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Apr 16, 201301:47 PMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

Madison’s public schools go to lockdown mode; no new ideas wanted

Madison’s public schools go to lockdown mode; no new ideas wanted

(page 1 of 2)

Graphical user interface? I think not, Mr. Jobs. Mainframe is where it’s at. Big and honking, run by guys in white lab coats. Smart phones? iPads? You’re dreaming. Take your new ideas somewhere else.

That is the Madison School Board. It has decided to batten the hatches against change. It is securing the perimeter against new thinking. It is the North Korea of education: insular, blighted, and paranoid.

Just try to start a charter school in Madison. I dare you. The Madison School Board on Monday took three measures to strangle new ideas in their crib:

1)  Preserving the status quo: Any proposed charter school would have to have “a history of successful practice.” That leaves out several existing Madison public schools – never mind new approaches.

2)  Starvation: Cap per-pupil reimbursement at around $6,500 – less than half what Madison public schools consume.

3)  Encrustation: Unionized teachers only need apply.

I spoke to Carrie Bonk, executive director of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association.

“They should be worried about helping students in low-performing schools; instead, they are shutting down options.”

The Madison Urban League notes that just 50.1% of black students attending Madison public schools graduated from high school. For Latino students, it is 59.1%; white students, 84.1%; and Asians, 84.8%. Only 1% — 1% — of black high school seniors attending the four main Madison public high schools were ready for college. — Madison Urban League strategic plan, Page 10.

Ms. Bonk noted that states like Massachusetts and Tennessee were welcoming charter schools. Indeed, the number of charter schools has more than doubled in the last decade, to 5,618 nationally.

Carrie Bonk started a charter grade school in Sheboygan. After three years, she won the right to make the school a non-instrumentality, meaning (among other things) that Lake Country Academy could employ non-union teachers. In fact, every member of the faculty supported the move. With an enrollment of 274, Lake Country broke ground last fall for an expansion to accommodate the perennial waiting list.

Pupils are exposed to “core virtues” like responsibility, citizenship, and integrity. 

With teachers unions, “it’s not about the kids,” Ms. Bonk told me.

Conservatives support progress

Progressives resist change.

Fortunately, Gov. Scott Walker is advocating for parental choice. Through private school vouchers, yes, but also by making it easier to create charter schools. Assembly Bill 40/Education would create an 11-member charter school oversight board that would include the superintendent of public instruction. That body would certify nonprofit, nonreligious agencies in the nine districts with the authority to contract for charter schools with a standalone charter school operation. Such agencies could be the Boys & Girls Clubs, could be a UW branch school, could be the Urban League. Currently, that option exists only in Milwaukee County, and only for four government agencies.

In fact, AB40 allows a school district to convert all its schools to charter schools – something that New Orleans did after Hurricane Katrina.

Bonk says the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks Wisconsin’s charter school law the seventh-most restrictive of 43 states.

Allow me to paraphrase JFK: Those who make evolution impossible make revolution inevitable. The Madison school district has chosen irrelevancy.

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Comments, page 1 of 2 1 2 Next »
Apr 16, 2013 02:41 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I would love to read Right Wisconsin. However, I can find no individual who is willing to explain why a person needs to register before reading even their free content. Any time I request a reason, I receive an auto reply that doesn't answer my question.

Apr 16, 2013 05:41 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Let me see if I understand correctly; charter schools are proposed because some of the existing public school systems are failing our students. Madison school board says charter schools are fine, so long as they spend less than half the money of the public schools and use the same (unionized) teachers that were presumably part of the reason the system was failing these students in the first place. Makes perfect progressive sense. Sheesh.

Apr 17, 2013 06:57 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

MMSD/MTI decisions aren't supposed to make sense to us common folk. They are the elites who know what is best for OUR children. Until we see things their way, they will be forced to make those big decisions for us.

Apr 17, 2013 10:11 am
 Posted by  Ed Hughes

Alas, you are wrong on all three of the elements of the new charter policy you identify as designed to strangle new ideas

First, the new policy states that the Board will consider proposals for charter schools that “have an underlying, research-based theory and history of successful practice that is likely to achieve academic success.” This would not exclude a proposal for a school like Ms. Bonk’s Lake Country Academy, or like Madison’s existing charter schools, or like any other established charter model. However, if you suggested that the school district establish, say, the Blaska Academy for Traditional Values and Firearm Training, this requirement might get in the way.

Second, the policy calls for a base level of funding equal to DPI’s open enrollment per pupil transfer amount – the amount that the Madison school district has to pay, for example, to McFarland when one of our students open enrolls into McFarland’s virtual charter school. In addition, the charter school could also be eligible to receive categorical aids, such as Title I funds, and can call on the school district to “provide administrative services (i.e. Human Resources support, Accounting support) similar to those provided traditional district schools.” This is hardly “starvation” funding.

