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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aaron Rodriguez Makes the Case for Evers

by folkbum

Aaron Rodriguez at The Hispanic Conservative is trying very hard to drum up support for his candidate for state superintendent, Rose Fernandez against my candidate, Tony Evers. In his latest, archaically titled "The Allurement of Tony Evers," Rodriguez attempts to explain why wavering moderate conservatives should back the extremist Fernandez over the moderate-to-liberal Evers. I won't bore you with long excerpts, because you're all smart people and if you want to read it you will anyway.

However, as a central tenet in Rodriguez's case against Evers, he avers that Evers is responsible for everything that has happened in Wisconsin education since 2002, particularly in the Milwaukee Public Schools:
Tony Evers, the candidate of experience, has spent 7 years as the Deputy Superintendent of DPI--a position second only to the State Superintendent. In the past 10 years, student enrollment has decreased significantly while fringe benefits for teachers have increased disproportionately, MPS expulsions have tripled, high-school truancy has risen to 72%, and graduation rates have dipped down to 46% (among the lowest in the nation). This string of facts shows that Evers' experience has not empowered him to be a good leader. Like John McCain, Tony Evers is entrenched in the same failed policies of the past. MPS is a miserable failure, and everyone knows it.
So Evers, though he has clearly described ways in which he would break from his predecessor, is being associated with a politics of failure specifically related to one (the biggest, sure) of Wisconsin's more than 400 school districts. I could take issue with some of the specifics Rodriguez raises, but that's not the point of this post. The point is that if Evers is really responsible for the last 7 years, let's look at those seven years, not arbitrary data points from them.

One of the numbers in Rodriguez's paragraph there links to an article (.pdf) in a 2004 issue of the conservative WPRI's quarterly glossy magazine. In that article, the author cites 2002 test scores to compare MPS unfavorably to the Wisconsin as a whole. Evers took his present job as Libby Burmaster's #2 that spring, so that fall's test scores could be the baseline, if you will, of Wisconsin achievement under his watch. Here's an image of that table from WPRI:


Does MPS look good? No. I'm not going to pretend we do. (For those of you just joining us, I teach high school English for MPS.) However, as I read those numbers, I thought, boy, that seems lower than I remember. And that's because I was thinking about more recent data. And, indeed, when I went to look at MPS and Wisconsin scores from 2007--the most recent year available--there was considerable improvement in many areas state-wide and in MPS. To make the comparisons easier, I broke it into 3 tables:




You can click on any of the images for a larger, clearer version. The source for the 2007 data is the MPS report card, available here.

Obviously, MPS still lags the state across the board. However, you can also see that Wisconsin and MPS students improved nearly universally in nearly every subject. In many cases, MPS's improvement outpaced that of the state as a whole. If Evers is truly responsible for this--and remember, this is Rodriguez's explicit argument--then this is a good thing, right?

Or graduation rates. Rodriguez cites a study that uses a non-conventional method of calculating graduation rates. Here's MPS's version (using DPI methodology, so the comparison to the state is accurate):


Again, not a wonderful result for MPS, but if Evers is responsible for this, then this is also a good thing, no?

Look, I am generally loath to use such data as test scores or graduation rates to pass judgment on students, teachers, school districts, and so on, and normally would not use them as a gauge for candidates, either. However, Rodriguez is doing it to advocate against Tony Evers. And yet, the data cut both ways, and you have to admit that there has been improvement in recent years that Rodriguez is trying to hide by cherry-picking.

RIP, Dick Golembiewski

by folkbum

Wow. This is sad news:
The expert on Milwaukee's TV history, Dick Golembiewski, died Sunday after suffering an apparent heart attack while shoveling snow. [. . .] The 51-year-old Golembiewski worked the microphone at WMSE-FM (91.7) under the name Dick Nitelinger, a persona he kept alive at his Horror Hosts site.
I saw Dick only about a month ago, and he looked to be in fine shape. He was an active volunteer at The Coffee House, where I spend a lot of time, and he also came to speak to one of my classes about the history and future of television, about which he knew almost everything.

MU Press, which published his fantastic book--seriously, it's very nice--also has released a statement.

I was working last night on writing more inter-pundit foolishness between me and McIlheran; it seems kind of petty now.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Ballad of This Friday Night

by folkbum

If you're not doin' nothin' this Friday night, you can come see me sling some axe. Copying wholesale from Brett Kemnitz's email, my emphasis:
Hello friends,

This Friday April third the Coffee House, 631 N. 19th Street (19th and Wisconsin in beautiful Milwaukee, not far from the Rescue Mission for you banjo players) will be presenting a food pantry benefit featuring ballads as sung by Chris & Lorraine - the Singing Straw Sisters accompanied by guitarist Jay Bullock, the acapella vocal quartet Distintively Different, John King (with moi on acoustic bass guitar), and Patty Stevenson who has a surprise or two for you as well. This great show starts at 8:00 and only costs four bucks and a couple of cans of food. I hope you can make it. You'll be glad you did.

For other cool Coffee House doings go to www.the-coffee-house.com.

Paz,

Brett

More on ASA's emails

by folkbum

Dan Bice has the story in this morning's paper, and he does give credit to the anonymous blogger for uncovering the Yahoo! group Advocates for Student Achievement was using to plot is strategy. Bice got a hold of more of them than I could before the group was shut down. I don't have much to add, except to comment on this, from ReDonna Rodgers, who is running against Peter Blewett in next week's election:
Keith Bailey, a spokesman for Rodgers' campaign, said the candidate hadn't received anything from ASA other than what she picked up from its orientation sessions, which he said were open to anyone.
But as Bice notes, and as I highlighted last week, the group seems to have done some paperwork for her:
FYI, here's ReDonna's campaign platform document
Sun Feb 22, 2009 3:06 pm

Look forward to seeing most of you tomorrow at 7:45 at Highland Park Pies. In the meantime, thought you might want to see the final version (at least for now) of ReDonna’s platform. This piece is being used with potential donors and others who want a better understanding of where she’s coming from.

Anne Curley [contact info redacted]
Which was followed closely by this one:
Correction to ReDonna's platform overview
Sun Feb 22, 2009 4:00 pm

Attached is a revised document. Only change is that it includes the proper disclaimer at the back.

Anne Curley [contact info redacted]
Doesn't that sound to you like Curley was preparing the document, or at least had access to edit the document to add the "disclaimer"? I'm not an elections lawyer, so I'll leave that all to others. But it sounds suspicious to me.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

No, this is funny.

by folkbum

My new friend/ stalker/ adversary/ source of amusement, Aaron Rodriguez, has an "article" up making fun of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson's campaign for writing a press release in advance of an event, something that happens, you know, all the time. Here's a screen shot of what I saw when I was at his website tonight. It might be hard to read (click for a bigger image), but I've blown up the relevant sections.



Also, Aaron neglects actually to link to the jsonline post he copies in its entirety, which is here. That's not funny; that's just rude.

McIlheran Watch: Pardon me, but your straw man is showing.

by folkbum

As sometimes happens, my inbox was graced this afternoon with an email from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Patrick McIlheran, who retains a place of high regard in my rogues gallery even if I don't bother writing about him much anymore. (Tom Foley has taken up a lot of the slack.) The email is pimping his column in tomorrow's paper, which is about the study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program that was released earlier this week, which I wrote about here. Here's a line from the email:
Anyhow, in Sunday morning's paper, I'll look at the idiot notion that the school choice study results mean the program ought to be shut down.
Which threw me for a loop: I've followed the release of the study, the reaction, and the news about it, and I haven't read or heard a single person use the study as the basis for a call to shut down the program.

I mean, I think there are plenty of reasons to shut the program down: It socks Milwaukee taxpayers, it artificially props up religious entities that could not survive without the tax dollars the program throws their way, too many kids get lost in the shuffle of fly-by-night operators and MPS has to deal with the aftermath, voucher schools can't or won't provide services to the most challenging special-education students--you can stop me any time here, you know.

But what did I write on Thursday, in response to the study's release? In a post called "Imagine me doing an 'I told you so' dance," I complained that the level of accountability provided by this study was still not enough:
Many voucher advocates long have argued from one side of their mouths that parents must be allowed to make the best choices for their children and then argued with the other that the data to inform parents' decisions must be kept out of parents' hands.

