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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.

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