Vol. 7    No. 4
FEBRUARY 23, 2012

The Capital City Hues
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EDITORIAL STAFF

Jonathan Gramling
Publisher & Editor

Clarita G. Mendoza
Sales Manager

Contributing Writers
Rita Adair, Ike Anyanike, Paul
Barrows, Alfonso Zepeda
Capistran, Theola Carter, Fabu,
Andrew Gramling, Lang Kenneth
Haynes, Eileen Cecille Hocker,
Heidi Pascual,  & Martinez White
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                                Closing the Gap
It’s been a few weeks since Superintendant Dan Nerad released his draft plan for closing the achievement
gap titled Building Our Future. In that plan, Nerad outlined the district’s plan to implement a system of
policies, programs and instructional strategies designed to eliminate the achievement gap between African
American and Latino students and the student body as a whole. Over the course of the five-year
implementation of the plan, the annual cost will begin at $12.4 million to $26.6 million.

During the past week, I’ve had some time to peruse the plan. I will leave it to others who are more versed in
educational policy to critique the plan. But as I looked through the plan, it took me back a ways in terms of
past efforts to solve the achievement gap.

It took me back to the early 1980s when Addie Pettaway, who was working at the Wis. Dept. of Public
Instruction at the time, sponsored parent workshops to teach parents how to be more engaged in their
children’s school and in their education. Dozens of parents would gather at these workshops to become
empowered by hearing from experts in the field and discussing the issues with each other. I think the
funding for these workshops petered out and they were stopped.

I also remember back in the late 1980s when after the Urban League issued its report on the academic
achievement of African American students — the first time that it had been scientifically documented
although everyone was anecdotally aware of the problem — the parent liaison positions were created. The
Urban League worked with Lincoln Elementary School to pilot a parent liaison program and then, the district
created parent liaison positions and placed them in the schools that had the highest ratio of African
American and low-income youth.

After a few years, these positions were phased out as the revenue caps imposed by the state of Wisconsin
started kicking in the disinvestment in public education. They were placed in a minority student achievement
“block grant” to the schools and eventually as those funds began to shrink, the schools eliminated the
positions. And then — I’m not sure which year it was — Superintendent Art Rainwater ended the positions as
they were not part of the core educational service of the schools, i.e. in-class instruction.

I had the opportunity to work with some of the original parent liaisons. They were paraprofessionals who
were a bridge between home and school for children who were experiencing behavioral and academic
problems. These liaisons were true diplomats who tried to navigate the chasm between a group of
predominantly African American parents and predominantly Euro-American school personnel. They had to
navigate complex situations where, sometimes, all of the adults in these children’s lives were failing them
and blame swirled around the children and nothing was realistically done to set the children on the right
course. Just about the only tool that the parent liaisons had to get the adults to act right was moral
persuasion. The parent liaisons were dedicated to the students and did what they could to assist them.

It also took me back to the days when the Urban League and Centro Hispano set up the first system of
academically-oriented, culturally-competent after-school programs for middle school students. Project
Jamaa, Juventud and the Pre-Employment Program were in most of the MMSD middle schools by the end of
the 1980s. Eventually these morphed into these agencies’ middle school Schools of Hope programs. There
were a lot of things that we could have done better back then, in hindsight, but we did get the ball rolling.
During the past 25 years, the effort to close the achievement gap has been intermittent and scattered.
Overall, I am encouraged that the district has now placed many of these concepts as well as some new
concepts — concepts that apparently were adopted from the Urban League’s Madison Prep proposal — into a
uniform, comprehensive plan that has a budget attached to it.

In the past, many of the district’s responses to the achievement gap have been political responses to
pressures placed on it from the African American community. The district lacked its own vision as the
problem was always attributed solely to the students and their parents and the district did not see a need to
address the issues in a comprehensive way. So these political responses were put in place without firm
backing from the Doyle Building and then eliminated when the political winds had shifted. Other than
theoretical statements about educating all of our children, closing the achievement gap was never a part of
the core, every day, plan of action for MMSD. As long as the district’s children were majority Euro-American
students, the problem was looked upon as THEIR children’s problem that was tolerated. Now that we are a
majority minority school district, the students need to be looked at as OUR students for significantly more
students of color are going to have to be the academic achievers in the schools if MMSD is to keep its
national reputation.

So my question is, “How do we keep the focus on closing the achievement gap?” Well for one, Building Our
Future appears to be more of an educational solution than a political solution although there is still an
underlying political urgency to the plan. I would have three recommendations.

The first is that after the final plan is released after the community feedback sessions, MMSD should go to
referendum to reserve the funds needed to implement the plan over five years so that implementation of the
plan is insulated from an annual budgetary process that for the past 17 years looked to cut programs and
staffing. If closing the achievement gap is crucial to the future of the Madison area, then we should not short
change the effort and ensure that we have the resources necessary to carry out the plan.

Second, these efforts have to have a strong evaluation component in terms of goals, strategies and
outcomes so that we, as a community, can make sure these funds are being used effectively. Not everything
in a plan works and so we need a way to obtain the data necessary to make course corrections along the
way. Back in the 1980s when the Urban League got funding from MMSD, the board always said the programs
needed to be evaluated, but once we got the funding, the administration never put any kind of evaluative
component in place. This always left us facing a political process in getting funding renewed as opposed to
an educational, scientific process. It left us vulnerable to being discarded as soon as people’s attention was
directed elsewhere. There has to be a strong evaluative component to this.

Finally, in order to sustain the effort, the board of education should create a permanent achievement gap
board committee that continuously looks at the implementation of the plan and evaluates its effectiveness.
Procedurally, the board will be forced to look at these efforts on a monthly basis and talk about it in a public
forum. This effort must be highly visible over a long period of time if it is to be effective.

So this is my two cents worth. We as a community need to tackle this problem for it impacts all of us. And all
of us will reap the rewards of its success.
Bring ‘Em Home
President Obama on American
Manufacturing in Milwaukee