Now we know why: There is a perception that voucher schools are or must be better. If parents were aware of reality--that there is, in fact, no difference in achievement--then the popularity of the program may well start to wane. And if the data revealed that some voucher schools are, in fact, no better than day-care centers or holding pens, then the advocates would have a serious PR problem on their hands, too--much worse than just the news that voucher schools aren't the panacea they promised two decades ago.
Got that? I wrote, pretty clearly, that the study shows that the schools need more transparency, which would give parents the look at they program that they need to make informed choices--and for many, the informed choice will be their local public school, not the voucher school trying to sell them smoke and mirrors. I said "I told you so" because for years--years, now--I have been advocating better, tighter accountability for a system that, whether I like it or not, we're stuck with.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the lede of his column when it became available on jsonline this evening:
It took, by my estimate, about 8.4 seconds for critics of Milwaukee's school choice program to achieve outrage after news that choice students progressed about as fast as Milwaukee Public Schools students.

"I told you so," said one noted blogger and MPS teacher as of 6 a.m. the day the story broke. "Taxpayers should be outraged," said one MPS official shortly thereafter.

Because, hey, if the kids aren't doing any better . . . 
Did you see that? The "noted blogger and MPS teacher" is me, my friends. (Nice how the online version of his column has links embedded throughout--but not to my post, so people could see how he's misusing me.) (He also doesn't note that I almost always post before 6 AM because I do almost all of my weekday blogging in the mornings, before work, and I was not merely extra eager to write on this topic.) The "MPS official" is Director of Research Deb Lindsey; this report from WisPolitics is shockingly messy, but I pieced it together, and the context is that "less money is going to voucher schools, yet the local taxpayers still have to pay more." But the same thing could have been said--probably has been said--by people like Tom Barrett who have been riding the "funding flaw" horse for years now--Milwaukee taxpayers are paying tens of millions more every year for the vouchers than we would if those same kids were in MPS.

There's a lot more McIlheran that Fair Use won't allow me to share with you, but you can read it yourself and see that no one he cites is demanding the program be discontinued. He slips in a little hypothetical "If critics are eager for a live-or-die decision . . ." (my emphasis) before he gets to this:
So why would anyone want to kill the program now? Well, it uses taxpayer money, as that MPS official noted. [. . .] Other critics say the state catches God cooties if anyone takes its money to a school with a chapel. [. . .] Or, say others, there's some value to getting as many kids as possible into a common set of schools - it'll somehow infuse civic values.
So where are all the people who hold "the idiot notion that the school choice study results mean the program ought to be shut down"? Nowhere, as far as I can tell. He doesn't even cite one specific person who is calling for the program to be shut down at all!

I'm off to write my letter to the editor now, what with having been used and abused for his amusement in the column (Deb Lindsey was nearly libeled, she was so badly misquoted). The link to write your letter is here, if anyone else is interested. Hint, hint.

Somebody Get Annette Polly Williams a Time Machine

by folkbum

MIlwaukee's poor, minority students deserve the opportunity to attend successful private schools cost too much.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Voucher schools need a "turnaround team," too, I guess

by folkbum

Cory Liebmann is my hero:
Recently an analysis verified what many well informed people already knew, that Milwaukee voucher schools performed at just about the same level as Milwaukee Public Schools. People like DPI candidate Rose Fernandez and others on the extreme would have us "voucherize" the entire state claiming that these schools are somehow superior to public. This new study provides a much needed dose of reality for anyone that really cares about education in this state. One of the main [tenets] of the Fernandez campaign is to create what she calls a "Turnaround Team" for Milwaukee Public Schools. Since the voucher program is working as good (or as bad) as MPS, why hasn't Rose Fernandez proposed a "Turnaround Team" for the voucher program? And while I'm asking questions, is she proposing that we spend half as much on MPS or twice as much on the voucher program or both?
Go back to the original press release touting a turnaround team for MPS. It lists ten things that a turnaround team would be empowered to do (nine of the ten can already be done by the present, elected board). Let's see how many of these "powers" are currently held by the schools in the voucher program:
  1. Hire and fire the School Superintendent: There is no superintendent of the voucher program. So, no.
  2. Reform the curriculum to ensure a rigorous focus on the basics, beginning in Kindergarten: Check! Voucher schools have incredibly wide latitude to design their own curricula. They must meet very basic standards, such as minimum hours of instruction, and they must have some (potentially arbitrary) goals set for promoting and graduating students. But the details are all up to the schools.
  3. Reduce administrative overhead: Check! The fact that voucher schools do not generally have to follow many state and federal laws puts them way ahead in this category.
  4. Negotiate work rules, pay and benefits with the Milwaukee Teachers Associaton teachers: Check! (No unions here!) Every employee is on his or her own, paid and retained at the whim of the schools.
  5. Review and potentially structure a new pension agreement for new employees: Check! Well, it would be a check, if voucher schools offered much by way of retirement bennies.
  6. Issue RFPs for certain services: Check! I assume the voucher schools have, you know, services.
  7. Cancel existing vendor contracts: Check! With whatever legal ramifications that might come with that, I suppose.
  8. Assess and secure school safety at all MPS buildings: Check!
  9. Prepare quarterly ‘Turnaround Progress Reports’ for families, teachers and principals to review: NO! In fact, one of the biggest flaws, in my mind, is that voucher schools are allowed to keep virtually everything they do secret. They must make enrollment and demographic data available, but test scores, attendance rates, meetings of their governing bodies--those can be secret!
  10. Determine whether to break MPS into smaller districts []: Check! The voucher program currently is, essentially, small districts now. You have the Catholic schools, the Lutheran schools, and a few other loose coalitions, but right now, there's no large governing structure.
So, wow. The voucher program already has nearly everything a turnaround team would bring to MPS. And, yet, MPS performs as well or better with demographically comparable students. Time to make that second turnaround team a key part of the platform!

--

Look, okay, being serious for a second: I think the thing that the study released this week most clearly shows is that the kind of schooling, public or private, that a child in or near poverty receives is generally not going to have an effect on the achievement level of that child. Even considering that the parents of voucher students are almost certainly more dedicated and willing to push their children--something this study could not and did not control for--has no great effect.

Which, standard disclaimer here, is not to say that there are not exceptions. Clearly, some schools with voucher students do well with those students. (I suspect, though because school-level data are not allowed to be released to the public, that those are schools which provide better socioeconomic integration, which is proven to correlate to poor students' success.) The same is true within MPS. And many poor students overcome barriers and challenges just fine to go on to do great things. I am speaking here of Milwaukee's children in aggregate. Individuals always show great variation.

What I have been saying all along remains just as true now, and is even solidly reinforced by the results out this week. Change the dismal facts of the city, change the achievement level in school. Fix Milwaukee first.

They Closed the Curtains Too Soon

by folkbum

Earlier this week, I wondered about Advocates for Student Achievement, a seemingly pro-privatization group that wants to influence the election of members of the Milwaukee Public Schools board. Another blogger, going by the monicker of "sixandsevens," has been tracking the group, too, at dKos and OWN.

One thing this person caught--and, honestly, I have no idea who s/he may be--is that ASA and its members were on the Yahoo! together in an open email listserv. Well, open in the sense that anyone could stroll through and read their emails to each other, not that anyone could just chime in.

Sadly, this is what's left of that group:
I did get to spend some time poking around in the archives before they shut off the pipeline, and there was some good stuff. For example, I got a good sense of who the major players were, including ASA honcho Anne Curley (she needs to fix her website), current MPS board member Bruce Thompson, exurban consultant Wendell Willis, failed 2005 candidate Kevin Ronnie, aborted 2009 candidate Lena Stephenson, and a Steve Adams.

Unfortunately, I couldn't mine as much as this sixandsevens person, but I wanted to point out a couple of things I found interesting. One is this email about the most recent poll done by the group. Apparently, after the negative publicity surrounding the first push-poll in the Peter Blewett-ReDonna Rodgers campaign, the pollster threw a fit, and ASA wants its money back:
From: Anne Curley [mailto:anne@...]
Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 9:26 PM
To: KOCZELA, Steven
Subject: MPS landscape poll project outcome

Steve – It’s been more than three weeks since we released the results of the poll conducted for Advocates for Student Achievement by Brilliant Corners.

We have had not one iota of publicity, due to the concerns raised by our critics regarding the methodology employed by Brilliant Corners and our inability to counter that criticism effectively since we’re not professional pollsters.

