Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Public School Tidbits

I went to a special meeting of the RUSD school board the other day. I could not stay long but I thought I might share a bit of news. I listened to a presentation by a guest, Therese Fellner, who would likely be hired to complete a questionaire for the district, mainly for the purposes of gleaning the opinions of respondents on the subject of desegregation and redistricting. The first bit of noteworthy info was the revelation by Fellner that she was invited by Dr. Hicks. Randy Bangs seemed to think that her invitation should have been directed by the board rather than by Hicks. Also, board member Julie McKenna indicated that an anonymous active member of the minority community is concerned that gathering this data will be used simply to avoid desegragation. And finally, in order to get the required number of responses from black people, it is necessary to send twice the number of questionaires.

32 comments:

Kathy said...

This is so typical of our board. Apparently they approach desegregation and redistricting like they approach legal opinions and referendums. If they don't get the answer that they want, they'll just keep asking and asking. They have commitees that have studied these things. How many questionaires, polls, surveys, and forums do they need? They have been through this. They know what they need to do, just do it!!!

Kathy said...

I feel like I need to address the fact that Dr. Hicks invited Ms. Fellner to speak at the meeting and not the board. I would ask Randy, "Is this not part of policy governance?" The board has set the parameters for Dr. Hicks to operate within. Under policy governance Dr. Hicks runs the show and they approve/disapprove the funding for the show. The board has the power. In that light, as long as the majority of the board loves the superintendent we can look forward to consulting, gathering, and extrapolation of data(16 ways 'til tuesday). In the end we will have done nothing but waste time and money.

Denis Navratil said...

The board seems paralyzed as they try to accomodate two opposite positions, neighborhood schools and desegregation. It can not be done, so they will drag their heels forever if they can. Of course the solution is simple. If vouchers were available, people could choose neighborhood schools if they preferred, or they could choose a school that seeks a racial balance. But would the board propose that? Don't hold your breath.

Kathy said...

Denis,
I do not know anything about vouchers. However, if MPS is our model for them I cannot say that I'm excited to bring that here. Could you please explain to me how this voucher system works? How is it paid for versus how our current system works?

Denis Navratil said...

The voucher concept is quite simple. Vouchers are payments to parents from government/taxpayers. The money can only be used for education at approved schools. What vouchers do is transfer money and power from teachers, administrators, union officials, and bureaucrats to parents. That is why the education establishment is so opposed to vouchers. Milwaukee has a limitted voucher program. I don't know the exact numbers, but the voucher amounts are about $6,000 while MPS per student cost is at least double that amount. Keep in mind that nobody is forced to leave MPS for private, voucher supported schools. They do so voluntarily, and the numbers of participants has steadily increased to a limit imposed by our state government. Perhaps you recall the recent expansion of this program, reluctantly signed by Gov. Doyle after several vetos. He did not do this out of any change of heart, I don't suspect. He feared the political fallout of angry black parents unable to participate in a very popular program. Now one would think that if parents took advantage of a $6,000 voucher to leave a school system that costs, say $12,000 per student, taxpayers would save about $6,000 for every voucher student. This is how it should be, but the program essentially pays MPS hush money for every child lost. So I don't know if there is much in the way of savings, but to me that is a secondary consideration. The real benefit is to children and parents, who will have multiple schools to choose from. This concept, competition, will force schools to improve or lose students. Public schools do not want competition. This is understandable, as many private schools are better at educating students. But in my view, the purpose of an education system is not to ensure a public school monopoly, but to provide the best possible education for children.

Kathy said...

O.K., someone posted on the JT blogs about this subject. My interpretation of what they said was that Milwaukee had to pay out $7,000,000 for school choice. Meanwhile, the enrollment in the public schools declined, leaving them short in state funding. This is in essence why MPS is failing. Is this true, and if so, couldn't that happen here?
This blogger also talked about the principals of voucher schools that took the money and drove around in BMWs, leaving the kids high and dry. These schools closed and these kids were absorbed by the underfunded public schools. What about that?
I'm truly not trying to be negative Denis, but I need to sort fact from fiction. We've seen things like continuous progress(CP), that look great on paper but doesn't necessarily hold up in the real world. So with all due respect, inquiring minds want to know. :)

Denis Navratil said...

