Saturday, September 26, 2009

Congresswoman Moore: mayoral control won't help MPS

Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore has an excellent op ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Crossroads section.

She writes:

There's no question that the Milwaukee Public Schools district has challenges to overcome; not a person in this debate would argue otherwise. But MPS's achievement gap and a 69% graduation rate are borne of our city's vicious cycles of poverty, joblessness, skyrocketing teen pregnancy rates and the perverted public policies that send millions of Milwaukee's state education dollars to the suburbs.

I wish a simple change of governance could fix these challenges. But I have yet to see evidence that placing the board under the mayor's control - any mayor's - is a magic wand that will eviscerate the achievement gap, which has been caused by factors well outside the control of the elected School Board.

The entire article is linked here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Michael Moore defends unions and exposes ABCs labor practices

Mayoral takeover of New York City schools-costly and ineffective

In 2002 New York City's public schools were placed under the control of the city's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg .

Since Milwaukee's Mayor Tom Barrett, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce (MMAC) have proposed that Milwaukee's school board be dissolved and governed by the mayor it's worth examining New York's results.

Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Hoover Institution, has documented that in New York City mayoral control has not led to increased test scores or a reduction in the racial achievement gap.

She writes:

...New York City students made no statistically significant gains between 2003 and 2007 in fourth-grade reading, eighth-grade reading, or eighth-grade math. There were no significant gains for black students, white students, Hispanic students, Asian students, or lower-income students. New York City was the only city (of eleven tested) where eighth-grade reading scores declined for black, Hispanic, and lower-income students, and the achievement gap grew. Only in fourth-grade math did city students make statistically significant gains.

Ravitch concludes:

The school system needs checks and balances. It needs a regular, independent audit of graduation rates and test scores. It needs a leadership in which education decisions are made by educators. Such changes won't solve all of our schools' problems, but they will end the pointless turmoil of the past five years (of mayoral control) , provide honest information about academic progress, and reestablish the role of the public in public education.

The entire Ravitch letter is linked here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Study finds no evidence that mayoral control leads to academic improvement

Chicago, the home school district of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is frequently sighted by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett as evidence that mayoral run school systems improve student achievement.

The civic arm of the Commercial Club of Chicago, one of the oldest organizations representing the business, professional, educational and cultural leaders of the Chicago region, has issued a scathing critique ,"Still Left Behind 2009", that challenges Barrett's position.

The study, which characterizes Chicago high school student achievement as "abysmal," supports an earlier analysis published in the Harvard Educational Review entitled "Mayoral Takeovers, Recipe for Progress or Peril" that concludes: "the record suggests that the long term benefits of takeovers are more elusive especially in regard to student achievement."

The Harvard analysis reinforces the Commercial Club's review of academic achievement in the Chicago public schools: ...Chicago is hardly an advertisement of mayoral takeovers. In 2005, for instance, only 42.5% of students in grades three through eight scored at or above national norms on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills reading test- a gain of only ten percentage points since the Mayor took over the system."

Here are some of the Commercial Club's key findings.

Most of Chicago’s students drop out or fail. The vast majority of Chicago’s elementary and high schools do not prepare their students for success in college and beyond.

There is a general perception that Chicago’s public schools have been gradually improving over time. However, recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS elementary students who meet standards on State assessments appear to be due to changes in the tests made by the Illinois State Board of Education, rather than real improvements in student learning.

At the elementary level, State assessment standards have been so weakened that most
of the 8th graders who “meet” these standards have little chance to succeed in high school or to be ready for college. While there has been modest improvement in real student learning in Chicago’s elementary schools, these gains dissipate in high school.

The performance of Chicago’s high schools is abysmal
– with about half the students dropping out of the non-selective-enrollment schools, and more than 70% of 11th grade students failing to meet State standards. The trend has remained essentially flat over the past several years. The relatively high-performing students are concentrated in a few magnet/selective enrollment high schools. In the regular neighborhood high schools, which serve the vast preponderance of students, almost no students are prepared to succeed in college.

