Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Private School Voucher Expansion

The first article was written by a colleague in Plymouth, WI.  Anyone who has been following along would be able to discern that I agree with him.

"Framing" is important.  What words do we use to describe an issue or event?  Do we frame the issue, to ourselves and to others, in words that promote a positive or negative connotation?

I have grown weary of hearing people bash teacher unions as a primary reason to push through the voucher legislation.  I know this though, the people promoting that argument know exactly what they're doing.  They are using a carefully studied buzzword like a dog whistle. 

This voucher legislation is a fundamental redesign of the social contract.  Maybe we need one, we certainly could use an open and honest debate.  We don't need this legislation, nor do we need the process by which it is coming to fruition.  


And then there's this...

Director of Government Relations for Wisconsin Association of School Boards Capital Times May 28, 2013

 Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal to expand the availability of taxpayer-funded vouchers to allow students to attend private and religious schools in at least nine additional communities is badly flawed. At best, it has generated a largely unproductive debate about how best to educate children in our state, and in particular in its urban districts. At worst, it pits public and private schools against each other.

The Legislature should scrap the governor's plan. At the very least, it should debate the plan outside the framework of the state budget bill.

The arguments being made for voucher expansion shift like desert sands. Voucher proponents first argued that poor families who could not afford alternatives to their neighborhood schools should receive taxpayer assistance to enable them to have a choice of schools. But then they persuaded lawmakers and the governor to increase income eligibility levels for vouchers so many middle-income families now qualify. This threatens not only to crowd out opportunities for truly poor children, but has created a new middle class entitlement program at a potentially enormous cost, should vouchers be expanded across the state.

Next, when test results on state assessments of academic performance again and again showed that students receiving vouchers generally perform no better and often worse than public school students, voucher proponents quickly shifted their arguments, advancing dubious claims that voucher students were more likely to graduate than public school students. In support of their proposition, voucher advocates have cited studies that were not peer-reviewed, used  methodology that was less than transparent, or were commissioned by pro-voucher groups.

A true "apples-to-apples" comparison of graduation rates between public schools and private voucher schools is difficult at best and likely impossible. This is because voucher high schools set their own graduation standards. To be sure, some traditional religiously affiliated high schools do set rigorous standards, but the same cannot be said of all voucher high schools. Moreover, at least some voucher schools drop students from their class rolls if they fail to maintain a certain grade point average.

Ironically, voucher schools are not subject to the same school report cards the governor proposes to use as the criterion for subjecting public school districts to voucher expansion.

Advocates argue that voucher schools don't need to be part of the state accountability system because parents who receive vouchers will hold voucher schools accountable. However, with no report cards, how can parents measure how well a voucher school is really doing?

The mere fact that so many voucher schools appear to badly underperform public schools should give lawmakers pause. It's a problem that ought to be addressed before there is any further discussion about voucher program expansion.

Advocates also maintain that voucher schools are accountable because they must be accredited, but they fail to acknowledge that voucher schools need receive accreditation only once and are not required to be accredited on an ongoing basis.

And then there is the matter of taxpayer accountability. Public schools are governed by locally elected school boards and subject to the open meetings and open records laws. This is not true for voucher schools, even those in which the taxpayers pay 100 percent of the students' tuition.

As the Green Bay Press Gazette recently opined, "any private or faith-based school receiving state funds should fall under the same guidelines as public schools and be held accountable to the same standards. But that's not the case because as private entities voucher schools are not subject to the same levels of transparency as public schools nor the same regulations. Private schools don't have to enroll all who apply; public schools must take everyone. Voucher teachers don't face the same standards."

Finally, there is the issue of funding and property taxes.

Broadly expanding vouchers is potentially enormously costly. We simply can't afford two systems of education in Wisconsin.

Vouchers are funded in part by reducing the state aid to any district in which students are eligible to receive vouchers. This so-called "funding flaw" causes property taxes to rise in any district that ends up in an expanded voucher program. This "funding flaw" is a like a cancer on public schools and must be addressed before this problem is exported to other communities.

As the La Crosse Tribune recently pointed out, "it's counterintuitive to suggest that the way to improve public schools is to reduce their funding and transfer the money to private institutions, where there is no accountability and different standards. Diluting the strength of public education will not solve its weaknesses."

This voucher expansion soup is not ready. The Legislature should debate voucher expansion outside the state budget bill.

Dan Rossmiller is government relations director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, a nonprofit association that provides information and services to Wisconsin school boards.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Another look at Vouchers

This is a 'guest post' from Richard Zimman, who is one of my favorite local Superintendents.  Richard is retiring this year and all of us who have come to know him wish him the best, but we will miss him. 

This is Richard's take on the current debate over vouchers.  I've been at some of these same meetings he refers to in the post and it can be a true exercise in restraint to stay calm in the face of unbridled ideology.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Moral Compass

This is a post from John Ritchie, a retired principal and superintendent.  I don't know if it will register with anyone else, but it sure did with me!


Monday, May 13, 2013

Sir Ken Robinson: Education's Death Valley

Love this guy!

As with most things pertaining to Sir Ken Robinson, this talk is wildly popular.  Posted here only as a public service for those who may not check out TEDTalks on a regular basis:


Van Halen, M&Ms, and Tripwires

I'm reading a great book: Decisive, by Chip and Dan Heath.  This is a story from the book.

(Paraphrased) Van Halen was one of the pioneers of big time concert productions.*  It wasn't just about the music, a Van Halen concert was an experience. 

Where other bands needed two or three trucks to haul their equipment around, Van Halen needed nine.  Because of the complexity of the production, there was some serious technical work that needed to be done in advance.  Mistakes could lead to serious injury.  Really.  This was the era when a misfiring stage prop set Micheal Jackson's head on fire.

