Saturday, February 21, 2004

How are they going to blame us for this? 

The headline is provocative: No. 1 in birth rate for black teens

Teachers have been saying this anecdotally in the staff room for as long as I have been teaching in Milwaukee, but here it is in the voice of Pat McManus, executive director of the Black Health Coalition: "We've got 30-year-old grandmothers, mothers of teen parents who have teen parents. That cycle is going to continue if it isn't broken somehow."

Again, the evidence is clear and mounting that what we are facing in Milwaukee is not a breakdown in education but a breakdown in economic and societal structures necessary to make quality education happen. I don't have a lot of time tonight to blog about this, but I did want to make sure that this is added to the collection of articles I've been posting here about what's afoot outside of the classroom in Milwaukee to make it difficult to do our jobs inside it.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Vouchers Back in the News 

Good news, bad news, and interesting news on the Milwaukee voucher front this week. Well, not exactly: No good news.

Let's start, though, with something that I did not know: Apparently, according to a new study by the Public Policy Forum (for more on the Public Policy Forum, see the January 22 post, "What We're Up Against"), most Milwaukee voucher schools actually do administer standardized tests to their students. Why didn't I know that? Well, in the words of a recent Washington Post editorial (log in: teachersspeakout@hotmail.com password: teachersspeakout):
In theory, the Milwaukee program [. . .] was supposed to empower parents, allowing them to leave poor schools--which would shut down or be spurred to improve--and join good ones, which would benefit from the increased public money. In practice, so little information is made available to Milwaukee parents that the market mechanism has never worked. By the Public Policy Forum's reckoning, only one school in the city has been shut down because too many parents abandoned it. (my emphasis)
That's right: The information gathered by standardized tests used by these voucher schools--some 92% of them--seldom make it out the school door. From the first article linked to above: "But the Forum's report also advises that school administrators and policy makers develop a means to publicly report test results, which are often used solely for internal use by the schools."

Why are test results such a big deal? They should not be. In the same way that I do not feel that public schools should be under the gun of high-stakes testing, I do not think that testing is the be-all and end-all of the accountability argument. It's just that the media--particularly right-wing radio babblers and our oh-so supportive local paper--spend so much time examining every single implication of every single datum revealed by the public schools' test results. Why are not these voucher schools, which also use public funds, subjected to the same scrutiny?

The Public Policy Forum, in recommendations echoed by the Washington Post, agrees that tests are not at all the best measure.
What is needed, they argue, is not necessarily a system of special standardized tests or inspections, which might compromise the independence of the private schools in the program, but rules that require schools to publish and regularly update relevant information. For example, participating schools might be asked to publish the qualifications of teachers and administrators; the results of an annual financial audit; the curriculum; attendance, suspension and graduation rates; teacher turnover rates; class size; and the results of standardized tests, just for a start. In addition, officials have to make sure the market mechanism works: that both public and private schools failing to attract students suffer some financial consequences.
This week in Milwaukee we were treated to a lesson in exactly what can happen when there is not transparency within voucher schools. News broke early this week about trouble at the Mandella School of Science and Math, starting with "inappropriately" cashed voucher checks and two Mercedes Benz--one a convertible--bought for the principal and his wife with voucher proceeds. We also learned that the school has failed to pay teachers or its landlord since at least November.

Finally, Thursday a Milwaukee judge ordered that the school be closed. The 100 or so students at the school will now need to find their way in Milwaukee Public Schools--schools which, this late in the year, will receive no funds for their attendance. The parents are now concerned about their children's ability to catch up now that they are a half-year behind.

You might be thinking, great! This is the market system at work! But education is something that should never, ever be left to the market. In a market system, there are always winners and there are always losers. In the Mandella school incident, we see what happens to losers. The real losers here are not the officials at the school. The losers are the students and parents, who have seen more than half a year of educational opportunity squandered.

This is also a concern because it seems like there will be a surge in voucher students this fall. There have been almost fifty more schools this year clamoring to get added to the program than last year. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle thankfully vetoed an expansion of the program last November, but the potential expansion of vouchers just underscores the point I started with: We need accountability. As more schools join up, the more Mandellas there will be, and the more students who could be the losers in this market.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Democratic Meetup 

I attended my first meetup tonight. It was the Democratic Meetup, which was a small gathering - we blame this on the exhaustion of those who worked their hearts out on campaigning these last weeks.

Of the 6 attendees tonight, 2 of us were teachers. One was a student who heard me talking about the event and begged to go. She sat back and listened, but is looking forward to attending in the future - what a teaching and learning experience!

The next Democratic Meetup is Wednesday, March 17th. Yes, that's St. Patrick's Day - and Parent Conferences for me. However, I am planning to catch the end of the meetup (I'd like to be able to be there from the start) and look forward to seeing other teachers there.

If you'd like more information, please visit the Democratic Meetup site and sign up. The more of us who get involved, the more our voice will be heard.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Opportunities to SPEAK OUT 

The following is the list of Meetings & Events that was distributed at the Teachers Speak Out meeting Thursday, February 12th.

Pick an event to attend and let your voice be heard!

Tuesday, February 17th
* Election Day - VOTE!
* School Board Committee on Finance and Personnel, 6:30 pm, MPS Central Office, 5225 W. Vliet St.

Wednesday, February 18th
* Democratic Party Meet-Up, 7:00 pm, Pizza Shuttle, 1827 N. Farwell Avenue

Monday, February 23rd
* Good Jobs, Livable Neighborhoods, Common Council Steering and Rules Committee, 1:30 pm, City Hall, Room 301B
* Regular School Board meeting, 6:30 pm, MPS Central Office Auditorium
* Assemblyman, Jon Richards (D-19) is holding a town hall meeting on health care at the Bay View Public Library, 6:30-8:00 pm

Wednesday, February 25th
* Wisconsin Women = Prosperity - A speak out and listening session with Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, 5:00-7:00 pm, Gordon Park Pavilion, 2828 N. Humboldt Ave.
* Assemblyman, Jon Richards (D-19) is holding a town hall meeting on health care at the North Avenue Library (across from Beans and Barley), 6:30-8:00 pm

Saturday, March 6th
* MTEA Legislative Breakfast, ICC, 9:00-1:00 am (See February 11th Sharpener for details)

What Can You Do? 

While we face the current trend of jobs leaving our communities for other countries, we have the ability to voice our opinions. We can speak out, share our ideas with everyone we meet, write letters to the media and our representatives, and most importantly VOTE!

I had the opportunity to talk about today's elections with some colleagues over the weekend. What was most interesting to me was not who everyone was voting for - and there were differences of opinion on this - but that everyone was voting. We had even discussed our personal voting records - 2 of us having voted in every election, no matter how "small" the race, except in one instance where severe illness and hospitalization limited our ability to get to the polls.

Teachers are voting, as are young people. We have a voice - we must use it.

See you at the polls!

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com