We Blew It on Madison Prep

I can’t shake the feeling that something important was going on at our School Board meeting last Monday night to consider the Madison Prep charter school proposal, and that the actual School Board vote wasn’t it.

The bare-bone facts are that, after about 90 public speakers, the Board voted 2-5 to reject the Madison Prep proposal.  I reluctantly voted against the motion because I was unwilling to violate the terms of our collective bargaining agreement with our teachers.

After the motion failed, I moved that the Board approve Madison Prep, but delay its opening until the fall of 2013.  My motion failed for lack of a second.  (And no, I don’t have an explanation for why neither James Howard nor Lucy Mathiak, who voted in favor of the first motion, was willing to second my motion.)

Probably like most who attended Monday night’s meeting, I have thought a lot about it since.  People who know I voted against the proposal have come up to me and congratulated me for what they say was the right decision.  I have felt like shaking them and saying, “No, you don’t understand.  We blew it Monday night, we blew it big time.  I just hope that we only crippled Madison Prep and didn’t kill it.”

I appreciate that that’s an odd and surprising place for me to have ended up.  To echo the Talking Heads, “Well, how did I get here?”  I’ll try to explain.  

Like most white Madisonians, I can’t claim to have much of a clue about the actual lives of African-Americans in our community.  For me, one of the benefits of working on Madison Prep is that it parted the curtains a bit and allowed me glimpses of African-American experiences in Madison.  I’m grateful that the passionate, opinionated and articulate speakers at Monday’s meeting bared a bit of their world for our view.

It struck me when listening to Monday’s speakers and others who have previously addressed the Board that we were visiting another land.

It’s a stressful and dangerous place:

  • Where parents with older children mourn their losses and struggle with where the blame should lie for their children falling so far short of their potential.
  • Where mothers are frightened to their core about what the future might hold for their young sons.
  • Where a grandmother yearns to see her distant grandchildren but still urges her daughter to stay in Houston for her grandchildren’s sake rather than risk bringing them back to Madison.
  • Where a wife demands of her husband that they uproot their family and leave Madison for somewhere on the east coast, where their children will have a better shot at success.

People like me don’t want to hear these stories.  They clash with our comfortable images of idyllic Madison.  And so we usually don’t.  And when we hear them in isolation, we tend to resist them, or rationalize them away.  I do, anyway.

People aren’t making this stuff up.  At some point, when you hear the same basic point conveyed over and over in different shapes and forms, you are obligated to hear it, absorb it, and take it into account.

So this is the problem as I have come to understand it.  Many African-Americans who are not newcomers to Madison perceive a pandemic of poisonous social forces pulling their children down, particularly their boys, and, despite best intentions, our Madison public schools have been virtually powerless to stop it.

With Madison Prep, some leaders from the African-American community propose that their community step up and take on part of the responsibility of schooling their children themselves.

Much has been written about Madison Prep, but relatively little about how old-school conservative the plan for the school is. It’s a pull-up-your-pants, take-off-your-hat, sit-yourself-down, and get-to-work sort of approach that someone like me, from outside the African-American community, would completely lack the standing to impose.  There’s to be no-excuse learning, a challenging curriculum, mandatory sports and activities, longer school days and school years, uniforms, single-sex classrooms, parental responsibility and obligations.

There’s that fog of evil out there waiting to envelop Madison’s African-American children, and the design of the school is to erect as many bulwarks as possible to keep that fog at bay.  I almost think that if they could pull it off, the Madison Prep supporters might prefer a boarding school so they could keep an eye on their students 24 hours a day.

Viewed through the lens of the perceived urgent need that called it forth, many of the criticisms of the Madison Prep proposal seem vacuous and condescending.

We couldn’t approve the school because it would be exploitive to allow African-American teachers to work for less than union wages, as if the teachers at Madison Prep would be incapable of making their own choices about where they are willing to work.

We couldn’t approve the school because it would be unfair to hold parents accountable for their level of involvement in the education of their children, as if opponents of the proposal weren’t complaining that the Urban League’s criticisms of the school district unfairly ignore the roles of parents in students’ learning.

