Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Why State’s MPS Takeover Plan Died

In changing state ratings to protect choice schools, Republicans ended up killing OSPP.

By - Oct 27th, 2016 10:59 am
Dale Kooyenga and Alberta Darling.

Dale Kooyenga and Alberta Darling.

It was back in January 2015 that Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) and state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) announced their plan to dictate change in Milwaukee Public Schools through a plan they soft-pedaled with the name Opportunity Schools and Partnership Plan (OSPP) and which was soon enacted into law.

Under the law, selected MPS schools with failing grades on the state report card would become independent charter schools that do not employ unionized teachers or answer to the Milwaukee School Board. A new commissioner independent of the board or Milwaukee School Superintendent Darienne Driver would choose and oversee these schools.

Darling insisted the law was intended to create a “partnership” with MPS, but Driver clearly saw it as undermining her authority, and questioned why it did not also address chronically underperforming choice and charter schools (which are championed by Darling and Kooyenga). The OSPP soon came to called the state “takeover law. The harder edge of the plan was suggested at times by the comments of Kooyenga, who has labeled MPS schools eligible for a takeover “the worst of the worst schools,” while castigating MPS leaders for doing a “good job of bringing absolute chaos, dysfunction and toxic environment for trying new ideas in Milwaukee.”

So there is more than a little irony in the fact that the takeover program was killed as a result of changes in state standards intended to help choice schools.

The changes were announced the same month, January 2015, that the OSPP plan was released. Gov. Scott Walker, in releasing his massive proposed budget for 2015-2017, including language that would alter the state school report card system. “These measures include changes” to start “weighting school performance to account for student poverty rates, student disabilities and the length of time a school has had to influence a student’s academic progress.”

The state school report cards were begun under the Walker administration during the 2011-2012 school year and were intended to give parents a simple measure of how good a school was. Initially the grades were given to school systems, but by the 2013-2014 year the grades were given to every individual school.

Officials with the state Department of Public Instruction felt the report card had a built-in bias. “We’ve been pretty open about the report card and the correlation with poverty,” DPI spokesperson Tom McCarthy says. The schools getting lower grades, he says, “correlated almost perfectly with the percent of students in poverty.”

Nationally, the data on schools shows the same correlation between lower achievement test scores and high poverty rates. But DPI’s concerns were not addressed.

That is, until the growing push to also measure achievement in choice and charter schools benefitting from public funding resulted in a decision to extend the state report cards to these schools. This was alarming indeed to representatives of choice, charter and virtual schools.

School Choice Wisconsin had great concerns about the report card. Jim Bender, president of the group, serves schools with a high percentage of low-income students, who would more than likely rank lower than average schools in the state.

“The report card was flawed,” Bender says. “In working with legislators to improve it, we certainly took the lead. When all the data pointed to a report card that was not accurately showing the performance of high poverty schools, we worked to improve the report card.”

One reason his group was able to take the lead is because of its clout in the capitol. Bender has hired lobbyists John Gard, a former Assembly Speaker and Jeff Fitzgerald, another ex-Speaker and also the brother of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Bender himself was formerly a senior aide to Jeff Fitzgerald. To that list can be added yet another former Republican Speaker, Scott Jensen, who works for two Washington D.C.-based groups that work to support School Choice, the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice.

Bender concedes that “If there was no choice program, we would likely have the old system” of report cards in Wisconsin. Bender, however, puts the ultimate blame on “the heavy hand of DPI…Education policy has always been turned over to DPI from the public schools. They are not going to mess with DPI for fear of retribution.”

But public schools had no reason to oppose the changes in the report card, because the result would make it easier on any school serving a significant population of poor students, while making the overall system less tough.

Indeed, the result of a new system that took into account the impact of poverty was that Milwaukee Public Schools, as a system, no longer had a failing grade. It was bumped up from “failed to meet expectations” to “meets few expectations.” Individual schools in the system are also likely to get higher rankings, though this fall’s grades for all schools have yet to be finalized.

As a result, MPS no longer qualifies as a failing school system under the criteria created by the OSSP law.

The reaction of Darling was hilarious. She released a statement saying “I want to congratulate Superintendent Driver for her leadership in moving MPS out of the ‘failing school district” category. This is great news for all of Milwaukee.”

