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Now that the school reform effort called the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program has exploded in mid-air like the fireworks at the Big Bang, the question is where do we go from here?
The plan, passed by the state legislature in the last budget after being championed by two surburban Republican legislators, Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Dale Kooyenga, called for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to appoint a commissioner to take over struggling MPS schools and run them as he saw fit in order to improve educational outcomes.
This plan, which many viewed as the right wing continuing to try and chip away at MPS, didn’t have much of a chance of working from the moment it was unveiled.
Abele appointed a commissioner, Demond Means, an MPS graduate and the superintendent in the Mequon-Thiensville district. Advisory boards were empaneled, and plans were drawn. Means presented a detailed plan that he said met the requirements of the state law while doing the least harm to MPS.
There's an old joke: "Man plans, God laughs."
In this case, God was the MPS board and the teachers' union, both of which were unalterably opposed to the plan that came their way. Instead, the board proposed an alternate plan that called for the commissioner to start an early-childhood center. One big problem was that Darling and Kooyenga failed to include money to fund any of these plans.
When the dust settled Wednesday, Means had resigned, Abele was resigned and the union was exultant. Several conservative think tanks jumped out excoriating the union and the school board.
Now, Abele has 120 days to appoint a new commissioner. The governor and mayor are supposed to give him a list of suggestions, then he’ll pick someone in the fall, and we’ll start this all over again. If we just go through this whole mess again, the legislature may not be happy when it returns to business in January.
Twenty-five years ago, I was a part of what may have been the first serious effort to reform MPS, as a part of the superintendency of Robert Peterkin. For three years, we focused on ways to improve educational outcomes for children. At that time, the battle was between the school board and the union. When Peterkin left, he was prophetic in one of the articles written about his tenure.
"We're talking about a school system that essentially hadn't changed in three centuries,'' Peterkin said. "That was part of the paradox of Milwaukee. Internally, people thought we were moving much too quickly. While externally, the governor, the legislature, the mayor and parents who were concerned about the achievement of the youngsters were pressing the administration to go even faster and to be more radical."
Not much has changed in those 25 years. The legislature wants to jump into the fray. The school board doesn’t want the legislature to do anything except provide more funding for MPS. Abele undoubtedly wishes he could get out of this whole mess. The union doesn’t like the legislature, the OSPP or the school board.
There are no winners in this thing, so far, but it’s pretty clear who the losers are.
Those children of MPS who are so unsuccessful in the classroom are just going to be stuck where they have been. This was an opportunity, flimsy though it was, to at least try something different. If it didn’t work, then it could be ended.
But if somebody found something that might actually help – something besides more funding – it would have been worth it.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.