Category Archives: Education

West Bend School District Responds to Trump Mask Allegation

From the Washington County Insider.

There was recently a post on social media about face masks that claimed middle school students in the West Bend School District were being asked to remove some political masks and not others.

Superintendent Jen Wimmer was asked about the allegations regarding the masks and responded.

“We have been made aware of a person posting information on a local Facebook group page that alleges a staff member at Badger Middle School told a student to remove a face mask because it featured a political candidate. The Badger administrative team, supported by our Director of Human Resources, is conducting a thorough investigation.

As that investigation takes place, families and the community can be assured that the West Bend School District believes students have the right to exercise non offensive and non disruptive free speech. Supporting a political candidate or advocating for a group (i.e. BLM, Blue Lives, flag, military, etc. as Ms. Kellom notes) is allowed in our schools. There is no policy or practice that would discourage this (unless as part of that message it included offensive language or imagery).”

The commoditization of a college education

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week. Yes, I do use “college” and “university” interchangeably because the content applies to both but it gets wordy to keep saying “colleges and universities.” Enjoy!

Wisconsin’s colleges and universities have begun their fall semesters with a variety of plans for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Students throughout the state and nation are living through an unpredictable whipsaw of experiences as colleges change the rules depending on the latest COVID-19 test numbers. These changing experiences are perhaps forever changing the fundamentals of the college experience and the value proposition of a college degree.

As a parent of three kids who are currently in college and one college graduate, the value of a college education is something that I have always considered undeniable. Both of my parents had college degrees and I was reared to believe that a college education is the golden ticket to the middle class. The mere possession of a sheepskin opens doors and careers that are otherwise unavailable.

While the actual education is the most important part of college, the campus experience is also a key part of shaping a person for the larger world. Being physically on a college campus is the first time away from home for many people and is where they learn to interact, socialize, work, collaborate, and play with people from vastly different backgrounds and experiences. It is also where one forms bonds and relationships that can help one get started and progress in their careers.

In more recent years, the value proposition of a college education has been eroding. Greased by easy money from the federal government, the cost to attend college has increased far faster than the ability of most people to pay for it. At the same time, the rise of lucrative careers in technology and the global commercial reach of the internet have made a college degree less important as a ticket to wealth. There will always be careers that will require a rigorous advanced education, but a bright kid can do very well for him or herself with a couple of key technical certifications or a catchy online business.

As the perceived worth of a college degree has been slowly declining for many people and the cost of that degree has been increasing, traditional colleges have been investing more and more into the campus experience. To visit some college campuses is to visit monuments to extravagance. Dormitories look like modern upscale apartments. The workout facilities are expansive and beautiful. Lecture halls and classrooms are equipped with the most sophisticated technology. The shared spaces are littered with study nooks, coffee shops, entertainment distractions, movie theaters, restaurants, and more.

All of those campus amenities cost money — a lot of money — and they are part of the reason for the ballooning cost of college. What happens when students are paying for all of those amenities but do not get to use them? That is what is happening for college students all over the state and nation as college administrators decide to lock down campuses, quarantine entire dorms, and move classes online.

Families and their college students might have been a bit more forgiving in the spring when colleges precipitously closed in the face of an unknown virus with scary predictions of millions of dead. Now we are entering a new phase. Colleges are demonstrating how they will react to any future health concern and creating uncertainty that students will ever be able to rely on having a true campus experience.

When a traditional college decides to close the campus and provide all of their education online, they are changing the value proposition of the education they are offering. The students are still paying for all of the amenities that sit empty and unused. The only thing that the students are getting for their money is the education provided through a computer screen as they sit alone in a dorm, apartment, or at home. If that is the case, then why are they paying so much? How is the education provided by UW-La Crosse or Marquette University any better than the education provided by tenured online universities like Capella University or the University of Phoenix? If universities are to be judged solely by the quality of the education they are providing through their online portals, then many traditional universities will struggle to differentiate themselves without being able to use their beautiful campuses to lure students.

