Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An Open Letter to Governor Walker about His School Choice Speech to the American Federation for Children

Dear Governor Walker:

I visited the McIver Institute website to view the speech on your plans to expand school choice in Wisconsin which you gave to the American Federation for Children on May 9th.   I have a few questions.  If you want to just post your responses below in the comments section of this blog, that would be super!  Thanks in advance.

1.   Did you use a teleprompter?  I don't think I saw you look at your notes more than once or twice in the thirty-three minute speech.  If you gave that speech just winging it, I am very impressed.  (When you ate David Gregory's lunch in his interview of you, I also gave you credit where it was deserved.)  My one (very small) constructive criticism of your speaking style is to suggest that you cut back on nodding your head up and down "yes" when applause is washing over the podium.  It makes you look a little bit like Dan Aykroyd in the Blues Brothers, and a little too self-congratulatory.  On the other hand, if you make it to the presidency some day, and Mr. Aykroyd can lose some weight, he will probably be all set for a return gig on SNL.

2.   Did the folks at AFC ask you to speak for thirty minutes or more?  The speech could have been a bit shorter.   I gathered from your remarks that your "good friend" Scott Jensen was on or near the dais, and Howard Fuller was also there to receive an award.  Otherwise, I suspect the audience was not overly interested in your jokes and digs about the Packers and the wins by the Badger football and basketball teams over the Buckeyes.  That stuff should probably be saved for in-state audiences.  Just saying.

3.  Speaking of your touting the Badger football and basketball teams, as you know, those teams are both based here in Madison.  Did your kind comments about the Badgers represent some small effort at rapprochement with us folks here in Madison?  If so, I for one welcome it.  I had seen in the National Review where you commented in a press conference (after Justice Prosser lost the election before he won the election):  “You’ve got a world driven by Madison, and a world driven by everybody else out across the majority of the rest of the state of Wisconsin,”  That made me a little nervous that you might be seeing yourself as the governor of the majority of the rest of the state of Wisconsin other than Madison. 

4.  Did the folks at AFC know that you had announced the largest cuts in K-12 education in our state's history when they invited you to be the keynote speaker on education?  If so, did they ask you not to address that in the speech, or did you decide that was not important to talk about?

5.   You repeatedly discussed in your speech how much you value teachers and the work they do.  Did that seem a little inconsistent with the rather pointed message you delivered in your budget address and in other interviews that teachers were totally overpaid for the work they do?  Frankly, that part of the speech seemed a bit like Marc Anthony's eulogy of Julius Caesar where you are clearly hearing one thing, but you're supposed to be thinking the opposite.  Did you read Julius Caesar in high school?   If so, you got that rhetorical device down perfectly, and I am guessing you aced the test on that play.

6.   Can you point me in the direction of some data that says the Florida schools are performing at a half grade level higher than Wisconsin schools after all the Jeb Bush school reforms there?  Was your comment based on some common assessment test given to the same grades in both states?  If so, you've got to tip your hat to the folks in Florida.   If not, were you just winging it on that comparison?  I'll bet you all the money in my pocket against all the money in yours that if we go grab ten random seniors from public high schools in Eau Claire and ten random seniors in public high schools in Boca Raton, and give them all the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, the Badgers will totally kick butt.  "Yaah, Go Bucky."

7.  Speaking of testing, you sure told a great story about St. Marcus Lutheran School and how the parental choice students in that school, in a depressed part of Milwaukee, were not only outperforming their Milwaukee Public School peers, but beating the average state results on the WKCE tests.  Did you decide not to mention to your AFC audience that the recent WKCE test results released by State Superintendent Ewers showed the Milwaukee County parental choice students were, after twenty years of the school choice program, under-performing their low income peers in the Milwaukee Public School System, and substantially under-performing their low-income peers state-wide?

8.  Again on assessment testing, did you see any irony in your being able to cherry-pick and talk about the excellent results of the St. Marcus students (instead of the dismal results of the students at Texas Bufkin Christian Academy) because you were able to look at test results of those students using the same WKCE testing regimen that is required of the public schools in Wisconsin?  As I understand it, that is going to be a tad more difficult under your budget proposal when school choice schools will be free to abandon the WKCE tests, and use "any nationally normed" assessment test.   Frankly, I would bet dollars to donuts that if the folks at AFC had told you they wanted you to spend your thirty minutes discussing the results of several Milwaukee choice schools identified by drawing their names out of a hat, you might have been busy in Wisconsin on May 9.  Maybe the decision to drop WKCE testing for the private choice schools is intended to avoid any embarassment like the recent report released by the DPI?  Regardless, it doesn't strike me as a confident move on your part.

9.   You talked about how important it was to have informed parents making informed choices of where to send their kids to school.  You mentioned how much effort you and the First Lady made in interviewing the Brookfield public high school staff before making a decision to send your sons to public high school instead of a select private high school for which at least one of them had qualified.  Do you think it is going to help or hinder a poor Milwaukee parent trying to assess the relative quality of Rufus King High and Pius XII High when there is no common assessment test being administered under your revisions to the school choice rules?   For that matter, if someone whose kid is attending Texas Bufkin wants to research St. Sebastian Parochial School to see if that seems like a better school, the "nationally normed test" rule you propose will seemingly allow one choice school to call one test an acceptable "nationally normed" test for its students, while the next choice school goes with an entirely different test.  Seems kind of apples to oranges to me.  But maybe you have a good answer for this problem. 

10.   You announced your intention to expand into Beloit, Green Bay and Racine with the choice program.  How'd you choose those districts?  Are they ones that you consider to be failing their students?  Did you compare their test results against all the other districts in the state to come up with those three districts being most in need of school choice?  Did you use the Superintendent's handy website comparing every school district in Wisconsin with all the others in terms of test results?   If not, why not? 

11.   Finally, I enjoyed hearing about your reading Dr. Seuss to third-graders around the state.  I even enjoyed the portion of the Dr. Seuss book you read in your speech.  Tell me, though.  Beyond occasionally reading to third-graders and attending parent-teacher conferences at your kids' schools, how did you manage to become such a national expert on education?

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