How The Dems Have To Run Locally In Wisconsin

I have seen any number of suggestions around the internet about the state party platform for the Dems in the Fall 2016 local elections. Most of them focus on the big ideas that are the big ideologies of the party. But Wisconsin has elected Governor Scott Walker three times and handed him a Republican majority in both houses under the dome in Madison. So running on the repeal of Act 10 and Right to Work etc…aren’t going to play in most of the state and the Democrats may continue its role as the minority party.

So on the eve of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s state convention, let me suggest a couple of planks that should be hammered home across the state…things that will read as less partisan and more Wisconsin.

JOBS: one of the things that the GOP has promised to provide and said they were laser focused on the past two election cycles is jobs. And they have failed miserably to produce any…Wisconsin lags almost every state in job growth and is far behind many of our Midwestern neighbors. So the GOP is particularly vulnerable there.

INFRASTRUCTURE: There is no county or community in Wisconsin that isn’t hurting for help in repairing or replacing infrastructure. Local roads, bridges, sewers, parks, you name it…are begging for upgrades. Yet all the GOP has managed to produce is major interstate expansions that waste money and in some cases are boondoggles…complete sops to their road building contributors. Wrap the JOBS issue around this as well.

EDUCATION: the last round of budget cuts to public education (local elementary and high schools) along with the expansion of the statewide voucher program has even rural districts in red counties crying foul. Get behind supporting local public schools again in a way that makes local sense. Build on the issues around state interference in local controls as well.

CLEAN WATER: From the blind eye as private wells and spring fed bodies of water dry up due to high capacity commercial wells in north and central WI to fecal contamination of wells from huge industrial livestock farms in Door and Kewaunee counties to the demands for Lake Michigan water from Waukesha and eventually surrounding environs to the under-response to lead pipe issues throughout the state (and the incredible underfunding in Milwaukee) …there is plenty of opportunity to unite local governments in working for the right to fresh water throughout the state.

The other issues can come later…we have to win first!

Where Education Is Taking A Wrong Turn

There is a truism in management philosophy that “What you measure is what you get”. It sounds like we are seeing a subset of this in education.

There apparently is a movement afoot to drop algebra from high school education…because…well…it’s just too darn hard…and students drop out and don’t graduate because they fail algebra. So the goal is to graduate everyone…a goal I don’t find objectionable…but since algebra is so darn hard…let’s drop it from the curriculum to improve graduation rates. One more opportunity to dumb down education to reach the wrong goal…a superior education resulting in a valid diploma that will actually be worth it’s weight in gold should be the goal…not just the piece of parchment itself.

But here is some of the rationale:

Who needs algebra?

That question muttered by many a frustrated student over the years has become a vigorous debate among American educators, sparked by a provocative new book that argues required algebra has become an unnecessary stumbling block that forces millions to drop out of high school or college.

“One out of 5 young Americans does not graduate from high school. This is one of the worst records in the developed world. Why? The chief academic reason is they failed ninth-grade algebra,” said political scientist Andrew Hacker, author of “The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions.”

Hacker, a professor emeritus at Queens College, argues that, at most, only 5% of jobs make use of algebra and other advanced math courses. He favors a curriculum that focuses more on statistics and basic numbers sense and less on (y – 3)2 (equals) 4y – 12.

Obviously I disagree or I wouldn’t be writing this post…but yes I bet that a lot of jobs don’t use algebra everyday. But most jobs and life in general could certainly use the thinking skills acquired from working with algebra…being able to see and define relationships…following logic from top to bottom. Very useful skills.

But then there’s this add:

“Will algebra help you understand the federal budget?” he asked.

If I were Groucho Marx or Danny Thomas, that one would deserve a spit take! No algebra won’t help you understand the federal budget but basic math and quantum physics won’t either.

“Every study I’ve ever seen of workers in whole bunches of fields shows that you have to understand formulas, you have to understand relationships,” said Philip Uri Treisman, a professor of mathematics and of public affairs at the University of Texas. “Algebra is the tool for consolidating your knowledge of arithmetic.”

Bill McCallum, a professor at the University of Arizona who played a lead role in developing the Common Core standards for math, said he would oppose any division of K-12 students into an algebra track and a non-algebra track.

“You might say only a certain percentage of kids will go on to use algebra, but we don’t know which kids those are,” he said.

This last quote goes back to my philosophy on education just a bit. Yes, critics are correct, not every kid will go on to college…but when they graduate from high school they should have the knowledge and skill sets to pursue college if they want…or an apprenticeship…or a career…regardless. We can never know who will end up using actual algebra.