We couldn’t approve the school because it would lead to segregation, as if white folks are always complaining that they don’t have enough Blacks around.

Uniforms would be too expensive for the families sought to be served.  The school would have too many administrators.  Classes would be too hard.   The ACLU is frowning.  The school district couldn’t spend money on this because we might need it for, well, I don’t know, for something.   Blah, blah, blah.

After all that, the “couldn’ts” prevailed.  I can’t help feeling that the vote came out the way it did not because of faulty analysis, but because of too much emphasis on analysis.  The proposal certainly raised a host of issues, but too often we viewed those issues as excuses for saying no rather than as challenges to be solved.  More, we saw the notes but missed the music.  We simply weren’t able to appreciate and appropriately value all the emotional capital arrayed in the school’s support.

Lots of members of our African-American community forced us to confront how our schools are failing their children.  They asked – sometimes not so politely – for our approval to try something new that might help, to endorse a proposal that had garnered unprecedented offers of assistance from the community.  We said no.

We should have found a way to make it work. We should have found a way to make it work and we just didn’t.

So, the plan to redirect the wave of support towards opening a smaller-scale, privately-funded Madison Prep next fall seems like a logical next step.  I hope the school succeeds; as should we all.  I wasn’t able to vote in favor of sending public money to the school for the first year, but I’ll donate some of my own now.

The ultimate goal has to be the conversion of the school from private status to an MMSD charter school.  It is conceivable that this could happen for the school year beginning September, 2013, which would be consistent with my un-seconded motion.  Whether that’s in the cards will depend in significant part on the outcome of the School Board elections this April.

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30 Responses to We Blew It on Madison Prep

  1. jjeastside says:

    Ed, I am confused about what that meeting was about, anyway. The very real and well-founded fears and hopes expressed by impassioned speakers went largely ignored Monday night in a seeming effort to get it over and done with. Why no dialogue? This seems a missed opportunity. If ever there was a time for the board to talk with each other, it was then. Why listen to 6 hours of testimony and then proceed to read prepared speeches and deliver unchanged votes? I wonder what the board hoped to gain by this approach.

    We still need to find a way to yes on Madison Prep. It seems a mistake to reject the proposal without offering the writers and planners of MPA a counter offer within the terms, conditions and parameters that are acceptable to the district.

    No one won on Monday night. I fear that much was lost.

  2. In a previous comment, I raised a possible compromise that might allow MPA to move forward, potentially satisfying your concern regarding the CBA. I’m don’t know the details of the cost and legalities, but here is my question (option), more clearly stated.

    Is it not possible to allow the MPA move forward and hire teachers under MTI contract for the first year only? Thereafter, the MPA would operate without the CBA restrictions. Is there an issue more than the additional first year cost?

  3. Will Williams says:

    ED I disagree with both you and JJ, As one who had killed innocent people in Vietnam, when Dr King said the following ( The War In Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within The American Spirit and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing Clergy and Laymen” concerned Committies for the next generation) Those words are stamped in my memory, and I believe if Dr King was here today, He would say The Achievement Gap is a symptom .rooted in Structural Inequalities in Society, both Economic and Cultural.

    Could those opposing MPA see the real problem that creates The Achievement Gap and Poverty is not addressed by Vouchers or Charter Schools. One of the good things The MPA Proposal did was to start people talking about the real issues that affects all of us in one way or another . The Deeper Malady.

  4. William Patterson says:

    Thanks for you comments. I am also a white person, but I have become aware of some of the concerns for the children in the black community because I have been a member of Mt. Zion Baptist church and am a Southside Raiders coach. I have also been reading and distributing news articles about at-risk youth for a number of years no.

    My suggestion to you is that you consider going to a few south side barber shops or beauty salons, or a few of the Mt. Zion free family meals at 5:30 on Wednesdays (start again after New Years) and talk to some parents and grandparents. Pastor Richard Jones at Mt. Zion would also be a great person to talk to.

  5. For those of us who are eager to follow the arguments from another state (Michigan) what was the reasoning for Madison Prep wanting to work outside the Collective Bargaining Agreement? Was it to have more control over which particular teachers staffed the school?

