The abysmal state of state education

Yet another national report has confirmed that Milwaukee’s entrenched system of educational apartheid is dooming African American children to mediocrity and second-class citizenship.

The report released last week by the National Assessment of Education Progress (Nation’s Report Card) revealed our city hosts the widest racial academic achievement gap in the country.

Equally disturbing is the total silence from stakeholders to this tragedy.  I’ve been anxiously waiting since the results were revealed for a response from stakeholders.

Instead, I’ve heard nothing but silence: not a word, murmur, or even a cough or sneeze.

And given the potential ramifications, the deafening silence is nonsensical, if not inexplicably damning.

The “Report Card” revealed our state has the fewest number of African American students proficient in fourth and eighth-grade reading.

Moreover, as was revealed last year (and the year before that), our children’s lack of basic skills ensures we rank below all but a couple of cities in high school graduation.

That latter statistic partly explains why Wisconsin has the highest Black male incarceration rate in countries south of the North Pole.

As this publication’s education reporter, I’m not surprised by the revelations. And maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that no one—politician, community leader, teacher or parent—has stepped forward to raise the flag of alarm, if not surrender.

Check that.

Pressed by education columnist Alan Borsuk, a Department of Public Instruction appointee did pull her head out of the sand long enough to say the results represent a “crisis.”

But, she then tripped over her tongue by providing the disingenuous “justification” that Black children do poorly elsewhere, too.

But that was it.

There was not a single noun, adjective or verb from any state legislator, even though they are entrusted by the state constitution to ensure all Wisconsin children receive a quality education.

Same for the local school board, which is known for calling press conferences to tout the lunch menu or the need for unisex bathrooms, but not to a word to explain the abysmal state of education.

Even if you purchased one of those super hearing devices they sell on cable television after 2 a.m. in the morning, you could not pick up a buzz from the local teachers’ union (MTEA) about this unacceptable tragedy.

I assume the MTEA will respond to this column with a few choice words about how the “good” students have abandoned government schools to enroll in those Satanic charter and community schools.  You can expect another press release about privatization “stealing” MPS money, or how the poor parents who chose to go elsewhere are traitors, atheists and pawns of the conservative right.

Of course, they won’t tell you that DPI rates only two MPS elementary non-specialty schools in the state’s top ten—Milwaukee College Prep—one on 36th Street and the other 38th Street. Both, ironically, are chartered by MPS.

Nor will the union officials tell you how another study revealed recently that most public/government schoolteachers prefer private schools themselves, or how Milwaukee teachers lead the country in that category.

Most surprisingly (or maybe not), there was total silence from parents, civil rights groups, and liberal missionary organizations that control the Black agenda.

You may recall the NAACP sued to stop Black parents from participating in the school choice program after successfully selling us a bill of goods about how school “integration” would close the achievement gap and provide Black children a passport to enter the “Promised Land.”

Oh, by the way, several studies have revealed Milwaukee government schools are today more segregated than they were 40 years after the school desegregation settlement.

I’m surprised the NAACP and the missionary groups have not said anything about that dichotomy.

But maybe I shouldn’t be since nobody else seems to care about the plight of Black students either.

Given the response to the Report Card, I assume an outside observer would agree with my assessment. And I would be hard-pressed to convince them otherwise.

I can, however, join them in predicting if nothing changes in the foreseeable future, we face a future of haves and have nots, social anarchy, and another generation of lost souls.

And, while I try not to overplay the race card, this exemplar dictates an exception.

If the report showed a suburban district’s students were doing even half as bad as our children, I would guarantee former DPI superintendent and current Governor Tony Evers would be surrounded by their respective school boards, teachers’ union, parents, and the entire state assembly demanding immediate action.

But because we’re talking about Black children…well, I don’t have to finish that sentence.

What makes matters worse is that even the blind saw this coming.

We’ve witnessed this disparity worsening for years. It was the system of educational apartheid and a much smaller achievement gap that prompted the school desegregation lawsuit of the 1970s.

Yes, an achievement gap existed, but it was based more so on equity than on culture.

We were poor, but we still excelled despite limited resources, outdated books, and rookie teachers.

The major difference was we had a community and culture that prioritized education.

As ironic as it may appear, there are many who theorize things started going downhill after the school desegregation court order.

And therein lies part of the reason for the current state of apathy, ignorance, or blind acceptance of the failing status quo?

I hypothesize there are three reasons for this abysmal state of education. But let’s start with a rhetorical question once asked by the late, great political pioneer Annette Polly Williams.

She offered, “The problem is rooted in either the system or the child. Either there is something wrong with Black children or with the educational system.”

Far too many government teachers—consciously or subconsciously—believe it’s the latter.

To illustrate my point, a North Division high school teacher told me during a community hearing to discuss turning around that failing school, that the reason for the children’s failure was their inability to learn because they are “poor” and are traumatized from “hearing gunshots every day.”

I’m not making this up.

Several people heard her comments in response to my questions about the academic failure of students at North and the MTEA’s nonsensical campaign to stop any reform that threatened the failing status quo.

This same teacher said she was an expert in African American history because she “owned Black art.”

She was also heard telling several North students “chosen” by the union to attend the meeting, to “attack Howard Fuller (a presenter at the meeting) because he was trying to privatize their school.”

(Interestingly, when questioned, none of the students could tell me what privatization meant. Nor could they spell it.)

But I’m not going to get into a discussion about “liberal” racism. If that teacher’s comments doesn’t provide you with clear evidence of how low expectations and prejudices are undermining the educational process for our children, you’re living in a fool’s paradise and are part of the problem.

