Monday, December 29, 2014

December 29, 2014- Public Education Looking Back, and Looking to the Future

As 2014 comes to a close it is worthwhile to look back at the past year in public education, while keeping an eye on the potential that a new year brings.  Unfortunately it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of public education, especially when we look at the prevailing climate that surround our schools at the end of 2014.  Here are some of the trends that are cause for concern. . .

Promotion and expansion of the privatization movement- The Republican victories at the polls combined with their anti-public education propaganda have set the stage for efforts to expand the voucher system here in Wisconsin.  These efforts have undermined financial support for public schools and have created an atmosphere of mistrust around public education.  The potential harm to our society is significant and will serve to move us backward to a time of segregation, stratification and inequity. 

CIVIL RIGHTS-Charter schools are often promoted as a tool to address educational inequities, but a potential precedent-setting legal case launched earlier this month says the opposite. In filings with...|By Jim

Continuing the movement to hold schools "accountable" through misguided means- Accountability is a good thing, and our public schools should always be responsible to those we serve.  Yet, the current means of keeping us accountable don't accomplish the stated goals.  Educators and schools are best held accountable by the students, families and communities we serve.  Using data and economic measures don't increase real accountability.  Instead these types of measurements move us away from educating students and towards a factory model of schooling.    

The following post appeared May 12, 2011. Since then it has been the most read post I have written--nearly 28,000 views. I am updating it with a few...

A report will offer the first glimpse into the Obama administration’s plan to grade colleges, placing them into three categories of performance.|By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA

Increased financial challenges for our public schools- Public schools have always had to fight for adequate funding.  In the current climate this struggle has only become more intense.  Whether being forced to justify any, and all tax money used for education, or competing with trends that too often fail to serve all students, our schools are facing significant financial problems.     

DPI data suggests that taxpayers spent approximately half a billion dollars to send Wisconsin K-12 students to chronically failing schools. And that was just...

Millions went to support the Common Core, charter schools and more.

Attacks on educators- Teaching has always been a profession that has struggled to get the recognition that it deserves.  This is especially for educators who work with younger students, those who work in supporting roles, and those who teach "specials" (art, music, PE, etc.).  This reality combined with the negative propaganda about public education and public educator unions has put all educators on the defensive.  The end result has been a real decline in morale, and an exodus of quality educators from the profession.  It is time that the general public understands just how challenging the job of educating students is.  We aren't asking for special treatment, just the respect that we earn on a daily basis.

'Teaching at a high-poverty school was different because no matter how fast or long I worked, I could not get everything done.'

Blaming public education for society's ills- Public education is a mirror that reflects all aspects (pro and con) of our society.  We can't expect our public schools to fix these problems without the support of our entire society.  Public schools need to be among the highest priorities on a local, state and national level.  Instead, we often see dialog around our schools focus on finding blame and failing to promote positive change. 

Dialog around the new Behavior Education Plan in MMSD provides an example of this problem.  We know that we need to do a better job of addressing concerns around equity and safety in our schools.  Yet, we also know that the best way to do this is to build relationships with students, families and the community as a whole.  These relationships take time and a significant commitment on the part of all involved.  Changing policy won't change outcomes without this commitment and a dedication of resources.  This means that we need to be able to have real conversations with all involved in order to move our district forward.  Public dialog is difficult, but it is the only way to make real change happen.

Will dropping the zero tolerance discipline policy keep African-American students in the classroom and everyone on task?|By Pat Schneider

Given all these challenges it is easy to wonder what the future holds for our public education systems here in Wisconsin, and around the United States.  We are seeing too many people give up, or give in to the pressures around public schools.  Whether it is retirement, resignation, or blind compliance, the results are the same.  Instead of fewer voices speaking about the potential power of public education and the value of quality education, we need more people stepping up to advocate for our students, schools and educators. 

While the present may seem bleak, here are some reasons for hope in 2015. . . 

Using data to make positive change happen- The same data that is used to attack our public schools can be used to defend and promote public education.  Our public schools do well when compared to similar privatized schools.  In fact, given the commitment that public schools have to educating all students, the data around education often favors public over private schools.  Stripping away the rhetoric around private schools exposes a truth that education privateers don't want the public to know.  By emphasizing the positive aspects of public education we can change the dialog and climate around public schooling.   

