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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Milwaukee Public Schools, Lotsa Links Edition

Here's an omnibus post of things I've been holding onto for a while about MPS
  • A month or so ago (I told you, a while) the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran an article on a study about the Milwaukee Public Schools' residency requirement:
    The residency requirement for teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools hurts the quality of education in MPS, and the state Legislature should step in to end it, two professors say in a report from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute being released today. [. . .] "The teacher residency requirement deters many otherwise qualified teachers from pursuing employment in MPS," they wrote. "The effect, over time, is a decline in teacher quality." [. . .]

    Reacting to the report, Sam Carmen, executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, said the union has opposed the residency rule since it was created. In 2004, it proposed modifying it to allow teachers to move out of the city after seven years with MPS and to create financial incentives for teachers to buy homes in the city. The proposal went nowhere, but Carmen said he expected the subject to come up in negotiations on a contract for 2005-'07, which have not yet gotten serious. [. . .] Schug and Niederjohn were skeptical of how serious the union is about ending residency. They said the rule works to increase the political strength of the union and of union-backed members of the School Board because it increases the ranks of teachers voting in elections. [. . .]

    "While no single factor can fully explain the discrepancy in teacher quality . . . between MPS and the rest of the state's school districts, the teacher residency rule exacerbates MPS' recruitment and retention problems," they said.
    Problem is, the study is crap:
    Shrewd readers of the MJS know that any time the word "study" appears in a headline or subhead, odds are said study will have been issued by a "think tank" funded by the right-wing Bradley Foundation. [. . .] In this case the tank in question is the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. Who are they? [. . . A] group opposing residency also is pushing vouchers and has generally been an ideological opponent of the public school system.
    A better critique of the study's content comes from Milwaukee Magazine's Bruce Murphy:
    Given the report’s emphasis on retaining experienced teachers, the most obvious question would be: How many teachers quit MPS because of the residency requirement? As it happens, the authors, professors Mark Schrug (UWM) and M. Scott Neiderjohn (Lakeland College), have an answer: A mere 5% of the 4,699 teachers who left MPS since 1992 said it was because of the residency requirement. That’s such a small number that it completely undercuts the report’s conclusions.

    Perhaps realizing that, the researchers buried this information on page 14 of the study and left it out of the executive summary, the two-page run-down that begins the report. Researchers are well aware that reporters rarely read beyond the executive summary. Sure enough, [article author Alan] Borsuk left out this key statistic.

    Union and administration officials will tell you that most teachers leave MPS in the first couple of years on the job, long before they reach the level of experience (five years) this report thinks is so critical. Salary and job conditions are crucial for these young teachers, not the residency requirement. [. . .]

    The rule could be eliminated at any time through collective bargaining, and Mayor Tom Barrett argues that that is the correct way to handle it. By contrast, if the Legislature ends the rule, there will be no giveback from the union in negotiations, the city would lose thousands of middle-class taxpayers and a precedent would be set for other unions (like the police) to ask for similar legislation.

    In the meantime, whether you’re for or against such legislation, the latest “study” – and the story reporting on it – doesn’t offer much insight.
    The paper followed their article up weeks later with an unsigned op-ed:
    The real cost of the rule, Schug says, is not only in losing qualified teachers, it's in never getting many to begin with. Get rid of it, and we'll see better job candidates, just as happened in Philadelphia and other places that recently abandoned residency rules.

    He and Niederjohn, by the way, say it's up to the state to lift the requirement. The teachers union, while formally opposed to the requirement, has little incentive to bargain it away during labor negotiations. If its members must live in Milwaukee, they are also Milwaukee voters, presumably sympathetic to union-backed School Board candidates. This would increase the union's control over the board, particularly in low-turnout elections. The union has pooh-poohed the argument, but Schug says it's one reason such a failed policy could survive so long.

    He may be underestimating how much policy-makers fear a middle-class exodus, though he's not unaware of it. The study says these fears are unfounded. Many teachers have little incentive to flee their Milwaukee neighborhoods, which are generally stable or appreciating. And those who do sell likely will hold out for a good price, meaning they'll be replaced by a new homeowner who's also middle-class. "I don't see this mass exodus," says Schug. [. . .]

    Schug's right that if the city wants a bigger middle class, it needs to woo one rather than treating teachers as possessions never to be surrendered. The genuine attractions of our city can do this, if only authorities can put a lid on thuggery and fix its schools.
    I'm opposed to the residency rule, as I do know that it does sometimes keep good teachers out of the district. I actually liked the union proposal in the last round of negotiations to require residency for seven years with district assistance in find and buying a home. It had to be dropped, of course, as the contract went to arbitration after the district refused to settle.

    On the other hand, Brew City Brawler has the right idea: The study's authors (and the MJS editorial board) never miss the chance to slam the union and blame the schools for the decline of the district. With friends like that . . .

  • I am in favor of both this (if done smartly) and this (if done delicately). However, I've been in the district long enough not to expect that.

  • Here's another one that shouldn't surprise anyone:
    Milwaukee Public Schools will get an estimated $7.3 million less in state aid than it predicted when district officials put together their budget this past spring. That means when the School Board gives final approval to the budget in the fall, MPS will likely have to make up for that $7.3 million by increasing the property tax levy - or make cuts after the school year has already started. [. . .]

    Typically the state provides school districts with aid estimates in the spring, according to Tom Back, the acting manager of financial planning for the district. But this school year it did not provide those estimates until early July, meaning MPS relied on its own estimates when putting together a budget proposal in April. [. . .]

    The overall budget of more than $1.1 billion is down $10 million from last year's budget. It will increase health and nutrition programs for students, and also provide funds for stepped-up enforcement against drugs and weapons in the schools. The number of district teaching jobs has dropped 14% over the last four years.
    Our enrollment is not down 14% in four years. According to DPI, our 2001 enrollment was 97,985; our 2006 enrollment (Excel file linked on this page) was 92,395. By my count, that's a change of only about six percent. I suppose it's possible that in 2001 we were carrying a whole lot more teachers than we needed. But I doubt that it was enough to justify the massive cuts we've seen in the last four years.

  • Another unsurprising story:
    According to "Public Education and Black Male Students: The 2006 State Report Card," put out by the Massachusetts-based Schott Foundation for Public Education, Wisconsin fared the worst in the nation on what Schott calls its Education Inequity Index.

    The index looks at the difference between the 2003-'04 graduation rates of black males and white males. School districts and states with the highest dropout rates for black males and the largest gap between the graduation rates of white males and black males rank the highest - or worst - on the index.

    In Wisconsin, the gap in the graduation rate was about 47 percentage points, with about 38% of black male students graduating as opposed to about 84% of white males. No. 2 on the index was New York, where the graduation gap was 38 percentage points.

    The situation was similarly dire for Milwaukee Public Schools - among the five worst U.S. school districts with enrollments of more than 10,000 black male students, according to the report. Only 34% of black male MPS students graduate from high school, as opposed to 64% of white males, the report says.

    The consequences of what the report calls a "widespread, deep systemic failure to educate African-American males as efficiently as their White counterparts" include high unemployment, high imprisonment rates, little chance to attend and graduate from college, and unstable families.
    I'm not going to rehash everything I have ever written about this issue; suffice it to say that I am unwilling to place all of the blame where the paper and the repot seems to want to--on teachers and schools. What the report calls "consequences" of such a gap, I (and other professional researchers) call the cause of the gap.

    Additionally unsurprising about the story is that it was on the front page, like all bad news about the public schools. The good stories and studies that show Wisconsin schools and MPS in a positive light are always buried somewhere in the back.

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