Dear Mayor Barrett:
I respectfully request that you reconsider your decision to seek to take control of the Milwaukee Public Schools, including appointing the board and hiring the next superintendent.
The overall low achievement, low graduation and high truancy rates of MPS students are appalling and unacceptable. However, I fail to see the evidence from other cities of comparable size that mayoral takeover would improve the situation. The analysis, earlier this year, of the Public Policy Forum commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation makes this clear.
One of the most telling points in that report explains that “the achievement gap between high and low-performing schools has not been shown to improve under a mayoral takeover. In addition, short-term improvements in standardized test scores may not have as much to say about student learning as they do about teaching test-taking skills.”
As Jonathan Kozol points out in his book, The Shame of the Nation, the claims of improvement in New York and Chicago schools, which are under mayoral control, mask a pattern of manipulation of the true picture as well as an exaggerated emphasis upon test preparation at the expense of real instruction. For example, school dropouts are counted as “transfers.”
Is this not what we could expect from a politician who needs to look good in the public eye? You claim that your control would provide more accountability to the taxpaying public, but I suspect that would be more superficial than substantive.
It is claimed that your control would be a more democratic approach. The experience of New York and Chicago has demonstrated, on the other hand, the real threat of the mayor being an autocrat. Their mayors fired members of their appointed boards who would not do their bidding. We need a board whose members are both independent and close to their constituencies.
If the school board elections are not “democratic” enough due to low voter turnout, a much more simple answer is to move them to coincide with fall legislative elections.
I have failed to see that you have advanced a vision and plan to support your claim that by your control you can improve the situation. In the absence of such a plan, we are being asked to simply trust you with the disenfranchisement of Milwaukee voters.
Your proposed takeover seems to be yet another top-down, administrative, “silver-bullet” solution for the very complex problems of urban schools. These problems are rooted in general urban social problems like poverty, joblessness, poor health care, dysfunctional families, addiction and crime. How do you plan to attack these problems?
We do need your leadership for the Milwaukee Public Schools! A much more substantive, promising alternative would be for you to promote the development of Community Schools, a nationwide movement that has shown success in getting at the roots of the problems of urban public education, one that is supported by President Barack Obama. I ask you to use your office and leadership abilities to make it happen: educating the community about this approach, advocating for it, bringing the stakeholders together (including parents, students, non-profit agencies which work with children and youth, the business community, the religious community), motivating and coordinating.
For the past several months, the Education Committee of Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope has been researching Community Schools, and working to develop a pilot project. We invite you to contact us about our efforts.
Secretary of the Education Committee of MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope)