Teachers’ Union Could Block MPS Literacy Plan

The biggest obstacle in confronting Milwaukee Public School’s low reading scores could be the teachers’ union, according to Dr. Catherine Thome, director of educational services.

Because MPS is marked as a District Identified for Improvement (DIFI) under the federal No Child Left Behind law, it is required to develop a comprehensive literacy plan.

Thome presented an update on the district’s  plan to the Committee on Innovation/School Reform Thursday night.  The plan would implement “a single district philosophy around the teaching of reading.”

That is important in a district where student mobility is seen as one of its greatest challenges.  District officials have repeatedly stated at meetings in the past, it is not uncommon for a single student to switch schools several times a year, as they bounce between different homes around the city.  (In fact, the current version of the literacy plan would allow schools that have a mobility rate of nine percent or less to opt out.)

Professional development for teachers is a major component of the plan.  That training would include technology-infused teaching, high-yield instructional strategies, and small group interaction. At Thursday’s meeting, committee members asked how the district could force teachers to go through the training under the current labor agreement.

“I would say that’s going to be our biggest challenge in that we cannot require teachers to go through or partake in the professional development. So not only do we need our teachers to participate around whatever program is selected, there are also nuances in teaching and differentiating the instruction for our children. That will continue to be a challenge. I’m talking to the union and we’re working to see if we can find a solution,” explained Thome.

Director Larry Miller, the committee chair, then asked “How’s that going?”

The entire committee began laughing. Listen to the audio: School Board Laughing

Miller, regaining his composure, continued “Good or bad?  Are you optimistic?  Are you hopeful?”

Thome responded “No, I’m optimistic.  The majority of our teachers in MPS are very good teachers, and they want to do best by our children, and we have conversations and the union, as well, has had conversations about this. I am very optimistic.  They want the best for the children as do we.”

MPS has been working on the literacy plan since July 2008 and plans to implement it this spring.

By Bill Osmulski
MacIver News Service