Last year, almost 4 of 10 high school students in the Milwaukee schools - 38% - were suspended at least once, up from 35.8% the year before. That's on top of a graduation rate of less than one of every 2. Who owns that failure?
It's a matter of accountability.
Are the teachers accountable? If they can't kick the football, should they not be released?
"Because of strong union contracts, poor performers in the ranks of administrators and teachers simply are shuttled off to different schools, not fired, and their poor performance shifts to another group of students," says State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield.
The MPS school board has betrayed those students by kowtowing to the union.
Senator Kanavas will introduce a bill to break up the failed Milwaukee Public School system into eight smaller districts. One of them should be run by the National Guard.
There are other methods. In some places, the governor or the mayor takes over the district. That kind of broad mandate may be the only way to shock the system back to life.
The November 2008 Atlantic magazine chronicles what can happen when a reform mayor gives the reins to a reform school administrator. The locus is Washington D.C. which, in 2007, ranked last among 11 urban school systems in math and second-to-last in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Through the 1960s, the D.C. schools were "the gold standard for upwardly mobile blacks seeking a good education."
The Atlantic traces the decline to the rise of that scoundrel Marion Barry, who in the early 1970s got a seat on the school board and began to use it and its thousands of jobs as a source of political patronage.
Remember that Sen. Kanavas traced the decline of the Milwaukee schools to the fact that, "over time, MPS evolved into a system to provide jobs for adults instead of one that focused on educating students."
In Washington, Marion Barry's climb "coincided with that of William Simons, the fiery head of the Washington Teachers' Union ... and he led his union in two lengthy, debilitating strikes during the 1970s.
"For decades, an establishment of Democratic politicians backed by union leaders has ruled the Washington public schools, which by almost any measure-test scores, attendance, safety-are among the worst in the country," The Atlantic reports
Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, who took office in January 2007, wrestled control of the district's schools from the School Board. In July 2007 he appointed a 38 year-old Korean-American woman from Ohio named Michelle Rhee as the first "chancellor" of the Washington D.C. K-12 system. For the past year and one-half, it most definitely has not been business as usual.
Rhee fired 98 central-office employees, canned 24 principals, 22 assistant principals, and, at the beginning of this summer, 250 teachers and 500 teaching aides. She announced plans to close 23 underused schools and set about restructuring 26 other schools (together, about a third of the system).
[As a result] Rhee ... has become ... the standard-bearer for a new type of schools leader nationwide. She and her cohort often seek to bypass the traditional forces of education schools and unions, instead embracing nontraditional reform mechanisms like charter schools, vouchers, and the No Child Left Behind Act.
Rhee advocates another controversial plank in the reformist agenda: merit pay. Vociferously opposed by the teachers unions-a National Education Association convention audience booed Barack Obama when he told them he supported it - merit pay scales a teacher's salary based on student achievement.
How do you know a good teacher when you have one? Data. "Rhee fully supports the accountability that underlies No Child Left Behind."
It's all about responsibility:
"As a teacher in this system, you have to be willing to take personal responsibility for ensuring your children are successful despite obstacles. You can't say, 'My students didn't get any breakfast today,' or 'No one put them to bed last night,' or 'Their electricity got cut off in the house, so they couldn't do their homework.'"
[Atlantic Monthly, November 2008, The Lightning Rod]