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Nov 10, 201408:27 AMBlaska's Bring It!

with David Blaska

Want to go aggressive, Scott Walker and Wisconsin Republicans? Take over the Milwaukee schools

(page 1 of 2)

In stark contrast to Washington, D.C., Wisconsin does not suffer divided government. For the third time in four years, Wisconsin voters have chosen Scott Walker. In three successive election cycles, voters have entrusted both houses of the Legislature to his Republican allies.

The people of Wisconsin spurned the vague platitudes and warmed-over boilerplate of a focus-grouped candidate. They rewarded, instead, bold, decisive leadership.

Republicans won by aggressively challenging the status quo with Act 10’s diminution of teacher union hegemony and by expanding school choice statewide. Senate Democrats responded by turning tail and running across the border. Act 10 has now been twice confirmed by the people of Wisconsin.

Gov. Walker understands that. “We’re going to be even more aggressive now, because I think we’ve got an even stronger ally in the Legislature,” Walker told his cabinet last week, as reported by Capital Newspapers.

What does “aggressive” look like? Certainly, repeal John Doe. Yes, reform the Government Accountability Board. More school vouchers statewide, please. Reduce taxes even more. Expand Act 10 to include police and fire? Right to work? Maybe.

But all those measures, however worthy, are small potatoes. Here is real change, as aggressive as The New Deal or the Great Society, conservative style: take over the Milwaukee public schools, shake them up, and make them work for the people of Milwaukee — not the Viagra-demanding union. School districts are a creature of the state; it can do this.

  • Take physical control of all 165 Milwaukee public schools, its 78,500 students, and its $1 billion budget.
  • Determine how many of its 9,282 staff members to fire (the bottom fifth is about right) and how many to reward with merit pay.
  • Supplant the newly hired superintendent with a reformer like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Eva Moskowitz, Geoffrey Canada, or former MPS superintendent Howard Fuller.
  • Don’t disband the school board but make it a sounding board and pack it with Milwaukee business and civic leaders like Tim Sheehy and Cory Nettles. (School Board President Michael Bonds is asking the Journal Sentinel to assign a less reform-minded reporter, according to this source.)
  • Put everything on the table. Break up the system if necessary. Bid out educational services to private education service providers at some schools. Encourage more district, non-instrumentality charter schools in other neighborhoods. Invite the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There are many solutions.

MPS needs a political hurricane

Send in the National Guard if you must, for the Milwaukee public school system is a disaster area. MPS is not too big to fail; it has failed.

Milwaukee is the only school district out of 424 to receive a grade of “Fail” from the Department of Public Instruction. Its DPI score of 51.1 on a scale of 100 is bringing down the state average, which is 72.1.

Fewer than two of every three students graduate in four years; the current graduation rate is 60.6% — down from 61.6% in 2012. That compares with an 88% graduation rate statewide (tied for second in the nation) up from 85.7% for the class of 2010. (So much for Scott Walker being bad for education.)

There is precedent for a state takeover. The State of Pennsylvania 13 years ago took over the dysfunctional Philadelphia schools “with the hard-won blessing of the mayor,” The New York Times reported at the time.

After Hurricane Katrina, the State of Louisiana took over New Orleans schools, where 96% of graduating students fell below basic proficiency in English and 94% in math. Nine years later, 91% of students in New Orleans attend charter schools — over 90% of them African American and poor. This summer, the president of Tulane University could write (for the Huffington Post):

Hurricane Katrina, in one of its many ironies, created the opportunity for genuine reform by wiping out a dysfunctional and corrupt school system. … Schools have made significant progress. … Only 5.7% are now failing compared to 65% pre-Katrina.

An educated citizenry is critical to Milwaukee’s survival or it will pull down the rest of the state with it. “The turnaround of New Orleans’ public schools,” Tulane President Scott Cowen concluded, “has been critical to the resurgence of the city as a whole.”


Old to new | New to old
Nov 10, 2014 09:27 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Interesting concept........kind of like Hurricane Walker that wiped out the Commerce Department and replaced it with WEDC with Walker at the helm. A good example of the damage that can be done when an ideology rules over practicality. Before they destroy Milwaukee completely lets watch as they try to create a curriculum to replace CommonCore. This is going to be a circus as they try and figure out what a curriculum is and how it is put in place in a classroom. The last people I want educating our future leaders are politicians with Vos providing the direction.

Nov 10, 2014 09:29 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

"take over the Milwaukee public schools"

Wisconsin is not Pennsylvania; Milwaukee isn't New Orleans. But I like the creative-destruction way you think, Squire Blaska. Genius. It's practically Marxian.

Walker and the Legislature will do it the Wisconsin way by expanding school choice.

The Reforms ARE Working.

- Meade

Nov 10, 2014 11:26 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Where did you hear the radio ad? On the McKenna show? Says a little something about the average IQ of those listeners. We'll buy your gold! Got low T? Lose belly fat!

Nov 10, 2014 11:57 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

You want to read some of Cathy Stepps writings regarding "demonizing" public employees. It wasn't just walkers supporters, it is his hand picked department heads as well.

Nov 12, 2014 08:21 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Yes, privatize the schools so instead of millions going to Florida bank accounts it will be billions.

No accountability, no democratic control, lower wages and benefits!

It's win, win, win for the race to the bottom crowd.

Nov 12, 2014 01:17 pm
 Posted by  David Blaska

"It's win, win, win for the race to the bottom crowd."

Not to mention the kids, which you (very pointedly) did not.

Nov 12, 2014 03:40 pm
 Posted by  David Blaska

Milwaukee Fox TV reporter Meghan Dwyer ... declared “Public schools suck!” while accepting a Midwest Emmy Nov. 1 for a report on bullying in the Milwaukee Public Schools. “This is for all the kids that are bullied," Dwyer said, hoisting her Emmy statuette at an awards ceremony in Chicago. "Seriously, public schools suck. They’re horrible. They need to be held accountable. I tried to do this with Milwaukee Public Schools."

Read more:

Nov 13, 2014 02:59 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

The major issue is how to deal with the children who are seriously failing and the solutions for that currently seem limited. Better Voucher systems and choice programs work well with th children whatever their income level who have a basic foudnation and supportive parents. Doesn't matter whether they are public or private. In Chicago Fenger High School and Gwendolyn Brooks are less than a mile- both are public schools with union teachers serving low income children - Brooks is ranked among the best in Illinois Fenger among the worst. Brooks is a magnet school with an application process - Fenger is a neighborhood high school who serves whoever lives in the district- the murder capital of Chicago (80-100 a year for a 2 by 3 mile space). To serve the children at Fenger requires a broader community effort than just vouchers and parental choice. What research shows is the key years determining school success are before school starts - that it is key to not expose very young children to violence and abuse. That takes a broad community effort- if we are serious about it we will start by changing welfare reform in the state which among other things has contributed to the shortage of skilled workers in the state. Whoever runs the Milwaukee schools is going to face the same problem- you need to look a lot bigger than the schools to solve the problems of poverty, racism and education.

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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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