  6. My questions are more about the greatest good for the greatest number. As someone who has become VERY involved in the Allied Community, I see the school as a means of separating out a relative small percentage of the whole, and doing good things for them.

    The bulk of the people would end up in even worse shape then before, since an extreme amount of money and energy would become directed toward the new school and leave little to nothing available to address the current existing conditions for those left behind.

    I would very much rather see that same amount of money and energy put into existing schools and help the system to change from within, driven by the community, for the community, with the assistance of the school system.

    I would love to see some of that money and energy directed toward addressing the disparity between the education of the parents and the students. We have to get parents involved in schools. That also means that we need to get those parents at least somewhat up to speed on understanding what their children are doing in school, and how they can be involved in helping them with their schoolwork. The parents really, really need an opportunity to learn with their children. How to create that opportunity is going to be extremely difficult.

    The work that I see the Boys and Girls Club doing within the schools goes a long way toward addressing my concerns for the children, but I’d like to see that extended into programs for, and beyond, the parents. These problems are generations old, we can not ‘fix’ them by working on just the children, we have to involve the entire community that supports the children… parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, faith communities and friends. I would love to see the Boys and Girls Club develop a “Learning Together” program to fill at least part of that need. And I’d like schools and libraries to jump aboard and also develop support programs to benefit those that support our children.

    I do not want to dis’ Kaleem, his vision, or what he wants to accomplish, I only want make sure that what we do will serve the entire community in the best possible way. I’m not at all convinced that a freestanding school, which would end up being held apart from, and above, the bulk of the community would serve that need. And I can’t see the school doing anything but further separating the haves from the have nots in the African American community. I’d love to be able to see it differently, but from my place, with my feet firmly planted in one of the most affected communities, Kaleem would have to go a long, long way to convince me that it would be otherwise. The only way he could is if there is intent in the plan to fully involve the entire community… far more than just students and parents. He and Michael Johnson both know that I’m open to listening and getting involved.

  7. michelle behnke says:


    I would like to say better late than never, but that was the message that people tried to deliver Monday night. It seems like never when it comes to a solution.

    I am glad you are beginning to understand but in addition to the other “protective” decisions the board vote evidenced it told the community that you don’t know what might be helpful for your children, a concept that is part of the MMDS issue.

  8. Richard Scott Sr. says:

    Richard Scott Says:

    Having read and applaud the heartfelt and sincere reflections by Mr. Hughes, I can only feel that it is “too little , too late”. I’m not a “Rocket Scientist” and I feel that it did not take such a person to see and understand the enormity of the situation that has been facing the MMSD for at least 40 years! What happened to the reports, surveys, and other research data, which has been shared time and time again ad nauseam? Wait…maybe they are still here in some file gathering dust!
    This educational atrocity is strikingly familiar to the proverbial “Elephant in the Living room” concept. Everyone knows it’s there, but no one wants to address it. Having said that, I can appreciate Mr. Hughes’ recognition of having “blown it BIG time” and his willingness to openly admit his mistake. I wonder how the other Board Members, who voted against MPA ,consciouses are effecting them?
    My deep respect and regards to Mr. James Howard (School Board President) and Ms. Lucy Mathiak (School Board Member) for their knowledgable understanding and support of MPA, despite being outnumbered/outvoted! Thank you both for having the Professional and Moral integrity of standing up for what was the right thing to do. Indeed, you have made History. But unfortunately, so did Superintendent Nerad and the other 5 members of the Board.
    As for the comment about paying African American Teachers less than other teachers in the system, I think that the main concern should be that there are so few African American Teachers hired by the District in the first place. Then if this is still a point of contention. Has anyone talked to those teachers to find out their concerns views? Then if the pay is the driving force behind the “no-vote”, then what about guaranteeing those who would work for a few dollars less, an end of the year Merit pay increase which would bring them up to the current rate of negotiated compensation? Now, for the idea about using “non-union” teachers. I believe that there is a “Fair-Share” clause in the collective bargaining agreement for those teachers who didn’t want to join the Teachers Union.In essence that clause stated that one would still have to pay the equivalent of the union dues, without union representation. Or is that no longer in existence?
    Finally, in my unintentional lengthy diatribe, as to the aforementioned issues, I can’t begin to express my profound gratitude, admiration and respect for everyone who volunteered their time, resources and energy in pursuit of the vision that Mr. Kaleem Caire brought to Madison. Kaleem is the kind of person who exemplifies the meaning of the word “Conviction” and who has “come back home” to give back to his community!
    I’ve retired from the MMSD after 34 years but now I’m “Rewired” to help the needed change to occur! In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King,” Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”. That is “why we can’t wait”.
    I believe in what Kaleem Caire is doing, because I , like so many others, believe KALEEM “CARES”!

