Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Battle Over Charter Schools

NAACP declares opposition and is criticized by charter supporters like Howard Fuller.

By - Aug 23rd, 2016 12:46 pm
Howard Fuller. Photo from Marquette University.

Howard Fuller. Photo from Marquette University.

The NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives, a group of 50 organizations assembled by Black Lives Matter, have recently passed resolutions declaring their opposition to charter schools, as the New York Times and other publications have reported.

The NAACP resolution is scathing in its criticism as is that of the Movement for Black Lives. They charge that charter schools have contributed to increased segregation, use discipline in a way that violates student rights, waste money and erode local control of public education.

“They portray charters as the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires, and argue that the closing of traditional schools as students migrate to charters has disproportionately disrupted black communities,” the Times summarizes. The resolution by the Movement for Black Lives assails charter schools as a “systematic attack…coordinated by an international education privatization agenda, bankrolled by billionaire philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton Family, and Eli and Edythe Broad.”

But Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent and the founding president of the national Black Alliance for Educational Options, which encourages support among blacks for charter and choice schools, told the Times he couldn’t understand these attacks, and defended charter schools. “You’ve got thousands and thousands of poor black parents whose children are so much better off because these schools exist,” he said.

“Studies have shown that charters — which are financed by taxpayers but privately run — have improved on traditional public schools in cities like Newark, Boston and Washington,” the Times noted. “But they have made little improvement in cities like Detroit and Philadelphia, where a large proportion of students attend charters.”

In Milwaukee, as Urban Milwaukee’s Data Wonk columnist Bruce Thompson has reported, there is evidence that charter schools tend to have more success with low-income students than traditional public schools.

Nationally, the argument against charter schools is that “some effectively skim the best students from the pool, with enrollment procedures that discourage all but the most motivated parents to apply,” the Times noted.

Charter schools “are allowed to get away with a lot more,” Hiram Rivera, an author of the Black Lives anti-charter schools resolution told the Times.

“Charters are slightly more likely to suspend students than traditional public schools, according to an analysis of federal data this year,” the Times reported. “And black students in charter schools are four times as likely to be suspended as their white peers, according to the data analysis, putting them in what Mr. Brooks calls the ‘preschool to prison pipeline.’”

The anti-charter school stance is not shared by the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama, whose Secretary of Education Arne Duncan saw charter schools as part of the solution for urban education. In fact, the increase in federal funding for charter schools during the Obama presidency helped spread the charter school movement, as one commentator for Education Week noted.

The NAACP resolution also stands in opposition to what average black Americans think. One summary of public opinion noted that among African Americans about 47 percent support, 29 percent oppose and 24 percent have no opinion of charter schools. That, however, was less supportive than white respondents, who tended to support charter schools by a two-to-one margin.

In Wisconsin, a Marquette University Law School poll by Charles Franklin (in 2013) found the opposite pattern, with blacks more supportive (49 percent favorable, 18 percent unfavorable) of charter schools than whites (39 percent favorable, 20 percent unfavorable).

Milwaukee might be considered ground zero for choice and charter schools. About 27,000 students attend choice schools in Milwaukee, in essence creating the state’s second largest school system.

Milwaukee also has a lot of charter school students. It ranked 15th among the top 50 school districts in the number of charter school students, just over 18,000, as of 2014, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. That was about 23 percent of all students, 16th highest among the 50 top districts, and far behind the two districts with the highest percentage: 93 percent of New Orleans students and 53 percent of Detroit students attend charter schools.

The issue of choice and charter schools has long divided black officials in Milwaukee. In the recent spring election, two supporters of choice and charter schools won election: incumbent State Sen. Lena Taylor defeated a challenge from Rep. Mandela Barnes, while Jason Fields defeated Darrol Gibson and thus was returned to the state assembly district he had held until his defeat in 2012 by Barnes. Both Barnes and Gibson opposed choice and charter schools.

The choices when it comes to the best education approach to favor are not easy. While it may be true that charter schools are increasing segregation, there is little doubt that most big city public school systems were re-segregated since the court-ordered integration of the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, in Milwaukee the public school system has an increasingly higher percentage of special education students as other students gravitate to charter and choice schools.

Another complicating factor is that the per-pupil spending of choice and charter schools is far lower than that for public school students. Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce leader Tim Sheehy is pushing for the state legislature to increase this funding and decrease the funding gap.

In short, the recent NAACP resolution is unlikely to settle the battle over urban education in Milwaukee or the nation. Short term the only likely result is to create further division among black leaders on the critical issue of how best to educate their children.

17 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Battle Over Charter Schools”

  1. Steven Blackwoo says:

    Well firs of all, t get rid of that overly stark headline. Charter schools aren’t just happening in AfricanAmerican districts but in Hispanic areas and even in white areas.

  2. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Interesting, the political arm of the Blacks wants the kids to go to the “National disaster” and the parents want the kids to get an education, know many of them.