Vouchers could be, and should be, a simple math problem. If parents are willing to remove their children from a $12,000 per child education system in order to accept a $6,000 voucher, there should be a savings of $6,000. Everyone should be happy about that, right? Parents are happy to have other choices and taxpayers are happy to save some money. But there is one group, the education establishment (teachers union, administrators, many politicians) that are not in the least happy about this. In order to get vouchers, these unhappy folks have been paid off essentially with our money. They get money for the kids that leave the public schools. Why? It makes no sense. If the public schools have fewer students, it should cost less to deliver the education. The problem in Milwaukee, if true, is the result in a flaw in the design of the voucher program, rather than a flaw in the concept of vouchers. Even so, the Milwaukee program is working, otherwise parents would not be leaving MPS. They are leaving for a better education. Isn't that a good thing? Now, there are those who will point out the exceptions. Yes, there have been lousy voucher schools in Milwaukee. Yes, some crooks have purchased fancy cars etc... However, this kind of nonsense can not last indefinately. What parent is going to go to the trouble of taking their child out of a public school in order to line the pockets of some crooked educator? Yes, they might not know at first, but sooner or later, people find these things out. But remember, the vast majority of voucher students are attending established private schools that are able to persuade people, year after year, to pay for school rather than accept a free MPS education. The bottom line on this one Kathy, is that thousands of poor Milwaukee parents are voluntarily leaving MPS for less expensive voucher schools, and that opponents of such progress will stop at nothing to discredit a program that is clearly working for those parents. I love this subject, and I have some books on the issue. If you want to research it more, I will happily lend them to you.

Kathy said...

I would love to read about it. Thank you. Here's a question for you...(this one has been a stumper for RUSD in regards to the QDM/CP)Where else in the U.S. have they successfully implemented such a program?

Kathy said...

I have another question in regard to what the JT blogger posted. When this blogger stated that vouchers had cost Milwaukee $7,000,000 he/she also said something about property taxes and that in a sense they felt that Milwaukee was being double taxed for education.(I'm confused) So, is the $7,000,000 that the city supposedly paid out for vouchers referring to legal damages?
I'm not saying that any of this is true, I'm just trying to make some sense out of it.

Kathy said...

Denis,
The JT blog that I'm talking about is the RUSD Proposes 1.08% Tax Increase and the blogger is Thinking Out Loud. Could you please read these posts and tell me if I'm misunderstanding what this person is saying...or better yet, what are the saying? Maybe they are misinformed themselves? I'm just lookig for some clarity here. Thanks.

Denis Navratil said...

Hey Kathy, I am happy to address your questions. Your question about a successful voucher program in the US is a very interesting one. There is no place in the US where a universal voucher program has been tried. A universal voucher program is one that would provide vouchers for all students. The reason for the lack of voucher programs is the extreme opposition to the idea from the very powerful national teachers unions. So, for example, any serious voucher proposal anywhere in the US will meet with resistance from wealthy, powerful national unions. They do not want even one experiment with vouchers because they fear the result. That is, it would probably work. And a successful voucher program would be devastating for the entrenched interests of the unions who would lose members, money, and influence. However, many European countries, ones normally beloved by liberals, such as Sweden, have school vouchers. I have not researched these though. I can understand the hesitation on your part, especially as there are only limitted, and somewhat problematic, voucher programs. But do understand that the limitted programs are because of the opposition from unions. I think that an extensive voucher program should be tried somewhere in the US. Then we would have more information. But that is what unions will do anything in their power to stop.

Denis Navratil said...

With regards to the JT blogger Thinking Out Loud, it is not clear what he/she is referring to. Vouchers cost about $6,000 while MPS costs say $12,000, as I have mentioned earlier. Now this would result in a savings of $6,000 per voucher student, unless MPS is still paid for students that no longer go to MPS. And they are paid money for the students that leave. I just don't know how much they are paid. I would not be surprised if MPS got alot of money for students who left MPS, because of the strength of the union opposing the voucher program. So I don't know what the $7 million is that TOL is talking about, but a voucher program should save money assuming the voucher amount is less than the per student cost of public schooling. If a voucher program pays huge sums of hush money to the public school system for students who have left, then that is a flaw in the design of the program, not a flaw in the concept of vouchers. And keep in mind, this additional expense will be incurred because of the extreme opposition to vouchers from the teachers union and their allies. Or to put it more bluntly, vouchers could save alot of money if it were not for the extreme opposition from the left.

Kathy said...