In New York City, home to the nation’s largest public school system with 1.1 million pupils, just 52% of the students who took last year’s statewide Regents test in Algebra I passed, mirroring statistics elsewhere in the country.

Rather than scaling back on algebra, New York City educators have announced an “Algebra for All” initiative that aims to keep students on track by providing specialized math teachers in fifth grade, before algebra is introduced.

“We believe in high standards,” said Carol Mosesson-Teig, director of mathematics for the city Department of Education.

Now of course I am a little biased. I am a computer programmer…and on a practical side…I use the logic and thought processes I learned in math classes every day on the job…I even use algebra to develop some of the code that I have written over the years. It’s a rewarding and lucrative field.

But the United States is having its lunch eaten by China and India in this field. They have the math skills…they can do algebra…and they are going to be writing much of our code in the very near future. Our students just can’t hack it (pun intended). So dumbing down STEM education another notch is just plain stupid…or we aren’t going to hold onto the real jobs coming in the remainder of the 21st Century.

The Smear Campaign Against Socialism:

One of the apparent failings in American education is the lack of understanding on the differences between socialism, fascism, Marxism, and Communism. Or else there is now a concerted effort to smear socialism by linking it to fascism.

Here’s a prime example from Facebook (at this point I am not going to include names but I reserve the right to change my mind):


This image started the conversation…with the poster concluding because the Nazi’s official name was National Socialists…that this was the same as the socialism espoused by Senator Bernie Sanders.

Ugh, do you even know the definition of “Nazi”?

Nazi Party: National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which controlled Germany from 1933 to 1945

But, yeah, the Nazis incorporated the word socialism because the didn’t believe in it. Ugh, some of you are just a bunch of sheep that listen to liberal talking points….

and an opposing viewpoint:

That was fascism and theocracy, cloaked as socialism

and the original poster (in the face of any number of posters explaining the obvious and less than subtle differences between Nazis and socialists):

And SOLD as socialism

What did the people buy? Socialism or Facism? Socialism is soft tyranny just as facism is hard tyranny

So that might be one isolated aberrant right winger without a clue…but in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel we have another (since this is public record already I am not hiding any names…and MJS vets their letters to the editor) political equation that doesn’t balance:

Socialism is never the cure

Those of us who grew up laughing at “Trabi” jokes that contrasted stunningly junky Trabants, built by East German socialists, with well-engineered BMWs, built by West German capitalists, didn’t find the victory of an old socialist in the New Hampshire primary too funny.

Those of us whose fathers fought the National Socialists to the death and then turned around to battle the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the People’s Republic of China in the Cold War weren’t laughing much either.

Some of us still remember the delirious days when the “evil empire” collapsed, the wall came down and people on both sides of the iron curtain could breathe free. We were so happy that we didn’t pay much attention to the bitter old Marxists who retreated to America’s ivory towers to propagandize a new generation with old platitudes about class warfare, redistribution of wealth, hatred for the family and Chairman Mao’s blather that everything, even truth itself, must be sacrificed for a politically correct revolution.

It is no accident that the young people feeling the Bern today are blissfully unaware of the hundred million lives more or less (What’s a million or two for a good cause?) that the old socialists sacrificed to usher in their one world Utopia.

It is, therefore, ironic that it is the youngest presidential candidates who best understand that the battle has never been between the socialists on the left and the crony capitalists on the right but between individual liberty and the tyranny of both the right and the left. The fact that both families of these two candidates experienced the grim reality of socialism in Cuba seems to have inoculated them against the socialist delusions of America’s ivory tower.

These two young candidates understand that this election is not about whether Republicans or Democrats control the levers of power. Like the generations of Americans before them, they know that socialism, which sacrifices the individual to the collective, is both a symptom and cause of our malaise, never its cure.

Art DeJong

This is starting to become a trend…and if I were a conspiracy theorist…this would smell like elephant dung and rotting tea bags.

Walker Tone Deaf to Irony

Cleaning off my desktop…this probably should have been written while the governor was still vying for the GOP presidential nomination…but it still outlines his inability to see the bigger picture to what he is saying/doing. Of course safely back in Wisconsin where the media regularly give him a free pass…where he only speaks at closed invitation only sessions at businesses or organizations that support him…it’s less of an issue.

But let’s relive those thrilling days of yesteryear…well almost a month ago…when Governor Walker decided to give a major policy address (roundly ignored by the tea party, GOP and media) at President Reagan’s alma mater: Eureka College.

The irony here?

Standing on the stage where Ronald Reagan “found his voice,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sought to find his own Thursday as he promised to repeat his actions in Wisconsin by taking down federal workers’ unions on his first day in the White House.