In addition, we have raised virtually no financial support as a result of the poll, which I attribute to our lack of credentials in presenting the results and the aforementioned credibility issues.

In short, while we certainly have gained some value from the insights produced by the poll, we received none of the added value you projected, in terms of publicity and fundraising, because Brilliant Corners backed out of its commitment to present its findings and essentially walked away from its own work.

In light of this outcome, I am writing to request a partial refund of the $11,900 paid by ASA to Brilliant Corners. After discussing this with other members of the Executive Committee, I’ve been instructed to ask for a minimum of a 25% rebate, i.e., at least $2,975.

Needless to say, we are extremely disappointed in the outcome of our decision to employ Brilliant Corners. This is especially true in light of the fact that every member of our Executive Committee except for me appears to have voted for President Obama. To have been mischaracterized as a right-wing organization is galling enough. To have been short-changed by a vendor to whom we have paid what amounts to a small fortune, relative to our tiny operating budget, because of this politically motivated lie is clear cause for action.

Let me know if you prefer that I address this request to Cornell, or submit it in a letter. Thanks in advance for pursuing a resolution, Steve.

Sincerely,

Anne

Anne Curley [contact info redacted]
I have no idea if they ever got their refund.

This little bit was much more disturbing to me:
FYI, here's ReDonna's campaign platform document
Sun Feb 22, 2009 3:06 pm

Look forward to seeing most of you tomorrow at 7:45 at Highland Park Pies. In the meantime, thought you might want to see the final version (at least for now) of ReDonna’s platform. This piece is being used with potential donors and others who want a better understanding of where she’s coming from.

Anne Curley [contact info redacted]
Which was followed closely by this one:
Correction to ReDonna's platform overview
Sun Feb 22, 2009 4:00 pm

Attached is a revised document. Only change is that it includes the proper disclaimer at the back.

Anne Curley [contact info redacted]
Sadly, even before the group was disappeared, the attachments to the emails were not public, so I have no idea what "disclaimer" a document prepared and distributed by a registered PAC purporting to be a candidate's platform would actually look like. I know what disclaimers are supposed to look like from campaigns, but not what might be going on here.

And there was lots more, including talk about the candidate training and roundtables the group offered, strategy they used, and a lot of talk about which reporters might be most manipulable to get their version of events out to the public. It is not wrong that such a group exists, or that they used Yahoo! to chat amongst themselves. It was, for the brief moment it lasted, though, an interesting glimpse into the motivations and machinations of this group.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sin of Omission

By Keith R. Schmitz

Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) is obsessing this morning on MSNBC over the "non-partisan" Obama administration and how scary the coming deficit is. Again, somehow the Bush administration's deficits that did nothing for America are to viewed in cozy perspective or totally dismissed. But now we have horror show.

He talks about how foreign investors will not want to buy treasury bills because of the lack of oversight on the part of this administration.

Actually, this is what proposals for raising taxes on upper incomes is all about -- paying down the deficit, letting the world know that we are serious about doing something about the deficit.

Never could get the thinking of the Bush administration that they could jack up the deficit, partially by raising spending but in good measure upper income tax cuts -- and how it wouldn't make us look like deadbeats to our international creditors. But for the conservatives, when you yank away the philosophical veil it was all about filling their pockets at the expense of the rest of us.

The economic philosophies were just for show. We regular folks fret over the economic chaos, but for conservatives the disruption of health care hits, on-again-off-again employment and drained public coffers was just a way to keep us busy and diverted from the raiding of the economy.

Of course the upper income tax increases is seemingly a third rail for conservatives. But fortunately most of the country with their knowledge of how many upper incomes were built with Ponzi-like investment schemes, leveraging and doing nothing productive; are ready to grab it with both hands.

Imagine me doing an "I told you so" dance

by folkbum

Actually, don't. It's probably not attractive, even in your head. But, still, I told you so:
Summarizing a comparison of how matched groups of voucher and MPS students did across two years of tests, the researchers wrote:

"The primary finding in all of these comparisons is that there is no overall statistically significant difference between MPCP (voucher) and MPS student achievement growth in either math or reading one year after they were carefully matched to each other."

A second study, which looked at broader, but not scientifically matched groups of MPS and voucher students, found that the percentages of fourth-graders in voucher schools who met the state's definition of proficiency in reading and math were lower than percentages for low-income MPS fourth-graders. For eighth-graders, the proficiency rates were about the same.
Additionally frustrating regarding this study, which was supposed to be the big "accountability" measure in the mess of a compromise bill a few years ago that allowed the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to expand to its present size, is that there are no school-specific data available. Republicans in the legislature and the voucher proponents pushing for expansion flat-out demanded that school-specific data must not be made available to the public.

MPS releases detailed report cards every year for every program, breaking down test scores, retention rates, truancy rates, graduation rates, and so on. Parents cannot get that data about the voucher schools, and that's by design. Many voucher advocates long have argued from one side of their mouths that parents must be allowed to make the best choices for their children and then argued with the other that the data to inform parents' decisions must be kept out of parents' hands.

Now we know why: There is a perception that voucher schools are or must be better. If parents were aware of reality--that there is, in fact, no difference in achievement--then the popularity of the program may well start to wane. And if the data revealed that some voucher schools are, in fact, no better than day-care centers or holding pens, then the advocates would have a serious PR problem on their hands, too--much worse than just the news that voucher schools aren't the panacea they promised two decades ago.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I would like to see Tony Evers pay his fine tomorrow. And then beat Rose Fernandez April 7.

by folkbum

Well, I think the GAB has to make some sort of official ruling first--I doubt Evers can just dash off a check.

Mark Belling has finally posted (.pdf) the docs he got from his open records request, and it confirms what the paper is reporting today:
Evers' campaign manager Peter Knudsen responded today that the e-mail in question was part of a series of exchanges between Evers and CESA 7 Administrator Jeff Dickert. The exchange began as a discussion of official business and, when it appeared the conversation was becoming political, Knudsen said Evers switched to his private e-mail account. (Dickert admitted a possible violation earlier this month.)
Does it bug me that someone who should know better did this? You betcha. But I'm not about to throw away four years for a knuckleheaded mistake.

Tony Evers is a dedicated public servant and life-long educator, with the backing of teachers and administrators alike. Rose Fernandez is a proven advocate for diverting tax dollars to for-profit companies and school districts looking to make a buck on children who would otherwise be homeschooled. Evers supports accountability and transparency for a unproven voucher system that Fernandez wants to expand as-is statewide. Evers wants to bring the region together to find common ground for improving the Milwaukee Public Schools while Fernandez wants to hand majority control of the district over to two of the biggest partisans in the county, Scott Walker and Tom Barrett. (Note that neither Walker nor Barrett has been doing a little dance at the idea.)

There is much more to say, but I am on deadline for the paying gig, and, let's face it, I'm probably not going to change anyone's mind. But let me be clear: Four years of Fernandez laying waste to one of the last purely public institutions we have left is not a fair trade for brief boneheaded mistake.

I'd love to see the simple answer to this simple question

by folkbum

Here's one thing I don't understand, and haven't for years now: Why on FSM's parmesan-covered earth do pro-school-voucher forces get involved in the races for the Milwaukee Board of School Directors? I mean, seriously. The MPS board has about as much control over the voucher program as I do.

And yet for many years, voucher advocates have poured literally tens of millions of dollars into the races, and countless hours of "training" and "consulting." The Walton family, of Wal*mart fame, for example, used to bankroll many candidates a decade or so ago, and plenty of other out-of-state money flowed into Milwaukee as well. The Wall Street Journal at least once infamously waded into Milwaukee school board politics, going so far as to endorse and solicit money for pro-voucher candidates on its editorial pages.

Let me reiterate: The Milwaukee Board of School Directors does not control, has never controlled, and will never control anything about Milwaukee's school-choice program.

So why the history? And why is there another pro-voucher group that's been dipping its grubby paws into the current election for school board, offering training, talking points, and funding for three candidates this spring? This is the same group responsible for push-polling (twice) against current board president Peter Blewett, telling outright lies in its polling questions and polling people far outside Blewett's district.

The group, "Advocates for Student Achievement," helped elect Bruce Thompson two years ago, and is working with a candidate in all three contested races this spring.