  3. Jason says:

    What I don’t get is all these kids parents are still paying into the MPS tax levy. If a parent owns a home and choose to send his or her child to Shorewood. Shorewood or in this case the charter school only receives the state aid. MPS still collects on a child not using its schools..

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    The blacks? Feel free to join the 21st century WCD.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    Hey look at that the main segment in John Oliver’s most recent episode is about charter schools. Definitely worth the 18 minutes.

  6. Jason says:

    There is a list of words that Vince does not allow people to use in blogging, they are as follows Black, coloured, mulatto, mixed, Mandarin, Indian, Mexican, tranny, retarded, confused, midget, dwarf, impaired, sodomite, giant, bald, sight impaired, stutter, vertigo

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    Hey use whatever words you want Jason. It lets us know who here belongs to the alt-right crowd. That is helpful.

  8. BT says:

    Sure Vinny Handjob, because YOU KNOW what word we who dare to not tow the liberal decades of big city control matched with decades of destruction, YOU KNOW the word we really want to say right? Or did you wise up and back off from THAT nonsense?

    ONLY IN YOUR LIBERAL WORLD can a school system that’s been run in a TOTALLY DISASTROUS MANNER FOR DECADES even show their faces in public, let alone act as if they’ve got the moral high ground, when they ought to be hiding in shame! Dr Howard Fuller, a truly dedicated, LIFELONG advocate for kids and especially inner city kids who need a great school as badly as any kid does, gets slammed by the same greedy clowns who’ll turn right around and burn up this money they’re ALWAYS so short on (hey, let’s blow a few MILLION on some totally BS sale/leaseback transaction that James T Barry, one of the top commercial real estate movers in the area for decades says is mind blowing in what an awful deal it is-FOR THE PEOPLE WHO WROTE IT UP AND PUSHED IT SO DAMN HARD, THE MPS BOARD! (Get back to me in a month if you know a modicum about sale/leasebacks, but this was literally handing a seven figure sum right over to some LLC, just set up by, oh wow some well connected lib players!)

    Sure, the MPS board, plus now some offshoot of BLM (Soros cash in there someplace??!!! Hmmm, I bet there is!!) and the NAACP want to keep beating on Dr Fuller, ran Dr Gregory Thornton out of town for daring to challenge the MTEA (which ought to rename itself “show us the money, then we’ll talk about those kids”) and the MPS Board, again happy to burn up a few million JUST to keep St Marcus OUT OF AN UNUSED MPS BUILDING-AND YOU’RE SHORT OF CASH???

    The Dr Thornton story after being run out of MKE for daring to point out things like “hey our record has sucked for decades and maybe we ought to take a look in the mirror” landed him in Baltimore, where he was recently forced out, yeah he found some minor funny business like, oh MILLIONS OF DOLLARS WASTED ON BENEFITS FOR PEOPLE WHO SHOULDN’T BE RECEIVING THEM! Oops!!! Dr Thornton, you should’ve learned your lesson here in MKE, if you find massive waste, graft and corruption (and millions of unaccounted for $$$) just keep your mouth shut, spew out some “social justice” nonsense and let some multi layer admin stick their 3rd cousin on the health insurance and cash your checks! I guess both Fuller and Thornton are both suffering from the same problem, HONESTY!!!

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    Still going with a lot of all caps hey BT. Cause that always makes someone seem like a reasonable person worth listening to.

    So many people mistake criticism of charter schools for unequivocal support of MPS. Where here do I defend MPS? I don’t, and yet based on your unhinged rant you’d think I had aggressively defended MPS. The situation is a little more complex than that, but not for simpletons.

  10. SteveTheTeacher says:

    Complex, yes. Facts and philosophy get all intertwined. Her Are some careful observations from a 30 year public school teacher. 1- There is no movement in affluent districts for charter schools. Such districts are often happy to take open enrollment or(dwindling 220 kids from urban areas to fill out their capacity to the extent that it is advantageous.) This clearly is successful to some degree and is popular with concerned Milwaukee parents. These schools have better facilities and almost NO non-white teachers, so there is a cultural downside for some who feel distinctly like outsiders. I worked with such students for 11 years so I can speak to the benefits. These districts benefit in the selection process by not getting any of the HUGE number of really difficult students (those without an effective parent advocate).

    2-So all discussion of Charter and Choice and Voucher, have to do with how Urban school children are sorted, how their school is staffed, and how much parental control can be counted on: without which , results are always dismal. ITaught for one year a city high school where 95% of the students were bussed all the way across town, and 4 out of 160 of my students had a parent show up for conferences. Addresses and contact phone numbers fluctuated constantly, to the point of being almost useless. Discipline and learning were nightmarish. So any school must have and facilitate substantial parental involvement, yet this is frankly impossible for many poor and very stressed families in Milwaukee. We have to build that In to our design for all students somehow – perhaps assigning an advocate (social worker ) for large numbers of kids.
    3-Charter etc. schools benefit from the built in parental involvement (in getting students into the school), and so it is impossible to accept or expect anything less than much better performance, yet such performance is far from demonstrative or universal.. These schools often have severe problems with retention of qualified teachers because of low pay, variable effectiveness of administration (often vague accountability), changing “philosophy”, and even location. I must say that Bruce Thompson’s data on this were not statistically useful (which is unusual for Bruce.) So are they better? Not really! They are not THE answer.