Well Governor Walker totally overlooked how President Reagan found his voice…he was urging his fellow classmen to go on strike to protest budget cuts at the school! The king of education budget cuts doesn’t see the irony in this? The leader in handcuffing the world renowned University of Wisconsin system doesn’t get it…no, he didn’t get his eureka moment!

Manufacturers Finally Go To School

Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel featured an article in their business section about the manufacturing center being developed at Arrowhead High School out in Waukesha County.

This is something that I’ve advocated for sometime…business leaders getting out of their corner offices and working with educators to provide the education necessary for the next generation of employees. Too often we’ve seen business leaders kvetch in the media about how they can’t find skilled employees…as if the world owes them those employees…and they don’t have any responsibility to participate in training them or providing educators with the resources necessary to train our young people.

Now before you all think I’ve gone soft because I am not finding fault here…I suggest the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce continue to rally their membership and bring this type of Design Engineering Manufacturing Center to the Milwaukee Public Schools and the Milwaukee Area Technical College…and bring a list of the skills that future employees will need…school admins aren’t clairvoyant you know!

Some highlights from the article:

Area companies have worked with the school to establish the new Design Engineering Manufacturing Center, which opens Sept. 1.

The 10,000-square-foot facility is a public-private initiative aimed at boosting high school students’ interest in manufacturing and engineering careers.

It opens as a recent economic outlook survey by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce showed that labor availability is the No. 1 business concern for one-third of the state’s chief executive officers. Nearly 70% of the CEOs said they were having trouble hiring, and more than half said the reason was a lack of qualified applicants.

The new facility will have engineering, design, manufacturing and product innovation laboratories, with the amount of equipment increased as money becomes available.

Meant to replicate a modern industrial workplace, the facility has natural light and uses design elements to promote flexibility and collaboration.

Machines will be placed on wheels so they can be moved in and out of the facility as needed.

School officials authorized $2 million for the project’s first phase, which includes the infrastructure and furnishings. About seven area manufacturers and several individuals have pledged a total of $250,000 in cash and other support.

Business executives from Ace Precision Machining Corp., Bradley Corp., Dorner Manufacturing Corp., MidWest Engineered Systems Inc., and Price Engineering have provided financial support and industry guidance for the initiative.

“Wisconsin businesses need to dig deep and partner with our high schools to show students what it’s like to work in modern-day manufacturing environments, which are light years ahead of where they used to be,” Mullett (Bryan Mullett, chief strategy officer at Bradley Corp.) said.

“Our industry has gone through a renaissance of sorts. Today’s manufacturing facilities are clean, inviting, and incorporate cutting edge technology like computerization, automation and robotics. The opportunities for creativity, collaboration and career satisfaction and growth are abundant,” he added.

Separate But UnEqual

This past Sunday weekly Milwaukee Journal Sentinel education columnist Alan Borsuk wrote a great column on the GOPs attempt to require all Wisconsin students to pass a civics test as a requirement for a high school diploma. This new requirement would apply to public, private, charter and voucher schools. It’s a great article and I recommend that everyone interested in education in Wisconsin read it.

But here is something near the end that really caught my eye:

As far as private schools, this would be the first time there would be a state-imposed graduation requirement.

So there are no state imposed graduation requirements for private schools…so when we see comparisons of graduation rates between private and public schools…we aren’t really comparing apples to apples? So private school graduation rates could be inflated? and not based on the same requirements as the public schools?

So once again we have separate but unequal?

Non-Profit Voucher School Is Out Of Whack On Salary

Ignoring the rest of the story about being on super secret double probation, here is something totally out of whack at a local private voucher school – this school has just over 600 students – yet the lead administrator has a total compensation package of $218,000:

(Dorothy) Travis Moore (founder of Ceria M. Travis Academy), a former administrator in Milwaukee Public Schools, said she’s still earning a salary from her organization but has stepped back and is in more of a support and resource role this year. She said she’s trying to retire.

Her total compensation was $218,000 in 2012, according to the most recent federal filings for the nonprofit.

The two schools under her organization are Ceria M. Travis Academy, a K-12 school with 437 students, and Travis Technology High School, which has 179 students, according to the state’s fall 2014 enrollment count.

Yet the Milwaukee Public Schools which has an enrollment for the 2014 school year of over 78,000 students pays their new superintendent ~ $245,000:

For the first time ever, Milwaukee public schools will be led by a woman. The board voted unanimously to keep Darienne Driver for good.

Dr. Driver has a two year contract at an annual salary of $245,000.

I can’t imagine the leader of a two school system with fewer than a thousand students…is worth nearly what the superintendent of MPS is worth…particularly since she is running a non-profit. Yet the screams about overpaid public employees continues to ring in our ears…wth?