  9. Matthew Morris says:

    @Will Williams – Well said…

    Ed, I commend you on your honesty, it takes courage to announce such things to the world. You have taken the first step by acknowledging your short comings in seeing the entirety of this issue clearly, a step that many Madisonians have yet to take, but it cannot end there. MPA came to lift a ‘burden’ off of your, the other board members, and ultimately the districts shoulders and you guys pushed them out of the way. Now the weight is back on your shoulders and you have everybody watching you to see what you are going to do. So what is going to happen now, Ed? What is the districts ‘new’ strategy to close the achievement gaps?

    The fact is, you are part of the establishment and the establishment has once AGAIN failed a group of people who have historically been failed by people in your position. I believe the time has come when the neglected and oppressed are going to stop waiting for the establishment to gain enough compassion and wisdom to correct its flawed status-quo methodology. I think they realize that change is not going to happen unless they do it themselves, which will render people like you obsolete. This would be a shame considering that your purpose and duty is to serve the community, which includes these people.

    The district should no longer feel obligated to consider the MPA proposal, rather, the district should now feel honored and lucky if MPA even still considers the MMSD as a viable partner, which it seems they are still willing to do. That is something for you to be thankful of this holiday season.

  10. Maureen Didgeon says:

    study the Memphis charter school system- similar budget to Madison – for those who are idealist- it truely is about budget-money matters , No offense but your first sentence/ grammer is off the chart ! it is a dangling particliple! it what???

  11. Will Williams says:

    We will enter a New Year in six days and in twenty two days will commemorate MLK JR for the work he did trying to make this a better world for everyone.We seem to forget The Giant Triplets He spoke of, racism,extreme materialism and militarism. I believe Societal Inequalities are created by the triplets and the achievement gap was born because of our inaction and silence.

    I don’t believe if you are not for MPA you are against closing the achievement gap or maintaining status-quo We must first free our minds and acknowledge the fact that the only way to find a solution is to stop blaming and finding fault simply because someone disagree.

    It is my hope in the coming year, as we honor MLK JR, the speech He gave on April 4th 1967 will be remembered. It is so relevant today and unless we understand it and take action we will all be obsolete.Peace My Brothers and Sisters

  12. David Blaska says:

    Ed, you are a very thoughtful public servant. But the fact is that the Madison School Board rushed to approve the contract with Madison Teachers Inc. on a Saturday afternoon in March well before the expiration of the existing collective bargaining agreement and well before state law would have given you complete discretion as to work rules. You did so knowing that a non-union charter school was on the table. You erected your own impediment.

  13. Dan Sebald says:

    This blog makes it sound as though the board member tried to nuance matters in a way that would appease everyone: first vote “against”, then vote “for” a year later. Unfortunately, votes don’t always have such convenient middle-of-the-road alternatives. There is an air of vagueness about this post suggesting the board member doesn’t yet know where he stands on the issue and that maybe there is still more work to do on the board’s part, so that there is consensus MSD is going in the right direction.

    Nothing in this post suggests anyone in the minority underachievement inquiry and debate really has an understanding of the core issues and how the Madison school system addresses them. There is certainly an understanding now of the minorities’ frustration, but there has to be an identification of the root issues of any problem so that they may be addressed.

    The comment about segregation implies those making such an argument are disingenuous. What is the intent of a public school? Is it not to give those otherwise under-represented in a private school paradigm an opportunity at education? I’ve spent a lot of time in higher education classrooms. I wouldn’t want to lose the opportunity to help a student improve and achieve by losing that student in some way.

