it seemed like the games were almost a backdrop to the commentary, not the basis of real analysis. Analysts became as much of the story as the athletes and games they covered. Of course much of the information was based on outsiders perspectives and had little basis in fact. Emotions were inflamed and opinions were formed based on comments and any fan could express an opinion about an athlete, team or event.
Sports are not politics. They are not as important to our functioning as a society (despite some possible claims to the contrary). However, there are some parallels that can be drawn. We live in a time when 24 hour news coverage gives us access to information any time of the day. We are led to believe that we are "in the know" about events and that the analysis we are being given is accurate. However, just like sports, we don't get an insiders view of the decision making process. We can only see the public conversations, meetings, documents, etc. We are at the mercy of the news outlets who tell us what they think is important. Once again, emotions are inflamed and opinions are formed based on brief news stories that don't give a full picture of what is happening.
That is not acceptable, but not necessarily crippling to democratic institutions in normal times. In normal times our democracy moves at a snail's pace. People have longer amounts of time to react and respond to events. Changes come in incremental steps and are the result of (an admittedly flawed) a process that is understood and for the most part accepted. Contrast that with the climate in Wisconsin during 2011. A hundred plus years of tradition, legislation and policy undone by Walker and the Republicans. There is no time to stop and reflect about what is happening. Action needs to be taken quickly based on the facts at hand.
What happens when these facts are flawed or just not accurate at all? Where do we turn for information? How can an electorate make informed choices when their sources are not informed or are not willing to accurately inform their consumers?
Restore the Constitution…
One of the most disturbing and influential political events of recent memory occurred with relatively little fanfare. Citizens United changed the political landscape and has done a great deal to get our country into the mess it currently is in today. Senator Sanders in on the right track here.
Petition - A Petition to Support the Saving American Democracy Amendment : Bernie Sanders - U.S. Sen
Why is the Citizens United decision such a landmark ruling? It completely changed the landscape in American politics. Take Wisconsin for example, corporate contributions to elections have been banned since 1905. The Citizens United ruling takes precedence over Wisconsin law and left our state with little or no regulation or way to monitor who is financing political ads. This lead to conservative groups like the Republican State Leadership Committee to become the largest spender in the 2010 elections.
The negative advertising and focus on tearing down over building up candidates is a trend which disrupts our democratic process. Not only are the attack ads frequently misleading at best, but they are often extremely deceptive and inaccurate. However, once the lies and misinformation are out in the public arena they take on a life of their own and are difficult to combat. Not only do these ads shape public perception of candidates, they also set the tone for how we discuss politics. It is difficult to maintain a positive and civil tone to a campaign where attack ads are prevalent.
Public Education Attacked and Defended…
It has been a major theme in my writing that public education is a valuable part of our democracy and as such has been the subject of repeated attacks by conservatives. The outlook for public school districts in Wisconsin is not positive in many ways.
31-1 and not be certified because of the unfair regulations imposed by Walker's legislation.
It is clear that this is a time of great uncertainty, but also one of potential and hope. For example, we know that standardized testing is one of the main supports for the platform of destroying public education. Mitt Romney, in a forum on Fox last week, as much as admitted that the No Child Left Behind legislation was designed to eliminate the power of teacher unions. Here in Wisconsin they are being wielded as a club against educators.
With a bleak situation like this it is important that we never give up hope. One positive impact of the emphasis on testing is that families and educators are given common ground to unite on in their efforts to defend public education. Articles like this one get more attention in a highly politicized climate like our current one.
The discussion about education continues all across the country. I worry when our Secretary of Education (formerly a CEO of a school district, I find CEO to be problematic as a title for a chief education officer) talks about radical change. So far radical change seems to favor the conservative model of privatization and standardization of schools.
The other major support of conservative reforms for schools is the idea of choice for families. Typically this means choosing a private school over a public school. There have been private schools in the United States for our entire history. Some of the private school systems have played instrumental roles in furthering the education of countless students. However, it is important to note that there is (and always should be) a difference between public and private schools.
Public schools are funded by public money. They are overseen by public officials who are elected by the community they serve. They are responsible to the public at large and must serve the needs of all students in their attendance area. Private schools are not publically funded and operate under different rules. They should still be regulated to insure that they are above board in their educational efforts, however, they may use different methods and cover material that isn't acceptable for public schools. Religious schools are a great example of private schools that meet a need public schools can't.
So, what's the problem? Public and private schools have co-existed for centuries here in America. One of the biggest issues currently facing us is the efforts by conservatives to use public money to finance private schools. Taking this money away from public schools weakens their efforts to provide services for students who desperately need them.
Remember that public schools must (and should) accept students who live in their attendance area and may not discriminate against students with disabilities or students who may not meet other standards that private schools can impose. These students frequently cost more to educate than a typical student. A classroom of students with no identified learning or behavioral issues can be managed by a single teacher with minimal support for academics. A student who has an identified disability can require additional adults to insure that they are safe and are learning. This raises the cost for educating a student. Add on to that cost supports like OT, PT, Speech and Language along with extra equipment and materials necessary to modify curriculum and the costs go up more.
Of course this isn't news to educators or to people familiar to the public school system. However, these issues are discounted and ignored by supporters of school choice. They frequently represent special interests or individual groups of students and don't want to see the larger picture. They use statistics about cost per pupil, test scores and other data to support their claim that private is better.
The choice issue is coming home to roost here in Madison. The supporters of Madison Prep have stepped up their media efforts to gain public support for their product. They have followed the traditional model of attacking educator unions and saying that they are only doing this "for the children". They have also used statistics and data in misleading ways. Supporters even use the numbers that conservative anti-public education pundits use such as the $80,000 a year teacher salary claim.
Supporters of Madison Prep argue that the Madison Schools are failing minority students, specifically African-American males. Their arguments are supported by facts that show the achievement gap is very real here in Madison. However, taking these facts and then undermining public education is counterproductive. From the very start this movement has been disingenuous. Their proposals have changed multiple times and in significant ways.
One of the biggest points of contention has been the costs for labor in the proposed school. It is here that the proposal shows its true nature. From the start the Urban League had proposed a school where costs were heavy in management and low in labor. Administrators were to be paid at a higher rate than MMSD administrators while teachers, custodians and support staff would work more for less. Comments by leaders in the Madison Prep movement showed their disdain for organized labor. The conflicts between the Urban League and MTI finally have resulted in many school board members and MMSD administration to change their thinking about the proposed school.
The more that one looks at the relationship between unions and education the more beneficial unions become. Steven Brill, noted columnist, businessman, etc., wrote a book that started as a positive commentary on charter schools and was distinctly anti-union. However, after several years spent studying the experiences of teachers in the schools of NYC he came to this conclusion, "The lesson is that unions…have to be enlisted in that fight because unions are the organizational link to enable school improvement to expand beyond the ability of the extraordinary people to work extraordinary hours." Maybe our fellow citizens at the Urban League should consider what unionized educators and support staff have to offer.
In addition to the labor costs the Madison Prep proposal now includes the idea that it will be autonomous from direct oversight by the school board. At the same time it will receive public money. I fail to see how any responsible school board member could support giving away needed money to a school that appears to be hostile to the district's efforts to educate all students.
There is no doubt that we need to work to address the multiple needs of all our students. Privatization of schools and conflict between educators will not do much in the way of addressing the challenges we face. Debate is healthy, but debate can't happen when there is no accountability between participants in the discussion.