MPS transformation plan worth a try.Try it.
That’s our initial reaction to a plan to turn over the keys to some struggling Milwaukee schools to County Executive Chris Abele.
A plan proposed by two suburban Republican legislators would empower Abele to name a commissioner with parallel authority to the Milwaukee Public Schools District. The new commissioner would then find new operators for up to five struggling MPS schools a year — likely public charter or private voucher schools — or manage them directly. Teachers at the low-performing schools would have to reapply for their jobs and waive their right to join a union.
Early critics of the plan by state Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield say that a change in governance alone won’t fix the deep-rooted problems of impoverished children in MPS classrooms. Those critics are right.
But governance is an important factor in whether a school finds a way to educate the students that it has. Strong leadership can make a difference, as some of the best schools in both MPS and the voucher program demonstrate. The Darling-Kooyenga plan deserves a fair hearing from all sides.
Not that it will get one from the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association. In a statement, the union president already has called the plan “an insult” and a “racist attack.” As if it’s somehow not a racist attack to allow 55 failing schools — where mostly black and brown students go — to remain substandard.
In many of the 55 schools that received a “fails to meet expectations” rating on the latest round of state performance report cards, more than 90% of children are not reading on grade level and fewer than three out of four attend school regularly.
The union and the School Board have long been roadblocks to meaningful change. Taking troubled schools out of their hands is a reasonable idea.
Darling, Kooyenga and Abele, though, need to make a strong commitment to care for struggling children. That won’t be easy — and it won’t be cheap.
One aspect of the plan, as it was leaked to the media, raises questions. A “core” task of the new commissioner would be to “develop and manage relationships for the effective deployment of wraparound services that are either revenue neutral or generate savings.”
We’re skeptical that caring for impoverished kids will be “either revenue neutral and generate savings” — or that that should even be a goal.
These kids need all sorts of extra help that they are not receiving in their homes — everything from mentoring and tutoring to health care (lack of good dental care is especially a problem for many). These are children who often don’t have two parents in the household and who are often moved from home to home during the course of a school year. Who sometimes are recovering from abuse.
They deserve our compassion — and they need our help.
Darling and Kooyenga don’t need this fight; it would have been far easier to ignore the problems at the state’s largest district. That they didn’t — that they instead insisted on proposing a plan aimed at helping Milwaukee kids shows leadership and backbone. They believe their plan could be a catalyst for change. We hope they are right.
In 2009, we helped lead an ultimately unsuccessful charge for legislative approval to allow Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to appoint the MPS superintendent and members of the School Board. The union and School Board ultimately beat back that challenge.
We still believe that governance is a part of the problem. Let’s find out.