Poor schools underperform largely because of economic forces, not because teachers have it too easy

Fraud, financial mismanagement, lousy results: Reports highlight awful charter schools and people are catching on

Bad news for Pearson Education made be good news for the rest of us. The testing and publishing mega-giant is on the run, but it looks like it will not be able to hide....

At the same time we need to make sure that we are emphasizing the most meaningful data.  This means changing our discourse from test scores, school report cards and educator evaluations that are designed to undermine public schools.  Instead we need to use data to refocus the dialog back to our students and their needs.  Informing the public about the many positives in our schools can rebuild trust and confidence, while allowing educators to build on student strengths instead of focusing on the negatives. 

Developing a positive message for public educators- Too often educators are forced into a defensive position that doesn't allow us to speak our truth about what we believe education means for our students.  We find ourselves justifying our actions and even succumbing to the pressure to implement harmful "reforms" in the name of equity or to improve our students performance on standardized assessments.  Instead of being defensive we should be articulating our ideas and asserting our opinions about what it means to educate and to be educated.  Educators don't have to be a part of a bureaucratic and inequitable system.  This isn't who and what educators are.  They can, and should, be working to define the parameters of their efforts and communicate this with the public.   

Blogger and educator Slekar says it's the legislators who need someone peering over their shoulders.|By Pat Schneider

Student know how to play school like it's a game, but if teachers change the rules, they just might appreciate it.

Uniting around our efforts to promote equity and close existing gaps- One of the most unpleasant realities about our current state of affairs in public education is the fact that our students have different opportunities and experience different outcomes based on demographic factors like race, gender and socio-economic class.  No educator I know is completely satisfied with the way things currently are, but we often struggle to find ways to make change happen.  Working together as a whole community we can begin to make progress in addressing the inequities in the system.  It starts with recognizing the problems exist, and continues with a united effort to define what change we want to make happen.  Along the way we will continue to experience struggle and will face many challenges, but the efforts will serve to improve public education for all participants.      

It's been a year since Gee's "Justified Anger" essay was published in the Cap Times regarding the pervasive racial inequities in Madison.|By REV. ALEX GEE

I grew up poor, and I’ve tried to speak up for the students in my daughter’s schools who don’t eat sushi and can’t afford cheerleading. Mostly, I’ve failed.|By Debra Monroe 

The laser-like focus on math and reading ignores other things that are vital to closing it.

In the end our public schools will only be as good as we want them to be.   It takes a vocal group of educators, students, families and community members to advocate for the type of educational experience that will benefit all students.  These advocates need the support of strong organizations like public educator unions.  We can't rely on those making policy at the higher levels to recognize or understand the needs of students in classrooms.  We've seen what happens when we let the "system" run its course.  Let's make 2015 the year that public education moves in more sustainable, equitable and socially just directions.    

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . While the power of unions has been curtailed by policy, legislation and practices that are reinforced by the current prevailing anti-labor public sentiment, it is vital that we remember the power of labor isn't limited by political or economic constraints.  In fact, many of the greatest accomplishments of labor have occurred by stretching, and even at times breaking, these constraints in order to force the general public to recognize the value in collective action for the good of all.  Our system of government allows for dissent, but social, political and economic mores encourage conformity.    

WASHINGTON -- In a significant win for labor unions, federal regulators ruled Thursday that employers can't prevent their workers from using company email...

The Bad . . . We continue to allow a reality to be created for us that blames the poor and powerless for the challenges we face. 

No, single moms aren't the problem. And neither are absentee dads.

This same false reality is one that creates the climate of blame around our unions and foments anger against organized labor.  It allows politicians like Governor Walker to shift the blame for our economic struggles away from their misguided policies and onto people and organizations who are truly working for positive change.  Wisconsin has become a breeding ground for Conservative policies and divisive politics, both of which do more harm than good for most citizens.     

The American Legislative Exchange Council has worked for decades to weaken public unions at the state level.

Whenever the governor insists a policy is “not a priority,” you can probably assume the contrary.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has his eye on the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and as he tries to boost his national poll numbers, there...

