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
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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.”