The full Comercial Club report is linked here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New York Times looks at Wisconsin manufacturing through rose colored glasses

A close examination of the recent New York Times article, In Wisconsin Hopeful Signs for factories by Peter Goodman, suggests that things are anything but hopeful for Wisconsin’s working people.

Wisconsin lost 31,296 industrial jobs and 413 manufacturers between June 2008 and June 2009, the sharpest decline in at least 25 years.

Given these dismal numbers, a discerning reader might ask what Goodman found so encouraging?

He highlighted recent hirings at two Milwaukee area manufacturing firms.

The first, Rockwell International is a surprising choice since the company’s hourly employment has fallen from more than 1500 in 1985 when Rockwell bought Allen Bradley to 195 today. But hey, the firm just hired a dozen workers, right?

It turns out that Rockwell hired a dozen new workers at its non-union Mequon plant, while the unionized Milwaukee plant has 18 workers with 30 years of seniority still on layoff.

Over in Miller Valley all thirty of the brewers’ hires were vacation replacement workers not permanent positions.

Goodman is more accurate when he notes that manufacturing firms may be “… replenishing inventories after months of weak sales” but the developments at Miller and Rockwell hardly justify the New York Times over the top title: “In Wisconsin, Hopeful Signs for Factories.”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Health care crisis grows while Congress delays

There is a health care crisis in America.

Every day 14,000 people lose their health care coverage.

According to the latest Census Bureau report the number of people with private or employer-sponsored insurance has declined precipitously, while the number of people relying on government insurance programs including Medicare, Medicaid, the children’s insurance program and military insurance rose for the 8th straight year.

Despite all the controversy over the need for a public plan almost a third of all Americans (29%) who have health insurance are already on one!

The share of adults aged 18-64 without health insurance rose, to 20.3 percent in 2008 from 19.6 percent in 2007.

The share of children who were uninsured actually fell, to 9.9 percent from 11 percent in 2007. This was the result of the federal government’s special efforts (a public option) to insure low-income children, SCHIP which was originally vetoed by the Bush administration.

In a speech last Thursday to promote health care reform, President Obama referred to the census survey and said that things had grown significantly worse since September 2008 when this data was recorded. “Over the last 12 months, it’s estimated that the ranks of the uninsured have swelled by nearly six million people,” he said.

More Americans die every year because they don't have access to health care then die from Parkinson's, homicides and HIV/Aids. The lack of health care is literally killing people and Congress is wasting time on debating imaginary death panels!

The lack of universal health insurance is undermining American families and the economy.

Half of all personal bankruptcies are caused by the lack of health insurance or inadequate coverage. $104 billion is lost in productivity from shorter life spans and $103 billion in productivity from poor health. Put another way we lose $4500 in lost productivity for every uninsured person.

This country cannot afford to wait while Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, all of whom have comprehensive government financed health care, dawdle in Washington DC.

The American health care system is broken. It is the most costly in the world while delivering mediocre results.

President Obama and the United States Congress need to enact healthcare reform that includes a public option so that health care costs are reduced and all Americans are insured.

We're number 37!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

MPS takeover will not improve student achievement

By Charlie Dee and Michael Rosen

The proposal to dissolve the Milwaukee Public School Board and replace it with Mayoral control will not lead to improved student achievement because it does not correctly identify the problems facing MPS nor does it offer any educational solutions to those problems.

There are numerous reasons to oppose this, some that are very obvious.

• Citizens of Milwaukee just voted for a board with three new members, and that board selected a new Board Chair, Michael Bonds. This board should be given a chance to make necessary reforms in MPS.
• The proposal is not an educational plan. Takeover proponents have not proposed even one idea as to what they would do differently to improve the schools. They have ONLY proposed that the Mayor be allowed to take over the governance of them.
• Milwaukee's Mayor Tom Barrett has no qualifications, expertise or experience that would indicate a capacity to increase student achievement in Milwaukee.