Discussions from a graduating Master's student on items including life in the Upper Midwest, the dismal science, and brilliant beverages.|By Jake formerly of the LP

In the end we are left with a divided society that will struggle to operate in positive, sustainable ways.  Along the way, discussion and compromise become difficult, if not impossible.  These things that make our system of government possible vanish in a storm of vitriol and anger.  We must find ways to stop this division before it damages our society beyond repair.     

At first glance, Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election last month looks like a carbon copy of his victory four years earlier. But on closer inspection, there is an important difference: Wisconsin is even more polarized today than it was four years ago.|By Craig Gilbert

Just read the comments after these photos to see just how bitter and angry our society has become.  Protesting is a recognized form of resistance here in America, those who argue against it are forgetting our roots and ignoring our Constitution. 

About 60 people from the Young, Gifted & Black Coalition were gathered in Madison...|By Channel 3000

The Ugly . . . My home state has a lot of work to do around issues of race and equity.  Hopefully the new year will bring an increased awareness along with increased action around important issues of social justice. 

The sad lesson of Milwaukee is that what happened to Mike Brown is no exception. Here's the terrifying reality

Sunday, December 21, 2014

#193 December 21, 2014- Organizing for Labor

Do as I say, not as I do, is a leadership mantra that is ineffective, disingenuous and laden with hypocrisy.  Yet, this is exactly what we are getting from the Conservative leadership in Wisconsin around issues involving organized labor and the turmoil around the potential introduction of "Right to Work" legislation.  This potential attack on private sector labor unions comes on the heels of Act 10, an anti-union bill that was designed to cripple Wisconsin's public sector unions.  Clearly those who control the Republican Party both locally, and on a national scale, have a significant problem with workers organizing in their workplaces. 

While the real reasons behind their attacks on organized labor are relatively clear and center around gaining and maintaining political power, they mask their anti-union rhetoric in the language of freedom, choice and economic equity.  Essentially, the message is that America's workforce should be made up of individuals who are in a constant state of competition that leads to supposedly improved outcomes.  We constantly hear that unions are outdated, unnecessary, and even anti-American in nature.  In short, workers should be more like businessmen/job-creators who operate independently and are able to compete as individuals in whatever marketplace they are operating in.  Workers shouldn't need to organize if they were more competent, assertive and skilled.

However, if this is the case then why do we see so many efforts by business to organize.  Whether it is through a local Chamber of Commerce, or an organization like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, we see businesses joining together to advance their interests.  There is strength in numbers for businesses and ownership, just as there is strength in numbers for employees.  While the parallels between unions and business organizations are not perfect, the concept behind them is the same.

Another anti-union argument takes the perspective that management is able to look out for workers better than the "big union bosses."  The message is that unions are somehow exploiting their members in ways that management never would.  If  only workers would "wake up" and see that they are being manipulated in order to pad the pockets of the bosses, then we could avoid the entire problem of unions. 

Of course, there are many examples of just how false this argument is.  One of the most glaring is the manipulation of voters who are part of the Tea Party movement.  If unions are the product of a mislead and misguided workforce, then what exactly does that mean for the voters who cast ballots for Tea Party candidates?  The idea that union bosses are corrupt, but big business isn't is one that rings hollow upon any reflection.     

A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the...

We can leave the world of politics and see just how the American worker has fared economically and socially as unions have lost their influence and employees have been left without significant protections.  Workers are more productive, and although they earn 23% more than they did in 1973, they work 26% more hours.  In other words, for more production, with more time on the job, workers are barely keeping up with the costs of living. 

As workers are devalued, many need multiple jobs to make a middle-class wage

More than 60 million people in U.S. households depend on the earnings of a low-wage worker, according to a new report released on Tuesday.|By Vicki Needham

The attacks on the middle class, working class and the working poor isn't just about destroying unions.  It's also about attacking benefits and safety nets in an effort to profit from the shrinking of our public services.  Welfare recipients make an easy target for politicians, but Social Security, tax breaks and other things that benefit middle class families are also facing cuts or even elimination. 
Once it became clear that Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman would win a U.S. House seat in the November 2014 elections, his penchant for making...