Why would MPS get paid for students that left the system? Every year we have "head count day". All students are encouraged to attend school on head count day, even if they are sick, just to be counted. Our district does not receive funding for the students that are not counted on "head count day". I know that this is statewide. My son was in the Wisconsin Connections Academy last year and the same rules apply to them.
I understand everything that you've said, it really does make sense. I'm just somewhat somehow confused about how the money side of how it works. Voucher schools do/don't receive state funding? Or local taxes? Everything is run through parochial/private/charter schools? I'm probably making this way more complicated than it really is. I'm sure that I'm gettin' on your nerves right about now with my constant questions, but please bear with me. You know that I'm blonde :) It may take me a little while to get there, but when I do...I'm there. I figure that when you've answered all of my questions I'll be able to take the information and write a book. I think I'll call it; "101 Things You Wanted To Know About Voucher Schools But Were Afraid To Ask". :)

Denis Navratil said...

You are not getting on my nerves at all. I like this subject and I think it is the key to school reform. But I am not sure that I can accurately answer the funding questions. But I would not get hung up on that if I were you. Vouchers are payments to parents from government. Whether it is from property taxes or from the state, I don't know. It would depend on how the program were designed. It could be from either or both. But this much I do know. The state government is the entity that can effect this change, not our school board, though they could favor the idea. Don't hold your breath on that one. As an aside, this is why All Children Matter are supporting McReynolds and why the teachers union will throw their considerable support to Lehman.

As for why MPS would be paid for students leaving their schools, it doesn't make any sense and it helps explain all you need to know about the differences between public and private schools. If a private school loses students, they lose the tuition etc... and they are SOL. If they have too many teachers and can't afford them all, some will have to go. The survival of private schools depends on ensuring an adequate number of students. Thus, they must ensure that their customers, parents and children, are happy. Happy parents are those who think that their children are learning. Now consider the public school situation with respect to vouchers. If they start to lose students because of vouchers (even though the voucher is half the per student cost of public ed) they are not SOL. Rather than trying to secure full enrollment through happy students and parents, the public school response is to turn to politics and politicians. Thus they get payments for children who have left the public schools. Keep those questions coming, if you got em.

Kathy said...

I believe in competition. I think that faced with a possible exodus and loss of funding, it would be in RUSD's best interest to start to perform at a more acceptable level.
Where the money will come from and how the program works is important because it will be one of the foremost arguments for/against voucher schools.
However, on a larger scale, I read some articles about choice schools put out by the JS. And I can tell you Denis that the obstacles of unions and politics is secondary to corruption.
Corruption by far and away would be this program's biggest problem.We can't even stop the corruption that exists in RUSD. Inviting more corruption may prove to be even more devastating to the kids in this district. I'm trying to keep an open mind...I see the positives, but being somewhat cynical I can really see the negative, and it really scares me. You may have already read this, but check this out and tell me what you think. I'll be courious to know. http://www2.jsonline.com/news/editorials/nov02/96139.asp

Denis Navratil said...

I will try to find the article that you refer to about corruption. Corruption, of the legal variety, is a problem now with public schools, and it would be with vouchers as well. Changing human nature is not one of our options. So anytime government writes checks, there will be unsavory types lurking. However, over time, a school that rips off parents and students will lose those parents and students, and the money that comes with them. The freedom to leave a corrupt school for an uncorrupted one is the threat that results in accountability. That threat to leave is not present in the public schools, and therefor the public school system is unaccountable to its customers. Is either system perfect? No, perfection is not an option. But a free market approach to education will punish the corrupt, though it may take time to discover the corruption. On a somewhat of a tangent, I am reminded of something John Stossel said in a speech in favor of school vouchers. Can anyone get really ripped off buying a new car in the US? No, not because car makers wouldn't want to rip you off, but because their entire business would collapse over time if they did not produce a car that satisfied their customers. Unsatisfied customers would buy a car from someone else. But if the government produced cars and funded the production and offered free cars to everyone (creating a near monopoly), they could certainly rip you off. There would little incentive to produce a great car, and every incentive to lobby the government for more money for car production, salary increases etc... In short, what vouchers do is properly align incentives such that education would be improved. Ripping parents off could be a fine short term strategy, but it wouldn't work for long. Only by providing a good education could a school attract voucher students, over the long haul.

Kathy said...

This is an excerpt from the the JS article about school choice, which is actually a series:
"Based on firsthand observations and other reporting, JS reporters concluded that at least 10 of the 106 schools they visited appeared to lack the ability, resources, knowledge, or will to offer children even a mediocre education. Most of these were led by individuals who had little to no background in running schools and had no resources other than the state payments.
Nine other schools would not allow reporters to observe..."
This to me is not good. One school that is not on the up and up is one thing, but 10 confirmed shady schools and 9 more as suspect? That is A LOT!!! This is where I feel the corruption lies. The sad part is that the JS went on to report that they were surprised how most parents still kept their children in weak schools.
Don't get me wrong... there were positive and successful choice schools, but I found the number of bad schools staggering. This would definitely be an obstacle, as we are surrounded by greed.