The mayor has cited only two specific reasons for why he should be in charge of MPS: gaining increased federal dollars and the closing the “racial achievement gap” in Milwaukee.

He and the supporters of this take-over claim that the Obama administration will only consider Milwaukee for Race to the Top money if the mayor is in charge of the public schools. But Congresswoman Gwen Moore has put to rest that argument by revealing that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan specifically told her that mayoral control is in no way a precondition to receiving federal money.

Milwaukee certainly has a racial achievement gap in education. But it also has a racial income gap, racial unemployment gap, racial teen pregnancy gap, racial neighborhood crime gap, and racial home lending gap. Yet Mayor Barrett has done little to solve those in his five years in office. Why would anyone think he can turn the education gap around with no plan but much power?

Then, on September 4, the mayor offered his first analysis of the racial gap in education in his “Barrett Report,” and, incredibly enough, Barrett blamed the gap on too many students going to the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC)! Barrett claimed as evidence of the “the Black-White workforce gap” and “the lack of workforce skills” the fact that twice as many MPS grads go “to MATC as compared to UW-Milwaukee.”

It is reprehensible that Mayor Barrett would so demean MATC and our students. At MATC, we close the workforce gap; we don’t increase it. This shows conclusively that Barrett shouldn’t be trusted to solve this gap by taking over MPS because he doesn’t have a clue about what the causes are.

Just as disturbing are the political forces that are pushing this change in governance for MPS. Put simply, they are enemies of public education that have lost the control they once had over the MPS. They now view a change in governance as the best way to get back in power.

Foremost among those pushing governance changes are the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJ-S) editorial board and Tim Sheehy, President of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce (MMAC). In the shadows lurks the right wing Bradley Foundation and its various tentacles, the Wisconsin Public Research Institute and Wisconsin Interest Magazine.

The Journal-Sentinel (MJ-S), Bradley Foundation and the MMAC have been major champions of the school voucher movement for twenty years, a movement that has drained many millions of dollars from the MPS without producing the promised educational improvements in its own schools or gains in MPS that were supposed to result from the “free market competition” of voucher schools.

The MJ-S, Bradley Foundation and Sheehy have either endorsed or financed pro-privatization candidates for the school board. For much of the past 16 years, their candidates had a majority on the MPS Board. They are the ones who hired the current MPS Superintendant, William Adrekopolous, and labeled any board member who tried to hold Adrekopolous accountable “as anti-reform.” They also promoted the hugely expensive Neighborhood Schools Initiative that has been a failure by every measure.

So the forces most vigorously pushing this governance change have a miserable but expensive track record when it comes to educational reform.

But they have very clear political agendas. Put simply, they don’t like the majority of the members of the Milwaukee School Board democratically elected by the citizens of Milwaukee. Keep in mind, the MJ-S and the MMAC made no critique of MPS governance when the candidates they endorsed, selected or funded were the elected majority of the MPS Board. When Bruce Thompson, Ken Johnson, Joe Danneker and Jeff Spence held the board chair, the MJ-S and the MMAC thought the governance system was working just fine.

So it is clear that their support for a governance change is not a principled stand – one predicated on a genuine researched-based belief that governance changes would result in delivering more effective education. Rather, it is a stand of sheer political opportunism: they haven’t been able to get their candidates elected democratically, so they want to change the rules of the game.

Further evidence of this opportunism is the fact that three of these forces, the MJ-S, Sheehy and the Bradley Foundation through its propaganda organ, Wisconsin Interest, joined by a cadre of Republican legislators, have called for a change in governance for MATC. Only in this case, they want to move from a board appointed by elected officials to a board elected by the public. Obviously, this is exactly the opposite from the change they want for MPS.

The only consistency in their position on elected versus appointed boards at MPS and MATC is that Sheehy and the MMAC, with editorial and reportorial support from the MJ-S, have tried and failed to get people hand-picked by Sheehy appointed to the MATC Board. Right on cue, Wisconsin Interest just published an attack on the appointed MATC Board, and Republican Senator Alberta Darling introduced a bill to change MATC governance. Their hope is that elections will provide them the opportunity to gain control of MATC just as they want to move away from elections in order to control the MPS Board.