The climate may not be favorable for organized labor, but the need for unions is just as great now as it ever was.  We are seeing the disparity in incomes increase and more and more people falling out of the middle class.  Poverty is rising, and we are seeing the futures' of our children negatively impacted by the policies of the anti-labor, anti-government, pro-big business movement that the Tea Party and other Conservative movements represent.  The time is now for the labor movement to regain its status in American politics and in our society as a whole.  We can't shrink from the conflicts and assume that our elected officials will adequately represent our interests.  Our nation is built on rules that allow for us to organize, associate with organizations and use the system to protect our interests. 

In writing the majority court decision in the Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc. vs. Busk decision, Justice Thomas may have just killed Right-To-Work and anti-Union laws.

It is important to look for connections beyond those traditionally accessed by labor.  There are many places where the interests of workers, management and ownership can intersect. 

More than 300 construction-related businesses are part of the coalition.

At the same time organized labor can't simply continue with the tried and true tactics of the past.  Here in Wisconsin we've seen the impact that money can have on all aspects of our political, economic and legal systems.  There needs to be a concerted effort made by unions to expand their influence beyond the limited scope of the workplace or industry they represent.  Organizing in 21st Century America means building a broad base around issues that can unite large numbers of people.  Social justice issues like the minimum wage can provide these opportunities, and unions need to step up and regain their status as representatives of all workers, not just a select few. 

The new labor movement is beginning to advance workers’ interests through legislation, writes guest columnist

In doing so, unions can work to shed the baggage of the past and embrace a future that includes diversity in membership, and diversity in issues that are addressed by unions.  We know that unions have a history that is both positive and negative when it comes to issues of equity.  However, no matter what the past may have been the potential of collective action outweighs the historical shortcomings.  We have huge problems around equity and race in America.  Unions can work to create workplace rules and climates that can serve to level the playing field. 

Analysis: The racial wealth divide is a persistent fact of American life and getting worse

We also need to recognize that a united group of people, working together to achieve common goals can have a powerful impact on small and large scale issues.  In fact, collective action is the cornerstone of our nation and is vital to the continued success of our society.  We know that the wealthiest and most powerful are organizing and acting, it seems obvious that the rest of us should be doing what they do, not what they say. 

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . Sticking with Cold War policies that have proven harmful to the entire region makes very little sense.  It is time that we rethink how we interact with our neighbors. 

It would take real leadership to change course and adopt a more sensible policy towards Cuba. President Obama offered that leadership today.

The Bad . . . The fact that Walker is considered a viable candidate to be President of the United States points to the polarization of our nation.

Iowa political insiders say participation in the state's straw poll and caucuses could push Gov. Scott Walker into the top tier of presidential candidates.|By Jessie Opoien | The Capital Times

The Ugly . . .  Considering that 4 of the members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court have benefited from political spending by Wisconsin Club for Growth (one of the defendants), this decision appears to be fairly predictable.  Our justice system in Wisconsin is severely lacking in credibility at its highest level.    

The cases stem from a long-running secret investigation into fundraising and spending by the Republican governor’s campaign and conservative groups backing him.|By Patrick Marley

Sunday, December 14, 2014

#192 December 14, 2014- Those Who Can--Teach

Jokes about educators have been around for a long time.  Who hasn't heard the saying, "Those who can do, do, and those who can't teach."  The portrayals of educators on TV and in the movies is almost always a caricature of incompetence and ignorance.  Whether it's Sheldon's disdain for teaching compared to research on Big Bang Theory, or the host of confused and lazy educators on New Girl there are no shortage of modern versions of educators to be mocked.  When educators are given a hero's role in any portrayal it is usually as an overmatched new educator who is driven to fight a system (and often fellow educators) to "save" a group of challenging students.  Students who apparently just needed someone to take a few simple, obvious steps to unlock their vast potential.

Educators aren't alone in this.  Virtually every profession or occupation is satirized and mocked in some way.  If this is true, then why should we be concerned about the misrepresentations, misperceptions and lack of understanding that surround educators and what happens in our classrooms and schools? 

The answer to this question gets at the heart of the ongoing conflicts around public education, public educators and educator unions.  The portrayals of educators and education in popular culture and in the media give a false image of many aspects of education.  In doing so they continue the stereotypes that exist and demean the professional expertise of the educators who work in our schools.  While very few people will even pretend they can match a doctor's level of knowledge or skill, and (while not necessarily appreciating or respecting them) will recognize the expertise that lawyers bring to their work, too many people assume that teaching is a simple and straightforward task. 