    The comment about picking and choosing where someone wants to teach overlooks that we are in a tight economy. The work alternatives aren’t as fluid as they were ten years ago.

  14. Shawn says:

    I think everybody should realize that what the real, main issue is for Madison Prep charter school; it is about “money”. Regardless of what color your skin happens to be, what gender you are or what you believe, it is about the money, Our money. That’s not to say there are no issues with gender, skin color, etc., there are, but they are minor compared to the money issue. As we are a community, we need to look at “what can we do for the most, for the least”. We need to stretch Our money as far as it will go and where it will do the most good, for the most people and for the people who need it the most. The people who need it the most are children of families (regardless of color) who don’t have “money”. Please realize that we are being forced to compete with ourselves (community against community, race against race, haves against have not’s, etc., ad nauseam. ), that we are purposely being forced into roles and groups, so we can be lead and controlled more easily. The best and easiest way to fight against this tyranny is with education. Quality education that is available to everyone regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, belief systems, money or lack of it. Having a charter school in Madison is a good idea, but make sure it is fair to everyone, because it’s just the beginning of what we must do for our future, our children.

  15. Ed, I guess you “blew it” if you truly think the only thing wrong with the Urban League’s proposal was that it would bypass the existing teachers’ contract. If, however, like me, you thot that any proposal that involved schools segregated on the basis of sex and paid for with public money should have been rejected out of hand as blatantly sexist and discriminatory, then you most definitely did not blow it. As the Supremes said back in 1954 in their Brown v. Board of Education decision, “separate facilities are inherently unequal”.
    Drowning a burning person will undoubtedly put out the fire, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to do it.

    • Richard Scott Sr. says:

      Interesting historical parallel…but I believe what we are more appropriately referring to here is the fact that the current educational system, that many hold as the “familiar system of things”, is by all standards, an “Equal facility which has been inherently Separate” in addressing the educational achievement of all students. Dr. Martin Luther King was quoted as saying,[I’ll paraphrase]…”What good is having the right to sit at the lunch counter, if you don’t have the means to buy a meal?”.
      Now on the other hand If, indeed, we are concerned about the idea that there is a conspiratorial notion that the ULGM is about promoting segregation, then maybe we should also look at the accepted notion of “separate public restrooms, fraternities, sororities, HBCU’s and lest we forget Wisconsin’s most financially lucrative and Corporately owned facilities,the prisons, or do we enjoy paying the astronomical price for maintaining those Prisons and their “residents”? Which, by the way, tend to represent a grossly disproportionate number of African American and Latino males!
      You are correct about it being about “money”. But from where I sit, we could better invest our funds towards creating a system which “inherently, pragmatically, morally and socially” combat the causes which create the social disengagement and frustration of low income and poorly educated individuals. Because as you are aware, frustration leads to aggression and aggressive people are prime candidates for guess what…PRISONS!

  16. Nick says:

    No one really cares what you’re feeling now, after you’ve rejected the MPA proposal. Nice to know that you can reflect on your decisions objectively and recognize errors in judgement. The only thing that really matters is “what are you going to do about it”? I propose that you decide to get out of the way of a well developed alternative idea (MPA) and allow it to proceed, AND I propose you get serious about making changes within the existing MMSD structure and do more for the underserved who are caught in the achievement gap. While you wring your hands over rationalizations on why you couldn’t approve the proposal, hundreds more children are not getting the needed help they deserve. Allow MPA to proceed AND reform MMSD. No offense, but I don’t think MPA can do worse and perhaps they’ll exceed all our hopes for many young people. Is that so bad to accept?

  17. janeofdane says:


    At the last Board meeting, I was very disappointed to hear you say that you were no expert on curriculum but that you believed the Urban League had done their homework on the question of whether the Madison Prep curriculum would be effective in reducing the achievement gap. The public expects the school board to look into this question and not take Madison Prep’s claim on faith. If the board doesn’t have expertise on the model proposed, it should seek out expert opinions.

