Five years ago we moved to Madison. A big factor in this decision was the expectation that we could rely on Madison public schools to educate our children. Our eldest went through West High School. To our delight the rigorous academic environment at West High transformed him into a better student, and he got accepted at several good public universities.
Now we are finding this promise betrayed for our younger children. Our elementary school appears to be sliding into disarray. Teachers and children are threatened, bullied, assaulted, and cursed at. Curricula are dumbed down to accommodate students who are unprepared for real school work. Cuts in special education are leaving the special needs kids adrift, and adding to the already impossible burdens of classroom teachers. To our disappointment we are forced to pull one child out of public school, simply to ensure her an orderly and safe learning environment.
Unless the School Board addresses these challenges forcefully and without obfuscation, I am afraid a historic mistake will be made. Madison schools will slip into a vicious cycle of middle class flight and steady decline. The very livability of our city might be at stake, not to mention our property values.
To me the necessary step is clear. The bottom five to ten percent of students, and especially all the aggressive kids, must be removed from regular classes. They should be concentrated in separate schools where they can receive the extra attention and intensive instruction they need, with an option to join regular classes if they are ready.
Meanwhile regular schools should be populated by children who can actually remain in their seats and do school work. Money can be saved by increasing class size. Achievement of underprivileged kids would improve when harmful distractions are removed and teachers can focus on teaching instead of constant discplinary management.
I have boiled things down to three theses, which I imagine most Madisonians would agree with:
- I am willing to pay higher taxes to share the burden of those families who struggle to raise disabled children or other kinds of children with special needs.
- I am willing to pay higher taxes to provide the special educational services needed to give underprivileged children a fair chance to succeed.
- But I am NOT willing to sacrifice my children’s education and happiness in school for either of the goals above.
I sincerely hope we can maintain a viable city and its great schools. In the case of Madison these two are inextricably tied together.