The longer that universities forgo access to their campuses and deliver learning only online, the more students will shop around for their college experience. While a student may not be able to put a proper price on sitting on UW-Madison’s Memorial Union Terrace tapping out a research paper with an eclectic guitar player strumming nearby, that student can certainly put a price on sitting in their bedroom listening to a lecture on their computer.

The great commoditization of education happens when the intangibles of campus life are squeezed out and students are left to simply decide if taking Math 240 from Online University A is better or worse than that offered by Online University B. As traditional colleges underwrite the move to online education and close off their campuses, they are hastening their own decline.

 

The commoditization of a college education

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a little snippet.

When a traditional college decides to close the campus and provide all of their education online, they are changing the value proposition of the education they are offering. The students are still paying for all of the amenities that sit empty and unused. The only thing that the students are getting for their money is the education provided through a computer screen as they sit alone in a dorm, apartment, or at home. If that is the case, then why are they paying so much? How is the education provided by UW-La Crosse or Marquette University any better than the education provided by tenured online universities like Capella University or the University of Phoenix? If universities are to be judged solely by the quality of the education they are providing through their online portals, then many traditional universities will struggle to differentiate themselves without being able to use their beautiful campuses to lure students.

The longer that universities forgo access to their campuses and deliver learning only online, the more students will shop around for their college experience. While a student may not be able to put a proper price on sitting on UW-Madison’s Memorial Union Terrace tapping out a research paper with an eclectic guitar player strumming nearby, that student can certainly put a price on sitting in their bedroom listening to a lecture on their computer.

The great commoditization of education happens when the intangibles of campus life are squeezed out and students are left to simply decide if taking Math 240 from Online University A is better or worse than that offered by Online University B. As traditional colleges underwrite the move to online education and close off their campuses, they are hastening their own decline.

Black Boy Suspended For Playing With Nerf Gun in Own Home

So the schools force the kids to learn virtually and then impose ridiculous rules in their homes? Nuts to that.

A 12-year-old boy in Colorado Springs was suspended from school for five days for playing with a toy gun during a virtual art class – an infraction that resulted in Grand Mountain school sending a police officer to the pupil’s home.

The boy’s parents, Curtis Elliott Jr and Dani Elliott, say the police visit terrified them and put their son Isaiah in danger.

“I never thought, ‘You can’t play with a Nerf gun in your own home because somebody may perceive it as a threat and call the police on you,’” Dani Elliott told the Washington Post.

Isaiah Elliot was not charged but he now has an entry on his disciplinary record saying he brought a “facsimile of a firearm to school”, and a record with the El Paso county sheriff’s office. Another boy who was studying at Elliott’s house was also reportedly suspended.

[…]

The Elliotts have decided to pull their son out of school, hoping to find a place at a school adapted to working with students with attention deficit disorder. His mother said she told administrators: “Black children cannot have that sort of thing on their record. You are reducing his chances at success.”

Good for the parents.

Principals Report No Outbreak at High Schools

Good news.

The email states that as of Thursday, 31 students had been placed in quarantine after having contact with a positive case.

Upon closer examination of contact proximity and exposure time, Superintendent Jen Wimmer confirmed that the number was reduced to 24 students.

Graf and Schlass added there have been no transmissions of COVID-19 during the first week of school, which began Sept. 1.

Bear in mind, there will be an outbreak at some point. That is not the question. The question is how are we all going to react. Panic? Fear? Shut down? Or take reasonable actions and carry on with the duty to educate?

More Families Homeschooling

Maybe a long-term benefit of so many schools abandoning their duty to educate. More families spending more time together and educating their kids with their values. Stronger families. Smarter, more independent kids. Promising future. Heh.

The effect of the Wuhan virus crisis is obvious in the responses: Parents reported declining participation in every institutional school option, with the exception of “charter school.” Still, the decline of “public school” was the most notable, falling from 83 percent to 76 percent.