Governance changes will not improve academic performance or close the racial achievement gap. Nor will politically motivated sound bites.

If the Mayor and Governor are sincere about their desire to improve the academic performance of Milwaukee children they should abandon their ill conceived governance proposal and focus on helping our beleaguered school system get the resources it needs to meet the challenges of educating a largely economically and educationally disadvantaged student body.

If we want to improve student achievement we need to empower students, parents and teachers, not disenfranchise them.

Charlie Dee is a professor of history and English at Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Executive Vice President of AFT Local 212

Michael Rosen is a professor of economics at MATC and the President of AFT Local 212

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Economic recovery requires jobs recovery

In an editorial Saturday The New York Times writes that until the economy begins creating jobs (it lost another 216,000 last month) hopes for a recovery will remain little more than hope:

...the only good thing to say about the August jobs report is that it could have been worse. Employers shed another 216,000 jobs last month, a smaller loss than expected and the lowest monthly loss total in a year.

The losses would have been worse had it not been for federal stimulus spending — proof that the government is indeed helping to ease the downturn in its role as the spender of last resort.

Still, the damage to the work force caused by the recession is deep, wide and ongoing. The economy is now coming up short by 9.4 million jobs, including 6.9 million positions that employers have eliminated and 2.5 million jobs that were needed to absorb new workers but were never created.

And unemployment is on the rise, jumping from 9.4 percent in July to 9.7 percent in August. For several demographic groups, the unemployment rate is already in double digits, including men (10.1 percent), Hispanics (13 percent), African-Americans (15.1 percent) and teenagers (25.5 percent). In all, 14.9 million workers are now jobless, of which fully one-third have been out of work for more than six months, the highest level of long-term unemployment by far in any post World War II recession. There are now nearly six workers available for every job opening, up from 1.7 workers per opening when the recession began in December 2007.

Worse, hiring is not expected to rebound anytime soon, even if overall economic growth resumes this year. Employers are likely to fill any additional workloads by adding hours to truncated workweeks and ending worker furloughs. Wage gains, which are always repressed when jobs are scarce and unemployment is high, will be an even longer time coming as employers restore pay cuts put in place during the recession before giving raises.

Without job growth and pay raises, consumer spending will not revive substantially because alternative sources of spending power — home equity and credit cards — are largely tapped out. And without an upsurge in spending, businesses will not add workers, and so on, in a decidedly unvirtuous cycle.

It has become commonplace to explain each dismal job report by saying that a resurgence in employment always lags general economic recovery. But with the job market severely wounded, and with consumer spending expected to be weak for a very long time, it could easily take until 2014 for employment to recover. It’s safe to say that five years or more of subpar job growth is not what most people have in mind when they think of a “lag.”

The question, then, is how bad does it have to get before the Obama administration and Congress make job creation a priority.

Will administration officials and lawmakers fight for new laws to make it easier to form unions, which are especially important in elevating and protecting the jobs of low-income workers? How will professed support for green jobs be translated into a manufacturing policy that promotes good jobs? Will efforts to improve the educational system also include serious efforts to train and retrain people for new jobs?

Help is wanted for out of work Americans.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Joblessness rises to 26 year high

The latest jobs report from the Department of Labor is a glass half full and half empty.

While job loss was the smallest in the past year, the nation’s employers still shed more than 200,000 jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 9.7%, its highest in 26 years. The fact that losing 216,000 jobs is seen as progress indicates how deep this recession has been and how far the economy has to climb

The recession has eliminated a net total of 6.9 million jobs since it began in December 2007.

There are now 14.9 million Americans unemployed. The recession has wiped out all of the jobs created during the Administration of President George W. Bush. We have lost so many jobs that we have less than we did before the 2001 recession.

Even these numbers undercount the lack of employment because the nation needs to add 150,000 jobs a month simply to absorb the new workers entering the labor market. By that measure in August we fell 350,000 jobs short.