This mythology around education is perpetuated in public policy that seeks to deprofessionalize our educational workforce.  The efforts to change the licensing requirements for teachers and to make teaching a job, not a career are based in the notion that educators can be quickly trained and easily replaced.  We also see an effort to make education measurable and to quantify students' learning in ways that reduce learning to a linear progression of skill acquisition.  In doing so, the work of professional educators is seen as less valuable than the efforts of employees who can follow scripted lessons and deliver packaged material.  "Reformers" have taken the need for accountability in education and used it for their own purposes.      

Ill-conceived ratings systems can wreak havoc on educators' careers

This line of thinking has the same effect on our entire public school system.  Instead of valuing our schools as sources of strength and opportunity, they are turned into businesses that operate for the good of the owners and not the consumers.  Market economics may be a viable concept for the selling of products and some services, but it isn't sustainable or equitable in education.     

This animated feature on school privatization stars little Timmy, a kindergartner who likes his public school. Timmy gets a confusing lesson in corporate edu...

At the same time we see the rhetoric around educator unions mirror this disrespect.  Educators are depicted as lazy, incompetent and in need of representation so that they can continue their slothful ways.  Teacher "tenure" has come under fire and the idea that we need to eliminate bad teachers has become a powerful tool used in undermining confidence in our public schools.                    

For all the debate about tenure, getting rid of teachers is relatively easy; it’s getting them to stay that’s the hard part.|By Nick Morrison

Our public educator unions need to fight back and show the public the reality that surrounds public education.  Unions provide protections and support for educators who are powerful advocates for their students, families and the communities they serve.     

After speaking and guiding a workshop recently, I was struck by some distinct impressions I...

These educators who are under so much fire from the press, politicians and some members of the public are human beings who are working hard under difficult circumstances.  Instead of vilifying them and undermining their efforts, we need to support and nurture our educators.  It starts with an understanding of just what it is that we are doing when we go to work in our classrooms and schools. 

The educators that I work with on a daily basis do so much more than simply present information to students.  We feed, counsel, clothe and care for our students in ways that go far beyond the "Three r's."  We advocate for our students to get medical care, extra support and access to programs and resources.  We are a consistent presence in the lives of students who sometimes have no other consistency.  We support families through illnesses, tragedies and the challenges of daily life.  We become a part of our community and develop strong ties with our fellow citizens.  Any educator you talk to can give you countless examples of just how much education professionals do that goes above and beyond a simple job description. 

We do all this while still trying to meet the obligations placed on us by politicians and policy makers who don't know our students, and who often don't have real school experience.  At times we may speak our minds about policies and legislation that impacts our students in negative ways.  We may also speak out about "reforms" that impact our ability to do our jobs in ways that promote the interests of our students.  We do this because we care about our students, our families, our communities and our profession.  We deserve to be respected and listened to.       

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . Democrats are no friends of public education either.  It remains to be seen how the conservative opposition to Common Core and other types of "reforms" will play out.  However, the current dialog around education gives us more opportunities to get the message out about what our schools really need. 

First lady Michelle Obama's program to make school lunches more nutritious takes a hit, too.

The headline isn't necessarily the "Good" here.  Arlene Silveira has been a strong advocate for Madison's public schools and her presence on the Board will be missed.  However, Anna Moffit is an excellent candidate who has earned the support of those who value public education through her advocacy and activism. 

Candidate Anna Moffit is the mother of three children with disabilities in the Madison schools.|By Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

The Bad . . . A broken system of education funding hurts our public schools.  The current system puts too much emphasis on property taxes and other local revenue sources.  As long as the state and federal government continue failing to fully fund their mandates our schools will struggle to meet their budgetary needs. 

The report from Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler includes no recommendations.|By Matthew DeFour | Wisconsin State Journal

It doesn't seem that those in our state government understand what the general public needs when it comes to tax reform.  These tax "reforms" are coming from the party that ran as defenders of the common taxpayer. 

MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin's top business lobbying group wants the legislature to eliminate the state's top income tax bracket as a way to stimulate...|By Greg Neumann

In the meantime, Governor Walker continues to prepare for 2016 and his chance to advance his political career at the expense of Wisconsinites. 

