Education Takes a Back Seat to Sensitivity at MPS

MacIver News Service | December 6, 2012

By Bill Osmulski
MacIver Institute Investigative Reporter

[Milwaukee, Wisc…] The Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system has begun administering a cultural sensitivity test, much to the approval of the Milwaukee Teachers Union.

Called the “Star Teacher Survey,” the test was developed by the Haberman Educational Foundation, and it is founded on the research of former University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professor Dr. Martin Haberman.

The Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) holds Dr. Haberman in high regard. On September 28th, it dedicated a room in its union hall, called the “Dr. Martin Haberman Library for Social Justice Teaching.”

At the dedication, MTEA President Bob Peterson announced, “The district has adopted Dr. Haberman’s Star Teaching survey as a screener to help determine whether or not new applicants who enter the teaching field are culturally sensitive enough to work with our children.”

In the three weeks following that event, 49 potential teachers took the test. Assuming any score below 60 percent is failing, eight of those applicants did not pass the test.

MPS would not release the survey questions to the MacIver News Service, claiming “The questionnaire/survey that you have requested constitutes a ‘trade secret.'” This reporter then went to the Haberman Foundation’s website and took the test for $20.

The test consists of 50 multiple choice questions divided into 10 categories:

  • Persistence (this word is apparently copyrighted by the Haberman Foundation)
  • Organization and Planning
  • Students Learn
  • Theory to Practice
  • At-risk Students
  • Approach to Students
  • Survive in Bureaucracy
  • Explains Teacher Success
  • Explains Students Success
  • Fallibility.

Interestingly, it appears that each question impacts the scores in more than one category.

Giving some respect to the Haberman Foundation’s “trade secrets,” MNS will not reprint the entire survey, but instead provide two examples of questions it contains:

The best use of students’ grades is to:

A. Compare students
B. Inform students
C. Reward and punish students

The students in your class are publishing a newspaper. They are learning a great deal and enjoying the process of publishing their articles. The principal visits and asks you to stop the activity and stick to the basic text. His reason is that the students will be taking a standardized test shortly. You should:

A. Follow the principal’s directions
B. Explain the project to the principal
C. Take the matter up with the principal’s superior

Dr. Haberman wrote an article in 2011 for entitled, “The Beliefs and Behaviors of Star Teachers.” It provides some perspective on what answers the survey is looking for. It presents many different ideas, some of which a teachers’ union might like, and others it might not. For example:

Stars believe that the goals of the school are several and varied; quitter failures believe a school is successful if it teaches the “basics.” In addition to basics, stars cite knowledge of important subject matter, citizenship, moral development, health, the arts, problem solving skills, functioning in a computer age, living in a diverse society, the willingness and ability to work in teams, the skills of learning to learn and numerous others as goals which can and should be achieved in a thirteen year school career.

One excerpt unions might not like:

Stars believe that being successful in school is a matter of life and death for many students; quitter/ failures believe teaching is a secure job. Quitter/failures can be quite comfortable as job-holders irrespective of how much their students are learning.

That idea was not presented at the MTEA’s dedication.

“What Dr. Haberman has stood for, through all his years, of advocating for urban education and urban educators and urban children, will help inform the work of our center,” Peterson said at the union’s library dedication. “It does speak to the fact that the union, itself, and the union movement in this country is understanding that we have to continue to advocate for bread and butter issues but also take up educational issues and social justice issues. Because how our communities go, in terms of justice or injustice, so too go our schools.”

The Milwaukee Teachers’ Union will use its Haberman Library for classes, teacher license renewals and promoting multicultural and antiracist education.

Dr. Martin Haberman retired from UWM as a distinguished Professor Emeritus in the School of Education in 2005. He died on January 1, 2012 in Milwaukee. His foundation continues his work and is based in Houston, Texas.