Madison schools need global goals

Dave Baskerville:

Madison will elect three School Board members in the spring. Our school taxes are set to rise 4.9 percent to accommodate a $504 million budget. A very well qualified and able superintendent is in place and will in several ways make the schools better.

So what’s missing? Simply no mention or concern by the educational community and citizens that our kids’ classroom achievements can ever come close to matching those of the rest of the First (and emerging) World.

Students age 15 in the United States rank 36th in math, 27th in science and 21st in reading, according to a worldwide assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The “best and brightest” students in America are dead last versus their counterparts in a composite of those subjects among 30 countries.

Though no direct comparisons are available because we don’t administer the same test as most of the advanced world, our Madison kids likely are faring even worse.

Somehow we have convinced ourselves that rigorous academic achievement is not possible or necessary for social justice, individual self-esteem or the ability of our future science, technology, engineering, math and blue-collar workers to compete with the global workforce. We seem to think Wisconsin having average wages below Georgia is OK, and that 70 percent of Madison Area Technical College matriculants needing remedial reading is acceptable.

The aspirations of our black leaders are being dumbed down from a highly goal-oriented, disciplined and innovative preparatory school for boys to a goal of more “neighborhood schools.” Madison is seeking a few improvements in discipline and the achievement gap — as if that’s enough.

I would rather challenge our “progressive” Madison School Board to go back to the real progressive goals of “Fighting” Bob La Follette. We need real social and economic advancement for the “common man.” We need a challenging and sustainable 20-year goal that citizens can understand and monitor. The goal should be to raise the scores of our non-special education students to the top 10 globally in critical subjects.

Though no other school district has set radical and accountable long-term goals, I believe Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham is up to planning and executing it. It also would likely be the only way to keep a leader of Cheatham’s caliber in Madison.

Baskerville, of Madison, is an international business consultant. To learn more about his efforts to set high international goals for local schools: