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Latest News from the Campaign

RKO Radio PictureThe biggest news is that the other candidate on the April 2, 2013 ballot for Seat #5 has withdrawn from the race.  Her name will still appear, so please don’t neglect to vote for TJ Mertz.  For all the voting information, visit the City Clerk’s site.

There have been some big endorsements for TJ the last few weeks.  These include School Board Members Arlene Silveira and Ed Hughes, Madison Teachers Incorporated Voters, The Democratic Party of Dane County, The South Central Federation of Labor, The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Capital Times and more.

The League of Women Voters of Dane County/Madison City Channel  “Know Your Candidates” interview for MMSD Board of Education Seat #5 in in rotation and has been posted.  You may view it here.

The Isthmus Daily Page has been doing Q & As.  The first two with TJ can be found here and here.

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Prepared, Progressive, Passionate

511aa8da5eccb.preview-620 from captimes2The vote for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, Seat #5 is Tuesday, April 2.  The other candidate on the ballot has withdrawn.  To find your polling place or other voting information, visit the City Clerk’s office.  Below is an updated version of my  column as it appeared in the Cap Times.

Prepared, Progressive, Passionate

I am running for the Madison School Board because Madison is a community and district where we have the means, the will and the responsibility to show that in a socio-economically diverse district public schools can live up to their promises to create opportunities for individuals, strengthen our community, and build a better future for all our children. We must honestly assess failings such as gaps in the achievement and opportunities of our students; we must also listen to the voices from our classrooms and community to understand what is already working and build from our strengths.

The challenges have never been greater. Cuts in funding, privatization pressures, growing inequality, attacks on our teachers and their unions, new standardized tests and misguided “accountability” systems, the push to narrow the curriculum, and more, have made the work of School Board members more difficult and more crucial. Madison needs School Board members who are prepared, progressive and passionate.

I am prepared. I came to Madison for graduate school in the history of public education; we stayed to raise a family. Our two sons have attended Franklin, Randall, Wright and West. In 2006 I was appointed to the district’s Equity Task Force. Since that time I have been working with groups and individuals in Madison and statewide to strengthen and improve our schools.

The diverse membership of the Equity Task Force came together to create an ambitious vision for our district, one that is still relevant. As a co-chair of Community and Schools Together, I helped build a grass-roots organization that led the successful school referendum campaigns in 2006 and 2008. Working with the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and the School Finance Network, I have been active with statewide coalitions of parents, teachers, students and community groups. We have advocated for school finance reform that addresses the varied needs of our students, schools and districts.

I have attended over 200 School Board and committee meetings and countless legislative education hearings. I have listened to the concerns of hundreds of parents, teachers and students and helped them find ways to make their voices heard. Throughout this I have written for Advocating on Madison Public Schools (www.madisonamps.org) and illuminated issues facing public schools.

My efforts have been recognized by the support my candidacy has earned from national education leaders such as Diane Ravitch, state leaders including Rep. Sondy Pope, current Board of Education Members Arlene Silveira and Ed Hughes, Madison Teachers Incorporated, and many parents, teachers, students and community members who I have worked with to make our schools stronger.

I am progressive. I am committed to participatory democracy, transparent governance, high standards of professionalism, informed research and evaluations, budgeting that targets those students with the greatest challenges and needs. Like John Dewey, I believe that our community must provide “all of its children” with “what the best and wisest parent wants” for their child.

I am passionate. As a scholar and an advocate, I have made public education my life’s work. There is nothing we do that is more important than preparing our children for the challenges they will face.

None of this will be quick and none of this will be easy. I ask for your support and your vote on April 2. To find out more about my candidacy, visit MertzforMadison.com.

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News from the Campaign

RKO Radio PictureWith the February 19th Primary vote less than a week away, there is much to share.

First, early voting has started.  You can visit the City Clerk’s site for hours and procedures, to find your polling place, and all other voting information.

We are making a big push before the primary and need volunteers.  Come to Ground Zero, 744 Williamson St.between 10:00 and 11:30 AM on Saturday February 16th and grab a route to help get the word out, or contact us and make other arrangements.  Yard signs are going up this week, if you would like one, let us know. We have been doing listening sessions around town, drop us a line if you would like to attend one or host.

The website has been updated with a list endorsers, including former Board of Education Presidents Carol Carstensen and Bill Keys, UW-Madison Teaching Assistants Association – AFT Local 3220, dozens of current and former MMSD staff members, and even more community members and activists.  Also, read some great new entries on the “What TJ’s Supporters Are Saying” page.

