Monday, December 26, 2011

Issue #39 December 26, 2011- The Holiday Season, Reaction to Madison Prep, Recalls, News of the Week

Issue #39- December 26, 2011
In this issue: The Holiday Season?, Recall News,  Madison Prep Reaction,  Educator Unions, Teacher Evaluations and more on Testing, National News, and Buy Local.

This is a favorite time of year for many of us, full of reflection, tradition and a sense of community.  This is a time when we are encouraged to "remember what's important" and focus on making a positive difference in the world around us. 

Here in the United States we have struggled with the contradictory goals of being a morally sound nation and being an economic and military world power.  Our economic power has been built on the idea of "conspicuous consumption" and tending to the "bottom line".  It is very difficult to balance these two, very different aspects of American culture.  Thus we get the increased giving to charity and the volunteer efforts to help the underprivileged on one hand and use of mace by a Wal-Mart shopper and the stress of holiday shopping on the other.

This video has some very funny moments, yet as I watched it I thought about the dual nature of our national psyche.  The reactions of these kids shows just how powerful the need for material possessions is in the U.S.   

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy giving and receiving gifts as much as the next person.  It just seems to me that we need to keep reminding ourselves and our children that no matter what religion, race, etc. you belong to, we are all one nation and need to keep working for unity, respect, justice and peace. 

Recall News…
Even with the holiday season upon us the recall effort continues to keep forward momentum.  Many recall activists are using the extra time with family and the chance to travel to gather signatures.  Even with the positive news of the large number of signatures already gathered there is a need to keep adding to our totals.  Find a trusted website for information, get together with like minded citizens and take a few hours to get more signatures in our battle to reclaim Wisconsin.

The MTI Recall Committee is adopting several specific events over Winter Break at an East Side and West Side location.
Monday, December 26
East Side Location – Reindahl Park / East Washington

We will staff this site on the Monday after Christmas to target shoppers out and about exchanging gifts.  This location has been effective during heavy shopping days. 
We’ll run three, two-hour shifts, 10AM – 12PM, 12PM – 2PM and 2PM – 4 PM.

West Side Location – Star Cinemas -  McKee Rd. and Commerce  Park Dr.
This site is targeting the hordes of movie goers on the day after Christmas.  We can set up between the parking lots and catch folks entering and exiting the theater.  Sign holders can also work the corners on McKee Rd (PD).  The hours will be  12 – 4 PM at minimum.  If the site is really productive, we would like to know and possibly staff the evening movies as well.
Saturday, December 31
East Side – Reindahl Park / East Washington

We will staff three, two-hour shifts, 10AM – 12PM, 12PM – 2PM and 2PM – 4 PM
Monday, January 2, 2012!
West Side Location – Star Cinemas -  McKee Rd. and Commerce  Park Dr.
The hours will be  12 – 4 PM at minimum
.  If the site is really productive, we would like to know and possibly staff the evening movies as well.
Sign up for a shift or two at one of these MTI Events Here
Ad Hoc Volunteer Circulating Shifts
If you want to volunteer on other dates or locations, there are other ways to get involved.  The United Wisconsin and Dane County Recall Offices are running shifts of circulators during specified times.  They are locating unstaffed “Hot Spots” and sending volunteers out from there.  Here are the office locations and the times that they are accepting recruits!

The East Dane Recall Office                         The West Dane Recall Office
330 East Wilson St                                          
6602 Normandy Ln
608-692-9740                                                  608-692-4573

United Wisconsin                              10:00 AM, 1:00 PM, and 4:00 PM
1605 Monroe St


If you are interested in knocking on doors, there are two ways to do this:
1)      Join a neighborhood based grass-roots organization from this link and ask when they are canvassing:
2)      Organize an effort with your colleagues in an underrepresented population that your school community serves.  Last week during Total Recall, we collected a fair amount of signatures this way.
Other opportunities:
Volunteer Phone Banking from East Side Office
Monday – Thursday
3:00-6:00 and 6:00-9:00
Friday – Sunday

12:00-3:00 and 3:00-6:00
You can stop by the Dane County East Offices at 330 East Wilson Street (Map), or call / email to find out more info!  608-692-9740 /
Data Entry Help is also still needed!
Contact Jen Patterson: about helping out with the Recall Walker Office.  When you email her, put “Data Entry Volunteer” in the subject line.

As always, we can't forget the efforts to recall GOP senators as well.  Getting a majority in the senate would make a huge difference in our ability to slow down the Walker Agenda. 