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker is in Las Vegas to meet with billionaire casino mogul and Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson, as Walker...

The uncertainty around CCSS and other "reforms" can only serve to undermine and confuse the landscape around our public schools.  Many districts have already invested huge amounts of time, money and other resources into implementing CCSS.  Now we face another time of instability and debate that could potentially force districts to spend more of their scarce resources chasing an elusive "tail" of constantly changing expectations and standards. 

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says new legislation will affirm that if schools like Common Core, they can keep it.|By Matthew DeFour | Wisconsin State Journal, Molly Beck | Wisconsin State Journal

The Ugly . . . When you consider the statistics around incarceration in Wisconsin, and around the nation, it becomes clear that we have formally institutionalized the inequities that existed as part of our society before the Civil Rights Movement supposedly (especially according to conservative thinking) eliminated racial inequalities in America. 

"Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African-Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination— employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits and exclusion from jury service — are suddenly legal. ...We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." - Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander explains how she came to understand that the racial caste system in America has not ended, it's just been redesigned.

Despite the continuing violence and the clear need for us to respond as a society, we continue to promote a culture of guns and fail to address the underlying causes of these senseless acts. 

A Mother Jones investigation analyzes 21 attacks over the past two years.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

#191 December 7, 2014- My Vision for Public Education

These are difficult days for public education in Wisconsin.  We face a host of challenges that threaten to, at the very least impose drastic change on a system that has long been a source of pride for many citizens.  At worst, these challenges may spell out the end of public education as we currently understand it.  With the last general election behind us the immediate future of education here has been mapped out.  This future will contain continuing efforts to expand a voucher system and to divert public money to privatized schools.   It will feature a climate that silences educators and public school advocates by enforcing legislation that targets anyone who seeks to organize and confront the "reforms" that are being put forward.  Standardized testing and curriculum, a flawed educator evaluation system and other "accountability" systems will undermine efforts to be innovative and creative while closing existing opportunity and achievement gaps.  Truly, these are troubling times for those who believe in the power of public education. 

Advocates of public education have been put on the defensive by a well coordinated, and well financed effort to promote the privatization and profiteering of education.  These attacks have used the illusion of choice and freedom, a false appeal to fairness and equity, and have taken advantage of challenging economic times to promote their agenda. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty released a report Monday arguing that private schools participating in Milwaukee's voucher program are held...|By Jessie Opoien | The Capital Times

By Antonia Darder | Originally Published at TruthOut. November 30, 2014 | Photographic Credit; Shutterstock / Student erases Rather than an oppressive...

Unfortunately, those who support public schools and who value the potential that they offer have not countered these attacks effectively.  Instead of providing a vision of what public schools can become, and instead of promoting public education as a vehicle for a socially just, sustainable and even economically sound society, these voices have too often been relegated to trying to simply negate the arguments offered by educational "reformers" and profiteers. 

If we are to win the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens in the debate around education in Wisconsin we must provide an argument that not only debunks the one offered by "reformers", but also one that motivates and guides our efforts to improve educational outcomes for all citizens.  After all, the opportunity and achievement gaps are real and inequities in school policies around discipline are real.  While these are symptoms of a greater ill that exists across our entire society, they have become very visible in the world of education.  However, even as we recognize the stark reality that is the inequity of our society mirrored in our schools, we must change the dialog from one that blames schools for inequity and that instead points to the possibilities that public education offers.  Those who attack and undermine our public schools are not providing our society with viable alternatives that will achieve goals of promoting social justice.  Instead, their "reforms" and policies have the potential to exponentially expand the gaps that already exist.               

Public schools are forever schools, not until schools. Public schools do not serve students until the financial returns get too low. Public schools do not serve students until those students turn out to be too challenging...