    In summary, it is easy to have heated feelings about Charters etc, but we are ignoring the reality of large numbers of very neglected and often emotionally disabled students who walk into MPS schools every day and the lack of needed resources for their success. Look at suburban and private schools to see what resources and conditions are needed, and find a way to provide that for everyone, not just the affluent, and STOP blaming MPS students teachers and administrators!

  11. PMD says:

    Good post Steve. I taught for three years at a charter school that was located inside of North Division. The school was a total debacle. They had no textbooks or curriculum. I had to find my own resources and create my own curriculum. As it was my first teaching job, this was daunting and overwhelming. I was certified to teach English but they had me teach Civics, which I was not qualified or certified to teach but as a charter it didn’t matter. They were completely unprepared for and ill-equipped to deal with the student population. One person was responsible for IEPs and special ed students. They were in way over their head. The principal had a business background and no school leadership experience. She was a terrible principal. Turnover every year I was there was enormous. About half the staff changed annually. Tons of money was spent taking staff to New York for a week every year for professional development (despite not having textbooks). It was a complete debacle, and hardly an anomaly.

  12. Tom Spellman says:

    A Millstone Around Our Necks

    By: Thomas Spellman May 31, 2014 – May 11 2015

    PART 1

    I will use RIGHT as a broad description of those forces who have orchestrated the placement of the millstone.

    The NEA and the AFT and most, if not all, of the state education associations have a millstone around their necks, and they have not be able to figure out what that millstone is nor how to get rid of it. They know it is there because of the incessant Legislative Action taken against public education and Teacher Unions in particular. There is a history about the placement of the millstone, but because it has been a slow and systematic process, it is hard to pinpoint when it started.*

    The current phase of the effort to place the millstone started by their own admission in 1989 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with just a few hundred children who were poor and black (other minority children were included but few participated). It was represented to the public that these poor black children did not have the same “advantage” as the white children in Milwaukee, and so the Parental Choice School program* was created by the Wisconsin State Legislature to allow poor minority (black) children to attend a school of their parent’s choice which in essence meant attending a Religious school if it was going to be a better school.

    As with all “big” City school systems, in 1989, the poor black children who attended Milwaukee’s Public Schools (MPS) did not do as well as their white counterparts. In fact, a disproportionate number of the black children, primarily young black male children, were not learning, were not graduating from high school, and so this became the MORAL basis for the Parental Choice School program. The Parental Choice School program would provide poor black children a chance to attend better if not good schools. It is important to understand that the black children NOT LEARNING, NOT GRADUATING was the MORAL basis, the foundation, of the Parental Choice School program. It is CRITICAL to understand that black children NOT LEARNING, NOT GRADUATING, TODAY, STILL IS the MORAL basis for, not only Wisconsin’s Voucher, Charter and Parental Choice School programs, but, the whole National Charter School movement as well.

    The RIGHT (accidentally or by design) has successfully tied the millstone not only around the necks of the teacher’s Unions but also around the neck of Public Education itself! Yes the millstone can be seen as the failure of Public Education to graduate tens of thousands of young black males who as we know do not have good outcomes in their lives if they do not graduate.*

    Dr. Howard Fuller and others claimed that it was the FAULT of Milwaukee’s Public Schools (MPS) that those poor black children were not learning, and it was also the FAULT of the Milwaukee Teacher Education Association (MTEA) that kept “bad” teachers teaching, so both Public Education and teachers and the Teacher’s Union were BAD, and the millstone was attached to all!

    And so here we are today trying to figure out WHAT TO DO. Mind you that we have been trying to figure out WHAT TO DO for the past thirty plus years.

    This begs the question of WHO should have figured out what was happening and WHO should have directly addressed the MORAL issue of black children (young black male children) not learning. Not only were they not learning but were being ignored as well!! To be fair there surely have been efforts made to address young black males not learning, not graduating and yet as we all know much of that effort have been for naught.* I will leave for others to figure out the exact history of who did or did not make the critical observations that you will see are in the final analysis, simple and very basic.

    Now that we know what the millstone is – the MORAL concern that black children not learning, not graduating, is the BASIS for “change.”

    Before we examine the ways to remove the millstone let us first understand WHY the millstone has been attached to the necks of the Teacher Unions and Public Education itself.

