Sunday, August 26, 2012

Issue #76 8/26/12- Back to School

What This Is…
Issue #76- August 26, 2012
In this issue: Back to School

It's That Time of Year Again!!…
We've reached the end of August and schools across America are resuming their fall classes.  Some schools have already started, but here in Madison, public school students don't start their classes until the Tuesday after Labor Day.  In honor of the beginning of the school year, I'm focusing this issue mainly on public education.  However, there are a few other "loose ends" to pull together before we turn our attention to public education.

For the most part, the media seems to have either forgotten about the investigation, or is choosing to put their coverage on the back burner.  What this means is that most citizens will forget that there even is an investigation and assume that nothing is going on.  While the lack of information and interest is frustrating to those of us trying to follow the story we all should keep our collective "ears to the ground" to insure that those who are conducting the investigation know that we are concerned about, and support, their efforts. 

Honest Elections…
We are gearing up for another in a long string of important elections.  Of course, all elections are important, but with the current political climate being what it is, recent elections have taken on even more significance.  It is understandable that many Wisconsinites are exhausted and face another electoral cycle with some degree of apprehension and frustration.  Unfortunately, many voters view the political process with increased apathy and feel disenfranchised by recent events.  Even the recall election for Governor in our state failed to bring out truly huge numbers of voters (less than 60% turnout).      

However, we are involved in a conflict that resembles a marathon, not a sprint and need to make sure that we maintain our focus and energy so that we don't experience another election like the one in 2010.  In that election a combination of factors came together and allowed the conservatives in America to seize a significant number of elected positions.  One of the biggest reasons for this change in electoral results was the lack of turnout in key areas, areas that were strong supporters of the Democrats in previous elections.    

The fact that so many Americans choose not to vote is a problem that is compounded by the recent efforts of Republicans to limit people's ability to cast a ballot.  This, combined with redistricting, orchestrated by Republican controlled legislatures means that the political landscape may be permanently altered unless we combat their efforts by making every effort to get eligible voters to the polls.

Wisconsin is home to one of the more restrictive voter ID laws.  One that has been challenged successfully in court, but the GOP here is working to try and reinstate the law in its entirety.

What is most frustrating to so many of us is the hypocrisy of the Republicans on this issue (and most others, but…).  Voter fraud is a relatively insignificant problem when compared to other issues we face regarding our political situation in Wisconsin and across the nation.  Despite all the calls from conservatives that rampant voter fraud is ruining our democracy, the evidence just isn't there.  What is even more problematic for Republicans is that many of the documented cases of fraud involve their own supporters.

It's My Money and I'll Spend How I Want To…
Here's another way to not only save money, but to help our environment by reducing waste in our landfills.

Public Education…
Last year, Wisconsin's public educators returned to work reeling from the events of the previous spring and summer.  We had experienced the sudden loss of our collective bargaining power, the slashing of school budgets and the continuing attacks on our personal and professional abilities.  Public workers in Wisconsin were Public Enemy #1 and educators were among the Most Wanted members of that group. 

What a difference a year doesn't make here in America's Dairyland.  If anything things are looking even more bleak in many ways.  More and more districts will see their collective bargaining agreements end, school budgets will worsen (as property values fall and revenues dry up), and the neediest students will face even more challenging conditions at home and at school.  Through it all, educators will continue to hear that they are getting what they deserve (for 9 months work and poor results), and that they are what is wrong with our state socially, politically and economically.

Maybe we should feel better that this is a national trend, not just something happening in Wisconsin.  No, we shouldn't.  The attacks on public education are happening nationally and are part of an agenda that weakens our ability to effectively combat the power grab being carried out by the economic elite in America.

Educators across the nation are frustrated and angry about the continuing attacks on our profession and the schools that we value so highly.  What makes it even more frustrating is that most of us are simply trying to do the best we can in difficult circumstances.  Yet, we face ongoing attacks by so called "experts" who know little about the students we educate and the conditions we labor under.  These "experts" reach conclusions that are designed to fix our schools, but suspiciously seem only to pad the pockets of a small number while increasing the gaps in resources available to schools and the outcomes that our most at-risk students achieve.  These "experts" use test scores and other data of their own creation to undermine the efforts of public educators.  They then provide "reforms" to fix the schools that they have either broken themselves, or that they have made appear to be failing.

