Sunday, February 10, 2013

Issue #100- Some "Humor", MMSD's New Superintendent and WI Pensions

When I first decided to write a blog I never imagined that I would ever write 100 posts, but here we are celebrating Issue #100!!  That this post comes a week before the 2 year anniversary of the start of the "Wisconsin Uprising" is another example of the reality that we aren't going to just forget what is being done in the name of "reform" here in Wisconsin or anywhere else for that matter.  I am proud to be a part of the resistance and proud to stand with my colleagues and friends to try and make positive changes in our society, wherever possible.

I want to thank my wife, Sandy, for revising and editing each week's edition.  For those of you who have waded through every page I've posted (and I know that there are a lot of them) you can appreciate her dedication to the cause.  Her support and suggestions make my writing better.  I also can't forget my sons who have had to listen to me talk about political, social and economic issues daily.  They offer me insights into what our youth think as well as assist me with my technological challenges.  They are growing into advocates for social justice as well.  I also need to thank my friends and union compatriots who provide me support, inspiration and share information that helps guide my writing.                                        

Thanks too, to all of you who have read an issue.  "Open, Forward, Thinking" has been viewed over 16,000 times in over 70 countries on 6 continents (anyone know anyone in Antarctica?).  I appreciate the feedback, pro and con, and hope that my posts have help keep you all informed and given you ways to become engaged in the struggle.  While the fight has been filled with challenges and is exhausting, I'm confident that we will be able to continue until we achieve our goals. 

For issue #100 I thought I would take a trip into fiction by sharing a few articles that I would either like, or fear, to see in the future.  You can judge for yourselves which are which.  At the end of the post I also have some information about the search for MMSD's superintendent position and some scary stuff about pensions.

Walker--"I Made Some Huge Mistakes"…
In a surprise press conference Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced that he has had a change of heart regarding many of the policies his administration has implemented during its first two years.  As we near the two year anniversary of the introduction of the controversial "Budget Repair Bill" or Act 10 attention is again focused on the Governor's actions during that volatile time in February of 2011.  Walker himself said, "It's just like any milestone date, anniversary or the New Year.  A time of reflection when you think back and forward and try to see what you could do better or different."

Walker went on to talk about the virtual elimination of collective bargaining for public employees and the cuts to education and summarized by saying, "I made some huge mistakes and went way too far."  He deflected some of the criticism away from himself and admitted that his administration thought that the budget cuts and restrictions on rights would have been more widely popular with Wisconsinites.  "My advisors shared information from some trusted sources that said good things about what we were going to do", Walker shared, "I heard all that stuff was supported by Coke and I figured that with all the polar bears and 'Have a Coke and a smile' stuff that people would just go along with everything." 

As far as correcting these mistakes, Walker points to the new legislative session as an opportunity to reverse the damage done to Wisconsin.  "Now that we know about the errors in judgment it should be pretty easy to simply repeal most of the things from the past couple of years.  I'm positive that my fellow Republicans will go along with what I say, they're usually pretty cooperative with my way of thinking,"  Walker predicted.  "I've decided that in the future we will try and listen to a wider range of ideas before acting, Maybe Pepsi offers political advice too?"

Finally, A Way to Measure Creativity…
National testing company WATED (We Assess and Test Everything for Dough), announced a new test that will measure student creativity and artistic ability.  The test fully aligns with Common Core standards and will allow school districts to not only create student creativity profiles, but will also allow employers to effectively measure the productivity and hold educators who don't teach specific academic subjects accountable for student achievement in creative endeavors.   

The test is administered on a computer and asks students to observe and answer questions about different images.  Student answers form a pattern on a ScanTron sheet which is then evaluated by company employees for aesthetic value.  "We realize that there is some subjectivity to this process, but our experts are really good at noticing good art," a company press release stated.  A second portion of the test asks students to listen to musical selections.  Their answers (with choices A-G) are then put on a musical staff and the tune is assessed by WATED employees.    

WATED is also looking into developing tests for students physical fitness in order to effectively assess Physical Education teachers.  So far these tests are proving to be more costly, and thus less attractive to school districts, due to the added expense of specially designed chairs that will be needed for the endurance portion of the test.    