    Now the RIGHT does long range planning and the millstone around the neck of the Teacher Unions and Public Education is the perfect example of their planning. It either starts with Howard Fuller efforts of creating Voucher Schools for Milwaukee’s black children or sometime before but as Fuller admitted in 2013:

    “When I (Howard Fuller) got into this battle in 1989, standardized test scores showed Milwaukee was failing to educate poor black children. That’s when state Rep. Annette Polly Williams courageously stepped forth to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children. She shepherded the pioneering voucher program through the Legislature.”
    “Since then, I, along with many others, have fought tirelessly for parental choice for low-income families throughout the nation. The governor’s plan (Governor Scot Walker) would turn Milwaukee’s program into something it was never designed to be.”
    Please note that Dr. Fuller says he started working with Rep. Polly Williams in 1989 but he does not become the Superintendent of MPS, the largest Public Schools system in Wisconsin, until 1991 and holds that job for 5 years while cutting all of the manual arts classes out of the High Schools.

    So in the name of black children who were not learning, (the MORAL failure of society) Dr. Howard Fuller began the systematic attack on the Teachers Unions and on Public Education itself. The RIGHT supported Dr. Fuller, and Representative Annette Polly Williams and they became the mechanism to attack the MTEA and MPS. That was the first step in the plan to privatize Public Education*.

    It needs to be noted that research addressing why young black children and young black males in particular were not learning would have been the MORAL action to take but the RIGHT made sure that institutions (Public Education and Teacher Unions) that are the people’s voice would be systematically attacked and destroyed.

    It has been pointed out, by others, that while privatizing prison is a major source of cash for corporations, Public Education is the real CASH COW.* Not only is the RIGHT looking at the primary and secondary schools but at the Public Universities as well. If WE and that includes those closest to the battle, the Teacher Unions and Faculty at Public Universities, do not wake up we will see an education system as it was in the 1800’s. Oxford, Harvard and the like for the rich and not much else for the rest of us. While in the 1800’s servants were needed to support the life style of the rich, now they will have robots who do not need sick leave and are always clean, so who will need the workers. That is the direction we are headed and that is how the cards are currently stacked. The corporations of the world are salivating and just waiting for the right time to take over the Public Education system of United States.

    Thirty years ago when Dr. Howard Fuller spoke and when Annette Polly Williams spoke everyone understood that the basis for the attack of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) was the FAILURE of MPS to

    educate young black males.

    Yes, and what has been the response of those being attacked by the RIGHT? The teachers themselves and the Teacher Unions have rightly claimed that they are not the cause of the failure of young Black males not learning not graduating and by any applied logic* they are NOT. Recently as an effort to support Public Education the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) ran a campaign calling for “Great Schools” for all children in Wisconsin. They DID NOT address the MORAL issue of black children not learning, not graduating and hence the campaign fell on deaf ears because everyone knew that the black children DID NOT HAVE and WOULD NOT HAVE “great schools” and NO ONE was addressing the fact that a significant percentage of black children were not learning were not graduating.

    While the Teacher Unions have Presidents and public relations staff to express the views of their members, WHO SPEAKS FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION? Yes as Dr. Seuss asks, WHO speaks for the trees? The concept of “Public Education”, has been commandeered by the RIGHT, to mean Central City Black Education. The simple proof of that is that there are thousands of high performing schools in the U.S. that are PUBLIC SCHOOLS. PUBLIC SCHOOLS WORK and yet the RIGHT has convinced many Americans that PUBLIC SCHOOLS and therefore PUBLIC EDUCATION is broken, and therefore needs to be FIXED and SAVED, by associating public education with central city education which is equated to the education of black children.

    Most unfortunately, for the children, there has been lots of hand wringing but NO RESULTS. While the numbers of black children who fail may be lower today than 30 years ago, the effects of today’s failures still haunts not only the immediate community but the cities themselves. The violence, the senseless deaths, in our large cities is horrifying and YET there is NO VISION of how to address the MORAL FAILING that young Black males are not learning, not graduating! The one seems to be unconnected form the other when in fact they are JOINED at the HIP!

    PART 2

    How do we proceed? We know that the millstone is a MORAL concern, the failure to educate black children primarily young black male children. Yes that is the millstone but what causes black children and in particular young black males to fail? That is the question that Dr. Howard Fuller and our Universities Public and Private should have addressed 30 years ago and it’s still the question that needs to be address today.

    As an observer of education, primarily Milwaukee and Wisconsin, for the past 40 years I have pieced together a few observations that others have not. What I know for sure is that by not addressing the moral issue, we have now failed two generations of black children.

    Observation one

    All learning is individual. While we teach children in groups, each child’s learning is dependent not only upon their cognitive abilities but also on their behavioral abilities. We know that we have various test to determine a child’s cognitive abilities. We will know a child’s behavioral abilities, disposition, by observation. If the child’s behavior is cooperative and inquisitive we know that there is a very good chance that that child will reach their cognitive potential. If on the other hand the child’s behavior is angry or belligerent we know that, that child will probably not reach their potential. Behavior is a/the key to learning. As we know cooperative behavior is assumed of all children attending public schools. Unfortunately many children are not cooperative and the Schools are not prepared to deal with children who are not cooperative and in fact who are angry or belligerent. (As we will see it is this failure that is the basis of the MORAL concern.)