This was just a few months after Darling had decried MPS as a system where students are “trapped in failing schools…This isn’t a new problem. Many Milwaukee public schools have been failing generations of students.” Apparently no one explained to Darling that the new ranking was really just a cosmetic change.

Kooyenga, by contrast, complained that “Although MPS has demonstrated progress, this new report card model is attributable to a new methodology of grading schools and districts. Under the previous model, MPS would still be considered a failing district.”

Darling’s response highlighted the schizophrenic nature of an approach that wants to make nice with Driver even as it undermines her leadership, of a “partnership” plan that is really a takeover. Kooyenga’s response highlights the contradiction of a state plan that targets poor performing public schools with mostly low-income students while ignoring choice schools in the same category.

Kooyenga has promised we haven’t heard the last of this issue. “Rest assured, there will be more reforms,” he declared. Meanwhile, the more accurate acronym for OSPP might be RIP.

29 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Why State’s MPS Takeover Plan Died”

  1. PMD says:

    They did this too quickly. Milwaukee’s school district is among the 50 largest in the United States. Reform isn’t easy. This was rushed and incompetent from the start. If you support OSPP or something similar, you should want it done right. Alan Borsuk told me (he is great about responding to emails) that not nearly enough time or effort was spent securing community support and buy-in. There were no public hearings or comparable opportunities in advance of the plan, no attempt to communicate with parents of MPS children. There was almost no communication between MPS leaders and OSPP leaders at any point. This is a textbook example of how not to attempt major reforms in a large school district.

  2. Virginia says:

    Thanks, Bruce, for explaining the history. It was outrageous that some voucher and charter schools were paying big money to lobbyists to try to siphon more public money without having ANY accountability. The OSPP was clearly predicated on trying to channel more students into those schools, some of which are unscrupulous. That actually hurts the ones that are providing a good education.

    The OSPP foisted upon MPS in a heavy-handed manner was completely tone-deaf and top-down. To top it off, it attempted to undermine Dr. Driver within months of her taking the top MPS job. She’s considered a leader in innovation in central-city school and handled this whole situation very professionally. Now she can continue her efforts to make real improvements without have to deal with meddlers with no experience with educating low-income students.

  3. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    MPS will never work, the way it is, and the Left does not care, if they lose hundreds of thousands of kids, as long as they retain power and the money. That is all they want is more money.’
    In 1974 I put together a plan to bust up MPS into 18 units, let the neighborhoods run them.
    Tommy wanted to bust it up int 4, let the parents be uncharge instead of the white liberal male racist that control MIlwaukee now.

  4. Tim says:

    WCD, if your plan works… why don’t the Republicans enact it?

    They have all the votes they need to pass the law… why did they pass the OSPP and not your plan?

  5. Milwaukee Native says:

    WCD: In case you’re not aware, it’s actually an AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN WITH A DOCTORATE FROM HARVARD, and many years of experience in central-city schools, who’s in charge of MPS. I guess that fact does not fit with your incessantly repeated talking points.

  6. John says:

    I wish that just once, someone would bring in the district’s master teachers, the best of the best, and ask them what they think would improve the quality of education in Milwaukee’s public schools. I have never met or seen a politician who knew the first thing about education.

    The political right has for years pushed the charter school movement as a way of privatizing schools, and breaking unions. No study has shown them to be any kind of substantial improvement over public education. And the right has pushed testing as a means of making the testing companies rich.

    When it comes to “education reform”, just follow the money. If the powers that be were truly interested in improving outcomes, they’d start with the best teachers and best practices.

    Follow the money.

  7. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    She is just a figurehead for the dopey white, male, liberal, racists that have run MPS into the ground. Just another in the long line of nothing they put in, except for Thornton.
    He had good ideas but told a bunch of us that the Left, Unions, administration and Barrett stopped them all.
    Where is the Left’s plan to just stop the disintegration of MPS, a Leftie called it the “National Disaster”.
    All they want is more moron, more salaries, more staff, more bennies.
    They do not give a damn about the kids cause if they did after Duncan came in there would a giant uproar and there was not a peep.
    People on this site has not brought forth one good idea or answer,

  8. Tim says:

    WCD, the Republican governor & legislature have all the votes they need, why didn’t they vote for your plan?