Given the fact that this poll measured families, not children, the percentage of home-schoolers among the overall student population could be even higher. Samantha Spitzer, a certified teacher and home-schooling parent, believes this to be the case. Spitzer has been hosting “how to home-school” workshops throughout her local region of West Virginia this August. She’s seen dozens of first-time home-schoolers showing up at each forum.

“I talked to someone at my county school board office,” Spitzer said. “She left on a Friday evening, Aug. 7, and by Monday morning she had 175 notices of intent to home-school on her desk — all from brand-new families.” Based on public school enrollment numbers, Spitzer estimates that in one local county, as many as one-fourth of K-12 children might be homeschooled this year.

Verona’s New High School Campus is Done (and empty)

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. If kids ever go back to school, they might like the building and facilities.

But remember that they will put the same teachers in there who are churning out results where 51.2% of the high schoolers are less than proficient in Language Arts and 55.2% of the kids are less than proficient in Math. In other words, less than half of the kids in this school are proficient at either math or English language arts. But hey… the facilities are cool. I’m sure that will help.

VERONA — A cathedral-height atrium will bathe students in sunlight as they eat lunch, small conference rooms attached to classrooms and the large “social stairs” are designed to promote collaboration, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the library pull a view of the rolling countryside inside the new $150 million Verona High School.

After two years of construction — and more years of preparation and anticipation — the project to transform farm fields on the edge of the growing city into a modern high school is complete.

[…]

The 592,000-square-foot building occupies a seven-acre footprint on a 162-acre parcel just southeast of where Highway 18-151, West Verona Road and Epic Lane meet. Parking lots and new athletic facilities, such as turf football and soccer fields, baseball and softball diamonds, and tennis courts, surround the building.

[…]

Perhaps the most striking space in the school runs the length of two football fields through the center of the building.

A large atrium features three-story-high ceilings lined with windows at the top. Throughout the ground floor and a second-floor balcony of the atrium, restaurant-style booths, high-top tables and conventional dining tables offer spots for 1,000 students to eat at one time, and nine lunch lines will provide a variety of food options. Three “bridges” on the upper floors divide up the expansive space.

Expansive atrium
A central atrium of the new school draws in an abundance of light to a space that spans two football fields and can fit up to 1,000 students for lunch.

The space acts as the backbone of the school as most instructional spaces ring the atrium.

Classrooms for core subjects like English, math and science line the hallways of the second and third floors around the atrium. Some have windows looking outside, and others provide views looking down into the atrium.

In the classrooms, there are no rows of stale wooden desks. Instead, each room has brightly colored seating of three styles — regular chairs, barstool-height chairs and “comfy furniture,” such as sofas — to accommodate student preference, Hammen said.

Washington/Ozaukee Health Department Issue School Opening Guidance

SMH…. way to be on top of it… schools are opening NOW. It is August 28th. And NOW the health department decides to offer some guidance? School Boards should remember that they serve the voters in their districts and take this guidance for what it is… one more unelected official’s opinion.

WEST BEND — The Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department recently published guidance for a COVID-19 decision-making framework for schools. The department also added data for burden by zip code and schools.

The decision-making framework will provide guidance to school districts and school boards for understanding COVID-19 risk. It will also “help districts determine when to implement virtual, hybrid (blended learning), or inperson instruction for the 2020-21 academic year,” according to the framework.

Final determinations will be made by school boards and district administration.

The framework data is based on the burden of COVID-19 cases, which is the number of COVID-19

cases in a 14-day period computed as a rate per 100,000 people, allowing for comparison between communities.

Risk level is placed into one of five categories: low, moderate, moderately high, high and critical.

Less than 10 cases per day per 100,000 people would constitute an area as low burden. An area with at least 350 new cases per day would fall into the critical category.

The Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department recommends that areas with a low burden host inperson classes five days a week.

Areas in the moderate or moderately high category are recommended to use a hybrid or in-person model with physical distancing.