Eric said...

A couple things need to be recognised in this discussion. First, to a large extent we have school choice today. Depending on your family situation, you can send your kids to private, magnet, charter, open district, cross district, or home schools. A telling statistic is that RUSD student population is down about 25% since 1976; where did they all go? Thus a large segment of the population has endorsed school choice already. Second, school choice may be making Brown vs The Board of Education OBE. When parents perceive that forcing their kids into a school will result in unsafe conditions, they will vote with their feet. You may insist on diversity, but it's awfully hard to make it happen when families have choices that factor in other priorities. Interestingly, the automobile facilitated greater church choice - the era of the introduction of the automobile is considered a time of great social change. School vouchers will likely usher in a similar era of social change. What some professional and concerned educators fear is the transition era from what we have today to vouchers, and all the unfortuneate kids that will be 'left behind' in the train wreck of failing public schools because those kids' parents never could spell "school" or find their kids'school on a map.

Denis Navratil said...

Kathy, I was unable to get to the article that you cited, but it was written in November 02, so I wonder if many of those problem schools are still around. I do know that some steps were taken to regulate the voucher schools. I don't think voucher proponents are in favor of schools that bilk the public, as it does not help the cause. Steps should be taken to rid ourselves of corrupt voucher schools, and corrupt public school districts.

Denis Navratil said...

Eric. I appreciate your contributions here, but I must dispute a few of your points. School choice is not here. Choice within a school district is not real choice. Yes, people of means have choice. I exercise that choice for my son. However, the people of limitted means have no choice. They can not, as you say, vote with their feet. When they are allowed to do so, like in Milwaukee, they will leave the public school system in droves. Also, using declining public school enrollment numbers to bolster your argument that there is choice is pure nonsense. Many private schools also have declining enrollments. The reason is fewer children in the area. Many people are having only one or two children. Huge families are a thing of the past.

Denis Navratil said...

Kathy, I was unable to get to the article that you cited, but it was written in November 02, so I wonder if many of those problem schools are still around. I do know that some steps were taken to regulate the voucher schools. I don't think voucher proponents are in favor of schools that bilk the public, as it does not help the cause. Steps should be taken to rid ourselves of corrupt voucher schools, and corrupt public school districts.

eric said...

Denis, I guess we'll agree to disagree on one thing. Private school attendance and home schooling is up. Demographic changes do not explain the 25% drop in RUSD. Some of the Catholic school enrollments may be down, but many of the new private schools are "Christian Schools" that didn't exist 20 years ago. What's more, if you can arrange the transportation you can enroll in a charter or magnet school inside RUSD. You can also enroll in another public school district if they have space. These are all choices which people are exercising today. Absolutely, this does not extend to everyone and it's not totally open enrollment, but it does prove that when able and given a choice, many families will move out of their public school for something better. I do think full scale vouchers are coming, but this relatively new idea faces not only the obstacle of unions, but the realization that fighting over Brown vs the Board of Education is OBE.

Denis Navratil said...

Eric, I didn't factor in new Christian schools or the home schooling phenomenon. It could be that we are both right. Yes, people will leave the public schools if given a chance. But many Catholic schools are struggling. St. Cats enrollment is way down. Prairie is up. I guess it is a mixed bag. But many more would attend these schools if they had the opportunity through the use of school vouchers.

Kathy said...

Hey Guys,
I think that we do have a form of school choice here in Racine. Let me tell you; I have four children and we shop our schools. Currently, one attends a magnet school. Two others are in two different middle schools, and I have one in high school. Interestingly enough, during the last school year we decided to try something different and enroll my then eighth grader in the Wisconsin Connections Academy. The WCA is a public school that is online and is based in the Appleton School District. It was really kinda cool. My son had classmates from all around the state. He had 3 different teachers that he communicated with daily and a principal. Because the program relies heavily on the parents to still teach the lessons it was a lot of hard work, but worth it. The WCA even divides the state up and does field trips! Parents and students from Southeast Wisconsin, and one of his teachers from Appleton got together and had a field trip at the zoo right here in Racine! It is programs like this that I think are starting to impact RUSD enrollment.
The teachers union(WEA)tried to outlaw Connections Academy(which is a national program)by claiming that parents are not teachers and are not qualified to administer a quality education to their students. They did not succeed.
So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I try to exercise some of the choices available to me now. If I had vouchers to enable my children to attend a private school you can bet that I would definitely do it, but would vouchers be available to everyone or just low income students?
Eric, can you please explain OBE? The only OBE that I'm familiar with is Outcome Based Education. How does that tie in with Brown vs. The Board of Education? I'm missing something here.