    The NAACP has looked at charters schools like Madison Prep and is opposed, citing statistics that show these schools do more harm than good:

    Before we spend millions of dollars on a new school, taking many of those dollars away from existing schools, we need to look at the likelihood of success. This decision will be judged on whether or not it succeeded in closing the achievement gap. We have a lot of evidence from other school districts that have tried similar models that Madison Prep will not be successful. I’m glad that the NAACP has taken the time and effort to look at the proposed curriculum.

  18. Allen Ruff says:

    In light of the use of “white liberal guilt” wielded by those proponents of the Madison Prep who have also presented themselves as the “voice” and representatives of a seemingly monolithic community consensus, I thought it pertinent to post the following, the text of a resolution on charter schools coming from last year’s national convention of the NAACP (http://naacp.3cdn.net/ec6459eda5247ea257_d1m6bxsf6.pdf):

    “…The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the nation’s oldest, largest and most widely-recognized grassroots based civil rights organization. Formed in 1909 by a multiracial group of progressive thinkers, the NAACP is a nonprofit organization established with the objective of ensuring the political, educational, social, and economic equality of people of color. For over 102 years, the NAACP has challenged this nation to uphold its promise of equal opportunity toward the goal of eliminating racial prejudice and removing all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes.

    In a process established by the NAACP Constitution, this resolution was adopted by the delegates to the 101st Annual Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, during the legislative session in July, 2010. It was subsequently ratified by the NAACP National Board of Directors at its meeting on October 15, 2010. This resolution is now the policy of the Association, and is “binding on the Board of Directors, the Executive Committee, the Officers, and all units.”

    Charter Schools

    WHEREAS, charter schools are public schools which were originally designed to explore new approaches to educate students; and
    WHEREAS, in some cases, charter schools have become a school model that is used to segregate students; and
    WHEREAS, charter schools have too seldom informed the education community regarding innovative instructional strategies that accelerate academic achievement in the general population of students; and
    WHEREAS, the Center for Research in Educational Outcomes (CREDO) which examined charter school data in fifteen (15) states and the District of Columbia confirmed that only 17% of the charter school students in the study outperformed their peers, while 46% performed no better and 37% performed worse; and
    WHEREAS, charter schools operate more autonomously than traditional public schools in the use of funds, adherence to state laws and school policies, selection and removal of students, and the selection and removal of staff, thus creating separate and unequal conditions for success; and
    WHEREAS, charter schools draw funding away from already underfunded traditional public schools; and
    WHEREAS, the NAACP recognizes that at best, quality charter schools serve only a small percentage of children of color and disadvantaged students for whom the NAACP advocates relative to said population left behind in failing schools; and
    WHEREAS, the NAACP recognizes the urgent need to provide quality education for all children, not only those fortunate enough to win lotteries to attend existing quality charter schools; and
    WHEREAS, the NAACP is committed to finding broad based, effective solutions for immediate implementation to improve the quality of public education for all children.
    THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP will strongly advocate for immediate, overarching improvements to the existing public education system; and
    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP rejects the emphasis on charter schools as the vanguard approach for the education of children, instead of focusing attention, funding, and policy advocacy on improving existing, low performing public schools and will work through local, state and federal legislative processes to ensure that all public schools are provided the necessary funding, support and autonomy necessary to educate all students; and
    BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the NAACP will urge all of its Units to work to support public schools throughout the nation to educate all children to their highest potential.

    • Richard Scott Sr. says:

      I am an ardent supporter of the NAACP and what it’s missions are. However, “Urging public schools to educate all children” is one thing, but providing the concrete foundation and mandating the outcome is entirely another. As for the “Guilt ridden Liberals”, one could have said the same about the Quakers who supported the “Underground Railroad” to help those few slaves to freedom in order to provide a way for others [a much larger group] to join them.
      Now, as it relates to the concept of only “helping a few” while the masses are left in the lurch. Maybe we should be asking the question” Why is there a Lurch in the first place?” I believe the NAACP is an honorable and well-intentioned organization with years of recognized community involvement. But that does not mean that someone else can’t step up with a plan that would work.
      After all what was the general sentiment when Henry Ford introduced the “horseless carriage” or the Wright Brothers with the first air[plane, or Thomas Edison [Louis Lattimer] with the tungsten filament for the light bulb? The answer, DOUBT!
      As we all have come to know and recognize, all new beginnings start with a small control group. Whether it is pertaining to new health oriented drug treatments or environmentally “green” focused technology, they all start with a small “testing/focused trial period. The health and wellness of our children deserve at least that much consideration, don’t you think?

