I haven’t been posting here lately because I plowed myself into a long and involved writing project at SchoolMattersMKE, the group blog focusing on education and schools in the Milwaukee area.

To make a long story short–and it is a long story, about 6,000 words all told–there is a class of students in the Milwaukee Public Schools whose achievement is invisible.  Worse, when you try to make the invisible visible, it becomes clear that these students’ achievement is abysmally low, far lower than the already low scores you find among a lot of MPS students.

So in a three-part series, I look at just how badly those students do, what some possible implications may be, and what some specific suggestions are to change the situation.  I hope you’re willing to check it out, and pass it on to anyone you know who is interested in MPS and might have influence over policy.

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8 Responses to Shameless Self-Promotion

  1. PJ says:

    Thank you for posting this. I read all three of your postings, but I’m not immersed in the issues that you raise so forgive my ignorance when I ask:

    When you recommend educating parents about the pitfalls of school switching and also teaching them how to advocate for their children’s best interests but that those goals are not and should not be MPS’s responsibility, precisely how do you propose the city and state coordinate to meet that goal?

    How does a community, for instance, educate its parents about conflict resolution between parent and school? Do these matters in some way pertain to increasing positive involvement of parents in their children’s education?

    Again, I apologize for my ignorance. I’m trying to get more clarity on what is needed here in terms of practice or policy.

    • folkbum says:

      PJ, thanks for your comments. Part of the problem is that parent education needs to start about nine months before birth. While it’s true that as a high school teacher I too often see parents at about that stage, for the most part MPS doesn’t have any kind of contact with new parents. MPS’s relationship with parents doesn’t begin until they first register their children for school–which may be too late.

      Instead, we need to follow the model of some places–look to Scandinavia, for example–where new parents get time, support, and resources in order to ensure that the first few years of a child’s life are the best they can be. That requires a wider partnership than just schools.

      Once parents have kids enrolled in school, there are things MPS can do to create better parent advocates, but with the limited resources we have it’s a low priority. I also think we need to do a better job training our principals and APs, who often encourage bad parent behavior (“If you take your kid out of my school, I won’t [insert punishment here]” kinds of things).

      I wouldn’t be opposed to doing more to teach parenting skills in school, but we’re busy prepping for the test. 🙂

      • PJ says:

        What kind of time, support, and resources do Scandinavian parents receive? Can you point me in a direction? I’m assuming these are state supported resources? But what’s the vehicle? Is it through the health care system?

        • folkbum says:

          Some of it is through the health care system, but a lot of it starts with generous parental leave laws that give new parents time to recover from childbirth and work through the intricacies of parenthood. Universal preschool is another bonus. Remember, Finland is number one in the world, and their approach to parenthood and childhood is almost exactly the inverse of what happens among the poor in the US.

          In the US, economists too are coming around to the notion that kids (and parents) need interventions well before “school” starts.

          • PJ says:

            Thanks for these links. I am somewhat familiar with the Finnish education system, less so with their social welfare policies. Riane Eisler is another source for developing a more humane economic system.

            I guess the question is – how do we develop a comprehensive policy plan that mirrors what Finland has done? Who has the expertise to put that together and present it as a platform to the political establishment?

  2. PJ says:

    Some more thoughts:

    Isn’t the school the best vehicle for reaching parents? Is there no way to build into the public education system some kind of civic responsibility program for parents? Would it not be prudent to design parenthood into our public education system?

    Again, I’m not immersed in the system so I’m ignorant, but would an interactive sort of system be in order whereby as a prerequisite for enrollment in public school, parents attend a seminar or series of seminars to learn about the issues you raise?

    I’m thinking in terms of one of the founding purposes of public education – which was to teach civic responsibility. Isn’t there some sort of reciprocal relationship between parent and school when it comes to civic responsibility? Both are responsible for a child’s education. And the community is ultimately responsible for educating our citizenry, so it makes sense to me for state and city resources to coalesce if that means developing practices/policies that encourage parents to become more involved in and aware of their children’s education.

  3. badger badger says:

    MPS is dysfunctional and there actually are public documents that prove that the schools were allowed to deteriorate one busing was mandated. Wisconsin is actually an extrememly reacist state and Milwaukee is one of the most racist cities in America — no point in splitting hairs here, but arguably the highest concentration of poor, under-served,and non-majority citizens in the nation.

    For example — pretending they were going to “save” money — years ago the libraries in MPS LOPPED OFF the decimal numbers from the Dewey classifications, literally randomly shuffling up the books on the shelves!

    I could go on and on, larger point is this:

    The administration and educators have some culpability in the problems you address and the highly-concentrated, multi-generations of under-served families that have gone to MPS dysfunctional schools have no reason to believe the administration nor teachers union has any interest in helping them.

    Sorry — may not be the post you wanted here and I am not questioning your perspective nor the integrity that you share this.

    I do believe there are some fundamental problems with assumptions in your three posts though and would prefer to leave it at that.

    • folkbum says:

      Race, at this point, has little to do with it. Yes, Milwaukee is the first or second most segregated metro area in the country; but achievement correlates far more to class nowadays than it does to race. If Milwaukee were full of middle-class black and Latino families, it would have much higher achievement than it does now with the same racial demographics.

      MPS can’t control white flight, or middle-class flight, but it can control movement between schools. And it is there, in about 25% of MPS’s students who change schools during or between school years when they should not need to, that an identifiable deficit in achievement arises. If MPS can minimize school switching, it isn’t suddenly going to become the best district in the state; however, more of its students will do better. It’s incumbent on MPS–and, I argue, Wisconsin and Milwaukee as well–to do everything possible to minimize unnecessary student movement.

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