Study Released, Teachers Are Taxpayers…
After two years of intensive study a bi-partisan legislative task has arrived at the conclusion that teachers and other public employees do pay taxes.  Senator Glenn Grothman (R) spoke for his party's representatives on the task force and stated, "We were stunned to find out that public employees and public educators are taxpayers and apparently contribute to our state's economy in some meaningful way.  Up to this point we (GOP legislators and Governor Walker) were convinced that we only needed to represent people who didn't "work" in the public sector or for some non-profit agency that helps people."

Governor Walker's office released a short statement expressing their amazement that this information could have eluded them for so long.  In the statement Governor Walker expressed concern that this revelation will "impact the way we do business here in Wisconsin".  His office admitted that up until this study was released they had been operating under the assumption that everything they had heard about public employees being "lazy and a drain on the economy" was true.  "Now we have to rethink our positions and attempt to represent the interests of a whole new group of taxpayers, that's going to be a lot of work!"   

Balancing Act…
The buzzword here in Wisconsin for the past two years has been balance, as in balance the budget at any cost.  However, recent economic information has come to light that, while a balanced budget is important, the way the balancing is carried out matters as much as the balancing itself.  Economists across Wisconsin came together at a recent convention and discussed Wisconsin's budget and economic woes. 

They concluded that the reason any government entity collects revenue from its citizens is to provide services, protection and stability for those who live in its jurisdiction.  In a press release the economists expressed the belief that, "Any budget created at any level should keep the bottom line in mind.  However, when balancing a budget the needs of all citizens must be considered."  The group also recognized that citizens who are able to meet their basic needs are more productive and work to improve society as a whole instead of struggling to barely get by. 

One economist even noted that protecting the environment must be a consideration as well, even if it sometimes takes away from tax revenue or the expansion of business.  "On day 3 of the convention I went outside and noticed just how beautiful Wisconsin's outdoors really are," the economist said.  "That got me thinking that sometimes money isn't the only thing that matters when we talk about fiscal concerns.  If we don't have a good environment to live in, then I guess all the money in the world won't really matter a lot, will it?" 

Policies Have Consequences…
The U.S. Department of Education today released results of a comprehensive study that has determined that policies enacted at any level of government frequently have an impact on students in classrooms across America.  The study concluded that policies from the Federal level (No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top) have had an impact on school districts and classrooms in all 50 states.  The study states, "Apparently the testing requirements and the consequences attached to them have created an environment that has led to less actual time to teach and more time spent testing." 

An unnamed source in the Department of Education said, "We were shocked to hear that our work here in Washington is undermining our public schools' credibility and ability to educate students.  We really just thought that making educators accountable would be a popular idea and several companies said they had a great way to do this."

Administrators, school boards and state level heads of education have been notified that their actions and policies also impact the schools in their states and districts.  According to the study ideas that originate in places outside of schools often have significant consequences when implemented in classrooms.  "What sounds like a good idea in a conference room, or in a committee, frequently looks different when educators in schools are forced to put the policy or procedure into practice," the study states.      

A conservative school reform group, TEST (Truth in Education Starts with Testing) said that they have mixed feelings about this discovery by educational bureaucrats.  "We've know for a long time exactly what we wanted to happen when policies like NCLB and RttT were enacted.  We were just hoping that the politicians would continue to think that they were improving public education and would continue to promote policies that we support," spokesperson for the group, Ivanna T'est Moore said.   

School Cited for Violating Child Labor Laws…
In a strange and unusual development a private charter school in Wisconsin was cited for violation of Child Labor Laws.  The list of violations was long and included the school's use of children to run a school store that sold products made in the school's shop and home economics classes.  According to the report filed earlier today, students worked up to 14 hours a day making and selling products with the profits being used to fund the school's publicity department and to pay administrative costs.  Students were also required to perform maintenance and custodial tasks around the school. 

School officials protested the allegations saying that they were providing an excellent curriculum that prepared students for career paths in manufacturing and retail careers.  "Our test scores and productivity were off the charts when you compare us to the public schools that coddle children," stated a school spokesperson.  "We don't see why we should be penalized when we are simply doing what the job creators of Wisconsin want educational entities to do."

When asked if students were exposed to higher order thinking, creative problem solving or the arts school officials responded by defending their curriculum.  "There's a lot to be said for learning to follow instructions and performing rote tasks.  When we saw a student with potential they would be promoted to shift manager and had the potential to advance even farther in our school's hierarchy," school officials noted. 