      • Allen Ruff says:

        As I assumed upon sending the above, there would be some who would find some point among the NAACP resolutions to disagree with, and thereby cast what might appear to be a viable counter argument. But the main thrust of the the resolution, taken as a whole, certainly casts doubts on the claims regarding the performance of charters outperforming public schools, over all. That, in turn, calls into question the promise of the ability of such ventures to “close the achievement gap”. The argument has gone, “Well, the experiment should take place… we won’t know unless we try.” That may well be true, but at what cost to the rest of the school system and the kids in it? As I posed it sometime ago, the questions, stil left unanswered by the Prep’s supporters, remain: What currently existing programs would you be willing to cut from an already strapped budget? What among those efforts that might currently assist students in need, would you scrap? (Yes, yes, the obvious answer I can hear already is “Cut teachers’ and
        administrators’ pay and the “stranglehold” of the unons” to which I’ll preemptively ask, “How many of you have actually looked at the proposals and examined the projected salaries for non-teaching staff and “administrative” costs of the proposed Academy?

        And BTW, those Quakers and members of other denominations who might have aided the “Underground Railroad” certainly were not “white liberals” propelled by pangs of guilt and privilege, but rather faith-based radicals informed by a belief in the equality of all, and defiant of an existing order which put the sanctity of private property and material gain over, in their perception, the god-given equal rights of all humankind.

        • Richard Scott Sr. says:

          You are correct, maybe they weren’t propelled by “pangs of guilt”. I believed they did what they did because they understood, just as Ernest Hemingway wrote in the 1940 novel, For whom the Bell Tolls, that “all people are socially and spiritually interconnected and whatever affects one affects us all” “Nuff said”. Have a very productive and HAPPY NEW YEAR.

  19. In answer to the question “Why is there a Lurch in the first place?,” one big part of the answer is the anti-tax policies and disinvestment in public schools, infrastructure, job training programs and social services relentlessly promoted by the “choice advocates” such as the Waltons, the Kochs, the Bradley Foundation and enabled by Kaleem Caire and others who have been on their payrolls.

    • Richard Scott Sr. says:

      You must be an insider to know who is on who’s payroll…aspersions abound. Makes one wonder your agenda…hummm? But suppose you never shop at Wal-Mart huh?

  20. Steve says:


    Let us assume that Madison Prep is approved next year and succeeds in achieving its educational goals for disadvantaged children. What will its success prove? It will prove that the combination of:
    1. Smaller class size,
    2. parents actively engaged in their children’s education,
    3. students willing to achieve and succeed, and
    4. teachers dedicated to enable their students success
    are the elements needed for disadvantaged students to graduate from high school and be college ready should they choose to attend 2- or 4-year college.

    However, classroom teachers have known these elements to be the keys to educational success for over 40 years. So Madison Prep will have proven what is already known. The problem is how any school board or school district achieves implementing these elements on a broader scale.

    There are many factors outside the control of the school board or its teachers that mitigate against district-wide implementation of the four elements of success. These factors each rate separate rants.

    So, what to do. I think the Board, partnered with other groups and agencies, should concentrate more effort in the K-5 arena, so that children entering 6th grade have a solid base of knowledge and enjoyment of learning (see above 4 elements of success). Expand the existing MMSD programs for all kids at risk in grades 6-12, while investigating other innovative measures that do not re-create the wheel.


    • janeofdane says:

      Good post, Steve. As a single parent with a child in the school system, I appreciate the help that’s already built into the MMSD schools. For example, the bus system that gets my child to and from school safely. His stops have always been a short walk from our house whether he rode the yellow school bus or Madison Metro. For part of his elementary years, he was in a paired school situation and I was anxious about how he would get back and forth to a distant school while I had to work full time. But partnering with MSCR, there were after-school programs that covered that part of the day after school ended and before I had finished work. He was bused back to our neighborhood at the end of the after-school program so I could pick him up locally. These kinds of logistical helps are so important to a family without a stay-at-home parent or reliable transportation. I don’t see why we should recreate the system at a new school.