Instead, let’s focus on the three reasons for failure.

Poor parenting, the entrenched system of educational apartheid, and resistance to change inspired by a conspiracy to under-or-miseducate our children.

The primary reason Milwaukee has the highest poverty rate in the country is not necessarily because a single, Black woman heads 70% of all African American households.

It’s because half of them subscribe to the “Culture of Poverty (COP),” which includes an indifference, if not abhorrence to education.

Few Black parents attend parent/teacher conferences, check their children’s homework (or assist them) or motivate their child to put forth 100% effort.

To add insult to injury, studies have shown that in the average White family home, a child will hear one million words before they start kindergarten.

In the average Black household, a Black child will hear one-tenth that number, and that’s only if you include racist epithets and profanities I wouldn’t use around adults, much less children.

In middle-class homes, parents invest resources into music, art, and tutoring. They send their children to academic summer camps and enroll them in college preparatory programs.

Many if not most COP parents enroll her child in programs chosen because they offer food and safe environments.

They allow their children to waste summer vacations running the streets and rarely impress on them the importance of the printed word.

As a result, most of our COP children will begin their schooling with a significant handicap. Few ever catch up to their socioeconomic peers.

From that perspective, it’s not poverty that hinders them but the culture of poverty.

I was a single parent trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents. I’ve never owned a new car because I put my priorities elsewhere—in my children. I believe father means to take your children further—then you and your generation.

Fortunately, I remarried, so my sons had the benefit of an activist father and mother with a PhD in parenting Black boys.

When my oldest son—an acclaimed teacher—died, I stepped in to assist his mother in raising one of my grandsons.

He attended an all African American charter school. His grades were impressive enough that he won a full scholarship to a prestigious private school academy.

He will finish his bachelor’s degree from the top-ranked college in the state, after spending a semester in New Zealand. He will graduate at age 19, and his future if bright.

His mother was a single parent. I was the surrogate father providing the cultural element and taking him through an Africentric rites of passage. That’s why I know it’s not about the ‘po, it’s about the cultural mindset.

Poor parents who “parent,” who are involved as partners in the educational process, and engage the teacher and the system in producing quality students.

You don’t have to read Carter G. Woodson’s “The Miseducation of the Negro” to understand the depth of the second problem.

There are dozens of books that explain how the system is set up to fail our children.

Low teacher expectations, out of date curriculum—specifically outmoded reading methodology–and the refusal to even experiment with reforms that might jeopardize teacher job security and the status quo are at the core of the problem.

And make no mistake, the teachers’ union controls the Milwaukee public school district!

And its leadership (not necessarily the teachers) is not interested in what’s best for the children, as much as what’s best for the union’s members.

Sadly, the MTEA has successfully blocked every major reform since Fred Flintstone texted his first message on his solar phone.

I have taught and counseled in government and community schools. I have mentored. And I have fought for additional resources, including teacher pay and benefits.

But, as a Black Nationalist, I also served as a lieutenant in Polly Williams’ school choice army.

I believe to offer parents options is to empower them. Equally important, I find it hypocritical at best that while government schoolteachers want to chain Black students to failing government schools, another study showed an overwhelming majority prefer private schools for their own children. And Milwaukee leads the nation in that statistic.

Moreover, because I have served on the board of two of the best private schools in the city, I have a unique insight into their viability.

At Harambee Community School, we could barely pay the teachers a living wage.

We had to beg, borrow, and steal to keep the doors open. But we did something right because former MPS superintendent Robert S. Peterkin once said Harambee and its sister schools, Urban Day and Bruce Guadalupe, were producing quality—and culturally attuned—students when MPS, with four times the budget, resources, and technology, could not.

Granted, at Harambee and later Messmer Catholic Schools, we were allowed autonomy, something government schools did not have. We had parental contracts. Mandatory conferences. We even had parenting classes.

We also had a network of families who shared responsibility for the entire student body. Everybody looked out for the “village” children.

It was because of that dichotomy that Peterkin in 1988 asked Harambee and four other schools to participate in a public/private partnership that grew into what is today, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

As for the conspiracy? I hope I’m right about my suspicions because to think otherwise means all of this is the result of happenstance, luck, or Divine Providence.

The conspiracy is rooted in two overlapping purposes. The first is a desire to limit the field of competition to benefit white children.

The second is that the failing system provides a steady income for missionaries, union members, and poverty pimps. It also fuels the prison industrial complex. There’s big bucks in locking up Black folks who are MPS drop-outs, or who “graduated,” but can barely read the diploma they received telling them they graduated.

I was reading an article in Time Magazine Monday that opened my eyes to this scheme.

Graduates of elite colleges—Harvard, Yale, etc.—are automatically offered the top shelf positions in corporations.

Those who attend middle-ranked schools are offered jobs working for the elites, and those on the bottom earn nice livings but are locked into lower socioeconomic paradigms.

There is a campaign to make the system more diverse by setting aside a smaller percentage of seats for the poor, but academically qualified, minorities.

Don’t expect that to happen in any large number in part because you’re taking away seats from the rich and selected middle class.

Those who have subscribed to the system of meritocracy do not want their children to compete for seats.

There is also the matter of automation. Last week an article revealed that automation—robotics and technology (with a pinch of artificial intelligence thrown in for good measure)—will eliminate a significant percentage of jobs in the next decade. African Americans, the article declared, will be hit the hardest.

Fewer jobs will mean fewer opportunities.

I could be wrong in my assumptions. But since no one else is offering an analysis, much less solutions, I guess I’m the only voice in town. And, apparently, the only one who cares.


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