The complaint was filed after customers began receiving slips of paper mixed in with their change saying, "Support Our School's Effort to Unionize!"  Apparently students had been attempting to organize for the past several months and were meeting with resistance from school administration.  One customer who is named in the complaint stated, "It seemed a little odd.  At first I thought it was some sort of school project for the kids, but the look of fear on the cashier's face when I read the note while a teacher was nearby seemed way too realistic.  I figured either the kid was a great actor or they were really terrified so I thought I should at least have someone check it out."     

Sometimes Truth is Stranger than Fiction
We are constantly hearing conservatives say that we should be running our schools, public services and government like a business.  Well, when an organization that works to help public employees like the SWIB makes a sound business decision the conservatives sure aren't happy about it.  However, I can't think of one good reason why we should be giving any state employee pension money to an entity like the WEDC that has been so mismanaged and that hasn't demonstrated any measurable level of competence in handling financial matters.
What is frightening to public employees in Wisconsin is the obvious reality that our Governor not only wants us to pay more into our pension fund, but that he wants to be able to access the money that we contribute. 

Madison's Search for a Superintendent…
A strong school district needs strong leadership to help support educators and implement quality policies district wide.  For the past months the search has been on for candidates to take over the reins of the Madison Public Schools.  This past week saw a flurry of activity as the Madison Board of Education worked earnestly to narrow the field of candidates down.  

Unfortunately, controversy quickly followed their decision and significant questions were raised about one of the candidate's records.  The result was a candidate pool of 1.

Thursday night Dr. Jennifer Cheatham was in front of a good sized crowd (considering the weather conditions outside) and answered many pointed questions about her record, her philosophy and her plans for Madison's Public School System.  

The following day it was announced that MMSD's School Board had offered the job to Dr. Cheatham. 

Much has been made about the process and questions have been raised about the way that candidates were selected.  In additions there are some issues and concerns that supporters of public education have about Dr. Cheatham's record and associations with "reform" groups.  

My major concerns at this point about Dr. Cheatham's record and philosophy center around some of her comments made on Thursday.  I must admit that I have no direct information or experience with her, just what is available on the internet, what has been shared by fellow educators, information released by MMSD and Dr. Cheatham's answers at the Thursday night forum. 

Overall she made a favorable impression and seemed very knowledgeable and confident.  Many of her answers resonated with me and made me feel hopeful for the future in the MMSD.  However, a couple of things stood out to me.

-She used the term "agnostic" to express her thinking about private schools.  For me our superintendent needs to be the biggest advocate possible for public education.  This means that any reforms to public education, or use of public money should be only in the best interest of public education.  Private schools, private charter schools and any other educational venture on the privatization spectrum needs to be kept separate from public school funding and must be accountable for the same standards that public schools are held to.

-Much was made of the fact that she said she wouldn't increase the school day, but I heard her say that she didn't know enough about MMSD to say whether that would be a positive option.  Perhaps a subtle difference, but a difference none the less.  She also never answered the question about increasing educator pay if changes were made in hours worked. 

-It is still unclear to me just how positive and benevolent her relationship with educators in Chicago was.  I'm hopeful that she operates in the manner she described at the forum, but time will tell.
It is sad that we are in such a state of mistrust and suspicion.  It takes a lot to make public educators so pessimistic about anything.  Remember, we are people who spend every minute of our day thinking about ways to get our most challenged students to succeed and view every day as a new one.  I wonder what our opinions of Dr. Cheatham would be had the assaults on public education not been so intense over the past two years.

One topic that she addressed that I found to be very positive was the idea of empowering principals and educators to work together in their buildings to make positive change happen.  This sounds a lot like the joint venture that MTI and MMSD have been working on for the past couple of years to reduce the number of grievances filed and to promote positive relationships between administration and staff.  I hope that she follows through on her words and supports these ideas with action.  

In the end these questions had little impact on the final decisions made by the Board of Education.  We are left with our uncertainties, but also with a need to trust in the selection and in our elected representatives and work to make Dr. Cheatham's tenure as MMSD Superintendent a successful one.  No one person will be responsible for the future success of our district, we all are accountable for creating a district that serves every student well.    

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