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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, February 23, 2007

Brother Bob and the Public Schools

by folkbum

Since every time I take a day off of work it costs the taxpayers money, I declined to infiltrate Charlie Sykes's annual (and unironically named) "Insight" event held Wednesday morning. That means I missed, among other things, Sykes's almost certainly deliberate misinterpretation of a statement by Ald. Michael McGee, which makes for a funny enough story by itself.

But there were plenty of other bloggers at the event to record the haps for posterity, including Badger Blogger Patrick, whose write-up you can read at your leisure.

One thing in particular stood out to me as I read Patrick's report, though, his summary of the education panel from that morning (Patrick's italics):
Panel three was about education in Milwaukee. Charlie was joined by MPS Superintendent William Andrekopouls, the MJS education reporter Alan Borsuk, WEAC President Stan Johnson and Messmer High School’s Brother Bob Smith.

I think that the biggest problem we have in MPS is that we don’t have a Brother Bob Smith’s in every MPS school. He made a comment that really stuck out, he tells his kids to “make the right decisions, or make them somewhere else.” Brother Bob is awesome!
Brother Bob seemed like a nice enough guy the one time I met him, but I lack Patrick's awe, and I do not share Patrick's conviction that not having a Brother Bob in every MPS school is "the biggest problem," not by a long shot.

But Brother Bob's statement there, and Patrick's adulation of it (no doubt the rest of Charlie's crowd ate it up, too) is actually a pretty good demonstration of how the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program--the "voucher" program, as it's commonly known--is not, in fact, on a level playing field with the Milwaukee Public Schools: See, in MPS, we simply do not have the luxury of telling students that they are welcome to make their bad decisions elsewhere. The voucher schools, of which Messmer is a prominent example, have the ability to remove disruptive or difficult-to-educate students. Remember that the next time you see Messmer's statistics, or those of any voucher school that can in practice pick and choose who attends. The students removed from those schools then end up in the public schools, where they remain disruptive and difficult to educate.

And when those students fail, drop out, score low on tests, or get into fights at or near school, who takes the blame? The public schools, of course. If we had the opportunity, as Brother Bob does, to invite students to make their bad decisions somewhere else, MPS could produce incredible results. But we cannot remove them. There is nowhere to kick them out to. We are the last line of defense for many of these very lost kids, and our results show it.

Maybe it would be instructive for Brother Bob Smith to spend a few years in MPS, so that he can try to find a "somewhere else" for our public school students to go. Let him see what it's like to face the mountain of documentation and paperwork that it takes simply to move a single disruptive student from one public school to another. Let him try to figure out what to do with the disruptive students that get shuffled into his public school because some other principal got that mountain of paperwork done. Let him just try to tell students that their presence is not welcome, and watch the parents, the DPI, the media, and the lawsuits descend on his public-school life.

So it isn't just a lack of advances in that whole human cloning thing that keeps MPS from having a Brother Bob in every MPS school. It's the harsh reality that we must teach everyone who comes through our doors--a harsh reality the Brother Bobs never have to face.

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