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NCLB Outrages

Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction officially embraces policy of starving Milwaukee Public Schools into submission by exercising his power to withhold Federal funds from district

When campaigning for State Superintendent of Schools, promising "an agenda of transformation," Tony Evers listed teacher, principal, superintendent, regional administrator, and Deputy State Superintendent in his bio. Now the agenda seems to be one of bullying to keep people in line. When power overcomes sense, any tool at hand looks good.

by Thomas J. Mertz

Here is the Press Release [pdf file] in its entirety ( official notice here).

Evers issues notice to Milwaukee Public Schools

MADISON — State Superintendent Tony Evers issued a statement regarding the notice he signed today that will allow him to use his authority to withhold or direct federal funds allocated to Milwaukee Public Schools.

"As the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, I have a legal responsibility to the children of Milwaukee. Today, I issued a notice that will allow me to speed up change in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) through the use of my authority regarding federal funds. Using the only tool allowed under state law, I am acting to ensure federal funds are used effectively to improve MPS.

"No one can or should be satisfied with the current progress in MPS to improve. I look forward to full cooperation to implement all required changes, with an increased sense of urgency, as I continue to work with MPS leaders."

Evers had previously sought the power to -- unilaterally and with no defined criteria -- declare any district "in need of improvement," issue directives on almost all aspects governance and education and "withhold state aid from any school district that fails to comply to the state superintendent's satisfaction with any of the above directives." That effort, Assembly Bill 534,[pdf file] failed.

Bribing Milwaukee into submission with uncertain Race to the Top funding also failed. The carrot is gone now, what is left is starvation and the stick.

The last thing Milwaukee needs is more program cuts. Just this week, the lack of resources led the distinct to discontinue SAGE class size reduction in 11 schools. Federal dollars total about 18% of the MPS budget, Title I --the funds targeted for poor children in play here -- probably about 2/3 or more of that, call it over 12% . It isn’t clear what Evers is going to do and how he is going to do that with by cutting a significant portion of the budget.

Although not referenced in either the notice or the Press Release, there is a Corrective Action Plan that was issued in 2008 and a draft [pdf file] and update from 2009. Here is the report on the response by the Milwaukee Public Schools{pdf file} (I will post more relevant documents as I find them).

There may be a good case to make that this is a reasonable and justified action, but the case has not been made. That case would require more than the "No one can or should be satisfied with the current progress in MPS" in the Press Release; it would entail a detailed documentation of how MPS has failed in the Corrective Actions and why Evers thinks that withholding this money will produce better results. My guess is that we will see some of this in the coming weeks.

Without a governance or educational case being made, this looks like a political stunt.

Since Evers has been linked at the hip to Doyle and Mayor/Gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett on MPS issues, one calculation may be that Barrett will win votes outside of Milwaukee based on this. I wouldn't count on that off-setting the votes lost in Milwaukee or those lost around the state from people who actually know a thing or two about education.
My first reaction is that Barrett just lost the election. Probably an over-reaction (really too early to tell), but not an outrageous conclusion.

The timing is bad too. Unless this is direct reaction to the Superintendent hire, it makes no sense to not give Gregory Thornton a chance to at least get settled. It certainly makes his job more difficult, if not impossible.

It is ironic that the standards invoked (and required by statute ) are the NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress standards that Superintendent Evers has never been a fan of. When power overcomes sense, any tool at hand looks good.

This kind of bullying was (mostly) not part of what candidate Tony Evers promised.[pdf file] Many of us thought better of him, or at very least that he understood that a lack of adequate resources was part of the problem, not the way to a solution. Time for second thoughts.

Wisconsin Radio Network had a story linking this to the Mayoral Control fight that brought a reaction from Tony Evers:

Update: Evers says the statement to MPS is about the district’s failure to improve in specific areas which are spelled out in the notice, and NOT about mayoral control, and that my attempt to connect the two in this post was "reprehensible."

Good to have that information, but if you haven’t made the case on education and governance — and they haven’t – then it seems reasonable for people to speculate about political reasons (I did, not Mayoral Control directly, but politics).

Under the circumstances “reprehensible” seems much too strong.

Whatever the combination of motives, for good and ill, politics will be part of this.
Responses from the MPS Board [pdf file] and Supt William Andrekopoulos [pdf file] are linked here.

Update #2
Just some links.

Bob Hague at Wisconsin Radio Network has his full interviews with Evers and Andrekopoulos up here. Worth a listen.

The main Journal Sentinel story is here.
Michael Mathias at Pundit Nation has a long and interesting post.

Gretchen Schuldt at Blogging MPS has a nice roundup (better than this one and she will no doubt be following developments more closely then AMPS, put her on the must-read list).

— Thomas J. Mertz
Advocating on Madison Public Schools


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