Denis Navratil said...

To Kathy, I think your last post should help you form an opinion on vouchers. It is clear that you appreciate the choices that you have now. Now ask yourself if you, your children, or other peoples children are harmed by having additional educational options.

Kathy said...

Denis,
I do not believe that anyone is harmed by having more educational choices. I could be a strong advocate for vouchers if I weren't so scared of the corruption side of it.
Who would be eligible for vouchers? And how do we go about corruption control? These are two key questions that come to mind.

Denis Navratil said...

Voucher programs can be designed according to the wishes of the electorate. I think the best voucher program would allow vouchers for all, but so far most vouchers are only for the poor. That is better than nothing, in my view, as it is the poor that are most harmed by our present way of doing things. Regarding corruption, I have a few points. First, is our present system not corrupt? It is legal, yes, but not all corruption is illegal. When a public school system spends twice the amount as private schools, but still fails to educate children, that is a corrupt institution in my book. So I wonder why you are seemingly more worried about future corruption vs present day corruption. Also, are the existing private schools in the area presently corrupt? I don't think so. And finally, with regard to avoiding corruption in the private sector, how do you do it now? How do you know the eggs that you buy will not be rotten? How do you know that the new car you buy will last more than two weeks? How do you know that the newpaper will be delivered? The reason that you don't worry about those things is that the private sector will destroy the rotten egg seller, the lemon car maker and the newspaper that doesn't deliver (perhaps this is not a good example as the JT does not deliver unbiased news, but I think you get my point). Over time, corrupt schools will fail to deliver the goods, and they won't be able to rip off their customers for long. Now contrast that with RUSD, an entity that has been ripping off the community for decades.

Kathy said...

I think back to a simpler time when I just sent my kids to school. I didn't know anything about school boards, budgets, parameters, extrapolation, etc.,.. My, what a happy time that was!!! Ignorance really is bliss...and then I woke up. Its funny to me that over time how you just get used to things. Is this current system corrupt? Absolutely, but, the public has an opportunity to make a change once a year. Unfortunately, the majority of the public is still enjoying their bliss. They do not want to know the facts. They choose to believe what they are told. Its sad. :(
A great example of this would be the "Mac scandal". It was all legal, but people are ready to skewer him over these petty dollar amounts. Yet, we have the same type of things going on in the school system to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and somehow that's OK...UNREAL.
So why am I so worried about corruption in a voucher system? Well, because frankly, the cynic in me is tired and I feel like we don't need to deal with any MORE s@#t!!
However, on the flip side, the dreamer in me believes in a brighter day. I think that in order to get to the sunny side of the street we need to stop doing what doesn't work. So maybe we should take the system apart, restructure it, and deal with whatever comes our way.
Ultimately, I love Racine. It is a unique and interesting place to live. Even if we were to institute a voucher system for just low income students, I would be in favor of that. I think that it would benefit the community as a whole.

Denis Navratil said...

Your yearning for simpler times has some appeal. Perhaps it is easier to just send your kids where you are told to send them. But how satisfying could it be to abdicate your responsibility as a parent and a citizen. Being a responsible adult in society is difficult, to be sure, but I would have it no other way. I suspect the same is true for you. On an unrelated matter, thank you Kathy and Eric for helping to set a record for blog responses. 29 comments, Wow. Can we reach thirty?

Denis Navratil said...

Holy Cow!!!! Thirty comments!!!! A new record!!!!

eric said...

31
Kathy,

OBE is an acronym for Overcome by Events. I'm suggesting that Brown vs. the Board of Education is becoming OBE because the context of how you attain equal education is changing. While integration policies/laws assumed greatest equality in schools would result through forced diversity, it did not take into account broader use of private schools, home schooling, charter or magnet schools. By providing choices to parents, and eventually the broadest possible array of choices, you will eventually develop higher quality more equal schools, and none of this will have anything to do with local government divying local students into categories and busing them all over town.

Kathy said...

Denis, that's cheating!!! But I'll tell you what...since I would have most definitely made the 30th comment, I'll give it to you! :) Congratulations!!!
Eric, thanks for elaborating. That is really interesting. I never thought about it like that. I suspect that you may be right.
OBE...overcome by events...that descibes me at the end of every day!! :)