The schools are failing to educate the district’s growing population of minority kids. Note that in 1991, 21% of students were non-white; 20 years later, the figure was 53%. Only about half of black and Latino youth graduate. The percentage deemed to be college-ready is embarrassingly small.
The district’s problems are not new. Almost a decade ago, John Wiley, then chancellor of UW-Madison, convened a meeting to discuss how the Madison schools, once a draw for faculty recruitment, were becoming a hindrance. Among the complainants, Wiley recounts, were top black UW faculty and staff who did not like how their children were treated in the Madison schools.
Those concerns, of course, echo loudly today in the efforts of the Urban League’s Kaleem Caire to address the problems of minority students in the Madison schools. For that effort, Caire has been ostracized by progressive leaders. My opinion is very different. I belong to the Urban League, and I think that Caire is uncommonly brave in facing unpleasant facts.
Like it or not, we’re in an era of change and choice in education. Extending public vouchers to private schools in Madison may be wild overreach by the governor, but Madison parents already have choices for schooling.
If they don’t like their neighborhood school, parents can open-enroll their child in any Madison school or even in a suburban district. They can pack up and move to a suburban district. They can enroll their kid in a public charter school like Nuestro Mundo. They can send their child to a private school. They can home-school. They can sign their kid up for one of the many online schools.
This is a good thing. As long as academic programs address state educational standards and meaningful accountability is in place, why shouldn’t parents be able to pick a school setting they feel best suits their child’s needs? More to the point, why shouldn’t the district’s response to the painful achievement gap demonstrate this flexibility?