On the broadcast media front, the podcast of an interview with John “Sly” Sylvester is up, give it a listen.  Sly says: “TJ Mertz has been working to improve the schools in Madison for decades. He’s got my vote!”  The League of Women Voters of Dane County/Madison City Channel “Know Your Candidates” joint interview for MMSD Board of Education Seat #5 in in rotation and has been posted.  You may view it here.

Much in the print media also.  The guest column for the Cap Times — TJ Mertz: I’m progressive, passionate, prepared to serve schools” — has been published.  In recent weeks letters to the editor in support from Gary L. Stout, Kristen Nelson, Peter Gascyne, and Laura Chern have been printed and posted.  The Isthmus published an overview of the primary last week.

Last, West House Connection is hosting a forum, with all seven candidates, on Monday, February 18th, 7:00PM – 9:00PM at the Urban League Building 2222 South Park St.

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TJ Mertz for Madison Board of Education, Seat #5

I am excited to announce my candidacy for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education, Seat #5.

Our public schools are the backbone of our community, the wellspring of our democracy, and the best means we have of providing a better future to all our children. As a parent, scholar, advocate, activist and organizer, I have worked with parents, professors, students, school boards, administrators, legislators, educators, and their unions to better understand and strengthen public schools. I don’t think there has ever been a time when the challenges to our schools have been greater. I want to help Madison meet these challenges by serving on the Board of Education.

I have stood against the pressures of privatization, worked against the expansion and misuse of standardized testing, and have fought for adequate and equitable funding based on the idea that all of our students deserve broad and rich opportunities.

These struggles will continue and expand. As Madison prepares to welcome a new Superintendent, I see opportunities to do more than react. Madison is a community and district where we have the means and will to show that diverse public education can live up to its promises. To do this we must honestly assess those failings illustrated by the achievement gaps, but also listen to voices of our classrooms and community to understand what is working and build from our strengths.

None of this will be quick and none of this will be easy. I ask for your help and support.

TJ Mertz

Authorized and paid for by Mertz for Madison, Jackie Woodruff, Treasurer

Join Diane Ravitch in Supporting TJ Mertz for Madison School Board

Leading education historian and champion of public schools Diane Ravitch named TJ a “strong supporter of public education” and asked her readers to “help” elect TJ Mertz in “any way you can.

You can do just that by  clicking here to add your name to his growing list of supporters, volunteer, ask for a yard sign or make a donation.  You can also add your name and volunteer by emailing MertzforMadison@sbcglobal.net.  Donations may be mailed to:

Mertz for Madison
PO Box 45941 Madison WI

Read what Professor Ravitch and others are saying about why they support TJ.

And be sure to vote for TJ on February 19th (visit the City Clerk’s office for voter information).

Dane Dems Forum and Straw Poll


I am very pleased to have received a strong plurality of votes in the Straw Poll that followed the Democratic Party of Dane County Board of Education Candidate Forum last night.  Thank you to the Dane Dems for hosting this challenging and informative exchange, the other candidates for participating (as well as their willingness to serve), and to all who attended.  Special thanks for those who gave me their support.

TJ Mertz

Schools advocate TJ Mertz talks about Madison Prep, teachers and school ‘reform’

Photo: Michele Stooker, The Capital Times

Photo: Michele Stooker, The Capital Times

From the Cap Times, by Pat Schneider

If you’ve kept up on the local debate on educational achievement in the Madison Metropolitan School District, you’ve probably heard of Thomas J. “TJ” Mertz. If you haven’t heard of him, you probably will soon, since he announced a run for the School Board last week.

A vocal critic of the controversial Madison Preparatory Academy proposal last year that brought the achievement gap back to the top of the schools agenda, Mertz has been involved for years in local school issues. He served on a school district equity task force, worked with the grassroots Communities and Schools Together referendum support group, and still is involved with the state-policy-focused Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.

But Mertz perhaps is best known for his online presence. His blog, Advocating on Madison Public Schools, and frequent Facebook posts have an influential following. “It’s how you reach people today,” he says.

A well-read, sometimes loquacious student of education history and policy, Mertz is the father of two children attending Madison public schools. An instructor of U.S. history at Edgewood College, Mertz said he became actively involved in education issues in an effort to leave the kind of legacy for his children that his mother, who was involved in open housing campaigns in the Chicago area, gave him.

Capital Times: What’s the most important issue facing the Madison Metropolitan School District today?

TJ Mertz: Trust. There’s a lot of distrust in the community on all sides — between community and the school district, within the school district between administration and classroom staff, between the board of education and the administration. If we’re going to have effective initiatives on the achievement gap, it requires trust.

CT: What can be done about that lack of trust?