While the number of signatures gathered continues to rise, so do the incidents of harassment and violent behavior directed at petition circulators.  These actions have no place in a democratic society and should be prosecuted severely.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the amount of money being generated by both sides during this recall effort.  Many broad generalizations and accusations of financial backing from outside Wisconsin have been raised by both sides.  It would seem like this is one area of the debate that could be proved or disproved by cold hard facts.  However, due to the tangled web of donations through private foundations or other difficult to trace sources this issue is as difficult to analyze as any other.  What seems clear is that there will be large sums of money spent and the interests of Wisconsin citizens will not be at the top of many contributors lists.    

Any time there are large sums of money and significant political power at stake the threat of corruption becomes very real.  Scott Walker's supporters (along with other Republicans being targeted for recall) would have us believe that the efforts to collect signatures for recall are being done by some pretty shady characters.  They want the public to think that it is only a small number of Wisconsinites who disagree with their policies and that the majority of signers are either frauds, misguided individuals or brainwashed union members.  In addition, they also want to call into question any agency that disagrees with them and which doesn't conform to their wishes. 

A great video where the leader of the Recall Fitzgerald effort confronts Fitzgerald about his accusations of fraud.

In typical conservative fashion there is a call for more oversight, but at the same time an effort to undermine that oversight.  A common theme is the public accusations of fraud and waste designed to reduce public confidence in the process.  One headline can change the mind of many citizens who don't take the time to be fully informed.

Madison Prep Fallout…
The Madison School Board voted 5-2 to reject the proposed Madison Prep Academy.  It was a hotly debated issue and many excellent points were made by both sides.  As with any current event, the long term impacts of this debate remain undecided.  We need to see what happens over time before we can fully evaluate and understand the effects that this proposal will have on public education in Madison.  A few initial responses:

- I'm proud of the way that our elected school board handled the debate.  It was moved to a larger venue to handle the larger audience.  Each speaker was given equal time and respected by the board.  The decision was made in a public way and each board member explained their thinking.  Our state and national leaders would do well to emulate this process.   

-At the same time, I'm also concerned about the overall tone and trends of public discourse in Wisconsin.  The public forums have strict rules and the people involved are, for the most part, committed to keeping them civil and productive.  I know that conversations outside the formal public settings (internet, mail, radio, etc.) don't always hold to these standards and instead focus on rhetoric and divisive statements.  Even within the structured settings of events like hearings and committee meetings it is easy for emotions to get heated and people to lose their composure.  We need to make sure that these negative voices are not allowed to become the norm for our political discussions.

-I respected the views presented by supporters of Madison Prep, but was troubled by a couple of themes that I heard.  First, the idea that public educators in Madison were primarily responsible for the failure of so many of our African-American youth.  We do have a share of the blame in this, but it takes a whole village to raise a successful child and it takes a whole village to raise a child who doesn't succeed, as well.  All families who send their children to us share in the effort to educate them.  I heard a lot of comments that sounded like parents were dropping their kids at the school doors and expecting results without really knowing what was happening at school.  We need to work as a partnership in education with all families.

Second, the idea that our schools are biased against minority students and therefore we need to segregate our schools is problematic for me.  I recognize that students from different backgrounds experience things differently.  As a society we need to continue to work on lessening the impacts that these differences have for all children.  By isolating a group of students primarily by race we don't do anything to help change the culture of our schools or our society.  We can only address the problems we face if we are together.  I feel like almost any of the proposals made for Madison Prep could be implemented in the regular public schools and that would be another step towards overcoming the divisions that exist in America.

-This is an issue that raises tremendous passions within our community.  Each of us has a role to play in attempting to solve the problem for the betterment of all.  We know that not every student will succeed academically at the same level.  Some of our students are gifted and others struggle to learn basic concepts.  Our end goal is to give each student the skills and knowledge so that they can have a successful future (as defined by them, not a standardized test or other uniform measurement).  The only way that we will succeed is to take responsibility for the things that we can control and respect the other people involved in helping educate our students.  Issues that deal with race are very difficult to adequately address in America today.  The leaders of the different groups along with their vocal supporters need to work hard to frame the debate in such a way that it is able to be discussed and solutions can be offered.  Negative rhetoric or grandstanding only creates an atmosphere of mistrust, anger and divides groups that should be working together.

The achievement gap is made up of many different individual stories.  Each of these stories is important in its own way, yet insignificant in other ways.  What I mean by this is that no one individual experience represents any group of people by itself.  Only by hearing a large number of different stories will we be able to find a way to develop a policy that will benefit the most people.  A narrow view based on a specific demographic will not serve the greater good.  Madison Prep would have benefited many of the people who spoke at the board, but there were significant numbers of voices that went unheard in the debate. 