So why is a pro-privatization outfit trying to get candidates on the public schools board? I figure it can only be one of two things: One, they are too dumb to know the legal realities. Or, more likely, two: They are plotting how to funnel money from the public schools into private ventures from their seats of power.

In this time of transition--the new board will likely be hiring a new superintendent in the next year or so--it is key that we have people on the board who place public education first, whose loyalties are to the small donors and volunteers helping to get them elected instead of shady PACs and push-pollers. Support Blewett, Michael Mathias, and Donna Peck on April 7.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Quote of the Day

by folkbum
"What might have happened is often more important that what actually happened."
Peggy Hill nails the conservative blogosphere. (I could have used this story, too.)

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

by folkbum

Al Campbell, curmudgeon, is writing about the Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent's new infatuation with year-round schooling for every student. At his MyCommunityNOW blog (his regular blog), Campbell writes,
I began wondering about just what would happen with year-round education?

Would we start this at the kindergarten level and continue it through the senior year of high school. If so, the typical 18-year-old would be about a 15-year-old when he or she graduated. Are they then going to be able to go on to college or trade school or get a job as an adult?

If we start year-round school at the freshman year of high school, students would graduate about nine months earlier than is currently the case. This would still seem to carry many of the same issues with it that were identified above.
He goes on like that--do we pay teachers more, those marshmallows won't roast themselves, and so on--apparently believing that "year-round schooling" means full-time, 52(ish) weeks a year, down-buckled students missing the joys of pick-up foursquare games and snow angels and tadpole drinking. Or whatever it is kids do in the park in the spring.

In fact, if Campbell had read even a little more than just the headlines of the articles discussing the superintendent's dreams, he would have learned what "year-round schooling" really means:
The year-round schedule does not increase the number of school days - about 175 a year - but shortens summer vacation and gives several longer vacations than during the conventional school year. Backers say it can reduce the problem of students slipping backward academically during the 10 weeks or so of the summer.
(A similar paragraph exists in the earlier story, too.)

Speaking of the DPI race ...

by folkbum

First, let us all be shocked--just shocked--that the conservative Madison paper endorsed the conservative candidate. Amazing! (We're Tony Evers people at this blog.)

Second, Cory Liebmann is continuing to do great work on the race; read his two most recent posts.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Polaroids in Courage

By Keith R. Schmitz

Hunter is one of my favorites on DailyKos because of his rather pointed posts.

This is a rather insightful Tweets:
Should we offer a prize to the first GOP official who disses Limbaugh and DOESN'T apologize? Seems like it'd be worth at least a bundt cake.
Maybe we could work up a local prize.

What? Conservative bloggers have double standards? You're kidding!

by folkbum

Last week, Assembly member Don Pridemore (R-Bad Judgment) put out a press release, on Assembly office letterhead, with his Assembly office phone number as the contact number, urging people not to vote for Tony Evers for state superintendent on April 7. In fact, the closing line of his release is clear: "These issues alone make Tony Evers a bad choice to lead Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction into the future."

He stops just short of saying to vote for the other candidate*, but I bet if you called his office number and told whoever answered that you read his press release and wanted to know what else you could do, you'd get that bit of instruction. What else are they going to say?

In other words, Pridemore is pretty clearly campaigning against Evers.

Two weeks ago, a CESA employee sent an email campaigning for Evers through his work (i.e., state) email address. The conservative half of the Cheddarsphere--well, some of them--went ballistic. Some outright lied about the Evers campaign's involvement in the matter, mostly following the lead of Milwaukee yakker Mark Belling, who "broke" the story by lying about it. Belling claimed, "the campaign of Tony Evers, candidate for Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction in the April election, is using state resources to campaign to state workers to try to raise money for the campaign." That was, of course, 100% false. (As far as I know, he's never issued a correction, either.)

So a check of those same bloggers for anything on Pridemore turned up ... guess how much outrage? If you guessed zip then go to the front of the class. Nothing here. Or here. Or here**. Or even here. A search turns up a one-line dismissal here, and that's the extent of conservative commentary on the matter.

Let's just put this one in the ever-growing pile of conservative double standards, eh?

* I wonder if the Fernandez supporters who scour the net looking for anything about her find Pridemore's failure to use her name "immature" and "disrespectful," or if we just add that to the pile, too?

** Wigderson now (as of Monday night) offers an apologist take here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Please Clarify

be bert
Sorry, folks, but I was on the run all day and didn't catch this all. I mean, I caught from listening to snippets on the radio -- while rollin' in the mini-van -- that Obama did something horrible. Every show -- Sykes, Rush, Belling -- was talking about it. So, something like our president attacked Sarah Palin's child with Downs Syndrome??

Mark Belling, now, I guess, is concerned that we use sensitive labels when discussing certain groups. Is that his approach from now on?

I did hear these guys argue that George Bush was a better, more careful speaker than Obama. Is it just me, or doesn't that need explaining?

Thanks in advance for filling me in.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fed up with Overfeeding Wall Street?

By Keith R. Schmitz

If you'd like to kick up a little dust on the ridiculous bailout bonuses here's your chance today.

Maybe the right wing blogs could work up a counterprotest in support of the poor, beleaguered folks who got these bonuses for blowing up our financial system.

By the way, I don't care about the finger pointing since we'll be hearing Harry Truman did this and Grover Cleveland did that, let's just solve the conditions that got us in this mess in the first place.

Here's the info:

First National Protests Since Bailouts Began Will Call on Congress to Take Action To Build An Economy That Works for Everyone

Today -- Thursday, March 19, thousands of Americans will take part in actions in 35 states at the offices of major banks whose behavior before and since the government bailout epitomize an era of CEO and corporate excess at the expense of broader prosperity that has weakened the economy.

As many as 10,000 working people are expected to participate in the first coordinated national public protests since the federal bank bailouts began.

Here in Milwaukee, working families and coalition partners will join together at Bank of America Corporate Office, 411 E. Wisconsin to send a message to Congress that Americans have had enough ⎯ and to call for quick action to pass measures that will help build an economy that works for everyone rather than just the few at the top: the Employee Free Choice Act; affordable, quality health care for all, and strong banking reforms.

WHO: SEIU State Council, WI Change that Works, Good Jobs, Livable Neighborhoods, NAACP, 9 to 5 and others

WHAT: Protest to demand real change to build an economy that works for everyone

WHERE: Bank of America Corporate Office -- 411 E Wisconsin

WHEN: Thursday, March 19, 2009, 12.30 pm

VISUAL: Workers protesting with banners, signs

For more information on actions happening across the country, please visit
www.TakeBackTheEconomy.org.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Case not made for any "Turnaround Team"

by folkbum

Aaron Rodriguez, last seen dancing up to the line of libel (and furiously--some would say hilariously--dancing back [Can anyone else get his comment feature to work? I tried replying to that post to no avail.]), has another piece of puffery for his candidate in the DPI race. (We're Evers people at this blog.)

Rodriguez begins with an Lettermanesque top ten things the Milwaukee Public Schools should be doing differently:
1. Stop hiring employees.
2. Verify expense accounts for all capital expenditures.
3. Cut back on replacing equipment that functions.
4. Reduce inventory.
5. Defer discretionary projects that will not yield immediate returns.
6. Discharge unproductive employees.
7. Terminate management politics and roadblocks.
8. Develop a tough business plan with a clear mission.
9. Stay optimistic.
10. Listen often and communicate well.
Later in the post, there's a somewhat different "first ... second ... third ..." list in paragraphs. I'll deal with some of that in a moment.

But Rodriguez's main point seems to be that to do all of these things, MPS needs not to be run by an elected school board, but by a "Turnaround Team" of the style proposed by his favored DPI candidate. There are all kinds of problems with his list--stay optimistic? thanks, Dr. Peale!--but beyond that, what makes him think the current board, or the one we'll be half-electing in less than a month (we're Mathias people at this blog), can't do these? Or, for that matter, that the current board hasn't done these things?

For example, Rodriguez clearly has no idea about the performance-based budgeting being implemented starting this year (kind of along the lines of what was recommended by Anneliese Dickman here). He doesn't know that the district communicated and listened and developed a tough, clear plan just a couple of years ago (large .pdf). He doesn't seem to realize MPS has an audit division (and, helpfully, a special audit just for us from the state). And Rodriguez obviously hasn't been inside an MPS building to see the deferred capital projects dripping on the heads of unsuspecting staff (true story!).