DPI Has Voucher Supporters All A Roil

At the behest of the federal Department of Justice who are investigating possible discrimination against students with disabilities, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requested voluntary information from Wisconsin’s voucher schools. This has voucher proponents and GOP legislators…well…seeing red!

…the DPI’s request that was sent to schools last week — prompted by complaints submitted to the DOJ in 2011 that taxpayer-financed voucher schools were turning away students with special needs — has already met with harsh criticism by advocates for the voucher program.

Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative nonprofit law firm, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, blasted the DPI in a news release, saying the department was being “commandeered” by the Justice Department.

Republican state senators in Madison also expressed their frustration. Sen. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) sent a letter Monday to DPI Superintendent Tony Evers reprimanding him for the request.

“I am disappointed in your mismanagement, deceit, and undermining of not only the parental school choice programs, but of the authority of the Legislature as well,” Farrow wrote in the letter.

Well it seems that the bills that the legislature passed as part and parcel of the bills that authorized vouchers included wording that prevents voucher schools from being compelled to provide the information:

Private schools in the voucher program can’t be required under current state law to make available information about students with disabilities…. Rick Esenberg, an attorney and president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said he thinks that even asking for the information to be turned over voluntarily could be a violation of the law.

But here is the kicker (emphasis mine):

Public schools must provide that data.

I really hope that students with special needs aren’t be discriminated against by schools using tax dollars. But we can’t know unless there is visibility into their enrollment practices. And they have every incentive not to enroll students with disabilities:

Students with disabilities are typically more expensive to educate, but voucher schools receive the same taxpayer subsidy for every student.

If a school is willing to accept tax dollars to educate children…they should be willing to provide the same reporting as public schools.

…said Monica Murphy, managing attorney at Disability Rights Wisconsin. “DPI can ask for whatever it wants. Why are (voucher advocates) afraid to provide the data?”

Sex, Lies and Common Core Part II

Last week I posted a blog about an email that is making the rounds that was insanely inaccurate in its description of Common Core educational standards. And earlier this week I posted a link and brief quiz from JSOnline that clarified what Common Core is all about.

Well today, the Wisconsin State Senate began hearings on a new education law that will take educational authority out of the hands of the Department of Public Instruction and into the hands of a 15 member appointed panel…and let the legislature have the last and final say in anything education. Like they’d know, but that’s another topic. The whole charade is an attempt to derail Common Core standards by neutralizing its defenders and supporters around the state, who unsurprisingly resemble the superintendents of schools and teachers from around Wisconsin. Go figure.

But I digress!

But why are so many conservatives all het up about Common Core? Well it might be the continued attack that is spreading lies and disinformation about the standards. For a brief second I’ll outline a couple of high level points: Common Core is a set of achievement standards for math and English developed by a consortium of states (not the federal government) and does not mandate any particular curriculum or text books or teaching methods. Go back and read Erin Richards Primer on Common Core to get the better gist of what Common Core is…and then try to get your head around this:

Opponents of the Common Core State Standards are rallying a grass-roots movement in Wisconsin to stop the state from implementing the standards.

They say that the standards let the federal government take control of the curriculum at the expense of local control, and that they promote educational mediocrity and “highly political” content that undermines Judeo-Christian values.

On Saturday, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh professor Duke Pesta rallied Common Core opponents with that message at an event in Waukesha sponsored by the Republican Women of Waukesha County.

In a nearly two-hour seminar, he outlined what he called the “dangers and threats” that the Common Core standards pose on the educational system, liberties and Christian values. Pesta called the Common Core standards “socialism” funded by leftist lobbyists, including Bill Gates.

Pesta said the federal government effectively bribed states to adopt the standards without seeing them first.

“No state legislators, no governors, no teachers, no moms and dads had a say in this,” he said. “All Common Core is is No Child Left Behind on steroids. It’s one-size-fits-all education. It’s mindless testing. It’s the elimination of excellence.”

Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core, but efforts are underway in 22 of those states to fully or partially remove them from the standards, he said. Wisconsin is scheduled to implement Common Core in the 2014-’15 school year. Pesta said that would result in teachers teaching to the Common Core test and forcing students to memorize things instead of learning to think holistically.

He expressed concern that Common Core English standards would drop some classical literature from the curriculum in favor of government pamphlets and “highly political texts” that indoctrinate students to believe in man-made global warming rather than discussing character, morality and ethics.

Takes away local control? Local school boards would still select curriculum, books, etc…

Education mediocrity? Not like we have the toughest standards on the planet now. Common Core is far tougher than what Wisconsin had before its adoption.