-We need to be careful and identify the outside interests attempting to use issues like the achievement gap to their own advantage.  Several speakers directly addressed the goal of eliminating the unions that represent public educators.  Their statements showed their interest in dismantling unions, but not in supporting students.  The enemy here is the failure of specific groups of students to achieve in schools and society in general.  The enemy isn't the people who work daily to try and educate these students. 

-The debate is good for our schools.  We need to address the needs of all students and the different communities we serve.  By strongly expressing their ideas each speaker made a contribution to this discussion.  The most important thing is how we move forward from this point.  We can't simply return to the status quo and forget about the issues raised.  We must find ways to make progress in addressing the issues faced by students in our public schools.

So, where do we go from here?  At this time it looks like Madison Prep will open as an independent school in 2012.  They won't receive public money, unless the Wisconsin Legislature passes a bill that changes the rules for financing charter schools.  This is a big issue because of the support that the large conservative foundations have for legislation designed to undermine public education.  Another reason to recall and to stay active and vigilant in politics.  

School board elections will take on a different tone in the near future.  We need to stay engaged and make sure that one issue candidates and reformers who don't value public education aren't elected to oversee public schools in any community.

We have to keep sharing information and reminding the general public what the privately owned, publically funded charter school movement is all about.  There are many ways we can work to defend our public schools. 

We also need to be careful to not undermine our own efforts to improve education. 

Most importantly we need to keep the focus on educating kids.  Public educators must continue to advocate for all of our students and defend our schools from the attacks made by groups and individuals who either don't support public education, or who represent only a narrow interest group.  We can only do this if we stay united and committed to our primary goal, educating all students.  We need to be open to new ideas, but also conservative in our endorsement of untried proposals put forward by non-educators or biased sources.

Public Educator Unions…
It has been an ongoing theme in this publication that public educator unions are necessary and vital to the success of our society.  Unfortunately, the attacks on public educators continue to increase and are taking their toll on the public servants who work in our schools.  This is especially true here in Wisconsin, but isn't isolated to one state.  In Highland Park Texas, one of our nation's most affluent suburbs, students at the high school held "Trailer Trash Day" and came to school dressed as their teachers.
It is important to remember that unions are a vibrant and active part of our democratic traditions.  They represent the ability of people to join together to become more powerful than they would be individually.  They also give people hope for the future and protections in the present.

Testing and Evaluating Ed…
Part of the assault on public education has been driven by the call for  public educators to be held to higher standards of accountability than they had been previously.  Not all aspects of testing and educator accountability are negative.  It is this increased accountability that has led to the greater attention to the achievement gap.  However, the use of testing to punish schools and to drive curriculum has not been a positive force in education.  It is clear that what results you get depend on what you measure, and what we try to measure is politically driven. 

A few clear examples of the extreme negative examples of this from the latest edition of Rethinking Schools. 
-Elizabeth Schlessman wrote an article about students in Oregon and their participation in the state's writing assessment.  It seems that students got extra points on the exam if they included colons in their writing.  Almost every student put a reference to time in their piece to get the extra points.  She writes, "It was painful to watch students dutifully insert colons based on their trust that test scores are a definitive and valid measure of good writing."
-In Washington D.C. they use IMPACT evaluations to assess teachers.  The evaluations use value added test scores or observations where teachers are evaluated based on specific strategies and skills.  We all remember Ms. Frizzle and admired the activities and concepts she taught to her highly engaged students.  However, under IMPACT scoring she was evaluated twice and scored minimally effective and barely effective in her evaluations.  In D.C. she would be subject to dismissal with these scores.  IMPACT could spread to 9 more states including Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan in the near future.  Still think we don't need unions for our educators?

State and National News…
Scott Walker and his Republican legislature continue to dismantle our state's progressive tradition.  We all knew that the budget passed this summer was going to be harmful to many agencies and hurt a wide range of Wisconsin residents.  Now the full impacts are being felt.

The budget was only one way to advance the conservative agenda in Wisconsin.  New bills and policy are continuing to be advanced.

Yes to an iron ore mine; no to a bad Assembly bill - JSOnline
Does Walker recognize the damage he is doing?  A true leader is able to see when his/her policies are not effective, admit mistakes and move to address the problems.  Walker's only regret is that he didn't package the legislation in a more palatable fashion.  In other words, he's not sorry he did it, he's sorry he got caught.

It's not just our state officials who are misrepresenting the majority of citizens.  Elected representatives of Wisconsin have been failing us along with national leaders.

Buy Local…
Even though the big holiday buying season is over it is still important to remember to try and change our shopping patterns to support local businesses and labor friendly products.

Small Business Strategies: Shop 'small' this holiday season

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