In fact, when you start unpacking the paragraphs later in Rodriguez's post, his obliviousness to the reality in MPS is even clearer. Here's a taste:
First, we need to stop hiring more teachers. Due to decreased enrollment, MPS has one of the lowest teacher-student ratios among comparable school districts across the nation. [. . .]

Fourth, we need to defer on discretionary projects. One good example is building new schools. Enrollment is down, so new schools should be out of the question.

Fifth, discharge unproductive and incompetent teachers. Allowing them to teach does a disservice to our children.
So much to do here! Start with Rodriguez's "fifth," the "unproductive and incompetent teachers." One question I ask all the time but never get an answer to: How many are we talking about? Our graduation rate is about 60%--do we fire 40% of our high school teachers? Our 8th-grade math proficiency rate is 38%--do we fire 62% of our middle-school teachers? Can we get some clarity, please? Oh, and if we fire all these teachers, whom do we replace them with if we can't hire new ones? And if there's an exception made for replacements for those staff, how do we recruit great teachers if we're raising class sizes, using outdated equipment, and threatening to cut salary and benefits back to among the lowest in the region?

MPS's turnover rate among new teachers--about half don't make it five years in the district--also means a hiring freeze will skyrocket the student-teacher ratio from 14:1 now (does that seem low to you?) to unbearable levels in short order. Not to mention the constant demand for math, science, and special-education teachers, positions we fill with substitutes and interns now, hiring freeze or no.

In "fourth," I'd like to know exactly what schools Rodriguez thinks we're building. MPS hasn't opened a new school since--and correct me if I'm wrong--the new Tech in 2002, and that was largely financed by donors, not taxpayers. And we're now in the process of selling off properties left and right.

And again I repeat my question: What is a "Turnaround Team" going to do about this that the current board has not done or cannot do?

(Rodriguez's numbered paragraphs go on up to "eighth," with some of them not being MPS issues at all, but DPI ones. We can argue over who's more political--his "sixth" point--Evers, the life-long educator and consensus builder, or Rodriguez's candidate, who became a cause célèbre among talk-show hosts, conservative activists, and Republican legislators. I'd suggest his candidate does not look good there. And Evers's record of working with parents across the state to move the legislative agenda speaks for itself.)

In the end, Rodriguez, who titles his post "Why MPS Needs a Turnaround Team," cannot make a case for such a team. In fact, he levels a pretty ugly insult at the voters of Milwaukee, calling the current board a "special interest group," implying that a collection of public servants beholden to the voters and earning a pretty paltry salary are somehow pulling a fast one on us.

Look, I have my disagreements with the board. I have my disagreements with the district superintendent. (I even occasionally have disagreements with my union.) But to suggest that an appointed board or "Turnaround Team" will be able to change things that the current board can't or won't is ridiculous. In fact, one of the most absurd moments of this whole campaign was the initial press release (.pdf) announcing the idea, which proclaimed, "The Turnaround Team will be empowered to make dramatic changes at MPS," followed by a bullet-point list of ten things, nine of which the current elected board is already "empowered" to do. That's kind of like the opposite of dramatic.

In the end, the "Turnaround Team" plan also faces a major hurdle that Rodriguez doesn't even bother to mention: It's illegal. No amount of misinformed blather will change that fact.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is this the line for Stones tickets?

by folkbum

Well, everyone seems to be doing this:

(via)

I'm sure you're all shocked--shocked--at the results. For those who have forgotten, here's my Political Compass

... a bit like the mule with a spinning wheel*

by folkbum

From the inbox:
MPS to hold meetings on stimulus funds
Sessions will inform community of district options, hear ideas

Milwaukee Public Schools is scheduled to receive much-needed stimulus funding over a two-year period. MPS is developing an action plan to use the funds the district expects to receive. Some of the funds are specifically for Title I, designed to assist children in poverty, and special education. The federal stimulus bill also increases the district’s borrowing capacity.

To assure that this money is used in the best possible manner to increase achievement of all students, the district has scheduled three community information / input meetings to discuss some district options for using the money. Community members will be able to learn more about the potential options and share ideas.

MPS is holding the following sessions to discuss the stimulus funds with parents and other community members:

Community Information Session
Wednesday, March 18
Marshall High School
4141 North 64th Street
6:30 p.m.

Community Information Session
Thursday, March 19
South Division High School
1515 West Lapham Boulevard
6:30 p.m.

Parent Information Session
Monday, March 23
Central Services Auditorium
5225 West Vliet Street
6:30 p.m.
Also: Crazy talk.

* Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Finally, Doyle will stop the scourge!

by folkbum

One of the big stories of the day is that in the budget Governor J-Dizzle submitted to the legislature, there's no funding for yearly vehicle registration stickers. I think this is a great idea.

See, it would stop one of the greatest scourges known to Wisconsinites. And no, it's not the problem named in the story:
But criminals have been slicing off stickers, then reattaching them to the plates of unregistered or stolen vehicles, police say. Sometimes the thieves break off the corner of a plate or steal the whole plate to get the sticker, Rowe said.

Last year, 4,951 thefts of stickers and plates were reported to police, [MPD Capt. Diana] Rowe said. That was 92% of thefts of vehicle parts and 25% of Milwaukee thefts, running ahead of shoplifting and pick-pocketing and just behind thefts of vehicle contents, she said.
No, the scourge I mean is one you've probably noticed: People who do not know how to apply the stickers correctly.

You know what I'm talking about: People who, because they don't know any better or because they feel the need to do this, decide to display every single sticker they've ever had. They put them around the perimeter of the plate, between the letters and numbers, anywhere there's room, except where the instructions tell them to put the stickers--in the lower right-hand corner over the previous year's stickers.

I googled for a picture of what I'm talking about. If I had the time to go out driving in the day today to find one, I'm sure it wouldn't have taken long. (If any of you have such a license plate--or a photo of one you'd like to share--you know where to find me.) In the meantime, Gov, Doyle's measure will put an end to this menace.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Illinois Rejects Conceal and Carry

By Keith R. Schmitz

Good news for those who dig civilization.

A bill for conceal and carry in Illinois died in a State Senate committee.

So that means people of Illinois -- 1, the NRA and gun industry which sorely needs a market -- 0.

Looks like Illinois is as smart as we are.

How do we pay teachers?

by folkbum

The Journal Sentinel has not just ended its community education bloggers program, but has, at least as far as I can tell, let all the content disappear, too. But since Barack Obama announced yesterday his education agenda, including merit pay for teachers, I wanted to re-run something I wrote for them some time ago. Good thing someone invented the Google cache, eh? Here it is in full, with most of the links fixed, even.

--

How do we pay teachers?
By Jay Bullock
Tuesday, Oct 23 2007, 05:10 AM

The tentative agreement between MPS and its union -- the biggest collection of teachers in the area -- means that now is as good a time as any to talk about how we pay teachers. I'm gearing up to vote on the thing, and there's a lot in there that I like: For example, there's the return of a mentoring program killed for budget reasons six or seven years ago now. Many schools have informal mentoring systems set up for new teachers, but that can be hit-or-miss, so bringing back the systemwide mentors is a good idea. I like the additional push for using the union's TEAM program, which, if used effectively (that means you, principals!), could be a national model for dealing with ineffective teachers. There is some good, solid revision to discipline and safety measures, some of which will be abetted by the assistance of the Milwaukee Police Department and the DA's office.

But when you get to the pay, there's just a percentage increase. Nothing interesting, innovative or delightfully surprising involved there at all.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not opposed to getting paid more. I am, however, famously on record as saying that I am not asking for more more money for myself. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, I commented at a local conservative's blog that I would be willing to take a salary cut in exchange for smaller class sizes. (Class size is not a subject of bargaining, though.)

The blog post in question above followed shortly after the recent news that a whole lot of teachers, many of them young, out in Waukesha were hitting the top of the pay scale. Waukesha and MPS take two very different approaches to paying their teachers, both at heart supported by the research. There are a few factors researchers can positively correlate to student achievement, two of them being teachers' experience and teachers' educations. The achievement increases plateau before the pay scales typically do, but MPS rewards experience (or, given our turnover, perhaps we should say perseverance) and Waukesha rewards education.