The American school system today is an offshoot of an increasingly class-driven society.|By Matt Phillips

In a potentially precedent-setting case, Delaware groups allege that charter schools are violating the Civil Rights Act.|By David Sirota

Part of the process of promoting public education is providing a powerful vision of what public schools can accomplish when fully supported by a society that values the potential that education gives its citizenry.  Examples of what this vision can be are readily available if one knows where to look, or if you are part of a group that engages in these discussions regularly.  MMSD is beginning a process to identify and articulate its vision for the future through a series of meetings and conversations revolving around what our district will look like, and provide for students in the future.  Discussion around this vision have begun by centering on two main questions:

--What knowledge and skills does a college, career, and community ready MMSD graduate need to succeed in 2030?
--By 2030 what qualities should thriving educators, schools, and family and community partnerships have to help prepare all students to be college, career, and community ready graduates? 

I attended a public input session on this visioning process last week and found the conversation enlightening and motivating.  There was a pretty good turnout on a cold December night, and there were a variety of organizations and viewpoints represented as well.  It was very interesting to hear the different ideas that were shared.  What may have been most telling is that when answering these two questions the responses offered valued concepts, skills and ideas that are not supported by the current educational "reform" movement. 

When answering the questions our table groups were supposed to come up with three words that summarized our conversation.  While this was a virtually impossible task given the scope of the conversation, my table group answered the two questions with these "words."  For #1, about an MMSD graduate in 2030, we offered: Collaborative self-advocate, adaptable and holistic- well rounded.  Question #2 generated these answers:  Embedded-empathetic-engaged-advocates, accountably-educated, and trusting-respectful.  Obviously each of these answers is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of ideas, concepts and discussion points.  Yet, what was very noticeable to me was the way that the discussion immediately veered away from the standards and measurable data that is currently driving school policy in communities across our state.  In other words, people who were engaged enough in the process to attend this session were not valuing the same things that those making policy in our legislature and DPI have promoted.   

It is in this divergence of thought that we clearly see how having a vision or message, no matter how powerful, isn't enough to create socially just educational policies in our current social, political and economic situation.  In other words, a vision is important, but it is in the daily practice and the guiding policies that are crafted where our educational vision is given power and voice, or is silenced.  We see the voice of those seeking a more socially just system of education silenced, discredited and ignored in many different ways.  As an educator I am constantly facing the disconnect that exists between the rhetoric of opportunity, choice and culturally relevant instruction and the reality of standard, assessment and policies that reinforce existing inequities.

Knowing that we want our students to be well-rounded members of a community isn't seen as valued when standardized assessment results are a huge component of our schools' report cards and our educators' evaluations.  Students who are adaptable and strong self advocates will find a standardized curriculum and a highly structured learning environment to be more challenging to navigate.  It is difficult to value diversity of culture and opinion when standards and testing are the gateways to the credentials needed for "success" and access to additional educational experiences.  A climate of respect is undermined by the magnified importance of test scores and economics in our current educational environment.  In addition, our public educators have been put on the defensive and vilified to such a degree that their voice isn't valued or respected in discussions that revolve around their profession. 

We know that these challenges exist, and we also know that they won't lessen or change without direct action by those who have a different vision for public education than the one currently offered in our public debate.  While many public educators would like to simply be left alone to teach and work with their students, this simply isn't a possibility in modern Wisconsin.  If educators don't begin to speak up, they will find themselves working in a system that not only retains its current flaws, but magnifies them while creating new problems for our students, families and communities.     

This sounds incredibly difficult and complex, and in some ways it is.  Those who want to "reform" our schools are well financed and have powerful allies in economic and political spheres.  What is important to remember is that, like the labor movement, the civil rights movement and other social justice movements, it is the power of the ideas and people working in solidarity that overcome the control that a minority of citizens benefit from.  Just like unions, civil rights and other Progressive ideals, public education is a concept that deserves our full support and our best efforts.

I know, you are in the teaching life to teach, to instruct, to give to the next generation. So am I. But, I have come to some stark realizations lately: 1. If you...

In the struggle to defend public education we have too often lost our way and diluted our message with a series of alternatives to "reforms" and efforts to justify a past that really can't be defended.  We find ourselves trying to make amends instead of creating a system that will work as we move into the future.  While we can't forget past transgressions and failures, we also must learn to forgive each other and move ahead with the most positive of intentions.  This is where our vision of what public education can be provides a framework that can support our efforts to make positive change happen.  It becomes a set of ideals that we refer to as we create policies that will actually move our system towards a more socially just and sustainable one. 

My vision for public education relies on a series of basic premises. 