TM: The district should be honest about what it can and can’t do, what is working and what isn’t working. It needs to be more open in decision-making and should be more transparent, welcoming and inclusive. There’s some collaborative work going on that’s good, but community leaders need to be more honest, too. If you are bringing in John Legend and Howard Fuller and Geoffrey Canada and say they have the answer, you’re lying to the audience. Look at how they are achieving their “success.” It’s being achieved largely through attrition, and even with that the test scores aren’t that good. Let’s talk about state school finance reform. Let’s not talk about firing teachers — every bit of research shows that as a tool for school improvement, it doesn’t work. People should stop looking for miracles. Hard work, incrementalism — it isn’t sexy — but that is what works.

CT: It was the Urban League of Greater Madison that brought Legend, Fuller and Canada to town recently for a fundraiser and education conference. You were strongly opposed to Urban League CEO Kaleem Caire’s Madison Prep proposal for a charter school aimed at students of color. Why?

TM: The proposed programs of that school did not target the kids who are being failed by the district. Ask anyone who knows curriculum if the international baccalaureate is a way to address students who are grades behind, and they’ll laugh. But that was what he was selling — so who was he targeting? Students below proficiency were the ones used in the PR campaign, which made it harder for them and a lot of other people to work with the school district. It was a bait-and-switch.

CT: You are an opponent of achievement test-based teacher evaluations. Is there any rational way to weigh how students are doing to evaluate how teachers are doing?

TM: When you get down to the classroom level, no. The sample size is too small; the data is all over the place. I’d rather have the professional judgment of peers and supervisors. When you get to the school level, you have enough information to guide you on where to look. But you should never let it drive your decision-making; we’re falling too much into setting ‘data goals’ and doing way too much assessment. If we’re doing it just to compare kids, we’re wasting everyone’s time and money.

CT: What about graduation rates — what do they tell us?

TM: Graduation rates for poor minority students in Madison are shameful. But truancy rates are shameful; we have to find a way to get kids to school. The numbers that are quoted are four-year graduation rates, but about 20 percent of African-American males are continuing to work toward a high school diploma after four years. When we talk about the 48 percent graduation rate for African-American males, those kids are nowhere in there and those kids are success stories. Let’s give the district a little credit for hanging in with them and let’s give the kids a lot of credit for hanging in there. Quoting the absolute worst number you can find all the time doesn’t help anyone.

CT: Are you opposed to charter schools and vouchers, period?

TM: I’m not opposed to charter schools. But all the research shows that charterness and non-charterness is largely irrelevant to school quality. We have non-traditional schools within the district, and we don’t have the Balkanization charters bring. What is good for a charter school is not necessarily good for the district as a whole, but when a charter school becomes a well-organized vocal group, the politics become difficult. It’s already difficult enough to keep the focus on the big picture and charter schools make that more difficult. So, I think they are a distraction. Vouchers are wrong. Public education is a public responsibility; it should not be handed over to private entities. If people want to send their kids to private school I have no problem with that, but we shouldn’t be paying for it. It weakens public education; the accountability and responsibility are a mess. And all the data we have show at best a minimally positive impact on individual students and overall no impact at all.

CT: So you think education “reformers” are at base anti-public school?

TM: There is a core that is and they are strongly influencing the movement. There are people sincerely looking for ways to improve schools, and there are people like Betsy DeVos and the Walton family and the Bradley family who are clearly looking to destroy not just public education but the public sector in general. Other people, I look at their actions and what the effect of what they are doing is.

CT: Were there people here who supported Madison Prep who were genuinely looking for a way to improve education?

TM: Both. There were people who supported it who were desperate to do better by kids who are struggling and certainly there were people who supported it who were looking to destroy public education.

CT: You said that some “school reformers” want to put an end to the public sector. So, is this really a labor issue?

TM: It’s beyond unions. I mean the notion of the commonweal, of communitarianism, collective responsibility. I mean the New Deal. I mean stuff going back to the Progressive era.

CT: It’s that big.

TM: There’s no question that this is what these people are about. They want to roll stuff back to the age of the robber barons.

CT: How deep into this is Scott Walker?

TM: This is where his administration is.

CT: What should supporters of public education be watching out for in the legislative session coming up?

TM: I don’t think there will be a big “bomb,” because the bomb last time attracted too much attention. We’ll see a lot of little things. Performance-based funding for schools is scary because it creates a reverse Robin Hood. If you look at recent state report cards and any metric that will measure “performance,” they will correlate with lack of poverty — even improvement correlates with lack of poverty. So we wouldn’t be putting our resources where the greatest need is.

Authorized and paid for by Mertz for Madison, Jackie Woodruff, Treasurer