    It should be noted that successful schools are dependent upon each child’s success! Schools fail because STUEDNT FAIL, Schools succeed ONLY when STUDENTS SUCCEED!

    Observation Two

    Because it is often easier to see the differences when using two extremes let us examine and then compare two high schools, one that “works”, and by that I mean graduates almost all of its students 4 year later and many of those graduating students go on to college, and one that does NOT “work”, one that has a high dropout rate and few students go on to college. What do we see? Are there any clues or maybe even answers as to why some schools and again it is the children who determine if a schools is “successful” and why some schools and again it is the children who determine if the school is NOT “successful”?

    You can mentally run through all the differences between the two schools.* I ask you to focus on the behavioral differences between the two schools. Yes the “attitude” of the hallways and the number of suspensions/expulsions and that should begin to tell the tale.

    The reading ability of the children between those two schools will also be different but that is an indicating that the problem starts at an earlier age and not in the high school. Yes it starts in first grade and yes it starts in the home before that and gradually builds as the behavioral issues are first squashed and then with age become unmanageable. But what is it about the behavior that can be addressed?

    I suggest that there is a direct correlation between schools with high suspension/expulsion rates, and schools that are failing. We need to examine the children who are being suspended/expelled to understand why they are failing, why they are not succeeding and therefore why the school they attend is failing!!

    Observation Three

    Let us also look at a process that a friend who was a teacher and a principal uses with teachers he is consulting with. After the teachers have had their students for a month or so he asks them to think of the students in their classroom. He then ask them to first identify the ones that are the perfect students. They are always on task and cooperative, they are a joy to be with. Then to see those student who are almost as good and all they need is an occasional nudge. Then to see the students who need occasional reminders to stay on task and maybe help with a subject or two. The fourth group are those who are struggling but respond. The fifth group of students are those who act out who are contrary who at times are belligerent. It is this group that controls the behavioral atmosphere of the classroom. It is this group of students that can determines what the others learn.

    When the teacher has completed the reflection they see their classroom in a way that they may not have seen it before. They will see where their energy goes and also where help is needed. As we know all too often no help is available to help those students who are behavioral challenged.

    Observation Four

    As I see it, there are two sides of the equation for quality education – the academic side and the behavioral side. As I have suggested above let us examine the behavioral side to see if it bears fruit.

    The controlling element on the behavioral side may seem at first not to be that important. I have come to the conclusion that the unresolved abuse/trauma that some children suffer is the controlling element for the dysfunction of the child. We know there is unresolved abuse/trauma because we see the belligerent behavior which results in the classroom disruptions, the suspensions, and the expulsions.

    Some will argue that part of those disruptions are the fault of the “ineffective” teacher, but that begs the question because surely not all of the disruption (i.e. belligerent behavior) is the result of “ineffective” teaching/teachers.*

    The work of Dr. Lonnie Athens lays out very clearly that unresolved abuse/trauma is the foundation to all violent behavior. What Dr. Athens also observed, and is critical for all educators AND ALL OF US to understand, is that all abused/traumatized individuals who have NOT RESOLVED their abuse/trauma will become belligerent – will become so angry that they begin to act out. That acting out is either external – against others – or internal – against themselves.

    What is critical to understand is that the belligerent behavior must NOT be seen as an affront to authority BUT SEEN as a child’s CRY FOR HELP. The “CRY” is no different from a baby’s cry. In large part we know how to respond to a baby’s cry. WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW, IS HOW TO REPOND TO A CHILD’S BELLIGERENT BEHAVIOR. We need to learn how to positively respond to a child’s belligerent behavior!!

    This one change has the potential to change many if not most of the abuse/trauma outcomes.

    First to see the belligerent behavior as a cry for help and then to understand that the student’s UNRESOLVES abuse/trauma must be resolved.

    Also we respond very differently to a person who is crying for help, than one, who seems to us to be challenging our authority or more basically our safety.

    Dr. Athens’ work is most easily understood in Why They Kill written by Richard Rhodes. In Chapters 10 and 11, Rhodes explains Athens’ theory. Unresolved abuse/trauma is the underlying cause of violent behavior and all who are first abused/traumatized become belligerent before they become violent. The first nine chapters of the book are a biography of Dr. Lonnie Athens which explains how he came to understand what he was observing, as he did his research with prisoners who had committed violent crimes.

    Below are two real-life examples of the effects of abuse/trauma.

    A friend who was an assistant principal at a middle school could set her watch when a girl would come into her office. Finally, she told the girl that they needed to have a long talk before lunch. After a long pause the girl blurted out that her brother had died from sickle cell anemia. Before the assistant principal could get her arms around the girl to hold her, the girl further revealed that she, too, has sickle cell anemia. She did not know if or when she would die, and her family had not listened or responded sufficiently to her cries for help. Most would deem this, the family’s responsibility, not the school’s responsibility. But the girl was failing, the girl was disruptive, and so it became the school’s issue. Her UNRESOLVED trauma in this case needed to be resolved for her own good as well as the good of the school and MPS itself.

    The other story is one told by a social work who took time to listen to a boy who was doing good work, but then in a very short period of time, things fell apart. As the boy talked, it came out that he was homeless in that they had moved in with relatives, and he was sleeping in the basement. But that was not the problem. The real issue was that he did not have a blanket to cover himself. This so upset him (traumatized him) that he became belligerent. Once a blanket was provided, he went back to doing good work once again. It is easy to see how this story could have ended without the blanket.

    These two stories represent a far greater number of stories of our children. Some of the stories will be horrifying to say the least. How schools and school districts responds to the stories is key for both the child’s success or failure, and therefore, the success or failure of the schools themselves. What we know for certain is that the vast majority of the children who are being suspended in the elementary grades are children in dire need of social services (i.e. therapy). It is critical to first figure out what is troubling each child and then to find the resources either inside the school or through other agencies to address each child’s issues.

    WHO speaks for the children??

    Can we all be agreed that a child’s inappropriate behavior – belligerent behavior is what needs to be focused on? It is the inappropriate behavior – belligerent behavior that begins the process of suspensions which for some (many) leads to dropping out and the rest of the litany that leads to violent crimes and then jail or death. Have we ever thought that just maybe the belligerent behavior is not directed as an affront to authority?

    The question before us is clear

    1) Is, a child’s belligerent behavior, an expression of the child’s WILL (having nothing to do with past abuse/trauma)?


    2) Is a child’s belligerent behavior a response to unresolved abuse/trauma that the child has experienced (suffered)?

    These two statements are diametrically opposed. Either a child’s belligerent behavior is personal and intentional or it is a response to the unresolved abuse/trauma that the child has experienced.

    Which is it? How do we determine this?

    We have for years approached a child’s belligerent behavior as a personal and intentional act. That the child WANTS to be disruptive enough so they can be suspended from school etc. Schools have tried to control and change the belligerent behavior without realizing that there is something that is causing the behavior. What is causing the belligerent behavior?

    They have not understood that for many children, their belligerent behavior is a “cry for help” to resolve the unresolved abuse/trauma that he/she has or is experiencing, not an affront to authority much less a threat to their personal safety.

    This one change in how a child’s belligerent behavior is understood and dealt with produces significantly different outcomes for the child, the students in the classroom, the teacher, the school and even the family.

    A way to look at this is that the belligerent behaviors is a symptom of a problem IT IS NOT the problem. Another way to look at it is the belligerent behavior is like a fever, we know that if we only treat the fever the person will in all likelihood not get better and in fact may die because the real cause of the fever is not being treated.

    So to, today, most of the children who are belligerent, have issues of unresolved abuse/trauma, the underlying cause for the behavior, and those issues are not being addressed and so the anger turns to rage and rage turns to violent behavior.

    Understanding Failing Schools,

    Understanding Schools that are not succeeding is like learning a NEW computer program. At first it all seems very complex and yet once you have learned the program, it is, very easy to use. That is the complexity of what we are dealing with. The elements are basically understood it is the arrangement of the elements that at first seems complex yet once understood it is in fact easy.

    What are the elements of this new language?

    A) Suspension – We know about suspensions. Kids do stuff that breaks the rules, disrupt others and or endanger others or themselves and they get warned and finally they get suspended for a few days.

    B) Another name for the “stuff” that kids do to get suspended is Belligerent Behavior. The word “belligerent” is in and of itself very descriptive of the process.

    C) Belligerent behavior is the expression of UNRESOLVE abuse/trauma (This may be new) It is critical to understand this because it is the foundation of all violent behavior

    D) (This is new) It is in the telling of the story of the unresolved abuse/trauma that begins the healing process and brings the help that is needed to address the unresolved abuse/trauma.

    E) The abuse/trauma can be as simple as a young boy not having a blanket or as horrific as a girl of 11 being raped by her uncle for 2 years and then by her cousin for another 2 years. The boy got his blanket because a teacher took the time to ask him WHY he was so upset and to LISTEN to him. The girl of 11 was not as lucky, she raged all through high school but NO ONE ASKED WHY! NO ONE LISTENED because they ALL KNEW THAT SHE WAS A SPOILED RICH KID.

    These are the elements, it is first understanding them and then applying them that leads to proficiency!!

    An additional note:

    Circles/Classroom Meetings

    If I am right that abuse and the honor code (not covered here) are significant issues that must be worked on and eventually resolved for MPS to be successful, then what can be done in a classroom or school to be effective? I know a leap.