Defund government schools

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

The problem we have in America is not in the collective support for education. We have proven time and time again that we, as a people, will dig deep into our pockets to support education. The problem we have is that we have put our trust in too many government schools that routinely fail in their duty to provide the education for which we are paying.

For decades, we have seen educational outcomes remain static or decline as the taxpayers continue to shovel more and more cash into the flames. We are spending more than ever on government schools and our kids are getting a worse education than their parents or their grandparents. Now as COVID has laid bare the priorities of the people who lead our government school systems, we see why. Providing in-person classroom teaching is proven to be the most effective method for educating most kids, but when push comes to shove, educating kids is less of a priority than servicing the political clout of government employees. 

[…]

One cannot claim to support education and then continue to support government schools that are refusing to provide a quality education. We must put our money where our hearts and mouths are and spend our money on people and schools that are striving to educate kids despite the obstacles. We should lavishly fund true educators and cut off those who would continue to collect a paycheck while cowering in their virtual basement.

Wisconsin was an innovator in creating school choice for families to choose better schools for their kids even when their economic circumstances would not allow it. School choice was a conscious acknowledgment that wealthier families have always had the choice to send their kids to better schools and the taxpayers should enable the same choice for all families. The politicians have shackled Wisconsin’s three school choice programs with income restrictions, onerous deadlines, and enrollment caps. The decision by some government school districts to intentionally provide a substandard education provides ample justification to unshackle our school choice programs and allow every family to make the choices that wealthier families are already making.

If we truly believe in the power and importance of education, then we must stop supporting government institutions that have long since demonstrated that they are incapable, and in recent revelations, unwilling to provide the education that our kids deserve. We must redirect our hard-earned and painfully taxed dollars to people and institutions who value education for kids as much as their parents do.

Billions for education. Not one cent for tribute.

Missing School More Dangerous than Virus

Yup.

Children are more likely to be harmed by not returning to school next month than if they catch coronavirus, the UK’s chief medical adviser says.

Prof Chris Whitty said “the chances of children dying from Covid-19 are incredibly small” – but missing lessons “damages children in the long run”.

Millions of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are due to return to school within weeks.

Black Advocacy Group Rejects Madison School Referendum

Good for them.

An advocacy group of Black leaders is opposing the Madison School District’s $350 million ask of taxpayers this fall, arguing the proposals are under-developed and the district hasn’t done enough to support African American children to get their endorsement on the two November ballot referendums.

In a statement sent to some media members Tuesday, Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County said it’s concerned with the progress on closing wide racial achievement gaps; the cost of the referendums could be burdensome on fixed-income residents; and educational priorities in the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted since the referendums were first proposed more than a year ago.

“We have not been presented with evidence that links additional public expenditures with increasing the academic performance of African American students,” the organization said in the statement. “More of the same for African American students is unacceptable.”

I’d go one step further… we have not been presented with evidence that links additional public expenditures with increasing academic performance for any students.

Mequon Public School Abandon Duty to Educate

Despicable. And then the Superintendent hides. What a complete abandonment of public duty to the kids.

The Mequon-Thiensville School District planned to bring kids back to class but decided Monday night to start school virtually.

Many parents said they were blindsided, but in a letter to parents Tuesday afternoon, the superintendent said the risk for COVID-19 spread is just too high to bring kids back in a few weeks.

[…]

WISN 12 News tried to ask the superintendent about the decision.

A spokesperson said he wasn’t available.

Wisconsin Ranks Last in Racial Equality in Education

Let’s be honest… this is roughly 96% the failure of Milwaukee Public Schools. At this point, we are doing more harm than good keeping that district operating.

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin came in lowest in a new study by the WalletHub website that examines equality between white and black students in educational progress among the 50 states, based on six key dimensions.

Wisconsin earned a total score of 13.44 in the study by the personal finances website, with the maximum score being 100. The key educational dimensions in terms of differences between blacks and whites are the share of adults with at least a high school diploma, share of adults with at least a four-year degree, standardized test scores, mean SAT score, average ACT score and public high school graduation rate.

