Privatizer’s Paradise: MN Comeback Touts Milwaukee “Success”

March 21, 2016

As the Minneapolis school board continues to search for a new superintendent, MN Comeback is working behind the scenes to privately wield influence over the district. This is a continuation of my posts about how the market-based reform movement is impacting the Minneapolis schools.

In a March 8 letter sent to the Minneapolis school board, MN Comeback representatives heavily lobbied board members, asking them to further partner with MN Comeback’s privately funded “coalition.” As a selling point, the letter makes this claim:

Sustained improvements and transformation require rapport and collaboration with community partners. Cities like Memphis, Oakland, Denver and Milwaukee are implementing robust citywide plans and seeing strong results.

Redo 2

MN Comeback PPT slide

Milwaukee? Yes, Milwaukee. MN Comeback wants the Minneapolis school board to look to Milwaukee, Wisconsin as an example of how to run a partnership-infused, “robust” city school district. 

As I have pointed out in previous blog posts, MN Comeback is operating under the umbrella of a national, billionaire-funded organization called Education Cities; Milwaukee is, too.

MN Comeback bills itself as a local group, run by “80 schools, organizations, and funders,” that has settled on an “ambitious goal” of creating “30,000 rigorous and relevant seats” for low-income Minneapolis students by 2025. MN Comeback likes to say it is “sector agnostic,” meaning they do not care where these “rigorous and relevant” seats are located. Yet expanding the “charter sector” is priority number one, according to this MN Comeback job posting.

MN Comeback’s equivalent in Milwaukee is called “Schools that Can Milwaukee” (STCM). This group has also come up with a catchy, numbers-based tagline, saying it wants “20,000 students in high-performing schools by 2020,” also in sector neutral “partner” schools (Education Cities’s marketing plan must be a “shared resource.”) According to its website, STCM is “intensely pursuing” strategies that sound an awful lot like MN Comeback’s:

  • Expand and Replicate Local High-Performing Schools
  • Develop High-Potential Schools into High-Performing Schools
  • Recruit High-Performing School Networks & Leaders to Milwaukee

What follows is the usual lofty jargon about the urgent need for “transformational” change that only partners such as Teach for America and “low-budget” charter school company, Rocketship Education, can provide. (Rocketship–which has been funded by California billionaire and 2014 Minneapolis school board race investor, Arthur Rock–was lampooned in this 2014 video by cartoonist Mark Fiore, who renamed it ProfitShip Learning.)

Gordon Lafer of the Economic Policy Institute has argued that Rocketship’s “cheaper by the dozen” model is nothing but a profiteering, privatizing romp at the expense of marginalized kids:

Rocketship relies on inexperienced teachers, almost one-third of whom quit last year. It saves money by having students as young as kindergarten spend one-quarter of their day in front of a computer screen with no licensed teacher present. It offers no library or librarians, no music classes, no guidance counselors and no foreign languages.

In short, it’s a model that no suburban parents would accept for their own children — and indeed Rocketship is only being promoted as an option for children who live in poor cities.

Another one of STCM’s Milwaukee partners is PAVE, which has taken on the “big job” of “changing the status quo for Milwaukee’s children” by expanding charter and “partner” schools in the city. Like MN Comeback, PAVE also works with Teach for America and the IFF–a real estate lending and consulting company with a “commitment to increasing the number of high-performing schools” in places like Milwaukee and Minneapolis

IFF shares the morality-glossed “save the kids” mission of both MN Comeback and STCM, and acts as a support system for what sound like urban takeover plans: “Foundations, school districts, and charter school authorizers have used our research to support data-driven education reform strategies, including in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Washington, DC.”  The profit motive here? Real estate investment tax credits

Milwaukee is also home to a failed, decades-old school voucher scheme that continues to be propped up. Additionally, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has starved the state’s public education system into submission by ravaging it with budget cuts and derision. (Yet Walker has had no problem publicly funding private sports stadiums.)

Since 2015, Wisconsin no longer provides tenure for its state university faculty, causing departing UW-Madison higher education policy professor, Sara Goldrick-Rab, to starkly declare that, “Terrified sheep make lousy teachers….”

Milwaukee, and Wisconsin, are in fact petri dishes for the insistent, excuses-laden policies of free-market economist Milton Friedman and his Wal-Mart-funded devotees. And this is where MN Comeback thinks we should look for examples of how to reform the Minneapolis schools?

Our elementary and secondary educational system needs to be radically restructured. Such a reconstruction can be achieved only by privatizing a major segment of the educational system—i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools.

–Milton Friedman, Public Schools: Make Them Private

In Milwaukee, community members–including the NAACP, a Latino rights group and the Milwaukee teachers union–have organized to fight the attempted takeover of their schools. They cite the documented negative impact takeovers and school choice schemes have on students of color and their families, and they want something different–public community schools built around these priorities:

  1. Engaging, culturally relevant, and challenging curriculum
  2. Emphasis on quality teaching, not high stakes testing
  3. Wrap-around supports and opportunities
  4. Positive discipline practices (e.g. Restorative Justice/Practices)
  5. Authentic community and parent engagement
  6. Inclusive school leadership

If MN Comeback thinks Minneapolis should emulate Milwaukee, they might want to take a step back, and think again.

No grant, no guru, no outside funding source. My work is entirely funded by my very kind and generous readers. Thank you to those who have already donated!


One thought on “Privatizer’s Paradise: MN Comeback Touts Milwaukee “Success”

  1. Gwen Spurgat

    Watch the School board meeting on April 15th at 4:35 into the meeting. One board member asks the board to add to the agenda a discussion about the board taking a position on MN Comeback. This addition to the agenda requires 2 other board members to support it. And….. CRICKETS! No other board member decides MN Comeback is worth discussing! See it here…

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