Success shouldn't rely on exceptional efforts, but should be a regular occurrence and expectation for all students, staff and communities.  Too often I see interventions and supports for students that are based on some type of unusual accommodations or similar adaptation.  Yet, these types of actions are frequently ones that would benefit many other students.  We need to look at the current policies and systems that we have in place and reflect on their functionality and the results they produce.  Through analysis and reflection we should be able to provide opportunities that fit the needs of our students in ways that we currently don't see.

We need to define what we mean by success and support all stakeholders' efforts to achieve their goals.  Our current system is guided by the needs and desires of those outside the system.  Whether the motivations come from business, politicians or special interests they rarely reflect the true needs of our students, families and the community as a whole.  Because we haven't defined what we are hoping to achieve in our public schools we inevitably find ourselves dissatisfied with the results.  In the same way, we don't get input from a majority of those who rely on our schools and thus our focus is overly narrow when we define success.           

Decision-making should be the province of those directly working with students, families and who are embedded in the communities they serve working with the students and families themselves.  People who don't work in classrooms are not able to make sound decisions that work for classrooms.  What sounds good in a committee or a legislative session doesn't necessarily translate to schools and students.  The true power in a public school system should be in the hands of those who are directly connected to students and classrooms. 

Our entire society needs to be involved in, and support our public schools.  Public schools serve all citizens, no matter what their demographic may be.  This means that they provide opportunities for our students that will benefit our entire society.  To fail to support our schools leaves our society vulnerable and causes lasting harm to all of us.  Public schools need to be at the center of our conversations and should provide a foundation for a successful, sustainable democratic society.  This support should be political, economic and social in nature. 

Whenever policy decisions are made they should reflect a thoughtful process that includes these basic ideas.  Fully supported public schools that are embedded in a community that is dedicated to every citizen will provide opportunities that will benefit all of us.  By involving as many voices as possible we can build trust and break down barriers that currently exist.  Then we can craft policies that will truly move us forward towards a socially just and sustainable society.     

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . While it still will be a long, up-hill battle, the fight for worker's rights continues across the nation.    
In an agreement with the National Labor Relations Board, the e-commerce giant will inform workers about their right to organize

We need to continue to work together as a community to counter the existing barriers to equality and social justice that are so powerfully entrenched here. 

Black church leaders representing 20 Madison congregations stood united Wednesday inside the Madison Pentecostal Church to send the African...|By Channel 3000

The Bad . . . Not only are voucher programs harmful to students.  Now we have to be concerned about the impact that the money from voucher supporters has on our electoral process as well. 

Former Assembly Speaker, now a school choice lobbyist, targeted six Democrats with negative ads that never mentioned the issue.

The group spent $850,000. Democratic Rep. Wright blames their late, “false” ads for her loss.

Scott Jensen is now a lobbyist for the American Federation for Children, an advocacy group that...|By BILL LUEDERS | Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

In Monona Grove, like many other public school districts in Wisconsin, we have a code of conduct that students have to sign and we expect them to live up to. In this code of conduct this line is prominent: Honesty (Students will be trustworthy and truthful, no matter what the consequence.) The Elmbr…|By Jeff Simpson

The Ugly . . . Wisconsin may soon be torn apart by another attack on worker's rights. 

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A new battle may be on the horizon between Gov. Scott Walker and the labor movement. A group launched on Monday, December 1st, a...

RACINE COUNTY — While state government leaders including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have said right-to-work legislation isn’t a priority, a new...|By MARK SCHAAF

There's a new special interest group in town and...

Meanwhile, one of the more vocal supporters of Act 10 and other legislation that targeted the working class speaks his "truth" about existing safety nets.  Supports that more and more families will need as wages are cut and benefits reduced.  His words are clearly meant to divide and conquer an beleaguered population.  This quote from Grothman provides clear evidence that his arguments make little or no sense and are based on a narrow, prejudiced view of those who need assistance to make ends meet.

"Well, if you tell somebody you're going to get $35,000 if you don't get married and you're not going to get anything if you marry somebody making 50 grand a year, it's certainly a strong incentive not to raise children in wedlock."
Current welfare levels are "a strong incentive not to raise children in wedlock," the U.S. House member-elect said in a TV interview.|By Todd D. Milewski | The Capital Times