Educating our youth shouldn't be the political issue that it has become.  A truly healthy society values its youth and works to educate them to the highest degree possible.  Instead of looking at our public education system as a resource, it has become a place to make a profit or a place to work to destroy the political power of rivals.  Our young people have become pawns in a game that will result in all of losing in the long run.  Educators find themselves becoming pawns as well as they look for allies who will defend public education instead of catering to a small number of donors who look to profit from educational reforms.

An educated population is a resource that allows for innovation and advances a society in virtually unlimited ways.  Education provides opportunities for individuals as well as society as a whole.  At the same time educated citizens pose a challenge to those in power and are a necessity in a democratic society.  Yet, the current education policies in America limit schools and learning to a practical purpose.  Education should only serve to advance an individuals ability to make a living.  Job skills, training and knowledge are only useful if they help an employer and our economy.  As a society we are missing the true purpose of education and destroying innovation and creativity.  The difference in philosophies regarding education are well explained in these links.

As we devalue education, it is inevitable that those who provide the education are also reduced in status.  The result is the idea that anyone who has knowledge is capable of being an effective educator.  This ignores the reality that developing lessons and curriculum is much different than delivering the material to a group of students.  Educator training is a necessary and vital part of developing an effective system of educating any group of people.   

Our public schools face significant challenges every year, and this year is no exception.  Here in Madison we are continuing our discussion and debate on issues around our Achievement Gaps.  We also are involved in a search to replace our superintendent and face uncertainty in who our new leader will be and what their educational philosophy will revolve around.  Throw in an uncertain budget, an end to our negotiated contract, more and more mandated practices and increased financial pressure on educators and it is difficult to approach the new school year with optimism.   

Yet, if you visit any school in the Madison School District next week, you will find it filled with educators preparing for another school year.  If you were to take time and talk with any of the educators you would hear about the frustrations, but you would also hear hope and optimism as well.  We know that we have lots of work to do to meet the needs of the students who will fill our classrooms, we recognize the political and economic challenges we face and we are committed to making ourselves better in all aspects of our professional lives. 

What public educators need from the communities they serve is some recognition of the challenges we face and support that helps us, rather than hinders our efforts.  While I can vouch for the good intentions and honest efforts of the educators I have worked with, I can't do the same for the political and community leaders who have shaped the policies that we must work under and implement.  The past decades have seen public education unfairly evaluated and unjustly attacked.  The result of these assaults have been unreasonable policies and contradictory objectives that have resulted in educators being made less effective than they would be if left to trust in their own knowledge and talents.   

The past 18 months have been difficult ones for public educators in Wisconsin.  We are battered and bruised, but still standing and ready for another school year.  As a group we have become more aware of the need to promote public education and to force those outside of our world to see what it is that we do and how much we want all of our students to maximize their potential.  We have a duty to reach out to our communities and to society as a whole so that our valuable services and the resources that are our public schools survive and thrive into the future.    

We are asking the communities we live and work in to listen to us with open mindedness and to evaluate our efforts honestly and without prejudice.  Instead of seeing us as an enemy, take us for what we are, public servants who a passionate about our jobs.  We see education as vital to the survival of our society and see every child as a valuable part of our community.  If we can have a truly open and thoughtful conversation about education we can find ways to overcome the challenges we face and realize the true potential of our greatest resource, the people who share our society with us.


  1. I disagree with you comments on voter fraud. It was reported in JB Van Hollens election the waukesha county clerk counted 22,000 more votes than cast so he could push his voter supppression. This same clerk lost 12,000 votes for days. Voter fraud is rampant in our county clerks offices like in wauksha, rusk, washburn, bayfeild and sawyer county were it is who counts the votes that count.

  2. Exactly, the problem isn't with the individual voter, but with a system that lacks accountability at higher levels. The voter ID laws focus attention on a problem that doesn't have an impact on election results while ignoring significant issues that do. Even in cases where the issues turned out to be "innocent" and "accidental" they still undermine public confidence in the electoral process and further the disenfranchisement and voter apathy that exist in our nation. Our resources should be directed at solving problems to improve our system, not at creating fear and mistrust among voters.