In general, conservative blog reaction to the Waukesha story was typically spiteful, even though the district's pay scale changes came at the insistence of conservatives tired of paying teachers for mere longevity. One moderate blogger, though, quite rightly diagnosed that problem: Conservatives just want to be unhappy about teacher pay, even if they pay scale is the one they wanted.

Just because we do pay for longevity and learnin', we do not have to keep doing it that way -- or at least not solely that way. The trouble, though, is in figuring out a way to pay teachers that is both fair and that fairly rewards teachers who do the kinds of things that encourage student achievement. State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster has proposed paying teachers in high-need subjects or in hard-to-staff schools more, for example; that would create an incentive for the best teachers to seek those jobs first. That plan never made it into any iteration of the most recent state budget, though. The new MPS contract does not contain higher pay for such situations, but does include some provisions that will make it easier to get good teachers into exactly those roles.

But perhaps the Third Rail -- or, depending on your perspective, the Holy Grail -- of teacher pay would be some kind of merit-based system. The difficulty in designing any system is designing one that is both manageable and fair. I often tell the story of my first year teaching, when I still didn't have my stuff together. I was awful, and I carry around a lot of regret for how that year went. (This is not an uncommon feeling among teachers.) However, because of where I taught then -- an exurban Milwaukee district -- and the students I taught, undoubtedly the test scores of those students were as good or better than the test scores of my students any year that I've taught in Milwaukee. Did I merit better pay then? I've also had principals whom I would not trust to fairly evaluate me -- during my tenure as a union rep, I butted heads with them for reasons wholly unrelated to my classroom performance. My first three years in MPS, my evaluations were based entirely on about 20 minutes of classroom observation -- total, not per year. So, again, I'm not sure that's the best way to judge my merit, either.

But there is something intriguing out there that bears watching, and that's Denver's "ProComp," or Professional Compensation System for Teachers. That system actually combines all of the above elements into one pay system -- experience, professional development, test scores, administrative evaluations and consideration for teachers in high-needs or hard-to-staff schools. It is just one year old, but initial reports seem positive:
If merit pay for public school teachers ever takes off in the U.S., the first successful launchpad will be Denver. After one start-up year under an incentive plan, the city's schools are marking early success – thanks in large part to the teachers union.

One triumph for this accountability tool is that hundreds of additional teachers have applied to work at the city's worst schools, drawn by new higher pay. And even though teachers already on the payroll didn't have to participate in the "ProComp" bonus pay program, nearly half have signed up. (Those hired since 2006 are automatically enrolled.)

The biggest test is yet to come: whether teacher rewards will lead to better student grades and higher test scores. The pilot program suggests they might.
The Denver plan was developed collaboratively between the union there and the administration (and supported by voters, since it means millions more in spending for teacher pay). And that is likely why it will succeed if it succeeds -- it has the buy-in of the people affected by it. I can't suggest that MPS or the state of Wisconsin copy wholesale what Denver has done; it is a Denver plan developed there for there. But I think that the collaborative process they followed and the care taken to reward teachers for many different kinds of merit are two things Wisconsin policymakers and educators should consider.

It's time to look at the way we pay teachers, and if we can work together to change the system, everyone will benefit, especially the students.

--

Back to the present, again: As I noted back in that original post, the difficulty in any merit-pay system is in finding ways to satisfy the unique situations of every school district. My fear is that a new emphasis on merit pay nationally will push states to implement one-size-fits-all systems that will not make teachers or administrators happy and, worse, will do nothing to spur achievement.

The Denver system, now another year-plus older, still seems to be doing well, especially after a contract settlement in 2008.

At any rate, the coming debate will be long, difficult, and important.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

People Like Their Radio Fat Free

By Keith R. Schmitz

The right luvs Rush. But for other reasons so does the left.

A recent poll shows that of respondents overall, 45 percent, view Limbaugh very, very negatively. Among independents the number rises to 3 to 1.

Yeah, the Democrats are dumb keeping the spotlight on Limbaugh, as people such as Pat Buchanan say.

Real dumb.

But at the same time Limbaugh is doing all he can to focus attention on himself. He is as addicted to being the center of the universe as he is on, well, you catch the drift.

It would be interesting to see a similar poll run on our local princes of the sullen and resentful.

Time Magazine Hearts the 17th Amendment

By Keith R. Schmitz

Karen Tumulty on Time's Swampland site this morning gives Russ Feingold's idea to elect senators rather than appointing them to open seats, especially after some of the recent debacles.

George Will hates it, which makes it a really good idea.

Again, as they say in the slogan, Something Special from Wisconsin.

Sure some of the elected Senators haven't worked out, but a least for the people of that state they are Their Senators.

Sykes fails to check sources ... quelle suprise surprise

IRONIC UPDATE: Quelle horreur! Imagine the egg on my face when I got an email correcting my French! Well, at least I admit it when I fix my mistakes, unlike some people I could name.

by folkbum

Even though other fashionable people have already arrived at this party, I'd still like to offer my take. Charlie Sykes offered a post yesterday titled, and I am not making this up, "The 25 Worst Peforming [sic] Public Schools."

He links to what Tom Foley calls an "autobot-blog" named WalletPop, which has a feature on these schools, as compiled by a real-estate website called Neighborhood Scout. Sykes says of these schools, "And, yes, we[*] are represented. MPS has Numbers 3, 4, and 25. Grim." MPS is, of course, the Milwaukee Public Schools, so this is of interest to me.

Here's the problem: One of the three schools Sykes claims as MPS schools, the School of Humanities (third worst in America, according to the list), has been closed for nearly three years. The remaining two, HR Academy of Business and Global Awareness (the list cannot seem to get the name right) and Milwaukee Spectrum, are "partnership" schools. MPS defines "partnership" schools this way:
MPS offers a wide array of partnership schools for students who are identified as being at risk of dropping out or who are experiencing difficulty in the traditional school setting. The schools are included in the listings and are identified as “partnership” schools.
In other words, these schools are A) designed to attract and deal with the most challenging students in the city, so you kind of expect low test scores, and B) not run by MPS itself, but rather contracted out to, in both of these cases, religious entities of the kind that Sykes and his ilk are always promoting as being better than the education bureaucracy in the first place.

(LUNCHTIME UPDATE: Apparently, someone has edited Sykes's post to correct the typo in the title--this is why I screen-capped--but not the misinformation in the post. Oops!)

In fact, just a few minutes with WalletPop's list and you find that same pattern repeated over and over. Number 20 on the list, for example, is the Welcome Center at Mifflin Middle School in Columbus, Ohio, which is a "transitional program designed to meet the needs of students from any country who have recently arrived in the United States and have little or no literacy skills in English or in their native language. Welcome Center students are generally at the Beginner Proficiency Level, as determined by the English as a Second Language (ESL) Assessment Center." By definition this school is for low-achieving students.

Even if Sykes had bothered to check up on the worst school, the Tomorrow's Builders Charter School in East St. Louis, he would find that this school was run not by the public school district (it's not even on their list of schools) but by an outside agency. Number seven on the list, Spring Creek Elementary in St. Francis, SD, is a small school on the Rosebud reservation--could there be issues affecting that school, I wonder? Number 11, the Circle of Courage Center in Poughkeepsie (I just wanted to type Poughkeepsie!) is another alternative program designed for the low-performing and bad-behaving kids in the district.

So it seems that the WalletPop list--if you can believe this!--is not necessarily a true and reflective list of the "worst" of anything.

This is not hard, folks; I'm doing this over breakfast. You'd think Charlie Sykes and his staff of however many would have thought to do just the most basic checking of facts. But I guess that would have cut into their ideology--and you know how much Sykes-n-them hate it when facts get in the way of ideology.

* Charlie Sykes does not live in Milwaukee. I resent his attempt to associate himself with us good folk who do.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Why I'm a MAC, Not a PC

By Keith R. Schmitz

Had my day pushed back three hours because of problems loading Norton Anti-Virus on my wife's Dell and dealing with Hari the tech's extremely thick Indian accent.

MacGyver Updates

by folkbum

A couple of updates related to my post below.

One, the badly written blog post about that inaugural poll from the MacGyver Institute's inaugural poll has been updated--with no notice that a correction has been attempted. Compare before (above) and after (below). Of course, the correction is still misrepresenting the results of the poll, at least according to the group's own press release (.pdf). That claims, "35% of residents blame the state’s budget woes on the downturn in Wisconsin’s job and economic situation." Which is not what the updated post says.

