By Larry Miller
This is reminder to those of you who follow K-12 education in Milwaukee: there’s a new plan waiting in the wings that includes another attempt at the takeover of Milwaukee public schools.
The plan, designed by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC), was reported on by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this past November. It’s loosely designed in the image of the New Orleans “Recovery School District,” and has been a model for reform both in Tennessee and in Michigan.
While all of the specifics of the plan have not been made public, its features have been presented in an MMAC slideshow and in interviews with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. These include:
- Create 50 high-performing schools serving 20,000 students, a mere 16% of Milwaukee’s K-12 student population. The MMAC estimates it will take a total of $48 million in capital costs and $21 million in annual operating costs to get 20,000 students in high-performing schools by 2020.
- Establish a special turnaround district in MPS for low-performing schools that would be headed by a different superintendent.
- Expand vocational-technical education for large numbers of Milwaukee’s children.
Basically this proposal creates a caste system for public education. 50 high-performing schools will serve a fraction of Milwaukee’s K-12 students, while the remaining 84% take their chances in other schools, including those in a designated low-performing district.
This old tune under a new name is an affront to the majority of Milwaukee’s poor and working class kids. Instead of teaching every child to be college ready, whether or not they choose to attend college, the MMAC has a very different vision. Students not attending one of the 50 high-performing schools may be tracked into a vocational program.
Whenever the captains of industry start talking about vocational training, red flags should go up about the danger of forcing low-income students of color to fill the role of a cheap labor force. Many remember the historical debate over calls for “industrial training” for African American students in the South by Booker T. Washington, so-called “enlightened” southern segregationists and the northern industrialists.
Vocational and career training can meet student’s needs. But these programs cannot be set up at the cost of dumbing down curriculum or tracking some students into high skills areas like engineering and the trades, while the rest are destined for life to tuck bed sheets or greet customers at WalMart or stock shelves at dollar stores.
Beware, plans are in waiting. Some of our city’s business and political leaders are just waiting to see the outcome of the Governor’s recall to try to set them in motion.