    William Glasser in his book Schools Without Failure has one specific suggestion which he explains in detail. Chapters 10 – 12 describe what he calls “classroom meetings”. Today they are called “circles”. He provides the detail necessary to have a good understanding of what takes place in a classroom meeting and how it will benefit the individual student, the class itself, and therefore the school. The abuse/trauma issues will come out in these classroom meetings. Some of them will be simple to fix while others will be very involved and more difficult to resolve. Support for unresolved or difficult issues can be sought with the help of the principal, school social workers or outside partner agencies.

    I am not an academic nor am I Chris Hedges, so please bear with me here.

    Thomas Spellman 210 N 2nd St Delavan WI 53115 414 403 1341

    * There are a number of issues that I will only make reference to.

  13. Jay Lee says:

    Improving the education system in this country is one of the most important and complex issues we face as a nation. There are so many variables that can impact the effectiveness of educational programs, so much variation from state to state, district to district, school to school, even if we had an agreed upon way to measure and evaluate programs that was truly meaningful the solution would still not be one that would be easy to identify. There is no “one size fits all” magic answer that will fix everything. I am confident that solution is out there and we can overcome these challenges. There are plenty of brilliant, motivated and passionate people out there, more than enough to make a big impact on the system. The financial resources are there as well.

    There is, unfortunately one giant obstacle standing in the way of progress – us. Though there are a million opinions and ideas out there, the debate over both charter schools and the larger one involving the entire public education system is dominated by two sides, two schools of thought that roughly align with the two major political parties and their followers. I truly believe both sides sincerely want better education for our children, that their intentions overall are good. Just like in almost any dispute between individuals or groups, there isn’t one party that is 100% wrong and one that is 100% right. Blame for current conditions and the inability to move forward is shared.

    Cutting resources, blaming teachers, promoting ineffective evaluation tools, being blind to the demographic and socioeconomic challenges many schools face, – wrong.

    Resisting exploring significant internal changes, progressive educational models, doing everything possible to limit “competition” (charter schools) and discredit any positive gains made by non-public, unionized schools – also wrong.

    But each side has their own list of “rights” as well as the wrongs. Both have contributed to positive changes. But neither is willing to admit fault, compromise or have a truly meaningful dialogue with the other side. And just like the D’s and the R’s and their individual members in congress, they are too focused on themselves and promoting their beliefs that they have lost sight of their true reason for being…For the politicians, that would be doing what is in the best interests of their constituents, which includes improving schools. For those in the education system, it’s simple. The kids. The kids. The kids.

    The challenges faced by schools and teachers are very different now than in the past. Our society has changed, the population is different, the demographics have changed. Poverty, challenges associated with culture and race, language barriers,etc. And then there is the big one…the fact that the number of parents that are truly involved in and support the education of their own children is not what it used to be.

    Throw all the money you want to schools, give the kids every resource they would ever need for a successful education, pay teachers like CEO’s to attract and retain the best. Is that enough to overcome a home environment where the importance and value of education is never mentioned, where the parents don’t bother to attend conferences, where nobody asks about homework, grades, or anything related to school? In most cases, I doubt it.

    The problem is much larger than any shortcomings in the system, the teachers or the parents. A holistic solution is required. It may not be perfect, there may even be some aspects of the initiative and program that are legitimate concerns (as voiced by people who have more interaction and expertise than I do – though I still see more positive reviews and comments than negative), one program always seems to come to mind. The Harlem Children’s Zone. It is likely not something that can be replicated everywhere or supported financially without significant private investment or a change in the allocation of government funds. There have also been some negative results along with the positive stats. But if you look at the overall impact, especially closing the achievement gap, it is an intriguing approach. There are areas where the local schools are obviously not getting the job done and there are no signs of improvement. I don’t understand why there is such resistance to trying something different.

    I don’t know exactly what it will take to make the education system successful, but I do know that if those with the ability to make change continue their close minded, self centered ways, focusing on pushing their agenda and “beating” the other guy over the best interests of the children the only thing they will succeed at is failure.

