Last week I took a trip out of town, and when I returned there were a few messages on my home answering machine. They were from Republican presidential primary candidates. They were sorry they had missed me, though I doubt had I answered the phone that the actual candidate would have been on the other end of the line to chitchat. They said pretty much the same thing - that the other guy (and names were named) could not be trusted. Very entertaining.
But the more important consideration on next Tuesday's ballot may well be the Madison Metropolitan School Board races. What's driving this election is the persistent minority achievement gap and what to do about it. Meanwhile, the district is going through some shaky times, with the announced resignation next year of Superintendent Daniel Nerad not making the situation any more tractable. If the school district does not intend to support the call for Madison Prep, a minority-centered charter school, then it had better get its own solution in place - pronto.
I know that some efforts in this area have yielded good results, though of limited scope. The United Way's Schools of Hope program has had positive effects in narrowly specific subjects in the few grades in the schools where it has been implemented. This is according to the statistics I've seen as a member of the United Way's Vision Council for more than a decade.
In this week's cover story, Pat Dillon puts people in place of statistics. A resident of Madison for more than 10 years, she recounts tales from her own experience putting two daughters through Madison schools. Dillon has lived in two larger cities, Chicago and Milwaukee, and some Madison readers may react to the casual way she accepts racial intermingling. That may say something about the nature of the problem. It's described by statistics, but the solution is cultural.