    You said your plan would work, why didn’t they use it?

  9. PMD says:

    To say no one in MPS cares about kids is so incredibly offensive and asinine. Get out of Tosa and spend a day in a school in MPS. Then tell us no one cares about kids. You are a hateful, ignorant right-wing kook.

  10. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Never said no one care,s many good teachers do, but not the union, the leaders of Milwaukee, the Left, the Dems. If they do they are either crooked or totally incompetent, worse than Hillary. it is leadership problem. National Teachers Union Al Shanker said that the union is not about teaching it is all about salaries and bennies.

  11. PMD says:

    It’s equally asinine and offensive to say that “Dems” and “the left” don’t care about students. You do realize that many of those teachers are Dems right? And as you say most teachers do care about their kids. Therefore Dems do care about students. See how that works? See why your statements are so stupid?

  12. old baldy says:

    wcd is a perfect example of the failure of the educational system. He claims to be a registered pharmacist, as was my father (UW-’52), yet he can’t express a thought or put together a coherent sentence. So either he is lying to us, or his pharmacy school pushed him out without a comprehensive education.

  13. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Must be saying something, everyone replies. Fact: era of texting, tweeting. Dopey people who cannot advance one solution to any of Milwaukees problems.

  14. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    As MPS sinks into the swamp, every year, top democrat sez it is “National Disaster” then they are either incompetent, stupid or do not care?
    What is your explanation on why, in 50 year, they cannot solve one problem.
    If they cannot, then get your ass out of the business of teaching kids and put people in charge who can help the kids isntead of the dopes that are their apologists.

  15. Milwaukee Native says:

    WCD: please stop insulting a highly qualified superintendent by calling her a puppet. I suspect you know little about Dr. Driver, her management approaches, or her relationships with others in the city.

  16. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    She fits that description exactly.
    For the last 50 years I have seen 20 or so Supers, come and go, and things just get worse.
    Anyone with any brains knows that the system does not work. Will never work. The Unions, Lefites, Barrett, administration stops anyone that wants change. Thornton found that out.
    What major changes has she pushed that might work? Nothing. She is a desert of ideas.
    You can tell that she is nothing but a puppet cause the white, male, liberal, racists that ruin Milwaukee are defending her.
    We are waiting for someone in Milwaukee to react to the charges made by Arne Ducan with some solutions.

    SILENCE, Nothing!!

  17. PMD says:

    How many conversations have you had with her WCD? None right?

  18. Virginia Small says:

    WCD: Since you believe the school system “Will never work,” maybe you can simply stop making it a punching bag and focus on making positive change on other fronts.

    You clearly do not want to hear about any changes and improvements made to MPS, including Community Schools working in collaboration with United Way and other nonprofits. MPS getting better runs counter to your endlessly-repeated talking points–and potential to promote more funding of for-profit schools.

  19. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    It is interesting. The apologists for the MPS “national ” disaster are worried about he rep of the Super.
    Babble out something like Virginia, but never talk about the kids. It is all about them.
    Where are their solutions, we have tried, CHOICE, Vouchers, more money, Kooyenga/Darlign and fought by the Left all the way cause all they care about is the money and the control. I have yet to see anything come from this guru except: More money, no design, no supervisor, just give us the money”.
    What a bunch of losers. How many Black ,Hispanic kids have you lost in the last 40 years? Stupid, incompetent, power hungry nebbishes.

  20. Thomas says:

    Bruce wrote another intelligent essay for us. The first 7 or 8 responses to it were ignorant and irrelevant rants by WCD. Many of the rest of the posts were responses to those rants. If this site were a school, the staff would by comprised of one vandal, 6 to 8 custodians cleaning up after the vandal, a teacher or 2 and an administrator.

    I was a teacher for many years, during which time I refrained from saying “shut up.” I have encouraged WCD to enroll in a remedial writing class several times on this site. That was a polite way of saying that he wasn’t making sense …

    Exasperated by what WCD did to destroy potential discussion on a good essay by Bruce Murphy on an important education issue, I hereby ask (without respect due or otherwise) for WCD to SHUT UP. Take a break from posting until you have learned enough about writing to get an inkling of an idea about how other people think.

