A Milwaukee education reading list

While few might think of Milwaukee as a hotbed of activity in the world of education books, some know better.

Of course, Rethinking Schools is the source of the largest quantity of books about education and its catalog is full of works that trumpet diversity and offer guidance to teachers new and veteran.

But there have been other book about and / or by local education figures. Here are some notable ones:

“Against the Wind: African Americans and the Schools in Milwaukee, 1963-2002,” by educator Bill Dahlk, is an exhaustive look at – well, the title and subtitle say it all – covering the Civil Rights movement, battles to end segregated schooling and on up to the push for vouchers. Other books have been written on the latter topic, but Dahlk tells the story without a political agenda.

“Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education,” is a manifesto by Democrats for Education Reform executive director Joe Williams, who used to cover education for the local paper, before heading to New York to do the same. Later, he became part of this political action committee, which advocates for charters and vouchers at the federal level. According to Booklist, “Drawing on a decade of reporting on public schools in New York and Milwaukee, Williams explains how unions, politicians, vendors and consultants waste and mismanage funds meant to improve education. He also outlines the role of teachers’ unions and political parties in operating school systems and how mindless bureaucracy alienates parents and distracts teachers from their primary roles.”

“School Choice and the Question of Accountability: The Milwaukee Experience,” by Public Policy Forum researchers Emily Van Dunk and Anneliese Dickman, recounts the birth and growth of Milwaukee’s choice program, up until its publication in 2004.

“The Secret to Better Schools: A New Mindset for Engaging the Community,” by Alinea founder Deborah Lukovich, draws on the author’s experience with Downtown Institute of Arts & Letters (DIAL) high school and her work with Alinea clients like St. Marcus Lutheran School, Hmong American Peace Academy and others to offer guidance on how to engage communities in schools, exploring everything from school culture to mission statements, creating governance structures and more.

“Seeds of Crisis: Public Schooling in Milwaukee since 1920,” is a collection of essays, edited by John Rury and Frank Cassell, that explore the changes in Milwaukee schooling – including communities, curriculum, student life and more – from 1920 until around 1990. Especially interesting are essays on the changing social and economic contexts of public schooling here across the 20th century, and a look at the organization and politics of the district during the same period.

“Sub Culture: Three Years in Education’s Dustiest Corner,” by Milwaukee writer Carolyn Bucior, is based on her time working as a sub in a suburban district, and has drawn numerous national accolades. Intermingling her own anecdotes and experiences with national statistics and news reports of substitute teaching, Bucior has created a compelling memoir.

“Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade,” by area native Linda Perlstein, has become THE book about what merciless testing is doing to American schools. Perlstein spent a year in a Maryland elementary school seeing how a focus on tests has affected classrooms, teaching approaches and children. The result is a book that is not only eye-opening, but also engaging reading.

The one that we’re all still waiting for will hopefully come someday from Alan Borsuk, who for decades, covered education in Milwaukee. Borsuk, who now works for Marquette University Law School, still pens a weekly column on the subject and is universally considered the dean of local education reporting.

Is there a book you think ought to be on this list? If so, add it using the Talkback feature below.

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