It may also not be what the poll says; the poll was conducted with 500 likely voters, not 500 residents. The likely voters screen in a poll provides a different set of responders than just plain-old residents. No doubt the pollsters probably weighted the results, but as the full poll seems not yet available, including crosstabs and weight information, we won't know.

Also, still no ability for me to log in there and comment.

Two, Cory Liebmann at Eye on Wisconsin answers a complaint raised by James Wigderson in the comments to that original post. Wiggy quotes MacGyver spokesperson Bob Reddin as saying that the convicted criminal Scott Jensen "will take no formal role with the organization." Wiggy adds, "Be nice if someone actually asked someone involved first."

But Cory notes this neat trick:
If you take a look at the properties of the last two press releases that have been sent out by The Maciver Institute, the author of those pdf files is none other than Scott Jensen! I would say that writing multiple press releases for an organization qualifies as a "formal role."
That sounded like fun so I thought I would check it myself, and sure enough:

That's the above-linked press release, if you're interested, and Scooter's name prominently in the "Author" field.

Of course, it might just be that the MacGyver folks are using Adobe software illegal copied from a legitimate version owned by Jensen. But that's as bad as lying about Jensen's role with the group.

See DPI Candidates in Milwaukee Tonight, Next Week

by folkbum

In one of a long series of joint appearances, the candidates for state superintendent of public instruction (Tony Evers and Rose Fernandez) will be discussing issues related to children and adults with disabilities here in Milwaukee tonight. They'll be meeting at 7 PM at Independence First, 540 S. 1st St. More information is in this .pdf from Disability Rights Wisconsin.

I also had a note in the inbox this morning that the two will be facing off in a forum sponsored by the Educators' Network for Social Justice on Monday, March 16, 7 PM at the Gordon Park Pavillion, 2828 N. Humboldt Blvd. More information is on the ENSJ website.

Unfortunately, tonight I have to pick my wife up at the airport (she's picky about not being stranded places), so I cannot attend. I'm hoping to get a first-hand report from someone who will be there. Next week's, though, I hope to make in person.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Kill the union. Yeah, that'll work.

by folkbum

Dad29 points us to Marquette Professor John McAdams's blog, where he's running with a study on teachers unions. Conservative hatred of teachers unions is a happy--for them--confluence of their hatred of unions, distrust of the public sector, and general freakishness about educating children. We're the trifecta, if you will. And they're always on the lookout for reasons to toss us aside.

The study cited by McAdams (not available online except as a .pdf file on McAdams's Marquette University server space--good thing he's at a private university, no?) is a study only of California school districts and their contracts. Teacher contracts are always governed by state law, including often what is and is not a mandatory or possible subject of bargaining. The applicability of this study to Wisconsin and elsewhere is already suspect.

But McAdams pulls out a paragraph from that study:
The unions use their power—their basic work-denial power, enhanced by their political power—to get restrictive rules written into collective bargaining contracts. And these restrictions ensure that the public schools are literally not organized to promote academic achievement. When contract rules make it difficult or impossible to weed out mediocre teachers, for example, they undermine the most important determinant of student learning: teacher quality (Sanders and Rivers 1996). And when contract rules guarantee teachers seniority-based transfer rights, they ensure that teachers cannot be allocated to their most productive uses (Levin, Mulhern, and Schunck 2005). Much the same can be said about a long list of standard contract provisions. This is to be expected. Except at the margins, contract rules are simply not intended to make the schools effective.
This seems to be the nut of the study, that there are three, maybe four things about teachers unions that make bargaining with them harmful to kids' educations. And you know what? None is true for Wisconsin's largest school district and the one with the greatest non-white enrollment, the Milwaukee Public Schools. This poses a problem for McAdams and the theory that, as another paragraph he quotes puts it, "in large school districts, restrictive labor contracts have a very negative impact on academic achievement, particularly for minority students." Let's look at those four things.
The unions use their power—their basic work-denial power . . . By law, teachers in Wisconsin cannot strike--though teachers in California can.
. . . enhanced by their political power . . . McAdams asks, "We might wonder, for example, whether heavily black districts with a lot of Democratic voters elect liberal school boards that readily cave in to the teachers’ union." Please note, non-Milwaukeeans and locals who haven't paid attention (i.e., McAdams himself): In the last Board election, the union-backed candidate lost 4 out of 5 contests. In the one before that, it was 1 out of 4. I could go back further, but suffice it to say, the Board has not been in control of the union-backed candidates for some time now. In the next go-round April 7, out of four contests, two of the union-backed candidates didn't even make it out of the primary (and one was unopposed, hardly making for a fair fight). That means after the new Board is seated, union-backed candidates will still be in the minority.
When contract rules make it difficult or impossible to weed out mediocre teachers, for example . . . MPS actually has an easy way for principals to deal with bad teachers, designed collaboratively between the union and the administration, called the TEAM Program. I've seen it work, as a union rep. I've also seen principals refuse to use it when they should have--hardly a black mark against the union.
when contract rules guarantee teachers seniority-based transfer rights . . . MPS also does not have seniority-transfer rights, at least not for the vast majority of movement of teachers among schools. Those decisions are site-based, with individual schools seeking the best fit for themselves.
So if those things are not screwing up Milwaukee, what is? (cough, cough) Maybe the study's author should come here to find out. Better yet, McAdams. I've occasionally wondered how McAdams, professor of political science, would fare teaching an MPS freshman civics class. If he wants to spend a day or two with my freshmen, he knows where to find me. Alas, he has tenure (something he would likely wish to deny public school teachers) and is unlikely to leave the academy for the glamorous life of an MPS teacher.

More importantly, though, this notion that if we could just get rid of the union, everything would be all right--or at least a lot better--is dumb. Consider how probable this chain of events really is:
  1. Show teachers that you're not afraid to fire a bunch of them en masse (the "bad" ones, presumably)
  2. Slash pay and benefits for those that remain (a common proposed benefit of killing the union)
  3. Eliminate the remaining teachers' ability to bargain together, as well as any job protection they may have had been counting on after seeing #1, above
  4. Then, magically, good teachers stay in, and more good teachers flock to, the most challenging district in the state to raise achievement
I don't believe it for a second. Look, I know people do not choose a life of public service like teaching for the money. But there is only so much you can take away from good teachers before they start bailing on you. We already hear, including--mostly, even--from conservatives, how many good teachers are turned away from MPS because of the residency rule. How many more will walk away when you take away job protection and bargaining rights? When you cut pay and benefits to make MPS the lowest-paid, hardest assignment in Southeastern Wisconsin?

Good luck with that.
--
Aside: I bet McIlheran blogs on this study before the week's out.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Lost your house? Job? Pension? National economy? Our bad.

by folkbum

Wisconsin's conservatives, tired of being recruited as WILFs, have a new and exciting toy, called the MacGyver Institute. Its inaugural blog post* is about a poll the institute is releasing today. Among the shocking findings:
The public by 35% blames the current economy on the State's budget problems.
I read that over several times, and as best as I can tell, the blogger is suggesting that a majority of those polled (X+35% vs. X%) believe that the sucky economy is the fault of the Wisconsin state budget.

Well! As a number of conservatives have opined lately (one local example, although a different local con disagrees, mostly), Barack Obama seems to be running out of things and people to blame for the burst housing bubble, record unemployment, tanked stocks, crunched credit, and global meltdown. But, thanks to MacGyver's official blogger, we know that, in fact, it looks like it's all Wisconsin's fault.

Whoops!

To be fair, I think that blogger must be new at the whole blogging thing, because he does not even link to the press release his bosses put out about their poll. Maybe he didn't have the results in front of him at all, so he didn't know that the right answer was "35% of residents blame the state’s budget woes on the downturn in Wisconsin’s job and economic situation." Which is, you know, a totally different thing.

I wanted to point all of this out at the new blog to their new blogger, but the MacGyver blog seems not to be accepting comments at this time. I mean, there's a "comments" link, but I followed the directions and I, at least, am not allowed to post any comments. Maybe I've been pre-banned from their site, I don't know.

* I do wonder how a blogger on record thinking this about Scott Jensen feels about working for a group that really, really wants Jensen to be its leader.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Oh, what a tangled etc.

by folkbum

Rose Fernandez seems sincere enough in her efforts, but the people around her ...