One size fits all? Only to the point that all students would be expected to be at the same learning or understanding level at the same grade levels…again local schools get to select their own curriculum. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to grab for excellence, not a deterrent.

Highly political texts? Again there are NO texts mandated by Common Core…what gets used locally is selected locally.

And it seems to me that we have already been teaching to the test ever since President George W Bush foisted No Child Left Behind on an unsuspecting nation…from my point of view it seems far harder to teach to a test that will expect a student to master concepts and thinking over rote memorization…exactly the opposite of the claim above.

Now let’s get to the Judeo-Christian thing…first, public education shouldn’t be touching that with a ten foot pole…if they can even afford one…but just for grins let’s look at Common Core from someone directly involved with Christian education:

When it comes to the Catholic Church’s fundamental mission, Catholic schools are essential, not optional. In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, they are precious jewels that adorn our proud history of catechesis, social outreach and fidelity to the Gospel.

Our school system’s sterling reputation is due, in large part, to the fact that Catholic education always has been an enterprise driven by evangelization rather than separatism. In the public square, Catholic schools present a unique and indispensable contribution: a seamless and systematic blend of both intellectual and spiritual formation

According to the National Catholic Education Association, “The Common Core State Standards in no way compromise the Catholic identity or educational program of a Catholic school.” Roughly 100 Catholic dioceses and 35 states are making use of them in some way. The Iowa Assessments, ACT, SAT and other standardized tests are being realigned to correspond to them. In the private sector, many Catholic and other independent schools across the country are thus utilizing the Common Core Standards both voluntarily and selectively, with no state or federal strings attached.

Curriculum committees comprised of educators from our Catholic elementary and secondary schools, as well as our Catholic colleges and universities, wrote the mathematics and language arts curriculum for the schools in the archdiocese. They compared our exit expectations with the Common Core Standards, making sure that our students will continue to be held to a superior academic standard that incorporates the best of both systems.

In the many areas where we already surpass the standards, we will continue to do so. But in some areas, where the standards actually introduce a higher level of academic expectation, we will rise to the challenge. In other words, we are using the Common Core Standards as a floor rather than a ceiling.

Using these standards in such a selective and limited way means that they will in no way detract from the Catholic identity of our schools. After all, they are not having any impact whatsoever on the substantial majority of the subject matters we teach. And where they are relevant, their integration into our exit expectations is directly managed by the archdiocese, making sure that nothing unacceptable is embedded in them. Moreover, there is a big difference between standards and a curriculum.

At the local level, principals, teachers and families make decisions about how to meet these newly integrated exit expectations. The standards are the destination, so to speak, but there are many good paths open to our educators. In view of their trustworthiness, proximity and hands-on experience, it is only right that they should be the ones to freely teach curricula, decide what books and materials to use, choose instructional methods, plan their lessons, select modes of evaluation and so on.

Now, we live in an increasingly secular society that is indifferent, if not hostile, to the spiritual aspects of reality. Our First Amendment may enshrine the universal human right to religious liberty but, more and more, our government threatens the church’s autonomy, freedom of conscience and any role whatsoever for religion in the public square. Nevertheless, isolationism is never an orthodox option.

Indeed, we must remain both active and vigilant when it comes to public policy, asserting our legitimate independence and defending our Catholic identity. However, we cannot be so proud as to imagine that we have nothing whatsoever to learn from those with whom we may disagree on some matters. Our careful and controlled integration of these standards reflects the fact that, when it comes to the Common Core as a whole, we are picking out whatever is valuable and leaving aside the rest. That is prudence, not compromise.

Radical rejection of the world, simply because it is not yet Christian, is the antithesis to evangelization and to the very missionary nature of the church herself. Good Christians bring the light of Christ to all the pathways of this present life. That is why, down through the ages, the saints have never been extreme separationists; they’ve been good citizens, evangelists and, most important, fine teachers.


Oh, and let’s get back to the local control thing. It’s absolutely awful when you think the federal government is doing it…but when the brain trust in Madison comes up with the same idea…well it’s golden:

A bill that would create a state academic standards board with the power to derail the implementation of nationally aligned reading and math goals in Wisconsin’s public schools will likely see intense debate Thursday in Madison.

The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on the contentious Senate Bill 619 at 10 a.m.

A companion bill, Assembly Bill 617, was pulled from a vote last month in the Assembly Education Committee.

This week, Wisconsin Legislative Council attorneys confirmed that the lawmakers would indeed have the power to amend state standards under the bill, which concerns many people who believe that education and curriculum experts — not partisan politicians — should have the final authority over what kids should learn in each grade.

Yeah, that’ll work, I can’t conceive of a thing that could go wrong.