      I am also troubled by the fact that the parents of the at-risk kids don’t come to school events for the most part, despite the many, many attempts I’ve seen by MMSD to make attendance as easy and as comfortable as possible (offering child care and often a free meal during PTO meetings or scheduling meetings specifically for parents of African American kids led by African American staff members). I don’t know why so many parents weren’t reached by these efforts but as a single parent, they really helped me. The school board seemed to be taking it as an article of faith that the Urban League was in touch with the parents of at-risk kids and would be able to involve them in Madison Prep – in fact, their participation is required by the model. I need to throw in one more single parent caution here – don’t ask a single parent to add one more thing to their schedule. We’ve got plenty work and too little time. Going to school events is one thing but performing volunteer work as required by the Madison Prep model might be too much. I am not confident that the Urban League is going to be more successful than MMSD schools have been with involving parents. I would like to know what they are going to do that is different.

      One of my son’s schools hosted an occasional movie night where parents could come to school with their kids and watch a movie projected in the cafeteria while having free popcorn and treats. I very much liked the idea of schools facilitating fun, family time for parents who don’t have the money and leisure time to enjoy fun with their kids. These events also build relationships with other community families. Many schools also host parenting skills training or classes. The availability of child care and perhaps a meal would make these offerings even more attractive to working parents. I think all parents want to do a good job of parenting; but there are many stresses on families.

      One thing I might add to your list of the elements of success would be stability. I have no empirical data but have always believed that stability – housing, financial and emotional – help kids get their feet under them. When economic needs force lots of moves and family problems shift kids from one caretaker to another, I think it makes it harder for kids to establish their own support systems and harder for adults to know the kids they care for.

  21. Kaleem Caire’s work for organizations funded by those groups is a matter of public record, a record he boasts of. And no, I have never set foot in a Wal-Mart. Speaking of aspersions….my agenda is a matter of public record and it mostly consists of strengthening and improving public schools.

    Convenient of you to ignore the substance of my comment, which is that the “choice movement” and other market-based reforms are part of a larger effort, and that effort has contributed mightily to the “lurch” you refer to. This is not to say that all choice advocates or all charter schools are part of that movement, only that “choice” serves their purpose.

    • Richard Scott Sr. says:

      Choice…A universal concept which determines what each one of us will or will not do. The “choice” that has been obviously sidestepped [ignored] is the choice of proactively doing and not just holding another “Fruitcake” conversation about a devastating enigma which has had and is still having a profoundly devastating effect on our collective community ( we either pay now or we will inevitably pay much more later….just my opinion). Just in case you’re wondering about the term Fruitcake, it is not meant for any one person, it only refers to that which one gets each year and places back on the shelf for some future reference…i.e Fruitcake, you might have gotten one at some point in your life…most of us have. Happy new year!

  22. Laura Chern says:

    You offered a starting point for compromise at the end of the meeting when you moved to open Madison Prep a year later. It was soundly rejected by both your fellow board members who supported Madison Prep, those who opposed it for various reasons, and by the Urban League. No reason to beat yourself up.

  23. Might be useful to look at the Alternative Schools Network in Chicago – programs that were started by a wide range of community groups many in the inner city first as private schools and later as charter schools. The results are mixed (Marva Collins school began within the netwrok and left it when offered reseources by the far right) but the model of iner city communtiies developing and running theior own programs before they are integrated into the public schools is a different model – it would laso be interesting to track the results of the Milwaukee charter schools that began before the charter option was created with those that started after the charter option began to be available. I haven’t read enough in this area the past 20 years, epecially on how the comparative studies are done. Open voucher systems are a mess – just look at the system that funds child care for children mostly under school age- on the other hand offer a diversity of programs to address the vastly different needs of children and families makes a lot of sense when done well. Having community ownership of those programs is often a strong strategy.

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