Van Halen also had a reputation of bad-boy behavior and general decadence that stood out, even by the standards of a 1970's-80's rock band. 

(Quotes)  The most egregious rumor about the band was that its contract rider demanded a bowl of M&Ms backstage- with all the brown ones removed.  There were tales of (lead singer David Lee) Roth walking backstage, spotting a single brown M&M, and freaking out, trashing the dressing room.

This rumor was true.  The brown-free bowl of M&Ms became the perfect, appalling symbol of rock-star diva behavior.

Note: I mean, come on.  What a bunch of jerks.  Right?  Rich pampered stars making crazy demands just because they could.  Ridiculous.  Or maybe not...

Get ready to change your perception.

The bands "M&M clause" was written into its contract to serve a very specific purpose....  The actual article was buried in the middle of countless technical specifications.

If Roth saw a brown M&M, he'd demand a line check of the entire production.  "Guaranteed you're going to find a technical error," he said.  "They didn't read the contract..."

In other words... he needed a way to quickly assess whether the stagehands at each venue were paying attention.... In Van Halen's world, a brown M&M was a tripwire.

Well- I still think David Lee Roth had more than a little rock-star diva in him, but that does change my perception of the M&M clause.

In Decisive, the Heath brothers give Four Villains of Decision Making:

Widen your options
Reality-test your assumptions
Attain distance before deciding
Prepare to be wrong

Buy the book for a full explanation of the WRAP process :)

People come to me with lots of stories.  Stories presented as facts.  The whole story.  

We often say "there are two sides" to every story.  If only it were that simple!!  There are multiple angles to every story, and perceptions change over time.  That is, the viewpoint a person has on Monday may change by Thursday.

Even though I think I've learned a few things over the years- it is always tempting to take shortcuts and act with only a small bit of information, or get trapped into narrow 'either-or' options, or make a decision 'right now, or ignore subsequent information that might force me to acknowledge that I was wrong.

Gotta remember the M&M story and use the WRAP process.  Great insights.

*I was never a huge fan of Van Halen.  A few songs are OK, but it was not a group I ever paid to see.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


I've mentioned in earlier posts that some of the best things my parents did for me were the things they didn't do.  They didn't hover, didn't rush in and rescue me, didn't intervene and solve problems on my behalf.

Again- that's not to say they weren't there, weren't loving, didn't have expectations, or didn't provide guidance. 

I always knew though, that I was in 4th grade- not them, that I was the one having difficulty with a teacher or coach- not them.  They might provide an idea for me to try, but they weren't about to jump in and solve it for me.

My friends and I had literally tens of thousands of unsupervised hours playing- pickup games, made up games, challenges, whatever.  Sometimes we argued.  Sometimes we argued passionately.  Sometimes feelings were hurt.  Sometimes it was more than just feelings that were hurt.

Play dates?  Um... no.

I'm not advocating a Lord of the Flies situation.  But, if that upbringing was perhaps on the edge of being a little too unsupervised- at least for the world we live in now- this article in Psychology Today outlines some of the dangers of being 'over supervised.'


Vouchers: General Concept vs Specific Language

Details matter.  We often find ourselves agreeing with someone on a general topic, but then discover disagreements as we begin discussing details.
I love football.  If I'm not careful, I can find myself watching lots of football.  High School Football.  College Football.  Professional Football.  Love it.
I will only watch the Dallas Cowboys if they are losing.  I hate 'em.  There are other teams, and entire collegiate conferences (lookin' at you, SEC), that totally fail to capture my affection.  As much as I love the game of football, I won't watch some teams play.
Details matter when we're talking about legislation as well.  Many people, Democrats and Republicans, have expressed concerns over the language pertaining to voucher schools in the Governor's Budget Bill.  Many of those people readily support the general concept of voucher schools.  That general agreement fades as they read the langauge in the proposel legislation.  Details matter.
I recently had the privilege of working on a brief article peratining to vouchers with Dr. Susan Borden and Dr. Lisa L. Olson, the District Administrators of the Germantown Public Schools and Hartford Union High School.  The article is reprinted here:
Competition and change are good.  Flexibility and innovation are great.  Discourse on education is excellent.  With this said, we’d like to start the discourse on how vouchers may impact your local school district. 
·         Vouchers will increase your taxes.  As the money for voucher students is taken “off the top” of state aid to local school districts, the financial obligations of the school districts may not change enough to offset the loss of aide.  Thus, local districts will be forced to tax to maintain programs, transportation, liability insurance, staffing, and other needs at current levels.
·         Vouchers decrease local control.  If keeping government out of local decision-making is the goal, vouchers do exactly the opposite.  Vouchers take away local control and give that control to the state level decision makers. 
·         Vouchers decrease accountability.  Public schools are accountable to you.  In the proposed legislations, vouchers schools are not held to any standard of accountability.  The accountability ratings that entitle parents for vouchers may be even lower in the voucher school they choose. 
As we continue to examine proposed legislation, we have to wonder how it will impact high performing area school districts and rural Wisconsin districts. 
·         How will vouchers impact innovative, dynamic career and technical programs in these schools?
·         How will vouchers impact broad programming and co-curricular opportunities? 
·         How will this become an entitlement program that we cannot support? 
·         How will we truly know whether the voucher schools are successful in serving students?  
Public schools are the solid foundation on which to build.  We encourage you to look deeper at this bill and understand the dynamics of the proposed legislation on vouchers to your local public school. 
Competition and change are good. Flexibility and innovation are great.  Discourse on education is excellent. 
Thank you,
Dr. Susan Borden                   Dr. Lisa L. Olson             John Engstrom                                                  
Germantown                           Hartford Union                Friess Lake