  21. Thomas says:

    Correction: I meant to say that “7 or 8 of the first 19 responses to the essay were ignorant and irrelevant rants by WCD.” Quoting the late, great Minut Boal: “My bad.”

  22. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    “How will MPS ever improve, if no one will even admit there is a problem or care about the kids.”

  23. Thomas says:

    The principal at a Milwaukee Public School my children attended greeted every student every morning. The teacher at a Milwaukee Public School K-4, currently attended by one of my grandchildren, shakes the hand of every child at dismissal every day – after she has identified the person who is picking up the child. These gestures show me that there are teachers and administrators at MPS who care for the children with whom they are charged.

    People who say that others do not care for children show no regard for those others. Note to people who reflexively dismiss others: OTHER PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE, TOO, and a healthy % of people care about children. Where is the evidence in the MPS takeover plan that state senators Darling and Kooyenga care about the school children of Milwaukee?

  24. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    We merely point out the obvious facts: MPS is “National Disaster” by Arne Duncan.
    Only 15% of the kids in third grade, the grade that my wife taught, can read so from then on they are lost. The people here are apologists for the system, as it destroys the kids futures, hundreds of thousands of them
    We, the Conservatives have made numerous attempts to fix or change MPS cause it is the kids that count, not the apologists here.
    Thomas blabbers on for two full paragraphs another apologist, and say exactly nothing, not one solution.
    “Just the facts” Dragnet used to say.
    My Dad used to say: Facts talk, BS walks”. Thank you ll for the BS, let us worry about kids instead of the educates, the Left, power, salaries, bennies. Save the Kids Dummies. We are not writing term papers I do that in newspapers for 50 year, this si like texting. short sweet, t”he facts”
    Thomas, after reading your BS, tell me your solutions besides more money, less supervision testing , more union powers!

  25. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Darling and Kooyenga wil not get one vote for working to help MPS kids. Tommy, and our group, have worked tirelessly, over the years, to try to fix MPS and the Left has fought very change cause it harms their power, money and bennies.
    The opinions out state, of both Dems and GOP leaders, is that unless the Milwaukee Left wants to change, why bother. They will not get more money.

  26. Walker on Koch says:

    Thorton was the worst of the worst. A figure head for the rethugs in charge. Met him on a couple of occasions. Never had a good thing to say. Loved to belittle people & keep himself surrounded by servants.

  27. Thomas says:

    It did not surprise me that WCD in post # 24 dismissed the examples offered in post 23 of a caring MPS principal and a caring MPS teacher. I provided those examples in response to his incessant, groundless allegations that MPS teachers and administrators do not care about the children they serve. I am uncertain as to whether WCD understands the function of examples in the development of an argument. He routinely ignores examples and facts: favoring reiteration of innuendo gleaned from talk radio and TV cable news.

    I wonder if WCD is capable of making a logical inference. That skill is introduced routinely in the 5th grade. His wife, being a 3rd grade teacher, recognized that those who read well in the 3rd grade left behind those who did not read well. God bless her for putting up with WCD – obviously left behind as he was.

    Remedial reading classes are available at community colleges and adult high schools in addition to remedial writing classes. WCD should enroll in both, read a book; then resume in an improved fashion.

    Forward without apologies: MPS!

  28. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Fact: Top Democrat Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to Milwaukee, and called MPS “National Disaster”. Nothing Happened. MPS is able to teach only 15% of the kids, in third grade to read. Fact that MPS has continually gone downhill for 40 years.
    Fact: MPS will never fix itself. The state must come in and bust it up, give vouchers to everyone.
    In light of all those facts if the people at MPS do care, then they re totally incompetent. If they are competent as Thomas, an apologist for failure, then they are doing this on purpose, to keep the inner city kids in the slavery of un founded future.
    After Duncan came in and declared MPD disaster nothing happened. NOTHING. To me that means that the leader, the white, liberal, male,racists simply do not care or want to fix things. The spend their money on trolleys and Bucks arena.

  29. old baldy says:


    Once again you confuse your opinion with fact.

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