May 17, 2016
By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate
A monumental battle for the future of education is taking place in Wisconsin, and its epicenter is Milwaukee. In the showdown between the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program (OSPP), a reform initiative hoping to close perpetually poor performing schools, and the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, education bureaucrats have unfortunately elected to save themselves and their payrolls rather than the children of Milwaukee who have been cheated by a poor education for decades.
How community leaders could choose the union status quo at MPS over the dreams of our children is mind-blowing. MPS graduates less than 60 percent of students in four years, only a quarter of students are proficient in English, and fewer than 17 percent of students are proficient in math. During the last Badger Exam, a whopping 53 percent of MPS students scored “below basic” on math.
During a meeting last week to discuss the path for OSPP, Kim Schroeder, the president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, walked out on the meeting after declaring he won’t be an accomplice to an unjust law. As if the fact that the majority of MPS students lack proficiency in reading and math isn’t unjust.
Schroeder is clearly uncomfortable even uttering the words “failing school.” It seems the bureaucrats running the biggest monopoly in Wisconsin education can’t even call the problem by its name for fear of hurting feelings.
You know who really hurts? The over 33 percent achievement gap in English between white and black students at MPS hurts the children. The over 28 percent achievement gap on math between those same students hurts them. The focus on bureaucratic self-preservation rather than students’ needs hurts those very students more than anyone else.
MPS is failing students and no pie-in-the-sky defense of our “crucial community schools” can change that fact. What good is a community school when all it serves is a common sense of underachievement and failure? Poor performing schools should not be immortal. Such schools should be shut down so that students can seek a better school and have a chance at success.
In a recent column for Urban Milwaukee, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele asks the community to support his proposal and urge MPS to come to the table to work on an agreement. His selling points are that teachers and employees would stay MPS employees, remain in the local union, and that state funding would still be paid through MPS.
The last selling point on his list? What would be better for the children.
Abele cares more about the financial investment in MPS’ buildings and teachers rather than the children whom the system is failing. He writes about his hope that MPS will “come to the table and work out an intergovernmental agreement with us that will prevent millions of dollars from being lost.” He stresses that “losing this funding unnecessarily puts the rest of the district at risk.”
If Abele’s op-ed reads more like a public relations stunt than a genuine expression of concern for the wellbeing of MPS students, that’s because it is. He seems terribly concerned about teachers’ benefits and the number of students enrolled at MPS. He seems less concerned about the fact that over 70 percent of MPS students lack proficiency in English. Children don’t care who technically runs their school – they just want a good education. Yet the quality of education being received at these institutions is rarely mentioned by Abele. He’s got a status quo to protect.
The adults in the room should spend more time seeking transformative reform in the name of Milwaukee’s children – and less time quibbling over buildings, ownership, and maintaining their own power.