Let the school year begin — and continue

Here is my full column that ran this week in the Washington County Daily News.

After a truncated school year and a summer that has been robbed of the normal cultural milestones, it is almost difficult to believe that the new school year is upon us. Yet upon us it is and school districts all over the state are releasing their plans to open.

The science and public opinion overwhelmingly support opening schools with in-person instruction with reasonable precautions to mitigate the spread of disease. The Centers for Disease Control said, “The unique and critical role that schools play makes them a priority for opening and remaining open, enabling students to receive both academic instruction and support as well as critical services.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.”

The vast majority of people agree. According to a recent AP-NORC poll, 68% of Americans think that schools should have in-person instruction with some changes to lessen the chance for spreading diseases. The myriad surveys that local school districts conducted came back with even stronger preferences with as much as 88% (West Bend) wanting some form of in-person school instruction.

To their credit, every public and private school and school district in Washington County responded accordingly and is opening with a plan that includes in-person instruction. Some plans are better than others. The West Bend School District is offering in-person, virtual, or hybrid models so that each family can choose what best fits their situation and risk tolerance. The Germantown School District is offering an in-person or virtual model, but the in-person model for high schoolers is a goofy alternating schedule that wreaks havoc on family schedules.

Still, the schools in Washington County will be open for education and that is to be commended. It demonstrates that education truly is a priority when so many other schools across the state and country are choosing to eschew their duty to educate the adults of tomorrow. Opening our schools is not only vitally important for the education of our kids, it is also imperative for their social and emotional well-being.

But we must gird ourselves for the inevitable outbreak of COVID-19 when our schools open. Every parent knows that some sniffle or cough will ravage their household within a couple weeks of school opening every year. It is the unavoidable outcome of the commingling of hundreds of humans with questionable hygiene. The implementation of social distancing, thorough sanitation, masks, shields, and limited or coordinated movement will surely reduce the spread of disease, but nature has a way of finding holes in any defense. There will be outbreaks of various contagious diseases and, undoubtedly, one of those will be COVID-19.

Davy Crockett was fond of saying, “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead.” That is the attitude we will need from our school leaders and parents when outbreaks happen. The science is sound. Our kids need to be in school and they cannot afford to miss any more. The risk of kids suffering severe harm from COVID-19 or spreading it is low. The short- and long-term educational, emotional, and social harm our kids will suffer if they miss more school is immense.

When the outbreaks come, and they will, we must not panic. We must act, but we must not panic. And when we act to isolate the infected and mitigate the spread, we must do so with the overarching goal of keeping our schools open.

The schools must open. They must stay open. We are sure we are right. We must go ahead.

 

Families Move Away from Public Education

The trend will continue as public education refuses to provide education.

More than twice as many Wisconsin families as a year ago have told the state they plan to homeschool for the 2020-21 school year.

According to data from the state Department of Public Instruction, 1,661 families filed forms to homeschool between July 1 and Aug. 6, up from 727 during the same period a year ago and 599 two years ago. The number of students in those families is up to 2,792 from 1,279 last year and 1,088 two years ago.

The same is true locally, as 122 Dane County families with 202 students filed forms in that period, up from 55 and 80 last year.

Michelle Yoo, the administrator of the Madison Area Homeschoolers Facebook page, said she’s seen evidence of the uptick in interest.

“When Madison announced they were doing online school, I think I had about 100 requests to join in about a two-week period,” Yoo said. “I can’t tell you what I used to get, but it was nowhere near 100.”

Yale University is Racist

So says the Justice Department.

A Justice Department investigation has found Yale University favored black students and illegally discriminated against white and Asian American applicants, in violation of federal civil rights law, officials said.

The findings were detailed in a letter to the college’s attorneys on Thursday, following a two-year investigation after students had complained about the application process at some Ivy League schools.

It marks the latest action by the Trump administration aimed at rooting out discrimination in college admissions.