More.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Deep Thought

by folkbum

It's a good thing Jim Burkee lost last September, or else he'd have to apologize tomorrow.

Fernandezistas: Hey, look over there!

by folkbum

The (blog) headlines are scary with two es: "Tony Evers' Scandal?" reads one. "CRG files complaint in DPI race" reads another. The writers are near giddy with the idea that there's a there there that will sink the campaign of Tony Evers for state superintendent. McIlheran, the former newsman of the group, at least sounds newsy: "Fund-raiser e-mail on Evers' behalf was wrong, official says"--although it still implies there's something Evers himself did that was wrong, which is not true.

In the end, despite the noise they're making, the reality of the situation is quite banal: A Tony Evers supporter, like thousands of others around the state in the last few months, got an email from the campaign promoting an event. The supporter, Jeff Dickert, made the bone-headed move of using his work email--he works for CESA7, a state education agency--to forward information about the event to the school officials he works with.

What Dickert did, by his own admission, was wrong, but understand this: The Tony Evers campaign had nothing to do with it.

Because the Rose Fernandez supporters know they have a weak candidate--anemic fundraising and limited experience on the issues, for example--the Dickert email has been the hot topic for the last five days, consuming the blogs and talk radio. And the Fernandezistas are not shy about throwing around unfounded and often clearly false charges. Mark Belling, on his radio show (mp3 link), said, "I have learned that the campaign of Tony Evers, candidate for Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction in the April election, is using state resources to campaign to state workers to try to raise money for the campaign." This is false. The campaign had nothing to do with Dickert's email, as Dickert made clear himself. Belling later goes on about "the Evers campaign and the apparent decision to use the best target list they have"--again accusing the campaign of directing Dickert to send the email, which did not happen.

"What is not clear at the moment is if Jeff Dickert is real player in Evers' campaign. Based upon the email, we know that Dickert is a coworker and supporter of Tony Evers," wrote one blogger. Dickert is not a "player" in the campaign, real or not, just one of Evers' many supporters. And as an Evers campaign staffer told me, the campaign wouldn't recognize Dickert if they saw him.

"Both Dickert and Evers are long time liberal bureaucrats in the educational system, and thay know this law [against using state email for campaign purposes], but Evers, at least, blatantly violated it and a criminal investigation should begin immediately," wrote another blogger, offering up a bald-faced lie. Evers and his campaign violated no laws at all here, just Dickert.

"What remains unclear is whether Evers will forgo any of the money [from] the meet-and-greet promoted by an apparently illegal bit of campaigning," adds another, in an attempt to taint a perfectly legitimate event planned and promoted by the Evers campaign, and any dollar fundraised from now on. I guess when your own candidate can't raise the funds herself, this is one way to try to level the playing field.

In sum, rather than talk about the issues of the campaign (unlike some of us) or ponder why the "liberal" candidates outpolled the "conservative" candidates in the February primary almost 3-2, Fernandez supporters would rather waste time spreading outright lies about Evers. Way to go, guys!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Hey GOP. They're Just Not That Into You

By Keith R. Schmitz

In an updated version of Lord of the Flies, the CPAC convention this weekend in grasping for all the straws then can put in their mitts are agog over a 13 year old. The kid's book outsold Sam the Unlicensed Plumber.

But this might be as good as it gets for conservatives/Republicans. A just released report found that 75% of the teens surveyed are optimistic that the administration can solve our current economic problems, and 81% are interested in finding out the causes of current problems.
Conservatives course already believe they know the problems and won't solve them.

Looks like the kids are alright.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Weasel Speak Hits Wall Street

by capper

Milwaukee County Executive wrote an editorial piece which was published in the Wall Street Journal. The editorial was nothing more than a revision to his campaign stump speech which he pretended was his State of the County address. I do find it bemusing on why he would choose to put in the Wall Street Journal, as opposed to a local paper, or several local papers, like most politicians seeking a higher state office would have done. But then again, Walker doesn't have a lot of support outside of the southeastern corner of the state, so he may have tried, and failed to do that.

Most of the Posse Comatose gave it no more than a passing mention in a post, although Kevin Binversie did come out gushing a little:
With a message like this, Walker can turn what is going to be Doyle and the left’s argument “Walker Made Milwaukee County a Mess,” and turn it on its head. Try as they might, liberal bloggers will eventually have to turn the cannons inward and defend the fiscal policies of Governor Jim Doyle - a wholly-owned subsidiary of WEAC - before the 2010 Governor’s election. Try and say all you want of how “Walker screwed up Milwaukee County,” I will forever throw down my trump card in this political game of sheepshead:

Jim Doyle Screwed Up Wisconsin. A state is much, much, much bigger than a county.

But let's take a serious, factual look at this message of Walker's, shall we?

A great deal of Walker's editorial on why he thinks the stimulus package is so bad is nothing more than a blatant attack on Governor Jim Doyle.

But when Walker gets to his own bragging points, that is when the Weasel Speak kicks into high gear:
My county, however, finished fiscal year 2007 with a $7.9 million surplus and will break even for fiscal year 2008 when the books are closed next month. Why? Because we made tough budget decisions demanded by the taxpayers.
By the way, that's it for his bragging points. He apparently couldn't find anything else positive to say about himself.

But for the 2007 budget, and the surplus that he is claiming, isn't his to claim. As I pointed out at the time, and was thoroughly reported by the local paper, Walker took himself out of the budget process by vetoing the entire budget, due to his displeasure of all of the amendments the County Board had put to his original proposal. The County Board then overrode his veto, making the entire 2007 budget their own. That is why there was such a large surplus. The adults took over and ran the show, leaving Walker without anything to do but pout.

Likewise, his claims for the 2008 budget is less than honest. Walker claims that the budget will break even, but that is not a guarantee. As was reported deep in the body of a story on a different matter, we find that the County, as it stands right now, is facing a deficit (emphasis mine):

The gift to the county makes an even bigger splash, given its much smaller budget. A $1.1 million check from Allen's estate was sent to the county in December and about $1 million more is expected later this year, said county Corporation Counsel Bill Domina. The County Board's finance committee is being asked next week to approve placing the first check in the county's contingency fund.

County Budget Director Steve Kreklow said the Allen cash will be used to pay down the county's 2008 year-end deficit. The county was projected to end the year with a $1.7 million deficit, in a tally done Oct. 31.

The first payment from the Allen estate "came at a great time when we certainly needed it," Kreklow said. Unusually high overtime costs and the failure of the county to sell any of its Park East Freeway parcels have been blamed for the potential year-end shortfall.

By law, the county must operate with a balanced budget. In practice, that means if there is some red ink after all the bills and checks for a year are processed, money from the next year's budget must be first spent on balancing the prior year's budget.

As can be easily seen, Walker is lying. The 2008 budget is currently in a deficit. It is only if the County Board approves his proposal to use that windfall inheritance that it has even a chance of breaking even. As of last week, the County Board still hadn't done so, and it is not clear if it will.

Later in his article, Walker again went on with his tired and already spiel that the only way to create jobs is to give laid off workers tax breaks. But what I would like to know is Walker really knows of job creation. He had no advanced education on it, since he is a Marquette dropout. He has no personal experience since he has been a career politician his entire life. He has no professional experience, as evidenced by his losing control of the entire public assistance department, losing control of the Private Industry Council, and losing state contracts on a jobs training program.

I would be also remiss if I failed to point out that under Walker's reign, Milwaukee County's parks are falling apart, the transit system is in critical condition and about to fail next year without extraordinary efforts to keep it solvent, and many other services have steadily decreased, all of which has threatened the safety and well-being of the citizens. And even then, the county tax levy has increased 17% since Walker first took office as the County Executive.

There were 717 fully funded but unfilled positions across the county last year. Where is all that money going? It's certainly not to the workers, and it's certainly not to the citizens who need services.

There are a couple other points that Walker screwed up. One of them is the fact that, as much as the right would like to deny it, the fact is, Ronald Reagan, did indeed raise taxes as well as ballooned the deficit.

Another thing is that Walker apparently conveniently forgot that the position of County Executive is non-partisan.

In plain English, Walker is not only unfit to be a governor, he is not even fit to be a county executive.

Cross posted at Cognitive Dissidence.