  14. BT says:

    At least for once WON’T have the longest comment! I think (and I’m sure I’m guilty of not always explaining this 100% clearly in my comments, but as referenced, my comments are often far too long for many people’s tastes these days anyway) I’ve made the mistake at times of lumping in ALL teachers with the “teacher’s union crowd” and just as when I worked as a controller in a UAW shop (thus a union shop for anyone who needs that explained!) we had not just a majority, but a vast majority of the shop workers who had little use for the UAW and as the controller, I KNEW we could’ve implemented a pay for performance based plan that would’ve not only paid probably 2/3 to 3/4 of the shop workers more per hour (by being able to just ditch the incredible SLUGS who consistently abused the hell out of the union and its willingness to fight to the death for TOTAL SLUGS even the stewards knew damn well were SLUGS “Oh wow, guess who just got back from (fake) “injury”PTO and now is claiming to be injured AGAIN??) but it also would’ve in the long run done something much bigger, which I having access to the books saw coming and started making plans to leave, that the company’s cost structures were WAY too high (95+% due to TWO factors, ridiculous labor and benefit costs due to SLUGS and “rework”, product sent back from our customers-mainly the big 3 automakers, Cat, Cummins, John Deere and a few others-again, we couldn’t simply fire the workers who flat out “didn’t give a sh#t” as they’d even tell us, when yet another batch of THEIR parts got sent back!) Yet, we had so many KICK ASS people working there, some of whom I risked being sued when I left by telling them “hey you may love it that you landed a UAW job here in the MKE area, since there aren’t too many left, but trust me you’ll be a valued employee ANYWHERE, or come up with a plan and get out on your own, because I’m not leaving due to the commute or bad coffee in the office, I’m leaving because this entire corporation (which had 10+ plants, mainly in the rust belt) is going to soon be history, whether the upper level admits it or not!” I was right by the way.

    So, I don’t know which teachers commenting here are the union lovers (and we had some UAW lovers who NEVER abused the UAW protections and were great workers who cared about the product they produced (but then why need them? they only served to help the leeches!)) Yet, I’m talking about CAR PARTS (and some tractor and diesel truck motor parts) NOT KIDS!!!

    As far as the comments about busing kids all across town and the general decay of the “nuclear family”, well that’s EASY AS HELL to trace, busing was a big left wing idea and thanks to the “Great Society”, we saw the perfect correlation with the DEATH of the nuclear family, no need for a father to be around and now we’ve got (and I ALWAYS GIVE EQUAL BLAME HERE)-the mom’s who just happen to get “knocked up” yet again/dudes going around knocking up all the women willing to “give it up”! Lastly, for any of the “closet Klan crowd” that people like Vinny Handjob see lurking at every GOP rally or simply refusing to sign his “RECALL WALKER” clipboard.

    For the handful who do actually still exist, DO NOT think for a second this is just a “black people problem” because I can tell you that I’ve met a LOT of younger whites now thinking these same, stupid ways! “Yeah, my gf is trying to get pregnant” WHAT???!!! How the hell are you going to afford to raise a kid or kids? Wow, what a dumb question for me to ask, as confirmed by this guy’s look on his face (this actually happened less than 6 months ago to me) which was basically like saying “what kind of stupid ass question is that??” She’s thinking (and he’s agreeing) once she’s knocked up, time to head on down to that big building on 12th or so and Vliet and sign up for all the bennies, no need to plan ahead or set ANY sort of example for the kids or other kids, that’s just how we do it now and I’ll bet you $1000 he’s not with the “baby momma” in 5 years, if he makes it a year! ALL THE LEGACY OF DECADES OF FAILED LIBERALISM, TIME FOR A “DECADES OF FAILED LIB IDEAS” MUSEUM IN, WHERE ELSE-DETROIT!!!

  15. Vincent Hanna says:

    BT you sure have the talking points (and playground-caliber insults) down. Blaming everything on the Great Society and unions. Nothing new there. I actually didn’t sign a Walker recall petition and didn’t support the recall. Again not everything is as simple as you seem to think.

    Do you also deplore the police department’s union? What about unions representing professional athletes? Over the weekend I was listening to a sports program on WTMJ. They were talking about the investigation into Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. Over and over again callers from the area demanded that the union representing the players flex its muscle and exert more power and secure even more influence. It was amusing to hear how pro-union people are when it comes to their precious Packers.

  16. Thomas Spellman says:

    Yes the longest post but as a few have suggested a complex issue. BUT then again so is a rocket or a computer and then again they work and work almost flawlessly. So why is it that we accept those who say it is impossible to figure out why so many children fail? How else can one explain the 20, 30, 40 years of failure of public education and for that Choice and Charter as well.

    I am sure that the many books and dissertations will be written explaining how all the educational elites to this day miss what the Danish Schools do and what William Glasser MD noted now 50 years ago. Children must resolve their personal issues, whatever they are, if they are to learn and grow emotionally. Yes the Danish children from age 3 to 16 meet weekly in a circle to talk about what issues they are dealing with if any and that is what Glasser suggested needed to be done now 50 years ago in his book “Schools without Failure”.

    That is the summation of the longest posting

  17. Virginia Small says:

    Thomas S., thanks for mentioning about students sitting in a circle in Danish schools and working through their personal issues. I did not know that but had known about circular “council rings,” either stone or wooden benches that Danish immigrant Jens Jensen included in many landscapes he designed, including in Wisconsin. There are several at the home and school called The Clearing he built in Door County. Jensen was also a close colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright–and they both were associated with the Prairie School of Design

    Council rings honored both Jensen’s heritage and Native American campfire circles. It’s a timeless concept. Sometimes elementary schools gather students in a circle on the floor for sharing. It promotes inclusiveness and equity.

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