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Passing Notes: Topics for Thanksgiving Table Conversation

Inafrenzy, Flickr

Every few weeks, WUWM education reporter Rachel Morello opens up her notebook to give us the scoop about what's happening in schools around the greater Milwaukee area. Test your knowledge of headlines big and small with her news quiz!

The upcoming holiday means there’s a lot to prepare for – and I don’t just mean the turkey!

There’s plenty of catching up to do over your holiday weekend. You’ll likely spend time with your kids during their break from class – or maybe you’ll sit next to a relative who works as a teacher at your thanksgiving meal.

Ideas abound for things to chat about with the school-minded folks in your life! Plenty going on as we head into the holiday weekend…

Reporting Live...

Wisconsin schools & districts have been waiting on something – and it came just in time for the holidays!

Can you guess what that might be?

Credit Rachel Morello

The state Department of Public Instruction released annual report cards Tuesday. Every district and every individual school gets one, and they designate “accountability ratings” for schools along a five-star scale. Schools receive grades based on metrics like achievement on state tests, how well schools prepare kids for life after high school, plus data about graduation and attendance rates.

This year, the scorespaint a brighter picture for Wisconsin: the majority of the state’s students are performing at or above expectations.

LINK: Find your local school's report card on the DPI website

But, state officials say they’re not sure if those scores are an accurate reflection of what’s happening in classrooms. The DPI says it could be related to the way they calculate scores.

Because of a change in state law two years ago, DPI changed the way it calculates growth (change in student performance over time). And the significant portion of higher scores this year could be a result of statistical volatility in those calculations.

It’s a bit complicated – check out this full story for more details.

In Other News...

Another key takeaway from the latest round of report cards involved news about something that didn’t happen.

Can you guess what that was?

  1. No schools received 5 out of 5 stars
  2. No districts received failing marks
  3. No voucher schools received report cards

No districts received failing marks this year – and this is great news in particular for folks in the Racine United School District.

Racine had received a failing report card last year – which meant the pressure of a potential state takeover. Any district receiving two failing marks in a row is subject to this thing called the “Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program,” or OSPP – a 2015 state law that creates turnaround structures for failing schools.

But – similar to what happened in Milwaukee Public Schools last year -- Racine improved its score, so the district is no longer eligible for OSPP.

Taking It To the Top (Court)

One more question before I’ll dismiss you for holiday break…

This week, a prominent Milwaukee-based law firm brought suit against a prominent figure on Wisconsin’s education scene, at the State Supreme Court.

Against whom have they filed suit?

  1. State superintendent Tony Evers
  2. MPS superintendent Darienne Driver
  3. The Marquette Golden Eagle mascot

Credit WUWM News
Rick Esenberg (right) is president and general counsel for WILL, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

Lawyers at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (otherwise known as WILL) are suing the state superintendent, arguing that under his leadership, the Department of Public Instruction has been writing rules for school policy unilaterally, without running them through the process laid out in state law.

Wisconsin has this new law called the REINS Act, passed this summer. Basically, it says state agencies have to submit rule proposals to the Department of Administration and the Governor before drafting anything permanent.

Although the legislature passes education-related laws, they leave many of the specific legal language for certain statutes up to the DPI, and therefore, the superintendent.

WILL president and general counsel Rick Esenberg says this is an issue of transparency, authority, and accountability.

“The legislature is trying to set up a structure that would apply to all administrative agencies, that would provide for greater accountability,” Esenberg explains. “Keep in mind, no matter who holds these positions, no matter if there’s a Democrat who’s elected governor in 2018 – that person would be the one who gets to review administrative agency rules under this act.”

Some people have alleged that this lawsuit is politically motivated. WILL is often described as a conservative group; Evers, although non-partisan in his role as schools chief, is running as a Democrat in challenging for the governor’s seat in 2018.

What's Coming Up?

Have a happy Thanksgiving! I for one am thinking about the food I'm going to eat and the family and friends I'll get to spend time with -- and hopefully everyone else is too!

If any interesting school-related news comes up around the dinner table, share it with me! You can submit your questions about education and learning in southeastern Wisconsin below. 

Have a question about education you'd like Rachel to dig into? Submit below.