If laid-off workers who have settled for part-time work or have given up looking for new jobs (discouraged workers) are included, the so-called underemployment rate reached 16.8 percent, the highest on records dating from 1994.

Another disturbing sign is that the number of workers who have been unemployed for six months or more is at a record level. The long term unemployed are starting to run out of unemployment benefits, extended benefits and even their emergency payments from the government. If Congress does not act to extend their benefits again, their decline in income will act as a drag on the economy.

Job cuts remain widespread across many sectors. The construction industry lost 65,00 jobs. Factories cut 63,000, while retailers pared 9,600 positions. The financial sector eliminated 28,000 jobs, while professional and business services dropped 22,000. Even the government lost 18,000 jobs, as the U.S. Postal Service cut 8,500 positions. These figures offer few signs that employers who have slashed their payrolls to conserve money were ready to hire again. Economists say employers must create 300,000 to 400,000 jobs a month to bring unemployment rates back to pre-recession levels

Health care and educational services were the only bright spot, adding 52,000 jobs.

The fact that jobs loss has moderated reflects the impact of the Obama administration’s $877 million stimulus package which has begun to impact the economy and the efforts of the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve to shore up the nation’s financial system.

Public spending including the now ended "Cash for Clunkers” program have had their intended effect of increasing demand and stimulating production and sales. But employers are clearly reluctant to hire and consumers to spend. Since consumer spending is 70% of the economy, it is hard to see a revival of economic growth until unemployment declines and wages grow. The concern now is whether the federal stimulus is large enough to effectively jump start the economy or whether the current signs of growth and slow down in job loss are a temporary blip that will fad as the stimulus dollars work their way through the economy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New study reports: Fastest growing jobs require an associate degree

A recently released study reports that jobs requiring associate degrees will grow at nearly twice the national average in the coming years. As result two-year colleges will play an increasingly crucial role in reviving the nation's economy.

This is just the latest in a series of reports that urge increased federal investment in two-year colleges.

In "A Matter of Degrees: Tomorrow's Fastest Growing Jobs and Why Community College Graduates Will Get Them," Jessica Milano, Paul Weinstein Jr. and Bruce Reed took a close look at the American job market, analyzing where it is expected to grow as the nation moves out of recession. Among their findings:

· Demand for Two-Year College Graduates Will Spike: Jobs for community college graduates will grow at nearly double the national average.

· Health Care and Education Top the List of Growth Industries: Nurses and teachers are among the professions that will generate more than three out of 10 new jobs over the next decade.

· IT Hot Jobs Will Offer the Highest Pay: Firms employing information technology specialists will require highly skilled workers with extensive education and training.

· Green Jobs will Triple over the Next Decade: Spurred by the economic recovery package and other efforts to promote energy innovation, this sector will be a pillar of the new Hybrid Economy.

In an effort to help the nation meet the president's goal of driving the United States, by 2020, to be the world leader in college graduates per capita, the authors propose:

· Free Community College for Students Pursuing 'Hot Jobs': The federal government should create a community college block grant that awards states money each year based on number of students that graduate with degrees that prepare them for high-growth professions.

· A National Campaign Against Dropping Out: Every year, about half a million young people drop out of college -- and at community colleges the dropout rate is even higher. There is a need for a national crusade to reduce high school and college dropouts at the same time.

· Reward and Demand College Completion -- Not Attendance: insist -- from institutions and students alike -- that in return for financial assistance, we expect graduation with a degree.

· Improve and Expand President Obama's American Opportunity Tax Credit: To make community college more affordable, make the American Opportunity Tax Credit fully refundable and more generous. In addition, challenge states to hold the line on the cost of public community colleges until the recession ends.

· Additional Flexibility for State-Financed 'Hot Job' Training: Reform the stove-piped system for funding job training programs. Congress should give the administration broad authority to give waivers to states that have formulated plans to increase the number of workers who receive training and obtain jobs.