Milwaukee Public Schools

2 Aug

First of all, if you don’t listen to NPR, you should. Specifically 89.7 WUWM, because honestly, we have one of the best NPR stations in the country. One of the most interesting and pertinent parts of WUWM broadcasting is Lake Effect which airs every weekday morning from 10:00am-11:00am. While I think it’s always crucial to understand what’s going on in the world, and be a part of the change happening globally, I think it is even more critical to understand what is happening in our own communities, to the people we interact with on a daily basis.

Lake Effect has begun a series called “Project Milwaukee: Barriers to Achievement in MPS” (Milwaukee Public Schools). You can find all broadcasts on this subject here. There was a pretty obvious break in the programming (between June 4th and now, there have been no Project Milwaukee broadcasts), but it has begun again, mainly to coincide with the new MPS Superintendent, Dr. Gregory Thornton. Although today’s (August 2, 2010) broadcast is not yet up on WUWM’s website, you can find bios of all today’s guests, as well as a general outline of the program, here. Much of today’s program is actually a repeat of interviews and roundtable discussions conducted in June, but some of the commentary is new, and the entire show is definitely worth listening to.

The issue of education in our country is (obviously) pivotal. As public school expenditures continue to rise every year, and the national and state-by-state deficits grow, politicians and other community leaders continue to take money away from schools (K-12 and higher education) already struggling to give their students a quality education. California is a perfect example. Actions like these which undermine the efforts of educators, administrators, and students, are detrimental to society as a whole. If the coming generations are unable to recieve an adequate education, our country will suffer in every way possible. We cannot continue to be leaders of the world if our children are not educated properly. It is not just our economy that will suffer, but our entire way of life.

Milwaukee Public Schools face many of the issues that public schools (especially those in urban locations) face all over the country. High drop out rates, budget deficits, lack of qualified teachers and school supplies. And the crisis is affecting our kids.

In Milwaukee, between 1998 and 2002, over 11,500 students dropped out of Milwaukee Public Schools (source). Although those statistics aren’t the most current, they are still pertinent, as students continue to drop out of MPS each year. Even so, some more recent numbers are encouraging. Independent analysis and official rates put graduation between 60-70%, as of January 1, 2009. That’s more than 18 percentage points higher than it was a little over ten years ago. Another source reports the same numbers. The downside of these numbers is that although more students are graduating, they aren’t necessarily becoming more prepared to be productive members of society. As graduation rates have risen, standardized test scores, attendance, and stability (staying in one school from year to year) have declined (source).

Luckily, there are some things being done to address the problems in MPS. The Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association is joining with students, businesses, and community members to reduce the number of high-school dropouts in Milwaukee. This effort is made possible by a $10,000 grant from  America’s Promise Alliance that is funding the Milwaukee Graduation Project. A spokeswoman for the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association believes “the dropout crisis is a community problem that requires community solutions.” She’s right (source):

Marguerite Kondracke, President and CEO of America’s Promise, says that “cutting the number of dropouts in half would generate $45 billion annually in new tax revenue…assuming there are ultimately enough jobs to accommodate the graduates.” According to Ms. Kondracke, someone who drops out of high school earns an average of $300,000 less over the course of his/her/hir lifetime. That money is not only lost to the dropout, but also lost to the national economy; without earners (and therefore spenders) our economy flounders (source).

Another cost of the high rate of dropouts (in Milwaukee, and across the nation) is the likelihood that dropouts will end up in the criminal justice system, costing more for taxpayers. In fact, about 75% of state prison inmates are high school dropouts. Not surprisingly, within the prison  population, there is an extreme racial disparity that exists hand-in-hand with racial differences among high school dropouts.

As of 2000, 48.2% of adults in State or Federal prisons were black, though they make up only 12.7% of the United States population (source). And though some (racist, bigoted) people might like to pretend that black people simply commit more crimes, and thus more of them end up in jail, the reality is that institutionalized racism, both within the prison system and without, contribute to the high rate of incarceration for blacks. Part of this racial disparity is tied in with the fact that the graduation rate for blacks is 59% nationwide, while whites graduate at a rate of 80% nationwide (source). Perhaps if we spent more time and money getting children to stay in school, especially black children, and encouraging them to succeed and graduate, we wouldn’t have to spend as much time and money putting them in jail. We must insist that our tax dollars are going toward these children, and not their jailers.

The reason I bring up the issue of race in terms of incarceration and drop out rates is because a significant portion of MPS students are black. In fact, there are more black students than either white or hispanic students in Miliwaukee Public Schools. So, race is a contributing factor to graduation rates in Milwaukee, and must be pointed out.

I realize this post rambled a bit, and sort of jumped from topic to topic, but I don’t have the energy to go back through and insert transitions. I’m going to trust that all of my readers can make the (small) leaps from subject to subject, and ultimately see that they all add up to one thing: our education system is failing us. We can see it here in Milwaukee, and in cities all across the nation. If you think your tax dollars are not being used wisely, if you think they need to go toward education and not incarceration, if you believe that not everyone is getting an equal change at a good education, but that everyone should, you need to speak up.

I believe in our public schools. I believe that they can do great things for thousands of children all across the country. I believe in MPS. Do you?


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