Kaleem Caire is a Madison leader to be reckoned with. He may be the single most effective change agent in the city of Madison today. (Not counting Scott Walker.)
Only since March has he headed the Madison Urban League. He is proposing a policy initiative that is crucial to the success of many of our struggling neighbors - one that will sorely test "progressive" Madison's self-aggrandizing gatekeepers.
Mr. Caire has bona fides as an educator and advocate for minority young people that cannot be ignored. He was an adviser to President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative. Lest you dismiss Mr. Caire as a partisan, he is one of 45 evaluators of President Obama's Race to the Top. Which Wisconsin abysmally failed, despite the fact that President Obama announced this important program in Madison at Wright Middle School.
Caire is proposing two charter schools in notoriously charter school-unfriendly Madison: segregated by gender, requiring uniforms of dress shirts, blazers, ties and slacks (no sagging pants) -- aimed at a minority, predominantly black, student body. His Madison Preparatory Academy would require 160 hours of community service as a condition toward graduation. Try THAT in our one-size-fits-all public schools.
His charter schools will have a student-first emphasis. In such an atmosphere, the Madison teachers union -- status quo vadis -- has no role. That is Kaleem Caire of the Urban League talking. Madison is listening.
Caire made that point, rather more diplomatically, at Tuesday night's "Community Conversation on Education" held at CUNA Mutual headquarters on Mineral Pont Road. But it is clear that the battle lines are drawn.
I was one of 300 parents, taxpayers, teachers, educators, and (a few) high school students treated to pizza and salad by the Madison Metropolitan School District in return for our labors. Around my table -- one of 38 -- sat a retired Memorial High School teacher, a retired director of the FFA Foundation, the HR director at Madison College, a second black person -- a lady who sat at the far end of the table and whom I never did meet -- two white mothers of students, a young Hispanic community leader, and an doctoral student from India.
The program consisted of four speakers, then a "breakout session" at the tables, which reported out its recommendations.
'Only one kept students as the focus'
Caire was one of four main presenters, the others being Madison schools superintendent Dan Nerad, the dean of the UW-Madison School of Education, and -- sure enough -- Madison Teachers Inc. union president Mike Lipp.
Nerad was o.k. He got off a good line: "Children are the future but we are our children's future." He even quoted Sitting Bull but on first reference made certain to use his actual Native American name. This IS Madison, after all.
UW Education Dean Julie Underwood was atrocious -- a firm defender of the status quo denouncing the "slashing" of school budgets, "negative ads," and demanding that the community become "public school advocates." I.E., the whole liberal litany.
Say, Dean Julie, how about the community become advocates for teaching children -- in other words, the goal -- instead of a one-size-fits-all, government-ordained delivery mechanism? Isn't competition the American way?
Union apologist Mike Lipp reminded me of Welcome Back Kotter - looks and mien. He could be humorous (I am certain he is a good teacher) but he spent his allotted time on the glories of that holy grail of education: the union's collective bargaining agreement. I expected an ethereal light beam to shine down on this holy writ, which Lipp lamented that he did not bring with him. His other purpose was to defuse the powerhouse documentary, "Waiting for Superman."
Indeed, it was that indictment of public education's "failure factories" and the hidebound me-first teachers unions that prompted Tuesday evening's "conversation." I wrote about it, and Kaleem Caire, here.
When Lipp was finished he returned to his table next to union hired gun John Matthews. No sense in sitting with parents and taxpayers.
When it came time for the participants to respond, one parent said of the four presenters that only Kaleem Caire took to heart the evening's admonition to "keep students as the focus." I think that was a little unfair to Nerad, who deserves credit for opening this can of worms, but otherwise right on target.
Caire reported that only 7% of African-American students tested as college-ready on the ACT test. For Latinos, the percentage is 18. Those are 2010 statistics -- for Madison schools. In these schools, 2,800 suspensions were handed down to black students -- of a total black enrollment of 5,300 students!
"We need entirely different schools to fit the needs of students, not the teachers and administrators," Caire said.
Will parents come to teacher-parent conferences at his proposed charter schools? If they don't, Kaleem Caire and his teachers will set up outside the parent's front door. Failure, he said, was not an option.
'Mobilizing the community' or raising taxes?
The main issue of the evening was "How can the community mobilize to improve public education?"
I got the sense that the evening was carefully crafted to prime the audience for another school spending referendum.
That was shot down by one table, whose spokesperson declared, "this District does not suffer from a lack of community support." [See Rebecca Kemble comment below] She noted the passage just two years ago of yet another school spending referendum in Madison.
Madison spends $11,215 per student compared to the statewide average of $9,746, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
Another table demanded more charter schools. One of the parents at my table reported that Appleton has 13 charter schools. The number in Madison is something like three, I believe. (I can be corrected on that.)
As for my table, at the insistence of its most outspoken member, we proposed stronger leaders at each school who can instill a culture of and respect for discipline.
No more 'teacher-centric' schools
The Capital Times has a great interview with Caire in Wednesday's newspaper. Sorry, cannot find an on-line link.
He is asked, "Does this mean you'd like to run (your charter schools) without a union contract?" Caire answers:
Yes. The union contract really prescribes the type of education young people are provided in a school. It ties teachers into certain hours of teaching ... We don't want a school that is so teacher-centric. We want a school that is centered around student achievement ..."
I did overhear one attendee dismiss Kaleem Caire because he worked with (but not for) Michelle Rhee in Washington D.C. Rhee only improved the District's schools dramatically by emphasizing merit pay for performance and dismissing under-performing teachers.
(The year after [Rhee] arrived, Washington's schools had the greatest gains of any state in fourth-grade math and was one of only five states to show increases in math for both fourth and eighth grades. The high school graduation rate increased faster than in previous years. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education awarded D.C. one of its highly competitive Race to the Top grants. [Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund in The Root: 9-15-2010)
(The same "progressive" opponents of education reform also celebrated Wisconsin's failure to win President Obama's Race to the Top grant money. "Race to the bathroom," Ed Garvey, D-Teachers Union, called it)
I introduced myself to Mr. Caire last night. He responded that he did not discount the value of conservative support for his efforts. Indeed, we may be his steadfast-most allies.
Send a signal to new management
His Madison Preparatory Academy has yet to be approved by the Madison School Board, which once again is subservient to the all-powerful union.
He told IBMadison, "When I see 47% of black males between 25 and 29 incarcerated or on parole here, something's not working." Significantly, in that article and Tuesday night, he did not lay blame on the incarcerators but on the incarcerated.
Of Madison Teachers Inc.'s response, Caire is quoted:
"No one knows what that will be," Caire said. "The school board and district are so influenced by the teacher's union, which represents teachers. We represent kids. To me, it's not, 'teachers at all costs,' it's 'kids first.' We'll see where our philosophies line up."
Refusing Caire in the capitol city will send a strong message to the new leadership in state government that the education establishment will not be reformed without outside help.