Already buried deep, Madison’s public schools can’t stop digging. After the failures of the last superintendent, the school board is considering doubling down on a successor who emphasizes “equity and social justice” instead of reading and writing.
The applicant actually accused her last school district in Democrat(ic) Albany, New York, of being “an organization influenced by racist principles.” Should fit right in here in Madison.
Advocating for an educator instead of a community organizer, liberal environmentalist Peter Anderson told the school board: “The city’s schools, once the jewel in Madison’s crown, have been coming apart at the seams under Jennifer Cheatham’s leadership before she sought to escape responsibility for her failure by bolting to academia” — where she will stamp out more Jennifer Cheathams.
Her tenure, Anderson wrote, “became increasingly defined by her efforts to deflect vocal pressure from Freedom Inc., by how those efforts affected her determination to convince opinion leaders of her commitment to racial justice, and by her inability to actually reduce the black achievement gap.”
Only 8.9% of Madison’s African American high school students are proficient in English, according to 2019 ACT scores. One of every five African American students never graduate. In math, 65% of black students test below basic proficiency, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Not to worry, the district now prohibits teachers from telling parents if their child wants to change genders.
Cheatham’s behavior education plan, Anderson wrote, “led students to conclude that there are no longer any consequences for bad behavior.”
The parents and teachers at Jefferson Middle School know that all too well. They are wondering how a 13-year-old boy who shot another student with a BB gun in December remained in school after two dozen previous incidents, including threatening to “kill everyone in the school.” The district is hunting down the whistleblower who leaked the student’s chronic misbehavior record.
School gag rules hide much of the chaos in the classroom, but no schoolhouse door can contain the disrespect for authority — as when 15 to 20 young teenagers busted up Lakeview Library last March, taunting: “We don’t have to listen to the police.” In December alone, 56 cars were stolen in Madison. Police arrested 15 kids (all but two younger than 17), along with three adults.
The district’s brain-dead, zero-tolerance for the N-word — no matter the educational context — resulted in the summary dismissal of a beloved black security guard and of a Hispanic teacher. The district still hasn’t done right by a dedicated positive behavior coach at Whitehorse Middle School, who school officials threw under the bus even before the district attorney cleared him of all wrong-doing. (The man is white.)
Parents are voting with their feet. MMSD enrollment is expected to decline — even though more people are moving here than any other city in the state. Meanwhile, Sun Prairie is building a second high school. Between the state open enrollment program and private schools, just over 13% of Madison’s children are opting out. Good luck convincing their parents to vote for Madison’s $350 million spending referendums next fall.
Madison’s public schools desperately need a no-nonsense reformer like a Kaleem Caire or a Tommy Thompson. (Even the University of Wisconsin is looking outside academia for its next system president.) Instead, they will choose a generic, buzz-wording educrat caught up in the spin cycle of blame, grievance and excuses.
In the short-term, cast a protest vote for retired police lieutenant Wayne Strong, long a mentor for at-risk youth. He’s on the April 7 school board ballot but not certain he will be an active candidate. Long-term, demand more local voucher and independent charter schools, like Kaleem Caire’s One City Schools. Competition is the best reformer.
David Blaska blogs at davidblaska.com. He ran unsuccessfully for Madison School Board in 2019.
Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.