Parents Flock to Private Schools as Public Schools Abandon Duty to Education

We should work hard to make sure our public commitment to provide a free education to kids follows them to schools that are willing to teach them.

MILWAUKEE — As school districts continue to release plans for the start of the year, parents are quickly making decisions on their children’s education. It’s creating a trend across the country, including Wisconsin, with a lot of kids transferring to private schools with in-person instruction.

[…]

Head of School at Milwaukee Montessori, Monica Van Aken, said since early July they’ve seen a 15 to 20 percent increase in enrollment for first through sixth grade compared to the same time last year, with parents specifically looking for in-person learning.

[…]

St. Robert School in Shorewood and the University School of Milwaukee also told TMJ4 News, they’ve seen unusual spikes in enrollment for this time of the year.

A spokesperson for the University School released a statement saying in part, they “have had more inquiries in the last two weeks than in any other two-week period in at least the last six years.”

Jim Bender of School Choice Wisconsin, a nonprofit that works with private schools, said the trend towards private schools is widespread, even if it means paying tuition.

“It’s something new. You don’t see just real dramatic changes in enrollment like this happening right now,” Bender said.

Though, he also said it could have an impact on public schools.

“When that student is no longer enrolled in that public school district, that public school district will no longer get funding for that student,” Bender said.

UW System Still Has $1.33 Billion in Reserves

Methinks they can sustain a bit more “austerity.” 

By Ola Lisowski

The University of Wisconsin System holds $1.33 billion in reserve balances, according to a new audit report. Of the fund, $866.6 million is made up of unrestricted balances, and $468 million is restricted balances.

The audit, released by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau on July 30, shows total program revenue balances have increased by 0.8 percent since the previous year, when the system held $1.32 billion total. While restricted balances increased from $417 million to $468 million this year, unrestricted balances fell from $906.9 million to $866.6 million.

Let the school year begin — and continue

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

Still, the schools in Washington County will be open for education and that is to be commended. It demonstrates that education truly is a priority when so many other schools across the state and country are choosing to eschew their duty to educate the adults of tomorrow. Opening our schools is not only vitally important for the education of our kids, it is also imperative for their social and emotional well-being.

But we must gird ourselves for the inevitable outbreak of COVID-19 when our schools open. Every parent knows that some sniffle or cough will ravage their household within a couple weeks of school opening every year. It is the unavoidable outcome of the commingling of hundreds of humans with questionable hygiene. The implementation of social distancing, thorough sanitation, masks, shields, and limited or coordinated movement will surely reduce the spread of disease, but nature has a way of finding holes in any defense. There will be outbreaks of various contagious diseases and, undoubtedly, one of those will be COVID-19.

Davy Crockett was fond of saying, “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead.” That is the attitude we will need from our school leaders and parents when outbreaks happen. The science is sound. Our kids need to be in school and they cannot afford to miss any more. The risk of kids suffering severe harm from COVID-19 or spreading it is low. The short- and long-term educational, emotional, and social harm our kids will suffer if they miss more school is immense.

When the outbreaks come, and they will, we must not panic. We must act, but we must not panic. And when we act to isolate the infected and mitigate the spread, we must do so with the overarching goal of keeping our schools open.

Evers Says He Won’t Try to Close Schools

Uh huh

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Governor Tony Evers said he is not planning on ordering schools to start the year virtually, saying individual school districts are doing a good job thus far forming plans.

“I am extremely pleased with the conversations that school districts across the state are having,” Evers told reporters during a media briefing. “Not only with their teachers and faculty members but making sure that the community’s involved.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R – Juneau) said he appreciated the governor affirming his position on schools but is concerned Evers may change positions.

This from the same man who said for weeks that he didn’t have the power to pass a mask mandate, then he did it. He’s the same guy who is hiding a likely felon on his staff. He’s the same guy who said he wasn’t going to issue a lockdown order days before he did. Governor Evers is not an honest man and has earned a healthy level of skepticism.

Expect Evers to try to close the schools in a couple of weeks under the fig leaf that “something changed.”