Finally, you are also wrong when you write “union teachers only need apply.” The collective bargaining agreement that goes into effect on July 1 authorizes the School Board to exempt some teacher positions from the requirement that the teachers holding those positions belong to MTI. So if there were a promising charter school proposal based on a teaching model that is difficult to reconcile with the CBA, the school district could seek an MOU that modified the terms of the agreement to accommodate the charter model, or the Board could vote to exempt teachers at the school from the requirement that they belong to MTI. Neither of these options was available when we considered Madison Prep.

Apr 17, 2013 04:40 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Mr Howard abstained in voting on the charter school policy because he didn't feel that people were not notified about public hearings on the policy. Mr. Howard is the MMSD Board President, and part of that job is to communicate to the media about upcoming public hearings. Mr Howard also failed to show up at these same meetings. So, looks like Howard is mad at himself for not doing the job that the public asked him to do as an elected official. You supported him, are you happy that he would rather not show up and listen to peoples voices, and then complain that people were not aware of the meetings which is his job to communicate?

Fortunately, David, many elected senators in Wisconsin are not supportive of Walker's Charter School program. Republicans like Senator Ellis and Senator Olson have been very loud that they do not support this along with many other state senators on both sides of the floor.

Being a politician, I am totally surprised that you can't keep up with the state politics. But like the tea party, let's only share part of a story rather than the entire story.

Apr 17, 2013 07:03 pm
 Posted by  ssquared

At least we have the satisfaction of knowing one of these days the John Mathews, Bill Keys and Carol Carstensen's will leave to infest another part of the universe.

Apr 18, 2013 08:23 am
 Posted by  David Blaska

Ed Hughes, thanks for your thoughtful response. It is appreciated.

First, you are absolutely correct on Point #3: as I recall, anything requiring 10 or more covered positions can be exempted from union representation. I knew that but it slipped my mind. That said, what are the odds that the Loumos-Mertz-Silveira-Passman school board would exercise such a proviso? I will answer: Nil.

On Point #2: the independent charter schools now operating in Milwaukee are recompensed $7,852 per pupil this academic year and $7,931 the following year under Gov. Walker's budget. Compare that with your $6,500.

Regarding Point #1: The Blaska Academy for Traditional Values and Firearm Training does have "an underlying, research-based theory and history of successful practice that is likely to achieve academic success.” Ever hear of the West Point Military Academy?

Finally, is Kaleem Caire on board with your schemata?

Apr 18, 2013 09:19 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Kaleem Caire is not on the school board nor does he have any power or even teaching credentials, similar to you therefore, if they wouldn't get your approval,nor an expert in any charter school, why would they get Caire's approval. (remember his school in Washington DC didn't get started either after trying for 4 years)

Howard doesn't show up to any of the meetings, Burke who initially backed Madison Prep was there and voted for the charter school policy. Hughes who also was on the fence to some point voted for the charter school policy.

Apr 18, 2013 10:06 am
 Posted by  David Blaska

Does everything you say have to be wrong, Logan? Can't you -- just by accident -- get one thing correct?

Kaleem Caire served as a consultant for the Madison school district and the Department of Public Instruction. He co-founded the SHAPE tutorial program in the UW-Madison School of Education. He served a five-year appointment on a panel evaluating No Child Left Behind and he was one of 45 reviewers for Race to the Top.

And Mary Burke was not on the school board when Madison Prep came up for a vote!

Apr 18, 2013 12:41 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Parents are voting with their actions, Madison Public Schools are a hollow shell of their former self, and John Matthews continues to tilt at windmills because it keeps him employed. He tells the public and local politicians that more money for teachers can solve all the problems of the district when he knows it can't. Teachers have precious little classroom time with their children, influences outside the classroom are overwhelming their ability to alter the learning trajectory in the classroom. When kids come to school without enough to eat, without enough sleep, without the most basic educational or social skills, the outcomes will not be good, even the best teacher will come up short. We need to support parents so that they can send children to school who are ready to learn. At the same time we need to hold parents accountable when they don't. Special interest groups, whether it is the unions or charter school advocates, talk about the solutions they bring to the table be they better teachers or better programs.

None are solutions to the problem of children not ready to learn. I appreciate what the United Way is attempting to achieve with their programs and more must be done. A good start would be for the political machinery, especially the School Board, in Madison to admit that the problem is one of children unprepared to learn. Once we do that, then we can evaluate the programs we have to support these students while recognizing and supporting the vital role parents must play while the students aren't in school.

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About This Blog

Raised on a farm near Sun Prairie, David Blaska is a recovering liberal who spent 18 years in daily newspapers, including 12 at The Capital Times in Madison as a reporter and editor. He served Gov. Tommy Thompson as acting press secretary in 1998 and is a veteran and survivor of 19 years in state government. He served 12 years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. From December 2007 to November 2011 he wrote the consistently popular "Blaska's Blog" for Isthmus online's "The Daily Page" until, he says, the intolerant liberals ran him off. He blogs from Madison.

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