Vol. 6    No. 25
December 15, 2011

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
                     In Support of Madison Prep
For the past year or so, Madison Prep, the non-instrumentality charter school proposed by the Urban
League of Greater Madison, has dominated the education headlines, especially during the past five
months as Kaleem Caire and the school’s supporters have fought tooth and nail for the school to come
into existence and receive approval from the Madison public school board. It has been an invigorating
debate that for the most part, caused many of us to dig deep into our souls to contemplate what is best
for public education and students of color, particularly African American and Latino students.

For some of us, it has been an uneasy deliberation because it has almost felt like an either/or situation in
terms of what is best for African American students, in particular, and what is best for public education
and teachers. I care for all of the parties involved and hate these apparent win-lose decisions.

From 1982-1994, I worked at the Urban League as vice-president of operations. We always heard many
anecdotes about how poorly African American students were doing in Madison public schools. And then
the late Betty Franklin-Hammonds, the president of the League, directed a study of the GPAs of African
American students at West High School, the first study to show the achievement gap. Intellectually, we
could say that the gap was for real, although in our hearts and experiences, we knew that it was true all
along.

During the ensuing 23 years, programs created to address the achievement gap have come and gone.
From their heyday around 1990, equity programs have whittled down to practically nothing in the school
district, the first and frequent victim of the state-imposed revenue caps. James C. Wright Middle School
was created and built by MMSD in the mid-1990s as a magnet charter school that would focus on
science and technology. Sixteen years later, much of that focus has been lost.

Yet, it appears that there has been little progress made in the bottom line results for African American
students: graduation and college entrance rates on a par with the student population as a whole. As
people often say, if this were the situation for Euro-American students, the Madison public schools
would have been transformed long ago.

I have heard repeatedly through the years that the achievement gap is what it is because this is the
same thing that is happening across the nation — Madison is just a typical city — and it is the fault of
African American parents — who are the powerless part of the equation.

As a college-educated parent of African American children back in the 1980s and 1990s, I know I could
have always done better, but there were some teachers my children had who were, at best, ignorant and
at worse hostile to my children — although I must say that most of the teachers were caring and
competent instructors. The system shielded the teachers from even dealing with the issue. It was my
children who paid the price by the lack of any action.

The efforts to close the achievement gap for African American students have always seemed to nibble
around the edges with after school programming and special conferences and trainings. All of the efforts
have seemed like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. Each successive wave of African American
concern were met by programs implemented by the district that could easily be dismantled due to
budgetary or other concerns.

Even though the academic achievement gap is a national phenomenon, I have never known Madison to
sit back and allow its destiny to be dictated by national phenomenon. Madison has more than its fair
share of thinkers and innovators. And I feel that Madison Prep is one of those innovative things that
could lead to changes in how we approach the education of African American and Latino students. The
Madison school board should approve it at its December 19th meeting.

I share the fears of some school board members that the experience of Madison Prep could be used in
the future to allow big money to dictate decisions in public schools. Teachers unions are important to all
of us. A recent article pointed out that 50 percent of Americans are living at or near poverty. The global
economy is turning the United States into a third world country as economic power seeks to level the
international playing field by cycling wages and living standards down to the lowest bidder. Unions are
one of the only organized forces resisting that phenomenon.

But we need to give Madison Prep a chance. It should be viewed as a five-year experiment in the use of
a non-instrumentality charter school to find solutions to the achievement gap that doesn’t set a
precedent for the creation of more non-instrumentality charter schools. You don’t start to create widgets
until the R&D phase of production has been completed. And clear goals and evaluative criteria should
be established at the beginning to see if it is effective including cost-benefit analysis and its ability to be
duplicated in other schools.

Some feel that Madison Prep should wait because of the current school revenue crisis. But if not now,
when? We will continue to have a budget crisis for some time into the future. Dr, Martin Luther King Jr.
once wrote a treatise on ‘Why We Can’t Wait.’ African American students can’t wait forever because
their future and the future of us all depends on it.